William Allen Butler family papers (and related Terry, Collins families)
Scope and Contents
It contains over three hundred letters written when family members were attending Yale or Princeton during the American Civil War. There are over four thousand letters which show the close relationships between the families and their strong religious faith. Descendants from Puritans, the families’ letters reveal a gentle kindness and firm guidance, particularly from parents to their children and a strong nostalgia for each other’s company. Letters about the loss of loved ones show grief and pain but also an accepting attitude towards death and a reassuring belief that the spirit reclaimed their loved ones. A few of the letters highlight rare events such as divorce and alcoholism. There are some letters describing westward expansion (to Illinois). The letters mention some of the major events of the nineteenth century as well as an opportunity to look through history and learn more about each one of the family members and their community.
Many of the members in these families made a name for themselves in the field of law. Benjamin Franklin Butler was the Attorney General of the United States and the law partner of Martin Van Buren under President Andrew Jackson and some of his papers are in this collection. He was also a founder of New York University. His son, William Allen Butler was also a well-respected attorney, President of the American Bar Association, and a prolific author and poet. His novel "Nothing to Wear" was known as a popular, classic satire. There is a bibliographic list of his books, and the publications can be found in our holdings. There is also a copy of the "New York Times Illustrated Weekly" where he is featured on the cover in 1897.
William Allen Butler, Jr. was also an attorney in New England, President of the Lawyer Club, and a graduate of Princeton University. Included in the collection are his lectures and rowing, fishing, and Princeton scrapbooks as well as his property books, and office and travel journals. He married Louise Terry Collins in 1884 bringing the Butler and Collins families together. There are letters from "Will and Louise" while he courted her for several years, but she wanted to maintain her independence a few years longer. She was also a poet and many of her lines of poetry are in the collection. Also included are their handwritten wedding vows and affectionate letters throughout their marriage. William Allen Butler, Jr. traveled to Europe often and sailed on the RMS Mauretania (the sister ship to the Lusitania that was sunk by a German torpedo). Louise Butler also traveled and there are letters written on stationery from the Hamburg-Amerika line. There are also letters from William Allen Butler, Jr. to and about his brother Howard Russell Butler (1856-1934) who was an American painter and founder of the American Fine Arts Society. There are also photographs in William Allen Butler, Jr.'s scrapbook, "The Victoria Luise" of men constructing the Panama Canal.
Louise Terry Collins Butler's parents, Charles and Mary Hall Terry Collins also wrote to each other often during their courtship, married life, which included the time of the American Civil War. They also wrote letters about the "Panic of 1857"; the Midwest and the South, and politics. The Collins family were strong abolitionists who tried to help free enslaved persons and fought for Illinois to become a free state. The letters do not mention any details about enslaved persons but are more related to family and politics in general. The letters also describe travel to Collinsville, Illinois, Jacksonville, and St. Louis, Missouri, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Charleston South Carolina where Charles Collins Sr. attended to business for his family dry goods store in New England. Their son, Charles Terry Collins, Jr. wrote to them about the Civil War while he was a student at Yale. He attended Andover Theological Seminary and became a reverend at Plymouth Church in Cleveland, Ohio. He exchanged letters with his parents and siblings every week usually on Sundays. Many of his letters have hand illustrated, intricate, and personal sketches that describe the contents of his letters. He expresses his honest feelings and self-doubts about schoolwork and preaching which he eventually masters. Their other son, Clarence Collins attended College Hill School in Poughkeepsie, New York and succeeded his father in his dry goods store, "Collins, Kellog & Kerbe" and "Collins, Atwater & Whitten" (Collins Brothers & Sons). He married (Marie) Louise Clark who divorced him, leaving the care of their little girl, Edith Collins, with his mother Mary Hall Terry Collins and his sisters, Lillie Collins Ketcham, and Louise Terry Collins Butler. Edith Collins later married (and divorced) a Turkish diplomat Rechid Bey (Count Czaykowsi) and became Countess Czaykowski who lived in Paris and there are letters from her in the collection.
There are scrapbooks, and journals documenting the lives of these intertwining members of these families. There are also extensive genealogy notes and family trees in the collection tracing their ancestors. There is an Oxford family bible (1851 Oxford University Press, England) with handwritten family names. Printed books on the families ’genealogies and novels written by William Allen Butler are in the printed part of our collections. There is information about the family being members of the Colonial Dames Society of the American Revolutionary War and the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolutionary War. There are also well identified photographs of the various members of these noted American families of Butler, Collins, and Terry. Some of their portraits are housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
Conditions Governing Access
Biographical / Historical
The collection has many references to the American Civil War, and major events of the nineteenth century. The Collins family were strong abolitionists who helped free enslaved persons and celebrated when Illinois won against becoming an enslaved state.
The Butler family begins in this collection with Benjamin Franklin Butler (1795-1858) who was the Attorney General of the United States (1833-1838), appointed by President Andrew Jackson and was also a legal partner of Martin Van Buren. He founded New York University in 1831 and was regarded as one of the most successful cross-examiners of his day. He was married to Harriet Allen Butler and they had nine children.
His son was William Allen Butler (1825-1902) who was a lawyer and popular author of many books and poems. His most famous satirical book, "Nothing to Wear" was published in "Harper's Weekly" in 1857. He contributed travel and comic writing to "The Literary World" and wrote for the "Democratic Review". He married Mary Russell Marshall in 1850 and they had nine children including William Allen Butler, Jr. (1856-1921) and Howard Russell Butler (1856-1934), a well-known painter. William Allen Butler was on the cover of the "New York Times Illustrated Weekly" in 1897. He died at his residence, Round Oak, in Yonkers, New York.
William Allen Butler, Jr. was an attorney in New York, president of the Lawyer Club, and a graduate of Princeton University. He wrote law lectures and travelled to Europe for business. In 1840 he married Louise Terry Collins Butler (1856-1920) which joined the Terry, Collins, and Butler families together. Louise Collins Butler wrote poetry, which is included in the collection. They had five children, William Allen Butler, III, Lyman Collins Butler, Dr. Charles Terry Butler (1889-1980), Lydia Coit Dwight, and Louise Tracy Butler.
Louise Terry Collins Butler's parents were Charles Collins (1817-1891) and Mary Collins (1820-1900) who were married in 1840 and wrote to each other often when he was traveling for his father (Charles Collins) and grandfather’s (Amos Collins) dry goods business (A.M. Collins and Sons and then Collins Brothers & Sons) in St. Louis, Missouri, Collinsville, Illinois, Charleston, South Carolina and Hartford, Connecticut. Before he was married, he wrote often to his parents asking for permission to buy land in Illinois like his uncles (who were successful in settling in Collinsville, Illinois), but they believed this was a plot to get rich quick and encouraged him to stay in business, which he did. Family members have recalled that "Charles Collins was a courteous gentleman, of an exceedingly attractive personality. He was a man of active mind and fluent speech." He was described as speaking with animation and eloquence in defending his beliefs. He did not attend college, but he was an enthusiastic advocate of new and rational theological thought. He and his wife Mary Hall Terry Collins "were very much interested in the genealogic record of the Collins family. Mary Hall Terry Collins, was the daughter of Eliphalet Terry (famous for promoting Hartford Insurance Company after the great fire in New York in 1835) and the granddaughter of Judge Eliphalet Terry who was a County Court Judge and direct descendant of Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Rock.
Louise Butler’s siblings were Lydia Coit Ketcham (1844-1936), Reverend Charles Terry Collins (1845-1883), Clarence Lyman Collins (1848-1922), and Arthur Morris Collins (1851-1861).
Reverend Charles Terry Collins, brother of Louise Collins Butler was a graduate of Yale during the American Civil War, and a Reverend at Plymouth Church in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1883, at the age of 38, the young minister on a visit home to see his father and mother, suddenly died in his father's arms as he got off the train. Family genealogy records describe the reverend after his death, “The Cleveland journals regarded his death as "not only a crushing private grief, but a public calamity.” He was married to Mary Abby Wood. Their children were Charles Collins (b.1873), Clarence Collins (b. 1875), Mary Terry Collins (b. 1877), and Arthur Morris Collins (b.1880).
Reverend Charles Collins’ father, and Charles Terry Collins grandfather, Amos Morris Collins, was the son of William Collins (1760-1847) and Esther Morris Collins. Amos Collins built one of the first successful dry goods business in New England. It was called A. M. Collins & Sons. It was so successful that it was able to help the banks and other community members after the American Civil War. Amos Morris Collins’ brothers, Augustus Collins, Anson Collins, Michael Collins, Frederick Collins, and William Collins bought land in Illinois, where they moved their business, and named the town Collinsville. Amos Collins stayed at the store in New Haven. Reverend Dr. Bushnell, who was a close friend of Amos Collins and minister of his church, wrote about him, "There is almost nothing here that has not somehow felt his power, nothing good which has not somehow profited by his beneficence.”
The Butler, Collins, and Terry families descended from patriots of the American Revolutionary War and were members of the Daughters and Sons of the American Revolutionary War. The women in the collection, Harriet Allen Butler, Mary Russell Marshall Butler, Mary Lyman Collins, Lydia Coit Terry, Mary Hall Terry Collins, and Louise Terry Collins Butler played a prominent role in their households, were confidantes of their husbands, and maintained prominent social responsibilities. They were skilled in the orchestrations of sophisticated urban life and the hard work required for early American lifestyles.
These three families were raised with puritan upbringings which gave them a solid foundation of good principles but what is most notable is that they lived their lives with kindness and charity towards each other and their communities. This characterizes many of the letters in this collection.
This collection was donated by Leslie Middleton who is the daughter of Dr. Charles Terry Butler, and granddaughter of Louise Terry Collins Butler (1856-1921) and William Allen Butler, Jr.
Sources: Wood, Steven, “The Writing of Steven Wood Collins:- Author of “Puramore”, “Lute of Pythagoras”, Steven Wood Collins Blog, Good Reads,,Published on May 26, 2015 https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4524514.Steven_Wood_Collins/blog/tag/edward-collins
“Full text of "The Collins family; Genealogical record (in part) of the descendants of John Collins, Sr., from 1640 to 1760; a complete record of the descendants of William Collins and Esther Morris, from 1760 to 1897", Internet Archive. retrieved 9/22/21 https://archive.org/stream/collinsfamilygen00coll/collinsfamilygen00coll_djvu.txt
Moore, Ensley. “The Collins Family and Connections.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) 12, no. 1 (1919): 58–70. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40187075.
Butler, William Allen, “Retrospect of Forty Years, 1825-1865”, New York, Charles Scribner and Sons, 1911. (ebook, Google Books, University of California) https://books.google.com/books?id=zYWAAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA16&lpg=PA16&dq=butler+family+descended+from+oliver+cromwell&source=bl&ots=QqeGyXq0YG&sig=ACfU3U0-GqeaWDdLQ65iXNnMmfjWODHZhw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjm3bGqt5PzAhUXF1kFHaGKDZgQ6AF6BAghEAM#v=onepage&q=butler%20family%20descended%20from%20oliver%20cromwell&f=false
8.5 Cubic Feet (17 document boxes, oversize folders and enclosures) : Family correspondence, genealogy, printed items, photographs and scrapbooks
Language of Materials
- William Allen Butler family papers and related families
- Tanner Greene/Ellen Welch
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note
Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository
Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States