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Rufus Bunnell Papers, 8 January 1820-3 June 1854
Seventeen manuscripts, 8 January 1820-23 April 1825, 2 December 1828, 14 December 1847-3 June 1854, and undated, of Rufus Bunnell, a native New Englander who was born ca. 1777, consist chiefly of letters to his sons, William R. and James F. Bunnell, while they attended schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Samuel Haight, of Cuba, N.Y., who may have been the father-in-law of William Bunnell, is also represented by letters.
Both Rufus Bunnell and his wife, Diantha Fitch Bunnell, strongly encouraged their sons to pursue the educational experiences made available to them. The elder Bunnell, who appears to have been a businessman or merchant with concerns in Charleston, New York, and Montreal, wrote letters full of fatherly advice to his sons. One such letter, 8 January 1820, to William at school in Chesire, Ct., chides him for poor handwriting and advises him to work diligently at improving it, for it is "indispensably necessary to secure a clerkship in any Gentleman's Counting room." Of the two sons, William appears to have been the less inclined to study; rather, he wanted financial success but did not want to work for it. William frequently asked his parents for money in addition to the expenses they already paid for him. On 6 January 1821 Rufus Bunnell wrote again to William and tried to address the problem,"Both myself and your mother make every exertion and use any measure of industry to enable us to pay the expenses of your schooling and clothing so that you need not go into the world ignorant and unfit for business and also unfit for the company of gentlemen and of people of respectability." He urged William to apply himself, at least until he was seventeen and had finished his formative schooling, "You will be too great an ignoramus if you study no longer than next spring, for I notice in your letters that you spell bad and write bad grammar and write `Gramma' for Grand-Mother."
Son James, on the other hand, did not pose as many problems, nor did he tax his father's patience. In the letter of 6 January 1821, Bunnell wrote to him, "I presume you are going on with your studies as regular as a good old clock; that is right, that is the way to do something. Go on till spring and we shall be happy to see you at home." When both boys attended school in Connecticut, Bunnell often wrote only one letter in which he addressed them separately but encouraged them to read the entire text.
By the time William and James were of college age, Rufus Bunnell wrote to them about more pressing matters and concerning issues in his own life. He often voiced personal frustration with his business endeavors. By 1824, when James had enrolled at Yale College, Bunnell expressed anxiety and stated that "numerous [are] my disappointments and vexations, resulting from improper and injudicious management." He had little trust in his business agents or associates and claimed "it brings home to me the truth of the maxim `if you want your business done [and] well done, you must [do it] yourself.'" It is uncertain what his business pursuits were; what is known is that Bunnell had trouble in establishing or maintaining his business endeavors in Charleston. On 19 February 1824 he wrote, "I have had great...trouble in organizing and arranging a one-year term of business here." Rufus' letters were usually written from New York and Charleston. His place of permanent residence may have been the former; however, he attempted for several years to generate business in South Carolina.
By 1825 son William was in Amherst, Mass., probably attending Amherst College. While Rufus expressed uncertainty about his business pursuits and revealed his distrust for the men he dealt with, he advised William to complete his college education. Evidently William continued to express a na´ve desire to accumulate money while foregoing his education. To that Bunnell admonished that money "in the head...can't be stolen or lost, in the hand it may be soon gone."
The collection contains a small amount of correspondence from Diantha Bunnell. She sometimes included a short note along with her husband's letters. One letter to the Bunnell children, probably dating from the early 1820s, was written at a time when Diantha visited Ballston Spa near Saratoga, N.Y.
William appears to have settled in the seaport town of Bridgeport, Ct., where he reared a family that included two children, Diantha and Rufus, presumably named after his parents. Five letters, 1847-1854, from Samuel Haight of Cuba, N.Y., to Miss Diantha Bunnell give news of his family?grown children (Fletcher, Wills, Henry, Samuel, and Robert) and two young children (George and Juliana). Sons Samuel and Henry resided in San Francisco, Ca., where, the elder Haight reported, they were quite successful. A letter dated 19 January 1852 suggests that Diantha may have been a teacher. Samuel expressed pleasure in learning she was "engaged in the...business of instructing others" and encouraged her to "empower your mind."
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