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Blanding family papers

Identifier: MSS 0451

Scope and Content Note

The papers of the Blanding family of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, consist of one linear foot of diaries, family correspondence, and other papers spanning the years 1801-1920, with the majority of the material falling between 1834 and 1858.

Included are diaries kept by sisters Juliet M. Blanding, Nancy A. Blanding, and Sarah M. Blanding, as well as a brief diary written by their uncle, the distinguished doctor and naturalist William Blanding. There are more than two hundred family letters and other papers, of which William Blanding, his nieces, and other family members are the primary authors. Much of this material, including the diaries of Juliet and Sarah and one hundred and twenty letters, was purchased by the University of Delaware Library in 1957. The provenance of the remainder of the collection is unclear. Unfortunately, the family correspondence and diaries were arranged in chronological order, taped to leaves of paper, and bound into volumes. Though the chronological order has been maintained, all of the manuscripts have been removed from the volumes and are arranged in folders.

The Blanding family papers offer an in-depth look at the life of a New England family in the late 1840s through the 1850s. The family’s correspondence, which constitutes most of Series I, together with the household diary kept by Nancy and Sarah Blanding from 1855-1858 and Nancy Blanding’s diary from 1848-1849, provide a detailed account of the Blanding family’s every day life. The diaries contain almost daily descriptions of the family’s health, chores, travels, correspondence, social activities, and church attendance. The family’s correspondence between 1847-1852 offers a more informal, expressive discussion of these topics. Of particular interest are letters sent from family at Elm Cottage, the Blanding home in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, to Juliet Blanding, who was living in Mississippi.

This collection is also useful to a scholar of nineteenth-century education. The Blanding family diaries and letters provide insight into the work of schoolteachers in various parts of the United States. William Blanding’s diary offers the earliest of such accounts. In the fall of 1801, after graduating from college, William took a job as a schoolmaster in Somerset, Massachusetts. The job was an unpleasant necessity; William had no other prospect of earning money to pay off a debt to a former schoolmate. His diary is often lighthearted and humorous, and it candidly reveals William’s many frustrations with the job and the challenges of teaching in a small town with limited resources. William’s teaching experiences in New England are complemented by the accounts of Nancy, Juliet, and Sarah Blanding, who taught in the Midwest and in Mississippi in the mid-nineteenth century. The women’s personal diaries and letters home discuss their day-to-day experiences as teachers, with details on the conditions of the schoolhouse, the number of students, and the lessons they taught.

Historians interested in the life of Dr. William Blanding will be particularly interested in his correspondence, especially letters he wrote between 1840 and 1846 while living in Philadelphia. His most frequent correspondent was his sister, Lucy Blanding Carpenter, a schoolteacher in Brooklyn, New York. Several of these letters pertain to his work as a naturalist and his interest in shell collecting. He also discussed financial matters, including his investment troubles after the failure of several state banks in the 1840s. Other topics in his letters to Lucy include family and friends, his health, politics and current events, and her work as a teacher.

Lastly, the collection is a valuable resource for historians interested in travel and tourism. The diary of Juliet Blanding provides particularly vivid accounts of her journeys from Rehoboth to Evansville, Indiana, in 1843, and to Camden, Mississippi, in 1847. Juliet traveled by train, coach, and boat, and was often unaccompanied. She passed through upstate New York, Ohio, the East Coast north of Baltimore, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Mississippi River valley. Juliet spent a week in Philadelphia at the outset of her trip to Mississippi, and describes in detail the city and the tourist attractions she visited. Further travel description can be found in the first entry in Nancy Blanding’s 1841 diary, which provides a brief account of her arrival in Ohio.


  • Creation: 1801-1920
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1834-1858


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Physician and naturalist William Blanding was born on February 7, 1773, in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, where his family had lived for five generations.

He was the eldest of nine children born to William and Lydia (Ormsbee) Blanding, and his siblings included James Blanding (1781-1870) and Lucy Blanding Carpenter (b. 1783). William attended Rhode Island College (later Brown University) and received his A.B. in 1801. Upon graduation, he returned to Massachusetts, where he briefly taught school in Somerset and practiced medicine for several years in Attleborough. William married Susanna Carpenter of Rehoboth in 1805, and the couple moved to Camden, South Carolina, in 1807. There, William established a medical practice and ran an apothecary.

Susannah Carpenter Blanding died in Camden in 1809 and two years later William married Rachel Willett of Philadelphia. The couple moved from South Carolina to Philadelphia circa 1835, where William practiced medicine and was an active resident member of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Elected to corresponding membership while living in South Carolina in 1825, William made frequent contributions to the Academy’s collection of specimens. He was a renowned naturalist, and is credited with the discovery of a species of turtle known as Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). William left Philadelphia circa 1846 and returned to Rehoboth, Massachusetts. He died there on 19 October 1857.

In his old age, William lived in Rehoboth with the family of his brother, James, who cared for him as his health deteriorated. James and his wife, Elizabeth Carpenter Blanding , the sister of William’s first wife, had eight children, including Susannah (Susan) Carpenter Blanding Arey (b. 1812), Elizabeth Parthenia Blanding Lyon Plimpton (1814-1871), Nancy Augusta Blanding Nattinger (b. 1816), Juliet Maria Blanding (1818-1853), William Willett Blanding (1820-circa 1920), Abram Ormsbee Blanding, M.D. (1823-1892), Lephe Hunt Blanding (1825-1864), and Sarah (Sally) M. Blanding Bowen (1827-1911). Of these children, Nancy, Juliet, and Sarah are the most prominent authors in this collection.

Little is known about the Blanding sisters besides their vital statistics and the information that can be gleaned from this collection. Nancy A. Blanding was born on 31 March 1816 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. In October of 1840 she spent a year in Philadelphia teaching at the "Foster House" school and enjoying close contact with her aunt and uncle, Rachel and William Blanding. A year later, Nancy traveled from Philadelphia to Springfield, Ohio, to teach school. There she lived with family friends and relatives, among them the Nattinger family. By late 1847 she had returned to Rehoboth, Massachusetts, to live with her parents and siblings. There, she became the primary caregiver to her ailing uncle. On 25 September 1856, Nancy married John G. Nattinger and moved with him to Ottawa, Illinois. The couple had one daughter, Juliette Augusta, who was born on 27 March 1858. Nancy A. Blanding Nattinger died on 11 December 1887 at age 71.

Juliet Maria Blanding was born in Rehoboth on 8 May 1818. In the early 1840s she attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (later Mount Holyoke College) in South Hadley, Massachusetts. In 1843 she traveled to Evansville, Indiana, and lived with the Barnes family while teaching school. By March of 1846 she had returned to Rehoboth, but in October of 1847 she journeyed to Camden, Mississippi, to teach. She took ill in the spring of 1851, and returned to New England that summer. Juliet lived for some time with her sister Susan C. Blanding Arey in New Hampshire, and died in Rehoboth on 7 May 1853.

The youngest of the Blanding children, Sarah M. Blanding, also known as Sally, was born on 21 June 1827. She attended the Seekonk Classical Seminary in the early 1840s, and in November of 1849 she joined her sister, Juliet, teaching school in Camden, Mississippi. Sarah returned to New England with Juliet in 1851, and by 1855 she was living with her parents and siblings in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. She assumed the primary care of her uncle upon Nancy’s departure from Rehoboth in 1856. On 23 February 1865, at age thirty-seven, Sarah married Reuben Bowen. The couple had five children. Sarah M. Blanding Bowen died on 31 December 1911.

Biographical material was derived from the collection.Blandin, Bill. "Descendants of William Blanding." Retrieved from on 28 October 2002. A portion of this online genealogy has been printed and is in the Blanding family papers collection folder. Mr. Blandin’s genealogy relied heavily on: Blanding, Leonard Clark. Genealogy of the Blanding Family. [Grand Rapids, MI]: L. C. Blanding, 1995.Finding Aid to the William Blanding Papers, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina. A copy of this finding aid is in the Blanding family papers collection folder. Griffin, Kathy. Finding aid to the Blanding Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts. A copy of this finding aid is in the Blanding family papers collection folder. Spamer, Earle. Letter to Carrie Foley regarding William Blanding’s membership in the Academy of Natural Sciences, 9 October 2002. A copy of this letter is in the Blanding family papers collection folder.


1 linear foot (1 box)

1 oversize removal (1 folder)


The papers of the Blanding family of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, consist of one linear foot of diaries, family correspondence, and other papers spanning the years 1801-1920, with the majority of the material falling between 1834 and 1858.


Purchase, 1957.

Materials Available in Alternative Format

Access to digital copies of the original documents in the Blanding family papers are available in the University of Delaware Institutional Repository.

Related Materials in other Repositories

There are significant collections of Blanding papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston and the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. Copies of the finding aids to these collections are in the Blanding family papers collection folder. (Please see the manuscript librarian.) There are smaller collections of Blanding papers at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale (Western Americana Collection) and at Duke University Library. Brown University owns a portrait of Dr. William Blanding, painted circa 1810-1820.

Shelving Summary

  1. Box 1: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons
  2. Removal (F18): Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (32 inches)


Processed by Carrie L. Foley, October 2002. Encoded by Lora J. Davis, July 2011.

Finding aid for Blanding family papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2011 July 14
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA