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

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 Fessenden Family Papers

 Family of Pawtucket and Valley Falls, R.I.

 Family papers, 1815-1884

 Size: 0.5 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 783 sg 2

 Processed by: Rick Stattler, March 2000

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Benjamin Fessenden (1796-1881) was the son of William and Martha (Freeman) Fessenden, and was raised in Sandwich, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1817, and from the Cambridge Theological School in 1820. He served as minister of the East Bridgewater Unitarian Church for four years before leaving the ministry. He moved to Pawtucket, R.I. in 1825, became a Baptist, got involved with the anti-slavery and temperance movements, and entered in business with Edward Mason. In 1833, he moved to the nearby village of Valley Falls in the town of Cumberland, where he spent many years as a partner in the Abbott's Run Company, a textile manufacturing firm. He was also active in state politics, serving in the General Assembly intermittently from 1855 to 1870. He also served as postmaster of Valley Falls from 1870 to 1878, and as Superintendent of the Valley Falls Baptist Sabbath School for twenty-five years.

            Mary Wilkinson ( 1804-1888) married Benjamin Fessenden in 1821. She was the daughter of Amariah and Lois (Marsh) Wilkinson, and was raised in Pawtucket. Mary and Benjamin had nine children, including Mary W., Charles H. (d.1865), Robert , and Russell F. Fessenden, as well as several others whom died at an early age.

            Mary W. Fessenden (1827-1886) married William F. Sayles in 1849. He was the founder of a massive textile bleaching empire based in Saylesville, R.I. Their children included Martha F., Frank A., and Mary F. Sayles, who married Roscoe S. Washburn.


Rhode Island Cemetery Database

Biographical Cyclopedia of Rhode Island, 139, 184, 472.

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Scope and content:

            The bulk of these papers are letters received by Benjamin Fessenden from family members in Massachusetts. Also among his letters are correspondence with George B. Emerson and Samuel A. Eliot, both Harvard classmates of Fessenden who became prominent Boston intellectuals.

            Also included in this subgroup are four folders of papers of Benjamin's wife Mary (Wilkinson) Fessenden, their daughter Mary (Fessenden) Sayles and other family members. These folders are of more general Rhode Island interest, and include several good family letters written from Pawtucket, Newport and Valley Falls. There are also two letters written to Sylvia Marsh from Maine during the War of 1812, discussing British privateering activities.

            Please see the master inventory of the Washburn-Abbott-Fessenden-Wood Family Papers for the papers of Mary F. (Sayles) (Washburn) Carrington, her descendants and in-laws. None of these papers relate directly to Benjamin Fessenden and his family, but some of the Washburn Family Papers (subgroup 2) material does relate to the family inheritance from the Sayles estate.

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            The bulk of the Washburn Papers were given to the Society in 1982 by Mrs. Eleanor W. Washburn. In 1990 a major addendum was donated by Brock D. Bierman, who had received the material from Mrs. Washburn's estate.

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Processing note:

            Harold Kemble gave the original accession a preliminary processing circa 1983. Cindy Bendroth integrated the additional material with the rest of the collection in February of 1992. This was done in separate folders, so that the 1982 accession and 1990-1991 accessions could be easily distinguished. What had been arranged before was not disturbed. A rough finding aid was written at this time, and preliminary cataloging was done. In 2000, about one linear foot of material relating to the Woods family was transferred to the Woods family papers. The remainder was completely reprocessed, and reorganized into series based on family groups. Additional cataloging was done at this time. The 1992 finding aid has been placed in the collection file to show the previous arrangement.

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Fessenden, Benjamin (1796-1881).

Folder 1. Letters received, 1816-1818. All from parents and siblings.

Folder 2. Letters received, 1819. All from family except one from Samuel A. Eliot.

Folder 3. Letters received, 1820-1823. Mostly from family.

Folder 4. Letters received, 1829-1879. Mostly from family.

Folder 5. Letters received, undated

Folder 6. Letters to George B. Emerson, 1822-1873

Folder 7. Miscellaneous:

            List of books, undated

            Deed, 1846

            Family notes, undated

Fessenden, Mary (Wilkinson) (1804-1888). Wife of Benjamin Fessenden.

Folder 8. Miscellaneous:

            1820/06/01     Letter from sister N--- of Pawtucket

            1820/10/26     Letter from Julia --- of Amherst, Mass.

            1821/06/14     Letter from sister N--- of Pawtucket

            1821/09           Letter from Lucy Ann --- of Bridgewater

            1821/10/01     Letter from husband Benjamin Fessenden in East Bridgewater

            1822/01/05     Letter from young aunt Sylvia [Marsh] of Pawtucket

            1883/02/07     Letter to cousin Nelson ---, asking for financial assistance.

            undated           Design for calling card?

            undated           "Pastoral Song to Mary," from E. Deblois


Marsh, Sylvia (1793-1861). Daughter of Amariah and Lois Marsh; sister of Lois (Marsh) Wilkinson; thus the aunt of Mary (Wilkinson) Fessenden. Resident of Pawtucket.

Folder 9. Miscellaneous:

            1815/01/25     Letter from father Amariah Marsh in Thomaston, Maine describing British privateering

            1815/09/26     Letter from Amariah and Lois Marsh in Thomaston, Maine

            1854/10/11     Note from William Beals enclosing lock of Sylvia Marsh's hair

Sayles, Mary W. (Fessenden) (1827-1886). Daughter of Benjamin Fessenden.

Folder 10. Letters received from family members, 1841-1884 and undated, written mostly from Newport and Valley Falls; deed, 1850


Folder 11.      Letter to Sam -- from Aunt Ruth, 1854

                        Letter, Sam to mother, undated

                        Letter, Mary Fessenden to Mrs. Cargile on Sam's behalf, 1870

                        Photostats of two commissions of Israel Sayles, 1755, 1762

                        Obituary of William C. Sayles, undated

                        Receipt from Francis W. Sayles to A. Peck, 1846

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Eliot, Samuel A. (1798-1862)

Emerson, George B. (1797-1881)

Fessenden, Benjamin (1796-1881)

Fessenden, Mary (Wilkinson) (d.1888)

Marsh, Sylvia (1793-1861)

Pawtucket, R.I. - Social life and customs

Sayles, Mary W. (Fessenden) (1827-1886)

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