Voices from the Past: Exploring the Spooner Family Letters

The Project

Feeling a connection to people in the past is one of the many joys of studying history. When reading personal documents, such as letters or journal entries, it can be striking to recognize oneself in the words and sentiments of people who lived and died many years ago. While a biography might illuminate the factual events of a person’s life, nothing allows their personality to shine through more than their own words to the people they love.

The Plymouth Antiquarian Society’s Spooner House is one of the oldest surviving structures on North Street in Plymouth. It was home to members of the Spooner family from the middle of the 18th century until 1954, when James Spooner died and bequeathed the house and its contents to be a historical museum. Among the family possessions now part of the Spooner Collection are dozens of letters between members of the Spooner family. The purpose of this online exhibition is to bring the history of the Spooners to life by sharing some of these previously inaccessible letters. They offer a compelling reminder that in spite of the very real differences between the past and present, some elements of the human experience are universal.

The Collection

This digital collection contains ten letters between members of one branch of the Spooner family. These letters were selected from the larger archival collection because they highlight the relationships between the senders and recipients and sometimes contain discussion of deeply personal topics, providing an intimate glimpse into the lives of the writers. Written between 1850 and 1880, the letters are by Ephraim and Mary Spooner, their son, daughter, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. The letters contain a frankness that only letters between close family could, as they share their joys and anxieties, joke with each other, and describe everyday life.

The letters have been transcribed and edited for clarity. Punctuation has been added or altered in an attempt to remain as true to the originals as possible while improving readability. Brackets are used to indicate any uncertainties in transcription. Original line breaks have been disregarded, and notes from the margins have been incorporated into the text. Annotations have been added to provide context for historical references and to identify individuals whenever possible. PDFs of the original manuscripts are available for viewing or downloading on the same page as the respective transcript.

This online exhibit was assembled by Smith College student Sofie Koonce, who interned with Executive Director Anne Mason in the winter of 2021. All letters and images are the property of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society and are made available for educational purposes only.