1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page


Alva Woods Family Papers

 Family of Providence, R.I.

 Papers, 1817-1930. Bulk, 1817-1900

 Size: 5 ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 816

 Processed by: Nathaniel N. Shipton, 1977

Revised and expanded by Rick Stattler, February 2000

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Alva Woods (1794-1887) was born in Shoreham, Vt., the son of Baptist minister Abel Woods and Mary (Smith) Woods. He graduated from Harvard University in 1817, and then from the Andover Theological Seminary in 1821. From 1822 to 1824, he served as a professor of history and mathematics at Columbian College in Washington, D.C. (later George Washington University). He then served as a professor at Brown University through 1828, including a stint as interim president. He was president of Transylvania University in Kentucky through 1831, and then the first president at the University of Alabama from 1831 through 1837. He returned to Providence and was active at Brown University as a trustee and member of the board of fellows.

            Almira Marshall (1804-1863) was the daughter of Josiah and Priscilla Marshall of Boston. She married Alva Woods in 1823 and joined him in his travels to Kentucky, Alabama and Rhode Island. They had two children: Marshall Woods (1824-1899) and Priscilla M. Woods (1826-1827).

            Marshall Woods (1824-1899) graduated from Brown University in 1845, and then received a medical degree from the University of New York in 1848. He never set up a regular medical practice, and devoted most of his time to the management of his real estate and other investments. He was a director of the Providence National Bank. He was also an accomplished scholar of literate and art. He was a commissioner in the 1855 Paris exposition, and served Brown University as its treasurer from 1866 to 1882. He died in London in 1899.

            Anne Brown Francis (1828-1896) was the daughter of Gov. John Brown Francis and Anne Brown. Her paternal great-grandfather was famous Providence merchant John Brown, and her maternal grandfather was John Brown's nephew, Nicholas Brown, for whom Brown University was named. She married Marshall Woods in 1848. They had two children: Abby Francis (Woods) Abbott (1849-1895) and John Carter Brown Woods (1851-1930).

            John Carter Brown Woods (1851-1930) graduated from Brown University in 1872, and from Harvard Law School in 1874. He served as a trustee of Brown University from 1884 onward, and as president of the State Board of Charities and Corrections from 1894 to 1898. He was active in Republican politics, and was elected as a state Representative from 1881 to 1887, and state Senator in 1891, 1894, 1895 and 1896. He served as president of the Providence Common Council from 1881 through 1884. He was a founder of the Hope Club, and served as its president from 1892 to 1898. He also served on the boards of many other Providence clubs, charities and organizations. He was the author of several books and articles on genealogy and the Brown family. He never married, and died in Providence in 1930.


Biographical notes on the Woods family in Series 2, folder 5 of this collection

Chad Brown Workbook, 2nd ed. Rhode Island Historical Society, 1987.

Cutter, William R. New England Families Genealogical and Memorial. N.Y.: Lewis, 1915.

Kingsbury, Frank B. Marshall Family Record. Keene, N.H.: Nims Press, 1913.

Rogers, L.E., ed. The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Rhode Island. Providence: National Biographical Publishing, 1881.

Shipton, Nathaniel N. "Alva Woods: Inventory of His Papers in the Rhode Island Historical Society," 1977

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Scope and content:

            Series I Correspondence: constitutes the heart of the collection, in terms of both size and significance. All letters and documents are foldered individually. Letters addressed to all five members of the Woods family (Alva, Almira, Marshall, Ann and John) are interfiled in chronological order. There are frequent letters to Alva Woods regarding the University of Alabama, including many letters from his successor Basil Manly (1798-1868), later a leading minister in the Confederacy. Alva and Almira Woods also corresponded frequently with Texas president Samuel Houston and his wife. There are frequent family letters between Alva, Almira Marshall and Anne Woods, as well as from members of the Marshall family. Letters frequently include detailed impressions of life in Europe and the American South in the mid-nineteenth century. Anne B. (Francis) Woods' letters to her mother-in-law Almira Woods also freely discuss marriage, religion and politics.

            Series II Miscellaneous: contains several miscellaneous genealogical and personal items.             Series III: Diaries: includes diaries by all five family members, mostly kept while traveling.       Series IV: Notes on religion: includes Alva Woods' theological notes, mostly written while studying at Andover Theological Seminary or teaching at the University of Alabama.

            Series V: Property documents: consists of family deeds and probate records.

            Series VI: Later Accessions: is composed of material donated by the Washburn family in 1982 and 1991, after the collection was initially processed. It has not been fully integrated in with the remainder of the collection, and is arranged by family member rather than by series.

Diary Extracts from Almira Woods and Anne B. (Francis) Woods 

            Perhaps the most interesting items in the collection are the diaries kept by Almira Woods while traveling in the South between 1830 and 1833. The following extracts and notes may be of interest:

Childhood: Traveling with young son [1830, 1831, 1833]

Community: On arriving in Tuscaloosa: "I am again thrown dependent upon strangers, to again pass the ordeal of opinion, to be measured by a foreign standard & of course to be found wanting." [4/1/1831].

Fashion: "...the ladies in Frederick painted and powdered with ceremony or any remorse of conscience" [5/11/1830?]

Labor: Long discussion of scarcity of railroad mechanics and other issues re Baltimore & Ohio Railroad [5/11/1830?]. Visit to Kentucky Penitentiary, long discussion of prisoners, their conditions, and their "demoniacal countenances" [3/10/1831]; Negro and white prisoners working on public streets in New Orleans [3/23/1831].

Marriage: "The wife of a public man cannot be too careful in speaking to strangers or even to friends" [5/28/1830]; "I have learnt something today, which is to obey my husband." [3/12/1831]

Persons frequently mentioned: Escorted by Mr. Winter of Lexington for much of first trip [1830]; Kentucky Gov. Joseph Desha (1830); long account of discussion with "Col. Crockett...who said he could whip his weight in wild cats." [3/17/1831].

Places written: 1) Lexington, KY; Ohio; Baltimore; Philadelphia; New York City (journal stops here). 2) Lexington down Ohio River; Mississippi River; New Orleans; Mobile to Tuscaloosa. 3) Tuscaloosa to northern Alabama.

Progress: "Found the Pennsylvanians generally in favor of canals rather than railroads" [5/27/1830]; "Took a walk among the machinery of the boat determined to make acquaintance with the engines." [3/11/1831]

Race / ethnicity content: Recounts anecdotes about Indians [5/4/1830]; "kind interference of a blacky" [1830]; anecdote about Indians' aversion to red hair [3/10/1831]; sympathetic encounter with "a lot of negroes stowed away for the southern market" [3/11/1831]; encounter with Chickasaws and slave ship [3/12/1831?]. Large party of Choctaws [3/18/1831?]. Frequent discussion of negroes in 1833 diary, including list of slaves and cotton picked by each on Mr. Jarman's plantation in Franklin County, AL.

Religious content: "...all things are under the guidance and direction of an all-wise Disposer, & that all our suffering is intended for our best interest, yet I yield to this weak foolish anxiety for the future." [4/2/1831]. Exhortations of Alabama ministers [9/12/1833?]

School: Discussion with Dr. Beasley, recently resigned provost of Pennsylvania University [5/28/1830]

Social life: Evaluations of conversational qualities of traveling companions.

Travel: These are excellent travel diaries, giving descriptions of towns and life on the road. The 1831 diary describes life on a river boat. Long descriptions of Natchez and New Orleans [1831].

            The diaries of Anne B. (Francis) Woods also include interesting passages, as summarized in the following notes and extracts:


Arts and culture: Husband Marshall Woods was an art historian. The family made frequent visits to cathedrals and galleries on their 1852 European trip, which Anne discusses at length.

Childhood: Travels in Europe with two infant children, 1852. Re 8-month-old John: "I seized him and pressed him to my bosom...scarcely ever before realizing how superior he is to other babies." [2/14/1852].

Class relations: Description of French "galley slaves" (naval prisoners) [1/15/1852]. In general, hostile depictions of the laboring classes by an elite tourist.

Community: Woods encounters many Americans in Italy, including some Providence friends and family.

Fashion: Woods sometimes describes her daily wardrobe. Description of Italian village women [2/2/1852]

Health: Six pages on the intense agony suffered by her husband, who "got a needle stuck in the sole of his foot"; "Oh! Such a day of anxiety never did I pass". [7/27-30/1848]. Suffers a "bilious attack" in Milan; upon leaving town, was "so weak as to have to be carried down stairs & stretched out in the carriage." [7/9/1852].

Labor: Description of workers in Genoese silk factory [1/27/1852]

Marriage: First diary describes honeymoon tour of New York, 1848: "almost too happy for this world" [7/18]; "May God preserve him to me as long as I live" [7/22/1848].

Persons frequently mentioned: European trip with uncle Nicholas Brown III (1792-1859), aunt Caroline Clemens Brown and cousin John Carter Brown (1840-1900) [1/1852]

Places written: 1) Pittsfield, Mass; Albany, West Point and Utica, N.Y; 2-4) Marseilles, France; Italy

Religious content: Description of visit to Shaker village near Pittsfield, Mass. [7/16-17/1848]; description of monastery in France: "not a more wicked or debased lott of men exist than these monks & uneducated Catholic priests" [1/19/1852]; "The more I see of these disgusting Catholics the more I detest the whole sect...I can smell a Catholic church a half a mile off" [1/24/1852]. Many other comments on Catholicism. On seeing scenery of the Alps: "How could an infidel exist, I asked myself, when such works of God were before him?" [7/11/1852]

Social life: At fancy ball in Rome: "I feel so miserably all the time...and so out of spirits that I wish myself anywhere but in such places." [2/18/1852]

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            The bulk of these papers passed through the possession of John C.B. Woods, who died unmarried. They were then apparently inherited by his niece Helen Francis (Abbott) Washburn, and then by her son John Carter Brown Washburn. He donated the papers in two gifts in 1970. His widow Eleanor W. Washburn made a related gift of Washburn family papers (including some Woods material) in 1982, supplemented by a bequest from her estate in 1991. The Woods material from these last two gifts has been integrated into the Alva Woods Family papers as series VI, but the remainder of the gifts have been cataloged separately under the title "Washburn Family Papers" (MSS 783). This latter collection includes some material from Abby F. (Woods) Abbott and her family.

            The descriptions of the two 1970 gifts in the accession book do not seem to fully account for the scope of the collection. It seems likely that there was another gift prior to 1977 which accounted for the deeds and some of the diaries.

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Processing note:

            These papers were processed by Nathaniel N. Shipton in 1977. Each letter was cataloged individually at that time and filed in the library's card catalog, creating a useful correspondent index to the collection. The papers were housed in acid-free folders, but in acidic flat boxes. Series V, the deeds and plats, were left unprocessed. In 2000, series III, IV and V were reprocessed and rehoused by Rick Stattler, and this finding aid was written. Three folders of Woods family deeds and leases were found in the uncataloged Deed Book Collection; these probably arrived with the earliest gift of Woods papers, and were integrated in with the deeds in the main body of the collection. The original organization of the correspondence was maintained in order to retain the utility of the item cataloging. Seventeen maps and plats were transferred to the Graphics Division at that time. Additional material donated by the family from 1983 through 1991 was also appended to the collection in 2000, as Series VI.

            The material in series I, II, III and IV had been well cataloged by Shipton in 1977. In 2000, the newly processed material in series V and VI was also cataloged.

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Series I: Correspondence (see Series VI for additional correspondence)

Box 1, Folders 1-95.                                                                          1819-1823

Box 2, Folders 96-189.                                                                      1824-1830

Box 3, Folders 190-295.                                                                     1830-1934

Box 4, Folders 296-352.                                                                     1835-1836

Box 5, Folders 353-407.                                                                     1837

Box 6, Folders 408-509.                                                                     1838-1847

Box 7, Folders 510-617.                                                                     1847-1850

Box 8, Folders 618-740.                                                                     1851-1857

Box 9, Folders 741-865.                                                                     1857-1862

Box 10, Folders 866-910.                                                                   1862-1887 and Undated

Series II: Miscellaneous

Box 10, Folder 1.       List of paintings belonging to Alva Woods    Undated

Box 10, Folder 2.       Alva Woods' autograph collection

Box 10, Folder 3.       Dinner party plan                                            Undated

Box 10, Folder 4.       Biographical notes on the Woods family;

                                       notes on Samuel Woods

Box 10, Folder 5.       John C.B. Woods: brief for American            1878

                                       Screw Company case

Box 10, Folder 6.       Twentieth-century notes on Alva Woods

Box 10, Folder 7.        Ann B. (Francis) Woods Cookbook               1880

Series III: Diaries (see Series VI for additional diaries)

Box 11, Folder 1.       Alva Woods ("Private Memoranda")             1820-1824

Box 11, Folder 1-2.   Alva Woods                                                    1822-1823 (in Europe);

                                                                                                            1883-1887 (in Providence)

Box 11, Folder 1, 3.   Alva Woods (typescript copy)                        1822-1823

Box 11, Folder 1, 4.   Almira (Marshall) Woods                              1831 (Kentucky to Alabama);

                                     (see also Almira's 1830 diary attached to       1833 (northern Alabama)

                                       a letter dated June 21 1830 in Series I)

Box 11, Folder 5.       Marshall Woods                                             Jan 1849

                                     (see also Marshall's 1869 diary in Series VI)

Box 11, Folder 6.       Anne B. (Francis) Woods                               Jul 1848; Jan - Feb 1852

Box 11, Folder 7.       Anne B. (Francis) Woods                               Feb - May 1852;

                                                                                                            May - Jul 1852

Box 11, Folder 8.       Charles A. Kilvert                                            1896-1900


Series IV: Notes on religion

            Notebooks kept by Alva Woods on theological topics.

Box 11, Folder 1.                                                                               1817-1822

Box 11, Folder 2.                                                                               1819-1820

Box 11, Folder 3.       ("college themes")                                          1835

Box 11, Folder 4.       "Notes on Christianity"                                  Undated

Series V: Property documents

Alva & Almira (Marshall) Woods

Box 11, Folder 1.        Rhode Island - Providence                             1841-1879

Box 11, Folder 2.        Rhode Island - Warwick                                 1853-1855

Marshall & Anne B. (Francis) Woods

Box 11, Folder 3.       Indiana                                                            1867-1875

Box 11, Folder 4.       Massachusetts - Attleboro                              1859-1863

                                    Boston                                                            1872-1898

Box 11, Folder 5.        Rhode Island - Bristol                                    1876

                                    Cranston                                                         1859-1861

Box 11, Folder 6.       Rhode Island - Newport                                 1859-1886

Box 11, Folder 7.       Rhode Island - Providence -                           1848-1867

                                       Deeds and agreements

Box 11, Folder 8.       Rhode Island - Providence -                           1868

                                       Deeds and agreements

Box 11, Folder 9.       Rhode Island - Providence -                           1869-1895

                                       Deeds and agreements

Box 11, Folder 10.     Rhode Island - Providence - Leases               1847-1863

Box 11, Folder 11.      Rhode Island - Providence - Leases               1864-1876

Box 11, Folder 12.     Rhode Island - Providence - Leases               1877-1896

Box 11, Folder 13.     Rhode Island - Warwick                                 1842-1891

Box 11, Folder 14.     Brown U. Committee on Corporations -        1862-1869

                                       Extracts re Land Grant schools,  

Box 11, Folder 15.     Nicholas Brown estate - Rawson Fountain    1853-1919

                                       Society shares

Box 11, Folder 16.     Anne C.B. Woods will                                   1849

                                    Anne C.B. Woods estate                                1896

                                    Alva Woods estate                                          1887

Box 11, Folder 17.     Miscellaneous                                                 1849-1869

                                    Deed of life insurance policy                          1849

                                    Deed of pew at First Baptist Church              1849

                                    Tax return for carriage and silver plate          1863

                                    Extract from will of John Brown Francis       1864

                                    Deed of shares in Housatonic                         1869

                                       Railroad Company

John C.B. Woods:

Box 11, Folder 18.     Rhode Island - Providence -                           1827, 1894-1922

                                       Arcade / Butler-Duncan case

Box 11, Folder 19.     Rhode Island - Providence -                           1908-1910

                                       Whitman Block power of attorney

Box 11, Folder 20.     Rhode Island - Providence - Miscellaneous   1899-1923

Box 11, Folder 21.     Rhode Island - Warwick                                 1900-1903

Box 11, Folder 22.     Marshall Woods power of attorney                1897-1899

                                       and estate

Box 11, Folder 23.     Miscellaneous                                                 1886-1909

                                    Deed of Providence National Bank shares     1886

                                    Agreement between Turk's Head Estate         1909

                                       and King Fruit Store

Series VI: Later Accessions

Alva and Almira (Marshall) Woods

Box 12, Folder 1.        Correspondence                                              1837-1850

Box 12, Folder 2.       Correspondence                                              Jan - Jun 1853

Box 12, Folder 3.       Correspondence                                              Jul - Dec 1853

Box 12, Folder 4.       Correspondence                                              1855-1886 and Undated

Box 12, Folder 5.       Deed to Josiah Marshall                                 1853

Box 12, Folder 6.       Inventory of assets                                          1849-1870

                                    Specifications for Warwick Neck house        1854

Marshall Woods

Box 12, Folder 7.       Correspondence                                              1848-1863 and Undated

Box 12, Folder 8.       Correspondence                                              1870, 1882, 1887

Box 12, Folder 9.       Account book                                                 1842-1856

                                    Expense book in Europe                                 1851-1852

Box 12, Folder 10.     Brown University - extracts from minutes     c. 1769-1880

Box 12, Folder 11.     Brown University - Francis Wayland             1860-1861, 1889

                                       Bust committee

Box 12, Folder 12.     Brown University - miscellaneous                 c. 1882

Box 12, Folder 13.     Diary                                                              1869

Box 12, Folder 14.     Letter book                                                     1879-1884

Box 12, Folder 15.     Letter book                                                     1886

Box 12, Folder 16.     Letter book                                                     1893-1894

Box 12, Folder 17.     Miscellaneous                                                 1853-1872

                                    Four documents re Paris exposition               1853

                                    Inventory of household silver                         1862

                                    Diplomatic certificates                                   1855, 1870

                                    Documents re Prov., Warren & Bristol RR    1871-1872

Anne B. (Francis) Woods

Box 12, Folder 18.     Correspondence                                              1858-1877

Box 12, Folder 19.     Correspondence                                              1863

                                    Correspondence from John Brown Francis    Undated

Box 12, Folder 20.     Correspondence from daughter Abby            Jan - Feb 1870

Box 12, Folder 21.     Correspondence from daughter Abby            Mar - Apr 1870

Box 12, Folder 22.     Correspondence from daughter Abby            May - Jun 1870

Box 12, Folder 23.     Correspondence from daughter Abby            Jul - Aug 1870

Box 12, Folder 24.     Correspondence from daughter Abby            Sep - Oct 1870

Box 12, Folder 25.     Expense book, Paris                                       1854-1855 

                                    Prescription book, Paris                                  1855

Box 12, Folder 26.     Will and codicil                                              Undated

John C.B. Woods

Box 12, Folder 27.     Correspondence                                              1882-1923 and Undated

Box 12, Folder 28.     Correspondence                                              1927-1928

Box 12, Folder 29.     School report card                                          1864

                                    Brown University material                             1868-1873

Box 12, Folder 30.     Diary and memorandum book                        Jul - Aug 1871

Box 12, Folder 31.     Extracts from letters of parents and                1853


Box 12, Folder 32.     Family historical notes                                   Undated

Box 12, Folder 33.     Family paintings - certificates of                    1843-1916

                                       authenticity and notes

Box 12, Folder 34.     Obituaries                                                       1930

Box 12, Folder 35.     Political scrapbook                                         1882

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In 2000, the following entries were added to the item-level card catalog entries made in 1977.

Abbott, Abby F. (Woods), 1849-1895.

African Methodist Episcopal Church (Providence, R.I.)

Art - Rhode Island.

Brown University (Providence, R.I.)

Brown, John Carter, 1797-1874.

Butler-Duncan Land Company.

Crockett, David, 1786-1836.

Diaries, 1869.

Diaries, 1871.

Europe - Description and travel.

Francis, John Brown, 1791-1864.

Goddard, William, 1825-1907.

Howard University.

Lincoln, John Sullivan, 1811-1888.

Murfee, James Thomas, 1833-1912.

Park, Edwards A., 1808-1900.

Porter, Noah, 1811-1892.

Prisons - Kentucky.

Providence Arcade Corporation.

Providence (R.I.) - Social life and customs.

Read, John Meredith, 1837-1896.

Rhode Island - Politics and government, 1865-1950.

River boats - Mississippi River.

Washburn, Helen F. (Abbott), 1874-1969.

Wayland, Francis, 1796-1865.

Woods, Almira (Marshall), 1804-1863.

Woods, Alva, 1794-1887.

Woods, Anne B. (Francis), 1828-1896.

Woods, John C.B., 1851-1930.

Woods, Marshall, 1824-1899.

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