skip to searchskip to content
banner
William G. Ramsay family papers
print eadcite thisAsk Hagley
William G. Ramsay family papers

Accession 2600

Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library


PO Box 3630
Wilmington, Delaware, 19807
302-658-2400
askhagley@hagley.org

Finding aid prepared by Anastasia Day, 2016.

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit 2018-02-27T08:11-0500

Finding aid prepared using best local practices and Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Cite items for this collection in the following format:
[Description and dates], Box/folder number, William G. Ramsay family papers (Accession 2600), Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE 19807

icon

Descriptive Summary

Title: William G. Ramsay family papers
Dates: 1877-1942, bulk 1893-1916
Accession Number: 2600
Creator: Ramsay family; Ramsay, William G., (William Gouverneur), 1866-1916
Extent: 0.5 linear feet
Language of Material: English
Repository: Hagley Museum and Library: Manuscripts and Archives Department
Abstract: William Gouverneur Ramsay (1866-1916) trained as a civil engineer at the University of Virginia, finishing his course work in 1887. After a career working at various times in canal, railroad, chemical, dynamite, and coal industries, in 1903, Ramsay became Du Pont's chief engineer and directed the construction of many of the largest explosives factories in the United States. In 1916, Ramsay became a director and vice president of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, in addition to retaining his position as chief engineer. The William G. Ramsay Family Correspondence comprises 64 letters. They are largely addressed to William himself, from a variety of interlocutors, but mostly members of his own family. The majority of the letters are written by women, and thus provide a powerful picture into women’s lives and roles in the Ramsay family at the turn of the century across the Eastern seaboard.
icon

Administrative Information


Provenance

Purchased off Ebay seller “Eag222” by Lynn Catanese on behalf of the Hagley Library, April 2014.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

icon

Historical Note

William Gouverneur Ramsay (1866-1916) was the son of Joseph Gales Ramsay (1843-1899) and Anne Ritchie Morris Ramsay (1846-1910). He had three sisters and one brother, George Douglas Ramsay (1869-1916). Another sibling died before the age of five, Joseph Gales Ramsay (1876-1880). His father, Joseph Gales Ramsay, West Point class of 1820, was in turn the son of George Douglas Ramsay (1802-1882) and George’s second wife, Eliza Hennan Gales, niece and adopted daughter of Joseph Gales (1786-1860). Joseph was the ninth mayor of Washington D.C. and longtime publisher of the National Intelligencer. William’s mother, née Anne Ritchie Morris, was a direct descendant of Lewis Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

William was born August 23, 1866 at the Presidio, San Francisco, California. He trained as a civil engineer at the University of Virginia, finishing his course work in 1887. His employment included numerous surveying positions with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad until 1892. That year, Ramsay was hired by the Chicago sales office of the Repauno Chemical Company and Eastern Dynamite Company. He was promoted to manage Repauno's New York sales office in 1894 and resigned the position in June 1898 to serve in the Spanish-American War. After his return from military service in 1899, Ramsay became president of the newly-established Great Northern Manufacturing and Supply Company, located in Terre Haute, Indiana. The company primarily sold powder it purchased from E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, and other powder manufacturers for mining use in the Indiana coal fields. Great Northern went out of business in early 1902. With the demise of Great Northern, Ramsay joined the newly-formed engineering division of the Eastern Dynamite Company as chief engineer in 1902. When Eastern Dynamite assigned its assets to Du Pont in 1903, Ramsay became Du Pont's chief engineer and directed the construction of many of the largest explosives factories in the United States. In 1916, Ramsay became a director and vice president of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, in addition to retaining his position as chief engineer. He died September 28, 1916 at his country home, ‘Dalhousie,’ at Guyencourt north of Wilmington, Delaware.

Caroline “Lena” Johnston Canby (1872-1958) was a daughter of Samuel Canby and Rebecca Tilghman Canby. She was educated at Misses Hebbs School in Wilmington, Delaware and married William G. Ramsay in January 1892. She was interested in cultural and educational institutions and traveled extensively. She was a member of the Delaware Society of Colonial Dames of America and was one of the first presidents of the Wilmington Garden Club. The Ramsays had five children: Caroline Johnston Ramsay, born 1893 (married Alfred du Pont Chandler, Sr.); Elizabeth Gouverneur Morris Ramsay, born 1894 (married Van Wyck Ferris); Joseph Gales Ramsay, born 1896; Mary Morris Ramsay, born 1898 (married William Elliot Phelps); and Jane Tilghman Ramsay, born 1900 (married Winder Laird Stabler).

icon

Scope and Content

The William G. Ramsay Family Correspondence comprises 64 letters. They are largely addressed to William himself, from a variety of interlocutors, but mostly members of his own family. The majority of the letters are written by women, and thus provide a powerful picture into women’s lives and roles in the Ramsay family at the turn of the century across the Eastern seaboard. There are two major clusters of letters: those from ‘Lena’ (Caroline, William’s wife), and those from Anne, William’s mother. Both talk about their lives, as well as inquire after William’s own. Lena’s letters in particular shed light on the trials and tribulations of keeping a household running and raising children with William often away for work or military service.

Some names and relationships could bear clarification. The Aunt Hetty that appears in some of the letters appears to be Hetty A. Hasson (1826-1917), née Ritchie. She is likely the maternal aunt of William’s mother, Anne Ritchie Morris Ramsay; there are two letters of correspondence between niece and aunt. It appears that “Will” calls her “Aunt Het” just as his mother does. There are also two letters from a Bess, likely William and Lena’s daughter Elizabeth, and a Christmas note from William’s mother Anne to her daughter in law, Lena. In one letter, Lena bewails the incapacitation of her maid, and requests that a friend, Ellie, send her two more maids to help with the household work. It is unclear who “Katie,” another frequent correspondent, is or her relationship to William. While both William’s father and son were named John Gales Ramsay, only his father was a Captain, and the dates also help clarify which person is which. Occasionally, Lena appears to sign her name Carol, or her full name, Caroline, when not corresponding with her husband William.

icon

Arrangement

The letters have been sorted into folders by correspondents, and then alphabetized by name. Within the folders, the letters are in chronological order.

icon
icon

Series Descriptions and Inventory

Box Folder
1 1 Aunt Hetty, 1910, undated; 3.0 letters
Box Folder
1 2 Lena to William, 1893-1903; 18.0 letters
Box Folder
1 3 Letters to J. Gales Ramsay and wife (William's son), 1916-1942; 6.0 letters
Box Folder
1 4 Letters to J. Gales Ramsay and wife (William's father), 1887-1898; 2.0 letters
Box Folder
1 5 Letters to William, 1890-1897; 7.0 letters
Box Folder
1 6 William and Dr. George Douglas Ramsay, 1896-1910; 6.0 letters
Box Folder
1 7 William and his mother, Anne, 1877-1905; 14.0 letters
Box Folder
1 8 William and Katie, 1896-1903; 6.0 letters
Box Folder
1 9 William to Lena, 1896-1901