Table of Contents
Walter Spooner Rounsevell (7 Dec 1813 - 11 Jan 1853) served as a selectman of Freetown for two years (1848-1849), was a justice of the peace for Bristol County, and was a tender of a sawmill. Several men left Freetown for California after the discovery of gold, Walter among them. He started his journey in November 1849, traveling on the schooner Abby Chase. From 11 March 1850 to 20 January 1853, he wrote 16 letters about his travels, the gold mining, and his concerns for his family at home. He traveled around Cape Horn to San Francisco, before heading to the Northern mines. While en route to California from Mexico, Walter fell ill of yellow fever and died. He and his wife, Ruth Rounsevell (29 Jun 1821 - 4 Nov 1906) had five children: Caroline (1840-1916), Emogene (1844-1916), Frank (1846-1846), Walter (1849-1929), and Mary (1852-1917).
Marjory W. Brown’s novel, Gold Fever, closely follows the life of the Rounsevell family based on letters found in this collection, with a few fictional additions. (Brown was a great-grandchild of the couple.) Brown uses excerpts from these letters and follows the syntax and style of the Rounsevell couple in order to craft the fictional characters of Joel and Sarah Winslow.
The Rounsevell Family Papers contains a comprehensive collection of incoming and outgoing correspondence of Walter Rounsevell, as well as detailed deeds and writ of attachments of his Rounsevell ancestors. The collection includes personal correspondence to his wife, Ruth, as well as from his wife and Caroline Rounsevell (his daughter.) The letters are all of substantial length, neatly and closely written, and are full of details of life on either coast of the United States.
Several men left Freetown for California after the discovery of gold, Walter among them. He started his journey in November 1849, traveling on the schooner Abby Chase. Alongside men such as Charles Hathaway, Henry Winslow, Levi Ashley, William Rounsevell, William White, Joseph Rodolpus, and Pardon Nye, Walter traveled around Cape Horn to Talcahuano, Chile. He then arrived in San Francisco. He then went to the Northern mines at Placerville, came back to the Southern mines at the Tuolumne River and Chili Diggings, then returned to the Northern mines to live for a year at Greenwood Valley.
From 11 March 1850 to 20 January 1853, he wrote 16 letters about his travels, the gold mining, and his concerns for his family at home. Throughout the letters, Walter asks for his children and shows affection for his wife. He responds to Ruth’s questions as she handles the affairs at home. He also writes to his children through Ruth, commenting especially on Emogene and Caroline. He asks her to direct her letters through either San Francisco or Greenwood Valley, depending on the rest of the crew’s schedule. His last letter, 20 Jan 1853, mentions the crew about to take passage on the Uncle Sam to San Francisco from New York.
While Walter was on his voyage between 4 June 1850 and 14 May 1852, Ruth wrote 22 letters from East Freetown, Massachusetts. Walter brought these letters home with him when he returned for a brief stay in 1852. Ruth’s letters described her loneliness and worries about his safety, and relayed the local news of their small New England town. Her letters are often go on for several pages, with side notes added in as an afterthought to inform Walter of any gossip, major event, or her emotional state. She expresses much interest in Walter’s everyday habits, keeping a close eye on the newspaper for any reference to his work out west. Her letters often speak of concern for his business affairs back east - Ruth handled most of the family sales and other business dealings. She often talks about family and friends; she gives particular attention to the youngest child, Walter, describing his childhood as he grows from infant to toddler. Caroline, the eldest daughter, also sends 4 letters during this time. She describes her daily outings as well as her attendance at the Town School. Her sister, Emogene, adds on to one of the letters, evident by the change in handwriting.
This collection also includes several legal documents of the Rounsevell Family from generations prior to Walter’s. Series C includes deeds and transfers for Rounsevell Family properties. There are several copies of summary deeds from various members of Bristol County society, giving Philip Rounsevell lots in Bolton Cedar Swamp, Pocasset, and Tiverton. However, the collection also contains original documents for the following: the transfer of lots in Bottoms Swamp from Joseph Wanton to Philip Rounsevell (1732); the deed of Bolton Cedar Swamp from Stephen Blackmer to Phillip Rounsevell (1732); a portion of land in Tiverton from Stephen Blackmer to Philip Rounsevell (1732); a portion of Pocasset from Benjamin Brayton to Philip Rounsevell (1738); a lot in Bolton Cedar Swamp from Aaron and Mary Wilbur to Philip Rounsevell (1749); a lot in the Bolton Swamp or Pocasset Purchase from Aaron and Mary Wilbur to Philip Rounsevell (1749); and a presumed copy of the deed for the sawmill from Philip Rounsevell to John Rounsevell (1753); a deed from Philip Rounsevell to John Rounsevell (1759); an unsigned deed from William Rounsevell to Joseph and Levi Rounsevell (1761?); a deed from Job Peirce to John Rounsevell (1786); from John Rounsevell to Thomas Rounsevell (1783); from Thomas Rounsevell to William Rounsevell (1810); and Thomas Rounsevell to John Rounsevell (1824). Some of the original deeds were kept in the book folio of Sam Howland Reed (as is noted in the lower left corner of the documents); others were stored in the folio of James William Reguler [sic] and Throope Regitte [sic].
The series of legal documents includes multiple writs of attachment for various cases between 1825 and 1836, as well as notifications and letters for Gilbert Rounsevell regarding his practice. These attachments include: Catherine Boucher [sic] to the Court of Common Pleas in Taunton to answer to Haskins (1825); a summons for M. Spooner to answer to E. Daggett (1826); an attachment for M. Spooner to answer to E. Dagget (1826); an attachment estate for Luther Rages to answer to Benjamin Weaver (1826); the attachment for Abram Ashley to answer to Benjamin Weaver (1826); an attachment for Benjamin Kashell to answer to Lemuel Williams (1826); a ripped attachment of 1829; a notification for voting Tiverton inhabitants (1833); the request for an appearance of Gilbert Rounsevell by Henry H. Crapo (1834); and a notice to Gilbert Rounsevell (1836). There is also a blank obligation form at the end of the collection.
Arrangement of Collection
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Materials in this collection were donated to the New Bedford Whaling Museum on 23 September 2011 by Mr. and Mrs. Preston W. Gifford as part of accession #2011.54. Prior to the formal donation and accession of this collection, these papers were loaned to the Museum on a long-term basis in 1984 as Loan #LB84-6.
Processed by: Emily Esten, 2014
Encoded by: Emily Esten, 6 August 2014
Attachment and garnishment--United States
Bristol County (Mass.)
Bristol County (Mass.)--Description and travel
Court of Common Pleas (Great Britain)
Freetown (Mass. : Town)
Freetown (Mass. : Town)--History
Gold mines and mining
Land titles--Registration and transfer
Marriage and family life
Massachusetts Bay Company
New Bedford (Mass.)
Placerville (Calif.)--Description and travel
Rounsevell, Walter S.
San Francisco (Calif.)--Description and travel
Talcahuano (Chile)--Description and Travel
Tuolumne River (Calif.)
Voyages and travels
Last modified: September 7, 2016