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Register of the Burrell Family Papers, 1824-1882
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Burrell Family Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1824-1882
    Collection number: Mss132
    Creator: Reginald R. Stuart
    Extent: 0.3 linear ft.
    Repository: University of the Pacific. Library. Holt-Atherton Department of Special Collections
    Stockton, CA 95211
    Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Burrell Family Papers, Mss132, Holt-Atherton Department of Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library


    The Burrells were a pioneer family of Santa Clara County, California. Lyman J. Burrell was born in Sheffield, Massachusetts(1801). By 1816 his family had moved to Lorain County Ohio and in 1839 he there married Clarissa Wright (1805-1857).
    Clarissa had attended Oberlin College. Her brother, Elizur, Jr., a Yale graduate, was professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Western Reserve University, national secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society (1833-40) and an editor of abolitionist journals. He was associated as an editor with William Lloyd Garrison and with John Greenleaf Whittier. Besides his reforming interests (woman suffrage and insurance laws protecting policy holders) Elizur was a translator of La Fontaine's fables, and, the first Insurance Commissioner of Massachusetts. He is remembered today as the "Father of American Life Insurance." Two of Clarissa Wright Burrell's sisters married ministers and two were wives of Doctors. Her youngest brother, James, became a Presbyterian minister and subsequently migrated to California (1869).
    The Burrells had three children, a son, Birney (b. 1840), and two daughters, Martha and Clara. In 1849 Lyman Burrell went overland to California for gold. In the winter of 1850-51 Burrell returned to Ohio with $2,000 in gold dust. A year later he returned to California to farm near Alviso, renting land from Cary Peebels (1852) and the following year from James Lick. His wife and children joined him there in early 1853. Burrell soon decided, however, that the South Bay climate was harmful to his wife, and, with his land titles hopelessly unresolved, he homesteaded in the Santa Cruz Mountains. These hills, bordering the coastal valleys, lay outside any Spanish land grant and were therefore public domain. Although the Burrell family soon experienced prosperity, they also faced hard work, a frugal life-style and ill health. Clarissa did not improve and died sometime in 1857.
    Reginald R. Stuart obtained access to the Burrell family papers and created this collection of transcriptions in the course of publishing some of Clarissa Wright Burrell's letters in the California Historical Society Quarterly, 28:4; 29:1 & 2 (1949-1950). Stuart later republished those items bearing an "*" in the container list as a monograph titled, The Burrell Letters: Including Excerpts from Birney Burrell's Diary and "Reminiscences of an Octogenarian"; A Contribution to Santa Clara County History from the Original Manuscripts (1950). This publication includes a few photographs of the family not found in Ms132. A part of the collection has also appeared in the Summit (Calif.) Literary Society's irregularly published periodical Mountain Echoes or in the Redwood Social Club's Mountain Messenger.

    Scope and Content

    The Burrell family collection includes family correspondence, diaries, family genealogy notes, reminiscences, farm accounts and Reginald R. Stuart's research notes. The Burrell family letters are a straightforward account of the rigors of the overland and sea journeys to California and the trials of placer mining. They are most unique in their later recital of pioneer ranch life in the California foothills, particularly in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Lyman and Clarissa Burrell's son, Birney, kept a diary for several years. His 1852 diary covers the sea voyage to California, while the 1853 to 1862 diaries depict a life of hard farm work, gathering and hunting food in the mountains and doing odd jobs for neighbors.