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Nichols family archive
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Nichols family archive
    Inclusive Dates: 1859-1899
    Collection Number: mssNichols
    Collector: Nichols family
    Extent: 3 boxes
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
    Manuscripts Department
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2191
    Fax: (626) 449-5720
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: The Nichols family was a prominent New England family. This archive focuses specifically on two brothers: George Granville Nichols and Smith Woodward Nichols, Jr.
    Language of Material: The records are in English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, please go to following web site .

    Publication Rights

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    Nichols family archive, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Acquisition Information

    Purchased from James Arsenault & Co., 2018.


    Smith Woodward Nichols (1809-1881), was a prosperous Boston builder and prominent Freemason. In the late 1850s, he moved to Melrose (now part of Greater Boston). His wife, Emeline Pope Nichols (1812-1893), was a daughter of a Maine master mariner and granddaughter of Major Isaac Pope, a Revolutionary War veteran. The couple had ten children, including George Granville and Smith Woodward, Jr.
    George Granville Nichols (1836-1899), a stone mason, left Boston to go West, settling in Davenport, Iowa. In July 1862, he enlisted in the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and fought in Louisiana until his 9-month regiment was mustered out in August 1863. In April – August 1864, Nichols served as 2nd Lieutenant of an unattached company of the Regiment of Massachusetts Infantry, and on August 1, was commissioned 1st Lieutenant of Co. K. of the 4th Regiment of Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. He was mustered out in June 1865.
    Smith Woodward Nichols, Jr. (1843-1915), graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1860 and served in the United States Navy. During the American Civil War, he served on the United States steam frigate "Wabash," sailing frigate "Macedonian," and steam sloop "Shenandoah." In January 1865, he commanded the assault at Fort Fisher. After the war, he served with Asiatic and South Pacific Squadrons and was commissioned Commander in 1876. Nichols retired in 1882.

    Scope and Content

    The Nichols family archive consists of correspondence, manuscript volumes, military records, and photographs. George Granville Nichols's letters constitute the largest group of correspondence. His letters from Iowa covered economic, social, and political life in the antebellum Midwest. He wrote about the politics of slavery and abolition, and activities of the local fraternities and lodges. His letters also contained detailed discussion of his plans to go West to mine for gold, complete with considerations of logistics, competitors, and financial risks. His wartime letters covered the entire period of his service in the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Nichols's letters to his family contained highly informative and vivid descriptions of the American Civil War in Louisiana, including his encounters with slaves, "contrabands," women of color, "rebels," Confederate prisoners, spies, and even some rather creative cotton smugglers. Smith Woodward Nichols, Jr.'s letters described his studies at the Naval Academy and his American Civil War service, including an account of the assault of Fort Fisher. In addition to letters from the Nichols brothers, letters from other family members are present in the collection and present a great resource for examining family and social dynamics of the American Civil War era.
    A highlight of the collection is a 27-page diary letter written by George Granville Nichols to his family on May 1, 1859 (Box 1, Folder 7). This diary letter documented one of the most celebrated post-California gold rushes, the excitement that erupted after the discovery of gold in the vicinity of present-day Denver, Colorado. Nichols commented about the difficult conditions of travel, the captivating sights of unfamiliar wild life (especially buffalo), encounters with and presence of Indigenous peoples, and the great number of gold seekers on the road. Part of the journey occurred along the Santa Fe Trail.
    Box 2 includes three volumes of lectures recorded by Commander Smith Woodward Nichols, Jr. In 1880, Nichols was ordered to take courses on torpedoes, explosives, and electricity at the United States Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island.
    Box 3 primarily includes correspondence related to George Granville Nichols's military service from the United States Army Quartermaster General's Office; United States Department of Treasury; and United States War Department Subsistence Department. He accumulated this paperwork during his service as the assistant quartermaster of the 4th Mass. Artillery, including special orders, requests for ambulances, and proceedings of a board survey. There are three cartes-de-visite, one daguerreotype, and a United States Navy medal of service, likely owned by Smith Woodward Nichols, Jr.


    Box 1: Correspondence; Box 2: Manuscript volumes; and Box 3: Miscellaneous correspondence, documents, and photographs

    Indexing Terms

    Personal Names

    Nichols family
    Nichols, George Granville, 1836-1899
    Nichols, Smith Woodward, 1809-1881
    Nichols, Smith Woodward, Jr., 1843-1915

    Corporate Names

    Shenandoah (Screw sloop)
    United States. Army. Massachusetts Heavy Artillery Regiment, 4th (1864-1865)
    United States. Army. Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 42nd (1862-1864)
    United States. Navy
    United States Naval Torpedo Station (Newport, R.I.)


    American bison hunting
    Explosives, Military
    Slavery -- United States -- Public opinion -- History -- 19th century -- Sources

    Geographic Areas

    Colorado -- Gold discoveries
    Davenport (Iowa)
    Fort Fisher (N.C. : Fort) Siege, 1864-1865 -- Personal narratives
    Louisiana -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives
    Middle West -- History -- 19th century -- Sources
    New Orleans (La.)
    Santa Fe National Historic Trail -- Description and travel
    United States -- History -- 1815-1861 -- Sources
    United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Correspondence


    Cartes-de-visite (card photographs)
    Correspondence (letters)
    Daguerreotypes (photographs)
    Military records