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Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage

About this collection

The O'Donnell Family Papers Collection includes 41 letters, photographs, and an 1870 diary written and compiled by the descendants of one of Baltimore's most prominent and wealthy families, the John and Sarah Chew Elliott O'Donnells.

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Collection Locaton: Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)

Handwritten document showing the O'Donnell family tree starting with John O'Donnell and his wife Sarah Chew ElliottCollection Overview: The O'Donnell Family Papers Collection consists primarily of letters and other documents written to and from the descendants of John O'Donnell (1749-1805) and his wife Sarah Chew Elliott O'Donnell (1768-1855). The most prolific writer among them was Columbus O'Donnell (1792-1873), the eldest surviving son of John and Sarah O'Donnell's sons, whose letters during and immediately after the Civil War provide a glimpse into the social attitudes and economic conditions surrounding that conflict.

The other writer among them was the Reverend Henry O'Donnell (approximately 1828-1873), Elliott O'Donnell's (1796-1836) son and Columbus's nephew. The Reverend Henry O'Donnell's diary of his trip to America in the summer of 1870 provides a glimpse into his personal attitudes about people and places and into the attitudes of his fellow travelers to America and of the Americans he meets both on ship and on his trips around the country. Whether he is describing his first attendance at a service given by an African American preacher or his visits with wealthy relatives both in Baltimore and in New York (Columbus's daughter Eleanora married Adrian Iselin, a wealthy New York banker), Henry paints a picture of America both attractive and disturbing.

 
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