1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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 Hagadorn-Wells Papers

 Family of South Kingston, Rhode Island.

 Papers, 1797-circa 1890

 Size: 1 lin. ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 629 SG 10

 Processed by: Robin Flynn

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            The papers in this collection are primarily those of Elizabeth "Lizzie" (Wells) Hagadorn (b. 1819), daughter of Thomas Robinson Wells of South Kingstown; and of lawyer John Hagadorn (d. 1813) of South Kingstown. Little is known about John Hagadorn except that he seemed to move in influential political circles. Lizzie Hagadorn married her cousin, Frank Hagadorn of New York, circa 1853. Her sister, Sarah (Wells) Clark (1823-1856), removed to Whitinsville, Massachusetts after marrying Dr. Rowse Clark.

            Lizzie and Sarah's father, Thomas Robinson Wells (1785-1853), was the clerk for South Kingstown for thirty years. He was married three times. His first wife, whom he married in 1808, was Maria Potter, the daughter of Asa Potter, Sr. and Hannah Hagadorn. Hannah was the sister of John Hagadorn; Asa was the brother of Elisha Reynolds Potter, Sr. (see subgroup 2). Another daughter, Eliza, married Thomas Taylor.

            Thomas and Maria Wells had six children, all born in South Kingstown. In addition to Lizzie and Sarah, they were: Thomas Potter Wells (b. 1809), Mary Robinson Wells (b. 1811), Hannah Hagadorn Wells (b. 1813), and John Hagadorn Wells ("Hagadorn"?) (b. 1817).

            Wells' second wife was Emma Palmer, whom he married in 1833. They had one son, Amos Palmer Wells, born in 1834. It appears that Amos, one of the more interesting writers in the collection, lived in Rhode Island until he graduated from college. His letters indicate he received his grammar school education in East Greenwich, and attended Brown University from 1852 to 1854 without graduating. An 1853 letter from "C. Palmer" addressed to him at "Browns University, Providence, R I" discourages Amos from entering the banking profession, but encourages him to visit Palmer in New York after college, to discuss Amos's professional future. Despite the letter's advice it appears Amos did take a position as a cashier in the Landholder's Bank (Kingston) for some time between 1853 and 1856, then he restlessly traveled throughout the country until at least 1865, during this time serving in the Union army as an officer with the 20th New York Regiment of Colored Infantry. He was mustered out at the end of the war, and then may have settled in New York. He died from disease contracted during the war, but his death date is unknown.

            Thomas Wells married his third wife, Elizabeth Rhodes, in 1844. It appears from letters she wrote to her stepdaughter Lizzie that Elizabeth lived to be at least 90 years old. Thomas died in 1853.

            Lizzie Hagadorn and her sister Sarah Clark were close and corresponded regularly. Lizzie and her husband Frank had at least two daughters, Emma and Jennie. Sarah and Rowse Clark probably had only one child, a son who died young. Sarah died of illness in 1856; her husband remarried by 1857. (There are two letters from Clark to navy surgeon Thomas Mawney Potter dated in 1841; see subgroup 4.)         

            The marriages and occupations of Thomas Wells' other children were as follows: John Hagadorn Wells was minister of the Kingston Congregational Church. Mary Robinson Wells married George Robinson. They had two daughters, Maria P. Robinson and Elizabeth Robinson ("Lizzie R."). Hannah Wells, who died probably in 1841, married the Reverend Charles Grovernor. Thomas Potter Wells married three times. His third wife, whom he married circa 1848, was Julia E. Johnson. "Lizzie R.", Charles Grovernor, and Julia (Johnson) Wells all corresponded with Lizzie Hagadorn.

            The connection of "Aunt Eliza" Hagadorn (who, it appears, never married) to the above family members is unknown.  


Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island (Chicago, J. H. Beers & Co., 1908), v. 2, p. 1033.

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Scope and content:

            Correspondents to attorney John Hagadorn include Nicholas Brown, James Burrill, Jr., William Hunter, William Marchant, brother-in-law Asa Potter Sr., and Elisha R. Potter. Letters from Brown and Marchant discuss the embargo during the War of 1812. A letter dated September 22, 1804 from E. R. Gardiner mentions a tornado in Groton, Connecticut which he experienced while traveling to New York.

            By far the largest group of letters are those to Elizabeth ("Lizzie" or "Libby") (Wells) Hagadorn; there are letters to her from her sister Sarah, her half-brother Amos, her stepmothers Emma (Palmer) Wells and Elizabeth (Rhodes) Wells, her husband Frank Hagadorn, her brothers-in-law Dr. Rowse Clark and Rev. Charles Grovernor, as well as various cousins, nieces, friends and relations. In most cases the letters discuss social and family affairs in detail, as well as fashion, sewing, shopping, visiting, spirituality (mostly as it pertains to deaths of loved ones), and education. Her sister Sarah's letters occasionally mention Rowse Clarke's medical rounds, cases, and treatments.

            A letter from Lizzie Robinson to Frank and Lizzie (Wells) Hagadorn, dated April 16, 1861, describes the failure of James Brown Mason Potter, and its effect on his siblings Elisha, William, Thomas, and Mary: "...Elisha has not one cent he can call his own or a foot of land. William is involved for $35,000, all the help must come from Tom & Mary - Everything is to be sold the first of May, both factories, the homestead here all the land all the horses & everything else - I presume Tom will secure the homestead if possible. Elisha has opened a law office in Newport & is going there to live."

            The letters of Amos P. Wells to Frank and Lizzie (his half-sister) are always colorful and descriptive. They are especially interesting between 1858 and 1865, when he makes a long circuit of the country all the way to California and eventually back to New York, writing from Wisconsin, Missouri, Texas, Nevada, Arkansas, and Washington, D.C. He enlisted in the Union army in the Civil War at two separate periods, the second time in 1864, when he commanded the 20th New York Regiment of Colored Infantry. An appendix containing extracts from some of his letters follows this finding aid.

            A letter written March 22, 1829, from Lucy W. Pardee to Almira Wells mentions an acquaintance who is dying of breast cancer.

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            The bulk of the papers in this collection were purchased in 1968, for $65.00, from Nino Scotti. This purchase became MSS 147, the Hagadorn-Wells Papers, and remained so until 1998, when it was transferred into MSS 629, a collection known as the Potter Papers. Scotti donated one additional letter, dated 1832 to Eliza Hagadorn, in 1971.

            The Potter Papers was a merging of two gifts, originating from the estate of historian William Davis Miller, and of smaller gifts received from various parties over a period of several years. Miller's estate gave a small gift directly to the RIHS, and a larger portion, comprised of over 2000 documents, to the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, upon Miller's death in 1959. The RIHS portion contained primarily papers of Elisha Reynolds Potter and his son, Elisha Jr. The URI portion derived from several Washington County families, the foremost of which are the Reynolds, Potter, Gardiner, Hagadorn, Wells, and Davis families.

            In 1968, the university transferred its portion to the RIHS, where it became part of the Potter Papers. In 1998, this collection was sorted into several family subgroups under a single collection number.

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Processing note:

            In 1998 the Hagadorn-Wells Papers, MSS 147, were transferred into MSS 629, the collection known as the Potter Papers. All three families were related through marriage. A substantial group of John Hagadorn's correspondence was already present in the Potter Papers when the transfer was made.

            The Hagadorn-Wells Papers had been arranged chronologically, with papers of all family members mixed together; much like the Potter Papers before their rearrangement in 1998. The papers were rearranged by individual family member.

            The papers in the folder marked "Kingston Congregational Church" (box 2, folder 11) are presumed to belong to the Wells family as John Hagadorn Wells was one of the church's pastors, and Wells family members are mentioned on several of the documents. The papers also include an undated resolution, in the handwriting of Thomas Robinson Wells, concerning slavery and temperance.

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Sarah (Wells) Clark (1823-1856. Wife of Rowse Clark, doctor; sister of Lizzie (Wells) Hagadorn)

Box 1.

Folder 1. Correspondence, 1848-1855 and undated

Eliza Hagadorn (never married?)

Box 1.

Folder 2. Correspondence, 1832-1885

Folder 3. Correspondence, undated

Frank Hagadorn (of NY; husband of Lizzie (Wells) Hagadorn)

Box 1.

Folder 4. Correspondence, 1847-1891 and undated

John Hagadorn (d. 1813. Lawyer; brother of Hannah (Hagadorn) Potter)

Box 1.

Folder 5. Correspondence, 1797-1810

Folder 6. Correspondence, 1811-1813

Folder 7. Miscellaneous:

            Bond, John Larkin, 1793

            Deed, Caleb Gardner to John Hagadorn, 1796

            Militia appointment, 1807

            Receipts, 1809 and 1814

John Hagadorn of New York (d. ca. 1871; relationship to other Hagadorns unknown)

Box 1.

Folder 8. 1848-1877

Lizzie (Wells) Hagadorn (b. 1819. Wife of Frank Hagadorn of NY; sister of Sarah (Wells) Clark)

Box 1.

Folder 9. Correspondence, 1836-1848

Folder 10. Correspondence, 1849-1852

Box 2.

Folder 1. 1853-1863

Folder 2. 1864-1888

Folder 3. Undated

Hagadorn family

Box 2.

Folder 4. Hagadorn and other families, New York, Miscellaneous deeds, bonds, resolutions,1827-            1868

Taylor family

Box 2.

Folder 5. Miscellaneous papers, 1818-1857

Wells Family

Box 2.

Folder 6. Amos Palmer Wells (b. 1834. Son of Thomas R. Wells and Emma (Palmer) Wells), correspondence, 1844-1861; deed, 1856

Folder 7. Emma (Palmer) Wells (3rd wife of Thomas R. Wells), correspondence, 1833 and undated

Folder 8. Thomas Potter Wells (b. 1809. Son of Thomas R. Wells), papers, 1848-1862

Folder 9. Thomas Robinson Wells (1785-1853. South Kingstown town clerk) and Maria (Potter) Wells, 1806-1853

Folder 10. Wells family (R.I. and N.Y.), 1829-1880

            Almira Wells (N.Y.), correspondence, 1829

            John Henry Wells (R.I.), deeds and guardianship, 1866 and 1880

            Solomon P. Wells (R.I.), fire insurance policy, 1856

Folder 11. Wells family: Kingston Congregational Church, 1820-1875

Miscellaneous Hagadorn and Wells

Box 2.

Folder 12. Miscellaneous correspondence, unidentified recipients, 1846-1856 and undated

Folder 13. Correspondence: unidentified fragments, undated

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Arkansas - Description and travel

Brown, Nicholas (1769-1841)

Burrill, James Jr. (1772-1820)

Clark, Rowse

Clark, Sarah (Wells) (1823-1856)


Gardiner Family

Hagadorn, Elizabeth (Wells) ("Lizzie") (1819-?)

Hagadorn, Francis (Frank)

Hagadorn, John (?-1813?)

Hunter, William (1774-1849)

Kingston Congregational Church

Malbone, Francis (1759-1809)

Mason, James Brown (1774-1819)

Marchant, William (1774-1857)

Medicine - Practice

New York State - Description and travel

Potter, Asa Sr. (?-1805)

Potter, Elisha Reynolds (1764-1835)

Robbins, Asher (1757-1845)

Silver mines and mining - Nevada

Slavery - Rhode Island -- South Kingstown

South Kingstown - Social life and customs

Taylor Family

20th Regiment New York Colored Infantry

United States - History -- Civil War

United States - History -- War of 1812

Wells, Amos (1834-1866?)

Wells, Thomas Robinson (1785-1853)

West (U.S.) - Description and travel -- 1848-1860

Women - Social life and customs

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