Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Anderson, Robert, 1781-1859
Robert Anderson Family Papers
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1790-1858 (mostly 1835-1858)
3 boxes and 1.2 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-3


Consists of correspondence and documents of various members of the Anderson family, particularly Robert Anderson (1781-1859) of Yorktown and Williamsburg, Virginia.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The collection primarily consists of correspondence and documents sent to Robert Anderson (1781-1859) by various members of his extended family. His nieces and nephews were frequent correspondents, writing detailed updates on their daily lives, family, and friends. They also consulted "Uncle Bob" for advice on important decisions and regularly solicited money for personal and professional needs and wants.

Nearly a third of the collection is correspondence from one nephew in particular, William Tyler Anderson (1799-1876), who lived in Princeton, New Jersey, and served as cashier for the Delaware & Raritan Canal (D&R); many of his letters are written on D&R letterhead and include information on the company and its management. A number of other nephews were doctors who wrote about their medical training and respective practices. Of note are three letters from nephew Washington F. Anderson, who wrote a detailed account of his journey to the California goldmines followed by an 1857 letter explaining his conversion to Mormonism and describing the religious community under Brigham Young.

Anderson's personal papers include diaries dating from 1836 to 1858 in which he meticulously noted his location and activities, and copies of printed broadsides he distributed to voters while running for political office. Other documents in the collection relate to Anderson's role as investor and executor of various estates.

The majority of the letters were sent from three locations where outposts of the family lived: Yorktown, Virginia; Princeton, New Jersey; and Alabama. As many of the family members wrote about daily life, the letters provide information on nineteenth-century life in these locations, often touching on issues of food and illness. The letters also provide a view of the treatment of household slaves and suggest the Andersons considered them to be part of the family; many members sent regards and asked after the slaves' health and well-being in their letters to Robert.


Robert Anderson arranged the documents by correspondent and his arrangement has remained largely undisturbed. The correspondents are filed alphabetically with the exception of William Tyler Anderson whose letters are housed in a separate box due to volume. As many of the family members share names, researchers may wish to clarify identities by consulting the family genealogy in Box 1, Folder 1.

Collection Creator Biography:

Anderson, Robert, 1781-1859

Robert Anderson (1781-1859) was born in Gloucester County, Virginia, on October 22, 1781, to James Anderson (b. 1740) and Hannah Tyler (b. 1740). His father was a blacksmith in Williamsburg, Virginia, and served as Public Armorer and Captain of the Company of Artificers. Robert was the youngest of eight children born to the couple. In 1814 he married Helen Maxwell Macauley Southall, daughter of Alexander and Elizabeth Macauley and widow of Peyton Southall. She brought four children from her previous marriage.

Throughout his life, Anderson lived and owned property in various parts of Virginia, notably Williamsburg and Yorktown, and was involved in mercantile ventures throughout the state. He was secretary and later director of the James River Steamboat Company and an insurance agent for the Mutual Assurance Society (1811-1857) and the Aetna Insurance Company (1838-1857). He continually ran for various Virginia political offices and served three one-year terms as mayor of Williamsburg (1812, 1820, and 1828). He was very involved in both the personal and professional lives of his extended family and regularly financed living expenses, trips, and education for his children, nieces, and nephews until his death in Yorktown, Virginia, on January 25, 1859.

Collection History


Purchased in December 2007 from the family of Ernie Dale (Princeton Class of 1939), who received the collection from his godfather, Sackett Dickinson, one of the last directors of the Delaware & Raritan Canal.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Rebecca Garcia in January 2008. Finding aid written by Rebecca Garcia in January 2008.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Robert Anderson Family Papers; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-3