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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 424: T-162

Papers of the Bradley family, 1813-2009


Correspondence, family and business records, journals, etc., of the Bradley, Merry, and Aldis families from New England.


  • Creation: 1813-2009

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by the Bradley family is held by Amy Suter Wilson and Philip H. Suter. Copyright will descend to Suzanne T. Wilson after the death of Amy Suter Wilson and to Bradley R. Suter after the death of Philip H. Suter. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Unrestricted.


11.9 linear feet ((28 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 7 folio+ folders, 1 audiocassette)

Additional material (accession numbers 84-M158, 2005-M112, 2007-M11, 2009-M126, 2010-M18) was added to the collection in February 2017 and is housed in series IV (#433-440).

Through personal and business correspondence, family and business records, journals and other writings, this collection documents the daily domestic life and business activities of a well-to-do New England family in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Each series is arranged by generation, and within generation by birth order if known, and otherwise chronologically. The correspondence is arranged by writer for members of the Bradley, Merry, and Aldis families. Correspondence from others is arranged by recipient. All folder titles were supplied by the processors.

Many folder titles in this collection specify both the writer and recipient of the letters contained within; while these titles are accurate for the bulk of letters, often small notes are added by other authors. For example, if a folder is titled, "from or by Jonathan Dorr Bradley, to wife Susan Crossman Bradley," there may be postscripts or insertions written by neither. Extra notes are sometimes noted in folder titles and descriptions, but not always. Occasionally, entire letters are not to/from the described recipients/senders; or, for example, rather than being from the person, as specified in a folder title, a letter may be to the person.

Series I, Early Bradley family, 1813-1908 (#1-68) is divided into three subseries:

Subseries A, William Czar Bradley et al., 1814-1867 (#2-10), contains letters from William Czar Bradley to his children. Letters from Washington (1823-1827) to his son Jonathan Dorr Bradley report news from Congress, including the election of President Andrew Jackson and the duel between Henry Clay and Congressman John Randolph.

Subseries B, Jonathan Dorr Bradley, 1813-1891 (#11-48), consists of the papers of both Jonathan Dorr Bradley (#11-31), often referred to as "Dorr," and Susan Crossman Bradley (#32-48). Papers of Jonathan Dorr Bradley focus more on college education, legal training, and legal practice, while papers of Susan Crossman Bradley relate more to domestic and social activities. Most letters are written in towns throughout the Northeastern United States, mostly in Vermont, with other letters from the West (e.g. 44, Cincinnati and Detroit), the South (e.g., Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Washington, DC), and abroad (e.g., Edinburgh).

Letters and other papers in the entire subseries describe average daily activities and events, such as the purchase of new eyeglasses, the birth of puppies, and the early sermons of a recently hired preacher, as well as mentions of larger life events, such as births, courtships, engagements, weddings, holidays, accidents, fires, sicknesses, and deaths, occurring to the writer, his or her family members, and his or her acquaintances. These sorts of descriptions are summarized at one point in the letters as "village news" (#42, August 31, 1888).

Other major topics are travel and social life. Notes relating to travel include details of trip planning, letters written mid-trip, and narratives of trips completed. These trips are mostly within the Northeastern United States, primarily to visit family members or friends. Correspondence relating to social life provides insight into nineteenth-century women's socialization in small and large groups, with limited information about men's social lives. Throughout the letters, there is also a consistent preoccupation with health, including both common infections and serious contagious diseases, such as diphtheria, smallpox, and typhoid.

The papers of Jonathan Dorr Bradley (#11-31) consist primarily of personal, family and business correspondence and papers from his law practice. Early papers of Jonathan Dorr Bradley relate to his time as a student at Yale College, from which he graduated in 1822. Letters to Jonathan Dorr Bradley from family and friends include some received while he was a student at Yale College; among them are letters written by his sister, Merab Ann Bradley, while she was attending Troy Female Seminary (#17). Also included are letters describing memories shared with classmates.

After completing college, Jonathan Dorr Bradley trained in law by studying with local lawyers and judges. Discussion of this education is included in letters with family and with fellow trainees, as well as some career advice from older lawyers. Letters from clients of his growing legal practice and from other lawyers, as well as from college friends also engaged in reading law and establishing a practice are also included (#19-29). The letters and other documents provide a picture of legal education and of the establishment and conduct of a law practice in the 1820s.

Jonathan Dorr Bradley's later letters (#23-31) relate much more to the specifics of legal practice and business than to events of broader concern. His law practice appears to have focused primarily on the collections of debts and payments on notes, with more minor practice relating to contracts, property dealings and disputes, estates, and wills/probate. Many of the correspondents in this period are lawyers or clients of Jonathan Dorr Bradley. Letters from clients often discuss the manner and terms of debt collection that would satisfy them. Some debts appear to have been collected through suit, while others appear to have been negotiated and settled more informally, out of court. Letters to and from other lawyers include short discussions of legal issues, both general issue and specific details of pending cases. Papers in this subseries occasionally mention of the business of law, including appropriate legal fees and commissions on debt collection.

In addition to his work as a lawyer, Jonathan Dorr Bradley worked as an insurance salesman and as the postmaster for Westminster, Vermont. Some letters and other material relate to these duties, including a few form letters from the Postmaster General. Additional topics, beyond work- and business-related discussions, include occasional mentions of politics and elections, both local and national, and of girls, courtship, love, and marriage. Notable correspondents include landscape painter Alvan Fisher and author Samuel Griswold Goodrich. Letters and parts of letters that may be of particular interest are noted at the folder level.

This subseries also includes the papers of Jonathan Dorr Bradley's wife, Susan Mina Crossman Bradley (#32-48). These papers notably focus more on the kinds of daily events described above for this subseries than Jonathan Dorr Bradley's letters do. Additionally, Susan Crossman Bradley's papers to a large extent deal with matters of domestic life: children's activities, development, and education; clothing; household tasks, such as mending; the hiring and the work of household employees and housekeepers. Susan Crossman Bradley also writes more about social life, providing a snapshot of the form and contours of a woman's social life in the nineteenth century. Socializing seems to have taken place generally in smaller settings, such as calling on neighbors at their homes, or meeting with neighbors who have come to call for tea and conversation.

Jonathan Dorr Bradley and Susan Crossman Bradley corresponded weekly when the younger Bradleys were living in Boston. These letters are full of family news and a detailed reporting of social activities and daily life in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Subseries C, Children of Jonathan Dorr Bradley and Susan Crossman Bradley, 1847-1908 (#49-68), includes the papers of William Czar II, Richards (until his marriage in 1856), Stephen Rowe II, and Arthur Bradley. The early papers of William Czar Bradley II relate to his time as a student at Harvard College, where he was an active member of the Hasty Pudding Club, including discussion of academic work, university policies and administration, student social life, and residential life, with some mention of notable faculty (e.g., Louis Agassiz, Edward Everett, and Jared Sparks). William Czar Bradley II's poetry (#50) includes long poems dedicated to the Hasty Pudding Club and to the Class of 1851. While most materials relating to Harvard College were created in the period from 1847 to 1851, some materials relate to reunions and reminiscences. A few letters also relate to William Czar Bradley II's time as a student at Harvard Divinity School. Later documents of William Czar Bradley II refer to his work as the town librarian in Brattleboro, Vermont, and to his work on establishing and building the Brattleboro Free Library in the 1880s (now known as the George J. Brooks Memorial Library). Also discussed is William Czar Bradley II's role as a private tutor to local youth preparing for college, though he seems not to have been formally employed as a schoolteacher. William Czar Bradley II makes inquiries on books to buy or read, for his work both as a librarian and as a tutor. Throughout William Czar Bradley II's papers are discussions of daily life, health (including mumps), family news and events, and social functions, as well as descriptions of townspeople and their activities. William Czar Bradley II did not marry or have children.

Series II, Bradley-Merry family, 1811-1913 (#69-270) focuses on Richards Bradley, Sarah Williams Merry Bradley and their children.

Subseries A, Merry Family, 1811-1856 (#69-119), includes the personal correspondence, household accounts, and business papers of Robert D.C. Merry, Sarah Williams Merry Bradley's father. There is extensive documentation of the import business in which Robert D.C. Merry was involved, as well as commercial life in New Orleans, where much of his business took place. The papers pertaining to his children (including Sarah Williams Merry Bradley prior to her marriage to Richards Bradley) include school records and writings and extensive correspondence with schoolmates. Sarah Williams Merry Bradley's papers also include letters describing her sister Hannah's illness and death, possibly from syphilis, and the reaction of friends and relatives (#107, 111-112, and 119).

Subseries B, Richards Bradley and Sarah W. Merry Bradley, 1855-1913 (#120-209). In addition to numerous letters to family members (particularly children away at school), the papers of Sarah Williams Merry Bradley include courtship letters from her to Richards Bradley (#120); those of Richards Bradley include a letter from Rudyard Kipling and his wife Caroline (#163) and correspondence regarding his management of the real estate of the sculptor William Wetmore Story (#169).

This sub-series also contains extensive documentation of the probate court case concerning Sarah Williams Merry Bradley's inheritance from her grandfather John D. Williams (#174-199); there are copies of the will, court documents and testimony, trust accountings, and correspondence relating to the issues and conduct of the case. The case deals with questions of women's financial rights and ability to control property. Correspondence and related documents dated after 1862 deal primarily with management of the property of the trust, which included major holdings of Boston real estate.

Subseries C, Children of Richards Bradley and Sarah Williams Merry Bradley, 1866-1909 (#210-270), consists of the papers of Richards Bradley and Sarah Williams Merry Bradley's children: Susan B. Grinnell, Richards Merry (until his marriage in 1892), Jonathan Dorr II, Emily B. Wesselhoeft, and Sarah B. Tyson. Susan (Bradley) Grinnell wrote extensively to her mother describing social life in New York City, including detailed reports of shopping expeditions. Her papers include a letter from Evelyn Story, wife of the sculptor William Wetmore Story, describing the final illness of the poet Robert Browning (#221). Richards Merry Bradley's papers include documents and examination papers from St. Paul's School and Harvard College (#235-236); his letters to his mother (#227) describe the sights and experiences of his travels across the United States as he began his real estate business, including observations on social conditions in the post-Civil-War South. Most of the children took trips to Europe, documented by descriptions of travels and receipts from hotels and restaurants.

Series III, Bradley-Aldis family, 1836-1957 (#271-432at) focuses on Richards Merry Bradley, Amy Aldis Bradley and their children.

Subseries A, Aldis family, 1836-1912 (#271-310), begins with the papers of Asa Owen Aldis, his wife Mary Taylor Aldis, and their children: Owen Jr., Cornelia, Helen Aldis Lathrop, and Arthur. Helen's letters to her family document the extensive world travels of the Lathrops; there is also a description of a lunch with Edith Wharton (#297). Arthur's provide some description of life on a ranch in the Wyoming Territory.

Subseries B, Amy Owen Aldis Bradley and Richards Merry Bradley, 1868-1915 (#311-399). The papers of Asa Owen and Mary Aldis's youngest child, Amy Aldis Bradley (Amy Aldis Bradley), include diaries and journals, as well as extensive correspondence with family and schoolmates. The papers of Richards Merry Bradley after his marriage to Amy Aldis Bradley are also in this sub-series. Several groups of letters in this series provide particularly detailed records of daily life. Amy Aldis Bradley's correspondence with her school friends provide an excellent picture of a group of adolescent girls: the school life, social activities, reading, and friendships; a literary journal that occupied one summer is included (#342). Letters from Amy Aldis Bradley to her mother describe her honeymoon trip to Japan (#316; see also #365 and 384 for Richards Merry Bradley's descriptions and additional documents); later she writes about the births of her children, her own and her family's health, her children's development and education, her daily domestic concerns in managing her Boston household, and her social activities. While away on business, Richards Merry Bradley wrote almost daily to Amy Aldis Bradley; his letters describe train travel, the surrounding scenery, real estate prospects and business meetings. There are also two cards from the writer Margaret Deland to Amy Aldis Bradley (#361), letters from the author Thomas Nelson Page (#360), and condolence letters from Elizabeth (Lowell) Putnam (#398), a close friend of Amy Aldis Bradley whose papers are in the Schlesinger Library (MC 360). Richards Merry Bradley's correspondence includes a letter from the sculptor William Wetmore Story describing the sculpture for the grave of his wife (#389).

Subseries C, Children of Amy Aldis Bradley and Richards Merry Bradley, 1857-1957 (#400-422), consists primarily of childhood letters to parents. Letters from the Bradley daughters to Amy Aldis Bradley and Richards Merry Bradley document the girls' early activities and interests from childhood to their early teen years. The last eight folders of this subseries contain unidentified items that might, when identified, belong in any of the three series.

Series IV, Addenda, 1900-2009 (#433-440), consists mostly of published and unpublished volumes containing Bradley and Aldis family genealogy; the published letters of Stephen R. Bradley and William Czar Bradley; an edited interview transcript, correspondence, etc. Series is arranged alphabetically. Folder titles were created by the archivist.


William Czar Bradley (1782-1867), a lawyer, is the first member of this prominent Vermont family to appear in this collection. The Bradleys left Connecticut to settle in Westminster, Vermont, in the 1770s. William Czar, following in his father's footsteps, became a lawyer and member of both the State Legislature and the United States Congress.

His son, Jonathan Dorr Bradley (1803-1862), like his father and grandfather before him, attended Yale College (graduating in the class of 1822) and read for the bar. He practiced law, first in Bellows Falls, Vermont, and then in Brattleboro, and was active in civic affairs. In 1829, he married Susan Mina Crossman (1811-1892) and they had four sons: William Czar II, Richards, Stephen Rowe II, and Arthur.

William Czar Bradley II (1831-1908) graduated from Harvard College in 1851 and attended the Divinity School until illness forced his withdrawal and eventual return to Brattleboro. He later taught young men preparing for college and served as town librarian in Brattleboro, where he resided until his death. Stephen Rowe Bradley II (1836-1910) and Arthur Bradley (1849-1911) were involved in the manufacture of white lead in Brooklyn, New York; Arthur was instrumental in the discovery of a new manufacturing process for the metal. They both married, and Stephen Rowe Bradley had four children.

Richards Bradley (1834-1904) was briefly involved in business in New York, until his marriage in 1856 to Sarah Williams Merry (1834-1914), daughter of Robert D.C. Merry and Sarah Williams Merry of Boston. Sarah Williams Merry Bradley's father was a merchant who imported cotton, tobacco, notions, sugar, rum and other products, and who traveled to the south (primarily New Orleans) to conduct business. Sarah Williams Merry Bradley was orphaned at a young age and inherited significant wealth in a trust fund from her grandfather John D. Williams. This inheritance, the subject of several years of legal disputes (well documented in the collection), enabled Richards Bradley and Sarah Williams Merry Bradley to construct the Bradley Home Place in Brattleboro in 1858, and to live in Brattleboro and Boston on the income from the trust fund. The Home Place remained in the family until the 1940s. They had five children: Susan, Richards Merry, Jonathan Dorr II, Emily, and Sally. A sixth child died in childhood.

Susan (Bradley) (b.1859) married Richard Grinnell and lived in New York City until her husband's asthma forced their removal to Colorado. Jonathan Dorr Bradley II (1864-1928) married Frances Kales and lived and worked in Chicago. Emily (Bradley) (1866-1943) married Dr. William Palmer Wesselhoeft; they lived in Boston with their four daughters. Sally (Bradley) (1868-1926) married Russell Tyson; they lived in Chicago, where Russell was in the real estate business with Jonathan Dorr Bradley II.

Richards Merry Bradley (1861-1943) attended St. Paul's School and graduated from Harvard College in 1882. He married Amy Aldis (1865-1917) of St. Albans, Vermont, in 1892. She was the daughter of Asa Owen Aldis and Mary (Taylor) Aldis. The Aldis family had come to America in the 1630s, settling first in Massachusetts and moving to Vermont in the early nineteenth century. Asa Own Aldis, a prominent lawyer and judge, served in Washington on the commission to settle claims of citizens against the government arising from the Civil War, as well as on the French and Alabama Claims Commission. Amy's siblings were Helen, Owen Jr., Cornelia and Arthur. Before her marriage, Amy Aldis Bradley spent several years in Paris studying sculpture, and later sent several of her daughters to do the same.

Richards Merry Bradley and Amy Aldis Bradley had five daughters: Amy Owen, Helen Aldis, Sarah Merry (married Clarence Gamble; see MC 368), Mary Townsend and Edith Richards. A son, Walter Williams, and a sixth daughter, Ruth, died in childhood. Richards Merry Bradley founded a real estate business in Boston and often traveled to the Midwest, west coast and Canada to buy land and make investments.

For further family history, particularly of the Bradley and Aldis families, see Series I of the Sarah Merry (Bradley) Gamble papers, MC 368. The Gamble collection contains papers pertaining to many of the individuals represented in the Bradley family papers, and #514 in Series IV is a family history that includes typescripts of journals and letters from the Bradley family papers. In addition, the Brattleboro Historical Society holds papers of the Bradley family.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Early Bradley Family, 1813-1908 (#1-68)
  2. Series II. Bradley-Merry Family, 1811-1913 (#69-270)
  3. Series III. Bradley-Aldis Family, 1836-1957 (#271-432at)
  4. Series IV. Addenda, 1900-2009 (#433-440)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 85-M117, 85-M163, 86-M68, 88-M9, 90-M75. Accession numbers 94-M158, 2005-M112, 2007-M11, 2009-M126, 2010-M18 were added to the collection in February 2017.

The papers of the Bradley family were given to the Schlesinger Library in May and June of 1985 by Amy Suter Wilson and Philip Suter, children of Philip and Amy (Bradley) Suter and grandchildren of Richards Merry and Amy (Aldis) Bradley. Materials were added in May 1986, January 1988, May 1990, November 1994, September 2005, January 2007, June 2009, and January 2010 by Sarah Gamble Epstein, daughter of Clarence and Sarah (Bradley) Gamble and granddaughter of Richards Merry and Amy (Aldis) Bradley.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Bradley and Aldis Family Papers in the Sara Merry Bradley Gamble Papers, 1810-1984 (MC 368).


  1. Box 1: Folders 1-22
  2. Box 2: Folders 23-29
  3. Box 3: Folders 30-41
  4. Box 4: Folders 42-57
  5. Box 5: Folders 58-77
  6. Box 6: Folders 78-95
  7. Box 7: Folders 96-114
  8. Box 8: Folders 115-131
  9. Box 9: Folders 132-152
  10. Box 10: Folders 153-174
  11. Box 11: Folders 175-184
  12. Box 12: Folders 185-201
  13. Box 13: Folders 202-213
  14. Box 14: Folders 214-227
  15. Box 15: Folders 228-244
  16. Box 16: Folders 245-267
  17. Box 17: Folders 268-282
  18. Box 18: Folders 283-295a
  19. Box 19: Folders 296-316
  20. Box 20: Folders 317-326
  21. Box 21: Folders 327-342
  22. Box 22: Folders 343-356
  23. Box 23: Folders 357-370
  24. Box 24: Folders 371-384
  25. Box 25: Folders 385-404
  26. Box 26: Folders 405-427
  27. Box 27: Folders 428-435v
  28. Box 28: Folders 436v-437v
  29. Box 29: Folders 438-440

Processing Information

Processed: December 1993

By: Ann E. Berman

Updated and additional materials added: November 2016

By: Mark Vassar with the assistance of Henry Shull and Margaret Dalton

Bradley family. Papers of the Bradley family, 1813-2009: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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