Overview of the Collection
Scope and Content
Overview of the Collection
Title: Flinn Family Correspondence
Dates (inclusive): 1847-1873
Collection Number: mssHM 79100-79165
67 items in 1 box
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
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San Marino, California 91108
Phone: (626) 405-2129
Abstract: The collection consists of letters written between various members of the Flinn family between 1847 and 1873.
The majority of the letters are addressed to New York farmer Samuel Flinn (1806-1873) from his brothers, nieces, and nephews
in Ohio and Michigan. Major topics covered in the correspondence
include western expansion and travel, farming and agriculture, Michigan and Ohio state politics, national politics, land tenure
and the settlement
of estates, Ohio state banking laws, the practice of ophthalmology, religious revivals in Ohio, the Spiritual Knockers movement
in New York state,
emigration to California, and family relationships, including courtship and marriage, in New York, Michigan, and Ohio.
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[Identification of item]. Flinn Family Correspondence, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Purchased from Michael Brown Rare Books on February 7, 2013.
The Flinn brothers were the sons of Peter Flinn (1780-1850) and Castilla Richardson
(1786-1854), residents of Union Springs, New York, and early settlers of the Cayuga
reservation. The eldest brother, Samuel Flinn (1806-1873) was a farmer in
Springport, New York, who inherited his father’s homestead. He married Mary J. Penny
and had two surviving sons, Glenn (b. 1860) and Edward (b. 1867). Morris Flinn
(1811-1891) lived in Rushville, New York, and served on the New York State Assembly.
He married Harriet Amelia Whitney (1818-1900). Chester Flinn (1818-1900) was a
sometime surgeon who spent time farming with his brothers in Ohio and Michigan. John
Flinn was an ophthalmologist and farmer who lived in Springfield and Norwalk, Ohio,
and Albion, Michigan. Abram Flinn farmed with John in Norwalk and Albion, and may
have owned land in Missouri in the 1850s. Edward Flinn departed New York for St.
Louis before dying of fever while on a trip to New Orleans in 1850. DeWitt Clinton
Flinn (b. 1825) emigrated to California before a series of failed investments led to
his returning home, destitute and ill, to live with his brothers in 1873. The Flinns
also had two other brothers, Edwin and James, and a sister, Louisa "Lizzie" Clark,
whose son John moved later moved in with his grandfather Peter.
Scope and Content
The collection consists of letters written between various members of the Flinn
family between 1847 and 1873. The majority of the letters are addressed to Samuel
Flinn from his brothers, nieces, and nephews. Major topics covered in the
correspondence include western expansion and travel, farming and agriculture,
Michigan and Ohio state politics, national politics, land tenure and the settlement
of estates, Ohio state banking laws, the practice of ophthalmology, religious
revivals in Ohio, the Spiritual Knockers movement in New York state, emigration to
California, and family relationships, including courtship and marriage, in New York,
Michigan, and Ohio.
The most frequent correspondent in the collection is John Flinn, who practiced
ophthalmology and farmed in Ohio and Michigan. A letter written while John was in
Utica, New York, in 1853 described his encounter with the Spiritual Knockers, whose
authenticity he doubted, although he joked that "when I return home that I may have
power to move tables stands [and] such...as I understand the spiritual knockers
think favorably of making me a medium" (Mar.10, 1853). He had another religious
encounter while living in Ohio in the mid-1850s, when a new preacher came to town
and sparked a local revival. While John was unenthusiastic about the revival ("I for
one am thankful that the meeting is about coming to a close," he wrote in March
1856), he noted that it was widely believed that the preacher, an Elder Raymond,
held "the golden key that unlocks the wickets of mercy." An acquaintance of John's
became caught up in the excitement and was "in the zenith of his glory...singing
[and] attending Meeting constantly day [and] night" (Feb.26, 1856). John also writes
of politics, particularly the future of the Know-nothing and Democratic parties, and
of the Nebraska Question, noting that in his region of Ohio "people are for Free
territory almost to a man" (Mar.21, 1856). He writes often of the difficulties of
making money in Ohio due to unfavorable banking laws and his difficulties in
collecting payment from his ophthalmology patients. By 1855 he was working on a
scheme to ship peaches east, and by the early 1860s seemed to be mainly focusing on
his farming ventures in Ohio and Michigan.
The letters from DeWitt Clinton Flinn describe his unpredictable life in California.
A letter to his mother dated March 29, 1854, recalled in detail a trip to Los
Angeles, as well as describing the activities of the Filibusters and Captain William
Walker (1824-1860). In the same letter he wrote of the decline of gold rush fever,
noting that "peoples [sic] eyes have settled back into their natural sockets again
[and] they have...dispense[d] with the hope of getting rich in a few days." DeWitt
mainly focused on cutting hay and other agricultural pursuits, and while he claimed
to be doing well he also frequently asked his brother Samuel to send him money. In
1859 he took a trip to Peru and Chile, where he was "cheated out of some two
thousand dollars" by a hacienda owner. In describing Peru he noted that "the slaves
are all free now...and now may be seen many fine farms laying in idleness that
formerly were finely flourishing...nothing is thought of in that country but
Revolution" (June 12, 1859). He joined a temperance society upon returning to
California and the following year bought 160 acres of government land in Visalia,
where he brought his hogs (Aug.7, 1860). By 1872 he had returned east and stopped
with various relatives, beginning with his nephew Morris in Ohio. Morris wrote that
DeWitt had "come here from the South on foot, when he has been sick with the Yellow
fever nearly all summer and which lost him all his property." (Dec.27, 1872). When
he arrived at his brother John's home he was so changed that "we did not know
him...he has had a rough life of it for some twenty five years" (Feb.8, 1873).
DeWitt later planned to go to Battle Creek to attempt to find factory work.
A single letter from Edward describes his somewhat impromptu trip along the
Mississippi River to St. Louis, although he claimed not to "flatter myself with the
idea of becoming the hero of a romantic tale" (Oct.19-29, 1850). He took a steamer
to New Orleans, where he died in November 1850. Subsequent letters to Samuel from
Edward's doctors describe his illness and death in a charity hospital.
A letter from Chester to Samuel dated May 4, 1869, recalled a trip he took by rail
from New York to Detroit, including a five hour layover in Niagara Falls. "I stopped
at Suspension Bridge... [and] walked over it and when about half way across there
came along a heavy loaded freight train of about 27 cars," he wrote. "All told they
ran very steady...the supporting stays over the towers did not even stir." On
arriving in Albion, Michigan, he wrote that "the hard times does [sic] not seem to
put an entire check its growth." He was optimistic about the future of the city,
noting that "We will soon have another Rail Road crossing the Central at
Albion...connect[ing] with the Southern road...it will give our place quite a help
will make business very lively here."
Many of the Flinns' letters include references to their attempts to find wives ("This
is [Abram's] second trip to Ohio this spring I am half inclined to think he has
something aside from Horses to draw his attention," John wrote to Samuel in June
1870). Morris echoed many of his brothers' sentiments when he wrote "I can [never
be] as well as I would with a wife, so you see I am in rather an unsettled state of
mind" (July 19, 1852). Most of Morris's subsequent letters focus on family news and
issues, in particular his concerns over his brother Chester, of whom he wondered to
Samuel whether "there seems to be any more hopes of a reformation," continuing "I
had hoped...that there was a chance for him to reform but I was sorry to learn that
he could not be seen as he was not in a fit state" (Mar.4, 1856). A nephew hinted at
further problems when he wrote that Chester and a brother-in-law partner in Norwalk
"had some trouble, but I don't know what it was about nor do I want to" (Sep.17,
Letters from Samuel's nephews include those of C.W. Flinn, which focus on politics -
including his observations that "the Radicals smashed us decidedly in our
State...Some of the Rads...begin to remember Tyler [and] Johnson and fear that Grant
is not quite up to their standard of 'loyalty' should wonder if that they had caught
a 'Tartar'" (Nov.17, 1868) - and his business in Ohio, including a store that burned
down in 1869 at a loss of $2,500. C.W. and another nephew, M.R. Flinn, often asked
Samuel to invest in their business ventures, including "keep[ing] agricultural
implements of all kinds," and assured him "we do business for cash only" (Jan.17,
1871). A third nephew, D.P. Flinn, wrote from Kansas City that he worked as a chief
engineer of a "large coal and mining corporation" which supplied all "these western
R.R.s" with coal. "I have been in Missouri three years," he wrote, "...but my
business calls me all over the west, out to the mountains, south to the Indian
Territory, east to Ill., etc." (Sep.17, 1871).
The collection is arranged chronologically.
Agriculture--New York (State)
Coal mines and mining.
Domestic relations--New York
Land tenure--New York (State)
(Calif.)--Description and travel.
River--Description and travel.
(State)--Description and travel.
(Mo.)--Description and travel.
(Calif.)--Description and travel.
Letters (correspondence)--New York