The Corlis Family Papers

By James J. Holmberg
Curator of Special Collections

Admission tickets for Bowen's earlier Columbian Museum, 1808 and his new Phenix Museum, 1816. One of the premier manuscript collections at The Filson is the Corlis Family Papers. This collection came to us in segments from different branches of the family, and their reunion has been not only gratifying but also important. 

Each individual group is important in its own right, but the three different groups together form a more significant research collection. The largest group was acquired from Corlis Adkins of Kentucky in 1995. In 1997, the Reverend Betty Bone Schiess of New York donated the Corlis papers she had inherited. Tyree Harris of Florida added a large group in late 2001 when he donated additional Corlis family letters and documents. In all, there are now some ten cubic feet of Corlis family papers at The Filson.

1816 address regarding Daniel Bowen's Phenix Museum.The collection spans almost three centuries, 1698-1984, and documents the lives and history of a New England family that settled in early-nineteenth-century Kentucky. The real heart of the collection dates from the early national and antebellum periods. The bulk of the papers begins with John Corlis, a prosperous merchant of Providence, Rhode Island, who fell on hard times in the early 1800s when he lost his ship Hazard in South America. A consequence of this was the family's need to "start over," which brought them to the burgeoning commonwealth of Kentucky in 1815, where they settled in Bourbon County. John's letters, together with those of his children, written from Kentucky, Providence, and other places, chronicle their lives. The culture shock experienced by them in moving from New England to Kentucky is evident, but this feeling is only Bill of lading for shipment of tobacco from Kentucky to New Orleans in 1820. one small part of all the information imparted by them. Another family prominently mentioned is the Respess family, connected with the Corlises through marriage. Information on business, maritime trade, Kentucky, travel, slavery, antebellum life, farming, politics, religion, banking, and more is included in the papers. The collection is regularly used by researchers and has proved to be a significant source for books and articles.

For more information and specific subjects and personal names regarding this and other collections, consult our online catalog.

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