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

 Walter S. Burges Papers

 Attorney, Providence, R.I.

 Papers, 1815-1888. Bulk, 1831-1881.

 Size: 1.5 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 836

 Processed by: Rick Stattler, July 1996


©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division



Historical note:


            Walter Snow Burges (1808-1892) was born in Rochester, Massachusetts, the son of Abraham and Rhoda (Caswell) Burges. His father and grandfather had been Rochester farmers, but Walter followed more in the footsteps of his uncle Tristam Burges, who was a Brown University professor from 1815 to 1828, and then a United States Representative from Rhode Island until 1835. Walter attended Brown, and graduated in 1831. By that time, he had married Eleanor Burrill (1803-1865), daughter of the popular late U.S. Senator James Burrill Jr. (1772-1820). For the next four years he studied law and taught school on the island of Martha's Vineyard; he was admitted to the Rhode Island bar in 1835. He held a number of elected state offices, served as the state's Attorney-General for most of 1851 to 1863, and was Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court from 1868 to 1881.

            Walter and Eleanor had three daughters: Cornelia, who married Arnold Green; Sarah, who married Charles Morris Smith; and Theodora, who never married.



Biographical Cyclopedia of Rhode Island, p. 351.


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Scope and content:


            Most of this collection consists of an incomplete file of personal letters received by Walter S. Burges, and a box of his financial and legal record books. The correspondence is mostly family-related. By far the most prolific correspondents here are his uncle Tristam Burges, writing mostly about mutual investments; and a nephew named Jeremiah Augustus Johnson, who Burges helped get appointed to a consular position in Syria. There is a long run of letters from Beirut, reporting on diplomatic events there.

            An unusually high proportion of the letters Burges received were requests for money, from friends, family and strangers. He was responsible for administering several family estates, and was frequently asked to make advances to nephews and cousins.

            There is not a large amount of Burges' legal correspondence, but what has survived is often interesting. On at least a couple of occasions, defendants wrote to him pleading for leniency. One, Joseph Allen of Little Compton, claimed to be unjustly persecuted in a paternity suit. Other letters address contemporary politics, including one dated 1842 from George W. Curtis, a New York City editor and Burges nephew, making a heartfelt defense of the principles behind the Dorr Rebellion.

            One interesting item is an autograph book kept by Eleanor Burges, mostly circa 1835. Most of the leading political figures in Washington signed the book, and also addressed a few kind lines or a favorite quotation. Among the more prominent signers are Henry Clay, William Henry Harrison, Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, John Marshall and Thomas W. Dorr.

            There are also three folders of letters addressed to Eleanor Burges, mostly from family members, though one from U.S. Senator Nehemiah Knight discusses the 1835 political scene in great detail.


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            The most interesting portion of this collection was donated in 1996 by Ms. Elliot Green Chesebrough and Theodore Francis Green II, both great-great-grandchildren of Walter S. Burges, through Cornelia (Burges) Green, Erik H. Green and their father Burges Green. This gift included almost all of the correspondence found in the collection, as well as the Eleanor Burges autograph book.

            A single undated letter from Burges regarding a dinner inviation was purchased in 1968 from a manuscript dealer named H.P. Kraus (accession number 1968.83.5).

            No definite provenance can be given for the remainder of the collection, comprising 24 volumes and two deeds. They were all listed in a 1985 inventory, but only one volume and the deeds were on a catalog card done circa 1975. If they were donated in the interim, though, they most likely would have been given accession dates. It is more likely that the volumes were found in the collection and had sat unidentified for many years. This theory is supported by the fact that the Historical Society received a bequest from the Burges estate in 1894. Though manuscripts were not specifically mentioned, the accession books do list "62 bound volumes" and "2 old court volumes." It is possible that the volumes found here were part of that bequest. However, it is odd that they were not given bookplates, as was then the common practice, nor were they cataloged as Burges material until 1985.

            A large collection of related Arnold and Green family papers was donated in 1981, but the detailed list accompanying that list makes no mention of Burges papers.


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Processing note:


            The 1996 gift arrived with papers of James Burrill Jr., Burges' father-in-law, which were placed with the Burrill Papers. A Rhode Island $4 banknote dated 1780 was found in the Eleanor Burges autograph book and placed in the Currency Collection. According to the 1985 inventory, three plat maps were removed at that time and sent to the Graphics Division. Plat maps also arrived with the 1996 gift.


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Box 1 (personal)


Folder 1.        Teaching certificate, 1828

                        Letters of recommendation from Brown University professors, 1831.

Folder 2.         Letters, 1834-1839. None 1840.

Folder 3.         Letters, 1841-1845.

Folder 4.         Letters, 1846-1849.

Folder 5.         Letters, 1846, from Tristam Burges.

Folder 6.         Letters, 1847-1849, from Tristam Burges.

Folder 7.         Letters, 1853-1854. None 1850-1852 or 1855-1856.

Folder 8.         Letters, 1857-1858. None 1859-1860.

Folder 9.         Letters, 1861-1867.

Folder 10.       Letters, 1857-1867, from J. Augustus Johnson

Folder 11.       Letters, 1868-1869.

Folder 12.       Letters, 1870-1872.

Folder 13.       Letters, 1873-1888.

Folder 14.       Letters, undated.

Folder 15.      Estate accounts, Theodora Burges, executor, 1892-1893

Folder 16.       Deeds, 1850 and 1864

Folder 17.       Miscellaneous:

            2 Tristam Burges receipts, 1846.

            J.J. Markland receipt, undated.

            Flier regarding town of Pullman, mentions L.M. Johnson, 1881.

            4 memoranda of no obvious significance.


Eleanor (Burrill) Burges material:

Folder 18.       Letters, 1815, 1817, 1831-1835.

Folder 19.       Letters, 1840-1845

Folder 20.       Letters, 1846-1865 and undated.

Folder 21.       Poem, "The Knights Templars"

Folder 22.       Autograph book, 1834-1850. One page cut out, before W.H. Harrison.

Folder 23.       Miscellaneous:

            Quotation by Jonathan B. Chace, undated.

            Small twig from grave of James Burrill in envelope.


Cornelia Burges material:

Folder 24.       8 letters received from family, 1854.


Folder 25 contains various water-damaged letters.

Archival copies have been interfiled in the collection.


Box 2 (Legal)

All loose volumes, not in folders. These volumes have not been indexed.


Personal financial records:


Cash book 1834-1836; account book, 1834-1855 Indexed in front of volume.

Cash book 1847-1848; memoranda book, 1857-1873. Includes inventory of property, 1857.                         (This volume is oversized and stored outside the box.)

Account book, 1839-1855. Indexed in front. Marked "Day Book".

Account book, 1847-1883. Indexed in front. Marked "Ledger" on spine.

Notes and bills payable and receivable, 1847-1869.

Accounts as executor/administrator/guardian, 1836-1843

Accounts as executor/administrator/guardian, 1856-1881


Legal records:


Docket book, 1835-1843

Docket book, 1834-1853

14 trial books (testimony and judgements), 1851-1868.


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Autograph albums

Dorr Rebellion

Lawyers - Rhode Island - Providence

Providence, R.I. - Social life and customs

Syria - Description and travel

United States - Diplomatic and consular service - Syria


Also, all of the persons in the following index whose names have been underlined.


Index to the Walter S. Burges Papers

All correspondence is indexed by author and recipient, but only rarely by subject.

The account books in box 2 are not indexed, nor is the record of Burges' estate.

Names underlined have been indexed in the card catalog.


Addeman, M. As clerk of R.I. House of Representatives

            Letter, 1872.


Alexander, William C. Of New York.

            Letter, 1871.


Allen, Joseph D. Of Little Compton, R.I.

Letter, 1870. Asking for reconsideration in ruling of bastardy case; denies having fathered the child; claims the mother is living in New Bedford with the actual father.


Allen, P.

            Letter, undated.


Allen, Zachariah (1795-1882). R.I. inventor and industrialist.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1840.


Anthony, Henry B. (1815-1884) U.S. Senator.

            Letter, 1880. Invitation to dinner.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1850.


Bailey, W.M. Of Providence.

            Letter, 1867


Barclay, James T. Author.

            Letter signed as father, possibly to J.A. Johnson. Undated.


Bartlett, A.A. Of Medford, Mass.

            Letter, 1834.


Bartlett, John Russell. Rhode Island Secretary of State.

            Letter, 1868. Routine notice of commission.


Beals, Samuel J. Brother-in-law. Of New York.

            3 letters, 1844, 1853.


Beals, Susan (Burges). Sister. Of New York.

            Letter, 1846.


Beals, Susan B. Niece. Of Providence, Yellow Springs and St. Paul.

            19 letters, 1868-1877

            Another letter from niece "Susan B." 1841.

            Letter from niece Susan to Eleanor Burges, 1852.


Bird, F.W. Of East Walpole.

            Letter, 1879.


Bridgham, S.W. Of New York.

            Letter, 1871.


Brown, Moses (1738-1836). Of Providence.

Copy of letter, 1834, from W.S. Burges as Brown's attorney, regarding failure of Samuel Saunders to pay for textile machinery.


Brown & Ives. Providence firm.

            Letter, 1857, to Almoran Harris re Pawtuxtet Bridge case. Evidently forwarded to             Burges.


Burges, Cornelia Abby "Keena". Daughter. Later married Arnold Green.

            Letter to father W.S. Burges, date unknown. 

            8 letters received from family, 1854. In separate folder.


Burges, Eleanor (Burrill) (1803-1865). Wife of Walter S. Burges.

            Letter to Walter, 4/11/1845, from New York.

            7 letters to daughter Cornelia Burges, 1854.

            Also, poem composed for sister Sarah Fearing.

            Letters received, 1815-1865.

            Autograph book, 1834-1850.


Burges, Mrs. ___ (Arnold). Wife of Tristam Burges.

            Letter, 1835


Burges, S.W.??? Of New York.

            Letter, undated.


Burges, Sarah E. "Lily" Daughter. Later married Charles M. Smith.

            2 letters to sister Cornelia, 1854.


Burges, Theodora F. "Dora". Daughter

            Letter to sister Cornelia, 1854.


Burges, Tristam (1770-1853). U.S. Congressman. Of Watchemoket Farm.

            55 letters, 1835-1848. 

            Plus copy of letter to Edward B. Hull, 1849 (theological).

            Two receipts, 1846.


Burges, Walter Snow (1808-1892).

            6 copies of letters written, 1834, 1835, 1849, 1865, 1867, 1880

            Letters received, 1834-1888.

            Letter to daughter Cornelia, 1854.

            Personal accounts, etc.


Burrill, Eleanor: See Eleanor (Burrill) Burges.


Burrill, James Jr. (1772-1820)

            Twig from gravesite, in Eleanor Burges folder.

            Also letter requesting his autograph, 1840.


Burrill, Sarah E. Niece. Of Louisville.

            4 letters, 1845-1847.


Calhoun, John C. (1782-1850). U.S. Senator, S.C.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Caswell, Alexis. Brown University professor, future president.

            Letter of recommendation for W.S. Burges, 1831.


Chace, Jonathan B.

            Quotation to Eleanor Burges, undated.


Chapman, Israel. Sheriff of Washington County, R.I..

            Letter, 1834. Listing deputies.


Clark, ___. Bishop. Of Providence.

            Letter, 1866.


Clark, Harriet B. Niece.

            1 letter, 1867. Dated from Rochester, Mass.


Clark, Henry C. Of Providence.

            Letter, 1870


Clay, Henry (1777-1852) U.S. Senator, Kentucky

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Clune, M.M. Of Elmwood, Providence.

            Letter, 1871.


Cornwall, Timothy. Of Providence.

            Letter, 1870.


Cross?, John S. Of Westerly, R.I.

            Letter, 1870.


Curtis, George (1796-1856). Brother-in-law. Of Providence.

            2 letters to Eleanor Burges, 1833-1834.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1839.


Curtis, George W. (1824-1892) Nephew. Editor, of New York City.

            7 letters, 1839-1866, 1880.

Including 4/9/1842 letter on Dorr Rebellion: "As a son of Rhody, I insist that the majority of sons must rule. In all Republics the people are the source of power."

            5 letters to Eleanor Burges, 1831-1832, 1840, 1845


Curtis, J. Burrill. Nephew. Of Cambridge, England and Edinburgh, Scotland.

            14 letters, 1861-1873.


Curtis, Samuel B. Of New York.

            8 letters, 1871-1872.


Cutler, Edward A. Trustee of the Perkins Iron Sheeting Company.

            Deed to Cutler, 1864.


Dewey, Orville (1794-1882). Clergyman, of Washington, DC.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1852

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Durfee, George N. Of Tiverton, R.I.

            Letter, 1872.


Dorr, Thomas W. (1805-1854) Popular governor of R.I.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1847.


Elton, Romeo (1790-1870). Brown University professor.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1839.

            Letter of recommendation for Walter Burges, 1831.

            Cover letter to Tristam Burges for above letter, 1831.


Evans, George (1797-1867). U.S. Rep., Maine

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Everett, Edward (1794-1865) U.S. Rep., Mass.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1835.


Fearing, Anna E. Niece.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1845. In letter from Sarah Fearing.


Fearing, Sarah (Burges) a.k.a. "Capting" Of New York.

            6 letters, 1846-1849. Mostly amusing letters requesting money.

            11 letters to sister Eleanor Burges, 1841-1851 and undated.

            Also, copy of letter received from W.S. Burges, 1849.

            Also, poem written for Fearing by Eleanor Burges.


Fearing, William S. Brother-in-law. Of New York.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1842.


Frelinghuysen, Theodore (1787-1862). U.S. Senator, N.J.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Goddard, Anna F.

            Letter, undated.


Goddard, Thomas Poynton Ives (1827-1893). 35 Brown St., Providence.

            3 letters, 1881-1884. Birthday greetings.


Goddard, W.J. Of Providence.

            Letter, 1870.


Goddard, William G. Brown university professor.

            Letter of recommendation for W.S. Burges, 1831.


Greene, Eleanor B. Niece.

            2 letters, 1868-1869


Greene, William.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1836.


Hall, E.B.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, date unknown.


Harrison, William H. (1773-1841) U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate, future President.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1836.


Haskell, J. Of Rochester, Mass.

            Letter, 1847, re death of brother John Burges.


Hawkins, Col. Rush C. (1831-1920) Of New York.

            Letter, 1867.


Hull, Edward B.

            Copy of letter from Tristam Burges, 1849.


Humbert, John L. Of Claflin University, Orangeburg S.C.

            2 letters, 1870. Requests for money from former employee.


Huntington, Jabez M.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Johnson, Arnold Burgess. Nephew. Of Washington, DC.

            2 letters, 1857 and 1877.

            Announcement of lecture, 1881.


Johnson, James G. Nephew. Of Newburyport, Mass.

            3 letters, 1865-1867.


Johnson, Jeremiah Augustus. Nephew. U.S. Consul to Syria from 1858 to 1867.

            37 letters: 1853, 1857-1867, 1877, 1882.

            Also letter to Eleanor Burges, 1858, dated Boston.


Johnson, Joseph Tabor. Nephew. Of Washington, DC.

            3 letters, 1864 and 1877.


Johnson, L.D. Brother-in-law. Of Washington, DC.

            3 letters, 1853-1854.


Johnson, Lorenzo M. Nephew.

            10 letters, 1863-1875.

            Including Civil war letters from Washington Territory, and 1870 from Beirut, Syria.

            Copy of letter received from W.S. Burges, 1865.

            Flier regarding town of Pullman, mentioning Johnson, 1881.


Johnson, Mary (Burges). Sister. Of Rochester, Mass. and Rutland, Vt.

            10 letters, 1853-1888.

            1862 letter describes husband's efforts to assist wounded soldiers.

            Also copy of letter from W.S. Burges, 1880.


Johnson, Sarah B. Of Philadelphia. Wife of J. Augustus Johnson.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1858.


"Keena": See Cornelia Abby Burgess.


King, William Devon.

            Letter from Burges, undated


Kingman, Lydia. Of Providence.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1817.


Kneass, Horn R. Of Philadelphia.

            Letter, 1835

            Copy of letter received from W.S. Burges, 1835.


Knight, Nehemiah R. (1780-1854) U.S. Senator, 1821-1841.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1835.

            Wrote two paragraphs in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Lay, George W.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Leigh, Benjamin Watkins (1781-1849) U.S. Senator, Virginia.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Lincoln, Levi (1782-1868). U.S. Representative, Mass.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1835.


Markland, J.J. Of Providence.

            Letter, 1868.

            Undated receipt.


Marsh, Mrs. Of Woodstock, Vt.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1843.


Marshall, John (1755-1835). U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


McFarland, F.P.? Of Providence.

            Letters, 1861 and 1868.


McLean, John (1785-1861) U.S Supreme Court Justice.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Mellen, Prentiss. Of Portland, Me.

            Letter to Judge Pitman, requesting James Burrill's autograph, 1840.

            In Eleanor Burges file.


Naudain, Arnold.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Payne, Abraham. Of Providence.

            Letter, 1871.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1859.


Peabody, Thomas H. Of Voluntown, Conn.

            Letter, 1874.


Perkins Sheet Iron Company

            Deed from Burges to trustee of company, 1864 (draft).


Potter, E.B. of Kingston, R.I.

            2 letters, undated.


Potter, William H. Of Kingston, R.I.

            Letter, 1871.


Powell, G.E. Of Rochester, Mass.

            Letter, 1869


Providence Reform School.

            Invitation to event, 1868.


Rathbun, Cornelia. Of Providence.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1846.


Robinson, L.B. Brother-in-law?. Of Northbridge.

            3 letters, 1847-1848


Robinson, Lucretia. Of Boston.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1847.


Robinson, Nellie B. Niece.

            5 letters, 1868.


Robinson, W.C. Of Northbridge.

            Letter, 1845.


Ross, Joseph M. Of Lonsdale, R.I.

            Letter, 1870. Regarding Burges' case of Whipple vs. Slavin.


Russell, Ada. Milton, Mass.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1846.


Saunders, Samuel. Of Pawtucket, R.I.

Copy of letter received from W.S. Burges, 1834, threatening legal action on behalf of Moses Brown & Co., for refusal to pay for textile machinery.


Shove, Samuel. Of Seekonk, Mass.

            Deed to W.S. Burges, 1850.


Snow, C.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1841.


Social Club, Providence, R.I.

            Invitation, 1871.


Southard, Samuel L. (1787-1842) U.S. Senator, N.J.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Sprague, Peleg (1793-1880). U.S. Senator, Maine.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Story, Joseph (1779-1845). U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1835.


Taylor, Kate K. Of Kingston, R.I.

            Letter, undated.


Thompson, Isaac. Of Rochester, Mass.

            Certification of Burges to teach school, 1828.


Thompson, Smith (1768-1843). U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Tilton, A.E. & C.E. Of New York.

            Letter, 1865. Re Lorenzo Johnson.


Tisdale, W.S. Of New York.

            Letter, 1870.


Tobey, J.B. Of Wareham.

            Letter, 1869. Railroad stock.


Tyrrell, George.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1865.


United States Internal Revenue. N.F. Patten, agent.

            Letter, 1869.


Updike, Wilkins (1784-1867). Of Kingston, R.I.

            Invitation, 1854. 


Walcott & Co. Of Boston.

            Notice of insolvency hearing, 1858.


Ward, Anna H.B. Of Boston.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1852.


Ware, William (1797-1852). Clergyman and author.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1839.


Wayland, Francis (1796-1865). Brown University President.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1835.

            Letter of recommendation for W.S. Burges, 1831.


Webster, Daniel (1782-1852). U.S. Senator, Mass.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834.


Wheaton, Amelia S. Cousin.

            Letter, 1874.


Wheaton, Elizabeth. Of Providence.

            Letter to Eleanor Burges, 1815.


Wheaton, Emeline. Of New York.

            2 letters, 1869. Regarding case of abandonment against husband Dr. Henry Wheaton


Wheaton, Henry (1785-1848). Diplomat.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1834. In German.


Whitaker, H.C. Of Providence.

            Copy of letter received from W.S. Burges, 1867.


Wilde, Richard H. (1789-1847) U.S. Rep., Georgia.

            Wrote a paragraph in the Eleanor Burges autograph book, 1835.


Williams, C.R. Of Providence.

            Letter, 1872


Only two letters remains unidentified:

2/6/1877, from "M.B.Y." of 937 New York Avenue

11/16/[date unknown], from "Sarah" of New York to "Aunt" Eleanor Burges.

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