MC 547

Inventory to the Gaston Family Papers

By Mary Ellen Benz

Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries

Finding aid encoded in EAD, version 2002 by Catherine Carey, August 2012
Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Gaston Family
Title: Gaston Family Papers
Quantity: 1.2 cubic feet (3 manuscript boxes)
Abstract: The Gaston family resided in Somerville, Somerset County, New Jersey. Among the members of the family were Hugh M. Gaston, his spouse Frances Gaston (nee Mallet-Prevost), their daughter Evelyn (who married Augustus VanderVeer), and the latter couple’s daughter Elizabeth Kirkpatrick VanderVeer. The papers primarily consist of letters, 1837-1847, exchanged between Hugh M. Gaston and his brothers; letters, 1848-1946 with gaps, received by Frances Gaston and three of her children from other family members; copies of letters, 1894 and 1901, written by Frances Gaston during European tours; letters received by Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer from her sister Mary (while at Vassar College, 1874-1875), from her husband (during their engagement, 1881-1882), and from her daughter Elizabeth (while a Y.M.C.A. volunteer in France, 1918-1919); and letters, 1902-1906, exchanged by Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer and her daughter Elizabeth while the latter was a student at Vassar. The collection also includes letters, 1808-1809, sent by Jane Dennis of New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Margaret Blackwell, a friend or relative, and a brief diary, 1897, of a teenaged Mary Oakley Bartine, a Somerville resident.
Collection No.: MC 547
Language: English
Repository: Rutgers University Libraries. Special Collections and University Archives
Note: Finding aid edited by Albert C. King. Original (preliminary) processing by Anne Ciliberti, Stuart A. Kohler, and Jean Swanson.

Biographical Sketch

The Gaston family papers span at least four generations of a prominent Somerville, New Jersey, family. The earliest identified member of this family is William B. Gaston. He moved from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, to Somerville about 1824. His family was of Huguenot origin. He was a merchant, and held real estate. He was also an elder of the Second Reformed Church, and a lay judge of Somerset County.

William B. Gaston had at least four sons: Joseph, Frederick, Alexander and Hugh M. As the sons grew, they settled in various places in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Frederick Gaston (1821-1847) was a physician who resided for a time in Woodsville, Hopewell Township, Mercer County, New Jersey. Hugh M. Gaston (1818-1892) was a lawyer, and was admitted to the Bar in 1840. He drew up the charter for the Town of Somerville in 1862. Hugh Gaston married Frances Mallet-Prevost, daughter of Louis Mallet-Prevost of Frenchtown, New Jersey. Mr. Mallet-Prevost was a French banker who left that country at the time of their Revolution.

The H.M. Gastons had at least six children: Lizzie, Hugh Kirkpatrick, Louis Prevost, Mary Exton, Evelyn, and Frances P. Little information is available about Lizzie. Hugh K. Gaston was born August 10, 1858. He was admitted to the Bar in 1880. In 1888 he married Susan Cammann, who died in 1919 without children. Hugh K. died April 10, 1938.

Louis P. Gaston was born October 17, 1864. He attended Lehigh University and was graduated in 1888 with a degree in civil engineering. He was President of his own contracting firm, Richards and Gaston. He died in July of 1938.

Mary Exton Gaston was born in 1855. She attended Vassar College in the 1870s. She became a physician, and lived in the family’s home at 18 West High Street. She died in 1956.

Frances P. Gaston did not marry, and lived at home with Mary E. Gaston, who was also unmarried.

Evelyn Gaston married Augustus (“Gus”) VanderVeer on June 15, 1882. He seems to have been a civil engineer also, as he wrote several letters from Corning, New York, where he was working on a railroad construction project.

The Augustus VanderVeers had at least two children, Hugh and Elizabeth Kirkpatrick. Hugh VanderVeer worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, at least from 1904 to 1906. Elizabeth (“Bess”) attended Vassar from 1902 to 1906. After that, she taught in the Dunellen Public Schools for a year. In 1918, she joined the American Expeditionary Forces Y.M.C.A., and subsequently worked in and near Bordeaux, France.

There are also other family members mentioned in these papers. Madge Safford appears to be a daughter-in-law of Frances M. Gaston. Various nieces and nephews of the H.M. Gastons are mentioned, including nieces Mary and Mado, and nephews Kay, Kenneth, Lynn, and Milton. Two of the earlier letters pertain to a member of the Exton family who was a relative. The earliest letters in the collection are to Margaret Blackwell, who was perhaps also an ancestor.

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Scope and Content Note

The 1.2 cubic feet of documents which make up the Gaston family papers consist mostly of holograph correspondence. The dates range from 1808 to 1960, although the bulk of the material dates from 1837 to 1946. The correspondence covers at least four generations of the Gaston family. However, not all family members are included in these papers to the same degree. The first group consists of the Hugh M. Gaston papers. These include his own correspondence, as well as letters to and from his brothers, and a letter to his father. These letters only span the years 1837 to 1847, with most of them dating from 1838 and 1839.

The next group consists of the Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer papers. These letters really form three distinct parts. There are letters from 1869-1882, from 1901-1906 (including Elizabeth VanderVeer’s years at Vassar), and from 1918-1919 (Elizabeth’s years with the Y.M.C.A.). Even within these sections the letters are uneven, with all three sections containing more letters from their later years than their earlier ones. This section also contains letters written by Evelyn VanderVeer, as well as printed picture postcards.

The third group contains the papers of Elizabeth VanderVeer. Her documents date almost exclusively from her Vassar years (1902-1906). The only exceptions are a 1907 recommendation, a 1919 American Expeditionary Forces Y.M.C.A. movement order, and a 1960 letter concerning her aunt, Dr. Mary E. Gaston.

The final group consists of the papers of Frances Mallet-Prevost Gaston, as well as those members of her family whose own papers were so few as not to warrant a separate group. This group includes letters received by Louis P. Gaston from 1889-1891, letters received by Frances P. Gaston between 1884 and 1914, and again from 1936 to 1946, and letters received by Dr. Mary E. Gaston between 1874 and 1906. Most of these sets of correspondence are small. The letterbooks in this group record two trips to Europe, one in 1894, and another in 1901. This group also contains several early letters, from the years 1808-1809, 1818, and 1821. The diary contained in this group is very short, and covers only two months, February and March of 1897.

The bulk of the correspondence found in this collection has to do with Frances Mallet-Prevost, Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, and Elizabeth Kirkpatrick VanderVeer. There are very few letters written to, or received from, the men of the family, with only several exceptions. These are the H.M. Gaston group as a whole, the early letters to Frances Mallet-Prevost Gaston (from Hugh M. Gaston), and the 1881-1882 correspondence between Evelyn Gaston and Augustus VanderVeer.

There is almost no information on Hugh K. and Louis P. Gaston, who made significant contributions to Somerville.

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Arrangement Note

The Gaston Family papers were divided into four groups, to reflect their major focus around several important family members. Almost all of the correspondence is grouped by recipient and then arranged chronologically. In cases where a person from one group wrote to a person of another group (for example, Elizabeth VanderVeer’s letters to her grandmother, Frances M. Gaston), the letters were placed with the other letters of the recipient. When context permitted, undated letters were interfiled with the rest of a series, with a circa date. Undated letters, as well as fragments, have been placed at the end of each series.

These papers had undergone some preliminary arrangement prior to final processing. The collection was originally received in a suitcase and a cardboard box. Some of the correspondence was bundled, but most of it was loose. Preliminary processing involved arranging the correspondence according to recipient, and placing it into file folders.

Final processing involved the establishment of the four groups. Many of the documents were left in the file groupings they were in before, but some of these files were rearranged to reflect their position within the established groups. The documents were also arranged chronologically within the series.

Basic conservation measures were undertaken, such as filing in acid-free folders and replacing metal paper clips with plastic ones. However, no restoration was attempted in the case of fragile or brittle letters. Several of the earliest letters (Margaret Blackwell letters, Hugh M. Gaston papers, and the Mary Exton Gaston letters) are brittle, with some tears and holes.

Approximately .2 cubic feet of material were removed from the collection. This consisted entirely of envelopes. In the case of undated letters, the postmark date (if any) from the envelope was transferred to the letter itself.

Photographs and postcards had been interspersed throughout the collection. They have been grouped together for the sake of convenience. In addition, miscellaneous items have been placed together, at the end of the collection.

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Name and Subject Tracings

Researchers can facilitate access to related materials in other collections by searching the Rutgers University Libraries' online public catalog and other union catalogs under the following index terms used for people, organizations, and subjects represented in these papers.

Personal Names

Alcott, Louisa May, 1832-1888.
Bartine, Mary Oakley, b. 1879.
Gaston family.
Gaston, Frances Mallet Prevost, 1822-1914.
Gaston, Frederick, 1821-1847.
Gaston, Hugh M., 1818-1892.
Gaston, Mary Exton, 1855-1956.
Rose, Hilda, 1880-1967.
Van der Veer, Elizabeth Kirkpatrick.
Van der Veer, Evelyn Gaston.

Corporate Names

United States. Army. American Expeditionary Forces.
Vassar College--Students.
Vassar College.

Subject Headings

Frontier and pioneer life--Canada.
Medicine--New Jersey.
Physicians--New Jersey.
Railroad engineers.
Transatlantic voyages.
Voyages and travels.
World War, 1914-1918--War work--Young Men's Christian associations.

Geographical Terms

Berlin (Germany)
Bordeaux (Aquitaine, France)--Social life and customs.
Corning (N.Y.)
Europe--Description and travel.
Fort Vermilion (Alta.)
France--Description and travel.
Germany--Description and travel.
Hopewell (Mercer County, N.J. : Township)
New Brunswick (N.J.)
New Jersey--Description and travel.
Poughkeepsie (N.Y.)
Somerville (N.J.)

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Gaston Family Papers. MC 547. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

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Detailed Description of the Papers/Container List

This section provides descriptions of the materials found within each group and series. Each series description is followed by a container list, which gives the titles of the folders and their locations in the numbered boxes that comprise this collection.

I. Hugh M. Gaston
CORRESPONDENCE, 1839-1847 (6 folders)
Arrangement: Grouped by recipient and thereunder arranged chronologically.
Summary: Letters exchanged among four of the Gaston brothers, Alexander, Joseph, Frederick, and Hugh, with one letter to their father, William B. Gaston. The letters have to do with family, travels, and work.
The bulk of the correspondence is between Frederick and Hugh Gaston. This series also contains an undated letter from Hugh to an unidentified brother, in which Hugh believes himself to be on his deathbed.
Box Folder
1 1 To William B. Gaston, 1839
2 To Joseph Gaston, 1837-1839
3 To Frederick Gaston, 1839-1847
4 To Alexander Gaston, 1837
5 To Hugh M. Gaston, 1838-1847
6 To Hugh M. Gaston, circa 1838-1847
II. Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer
CORRESPONDENCE, 1869-1919 (19 folders)
Arrangement: Grouped by recipient and thereunder arranged chronologically.
Summary: Primarily correspondence received by Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer. Some letters addressed to Augustus VanderVeer (mostly from her) are also included.
The correspondence to Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer is mostly in four parts. There are letters she received as a girl and young woman, most of which were received from her sister Mary (“Mame”), while the latter was at school in Poughkeepsie, New York, including at Vassar in the mid-1870s. There are letters, 1881-1882, from Augustus VanderVeer (during the couple’s engagement) while he was based at Corning, New York, and employed as an engineer in the construction of a railroad. Finally, there are letters from Elizabeth (“Bess”) VanderVeer’s years at Vassar, 1902-1906, and from her later stay in France with the American Expeditionary Forces Y.M.C.A., 1918-1919.
Most of Elizabeth VanderVeer’s letters from France pertain to “welfare” work for soldiers, undertaken in and near Bordeaux, including at Camp Genicart (part of the Bordeaux embarkation camp).
Of possible interest in this series is a letter (February 28, 1875) from Mary Gaston describing a visit to Vassar by Louisa May Alcott. Also a letter (postmarked April 17, 1905, and including a diagram) from Hugh VanderVeer describing his first descent into a pneumatic caisson.
Box Folder
1 7 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, 1869-1873
8 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, January 7-November 1, 1874
9 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, December 1, 1874-1880
10 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, January 10-May 5, 1881
11 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, July 1881-1882
12 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, 1901-March 1903
13 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, April-October 12, 1903
14 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, October 19, 1903-February 1904
15 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, April-September 1904
16 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, October 3, 1904-October 15, 1905
Box Folder
2 1 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, November 5, 1905-June 4, 1906
2 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, September 15-November 8, 1918
3 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, November 22, 1918-January 20, 1919
4 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, January 23-March 18, 1919
5 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, March 28-April 28, 1919
6 To Evelyn Gaston VanderVeer, May 9-July 9, 1919
7 Undated
Folder also includes incomplete fragments.
8 To Augustus VanderVeer, 1880-circa 1883
9 To Lizzie Gaston, 1878
PICTURE POSTCARDS, 1926 and undated (1 folder)
Summary: Several color printed postcards received from a friend.
Box Folder
2 10 1926 and undated
III. Elizabeth Kirkpatrick VanderVeer
CORRESPONDENCE, 1902-1906, 1919 and 1960 (6 folders)
Arrangement: Grouped by recipient and thereunder arranged chronologically.
Summary: Letters received by Elizabeth VanderVeer during her years at Vassar, primarily from her mother. Also a letter from Elizabeth to her brother Hugh. These letters pertain to family matters, and events going on in Somerville.
The 1960 letter is an enquiry from a researcher about Dr. Mary Gaston.
Also included is an American Expeditionary Forces Y.M.C.A. movement order dated 1919.
Box Folder
2 11 To Elizabeth Kirkpatrick VanderVeer, 1902-October 3, 1904
12 To Elizabeth Kirkpatrick VanderVeer, October 6-December 10, 1904
13 To Elizabeth Kirkpatrick VanderVeer, January 5, 1905-April 19, 1906
14 To Elizabeth Kirkpatrick VanderVeer, April 25-December 14, 1906, 1919 and 1960
15 To Hugh VanderVeer, 1904
16 Undated
Folder also includes incomplete fragments.
SCHOOL PAPERS, circa 1901 and circa 1906 (2 folders)
Arrangement: Loosely grouped according to course.
Summary: Class notes and school exercises of VanderVeer, at least in part while at Vassar. There are many creative writing exercises, notes from an apologetics class titled “Christian Evidence,” as well as a few algebra, history, and French papers.
Revisions of an essay on William McKinley are included.
Box Folder
3 1 circa 1901
2 circa 1906
RECOMMENDATIONS, 1906-1907 and undated (1 folder)
Arrangement: Arranged chronologically.
Summary: Letters from former teachers and employers attesting to Elizabeth’s scholarship and character. Also included are the commencement program, invitation, and hymn for the Vassar class of 1906.
Box Folder
3 3 1906-1907 and undated.
IV. Frances Mallet-Prevost Gaston
CORRESPONDENCE, 1848-1946 (6 folders)
Arrangement: Grouped by recipient and thereunder arranged chronologically.
Summary: Letters sent to various members of the H.M. Gaston family. The persons who received the letters are: Frances Mallet-Prevost Gaston, Louis P. Gaston, Frances P. Gaston, and Dr. Mary E. Gaston. The letters reflect personal and family occurrences.
Among the items are letters to Frances Mallet-Prevost Gaston from Hugh M. Gaston before and after their marriage. Many of the later letters to Frances M. Gaston, Frances P. Gaston and Mary E. Gaston are from the former’s grandchildren, who were the latter two’s nieces and nephews.
Of particular interest are two early nineteenth century letters given to Frances M. Gaston by a cousin, George Steele. Also of note is a 1944 letter from Hilda Rose, a school teacher (and author of a 1928 book), that provides insight into Rose’s life in and near Fort Vermilion, Alberta, Canada.
Box Folder
3 4 To Frances Mallet-Prevost Gaston, 1848-1914
5 To Louis P. Gaston, 1889-1891
6 To Frances P. Gaston, 1883-1914 and 1936-1946
7 To Dr. Mary E. Gaston, 1874-1906
8 To Frances Mallet-Prevost Gaston 1818, 1821 and 1913
The 1818 and 1821 letters are enclosures in a 1913 letter from George Steele. Each of these two letters involves a member of the Exton family.
9 Undated
Folder also includes incomplete fragments.
LETTERBOOKS, 1894 and 1901 (3 folders)
Arrangement: Arranged chronologically.
Summary: Holograph copies of letters sent to various family members during two trips to Europe. They contain descriptions of places seen in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, England, and the Netherlands.
A three-month stay in Berlin, from May to July, 1894, is described in approximately 18 of the letters.
Also included are several letters from Mary E. Gaston, who traveled with her mother.
Box Folder
3 10 April-July 1894
11 August-October 1894
12 July-September 1901
PHOTOGRAPHS, circa 1885, 1904, 1919?, 1922 and 1926 (1 folder)
Arrangement: Arranged chronologically.
Summary: Four photo postcards from various family members. Included are a picture of children on a beach, the “Tourny Y” (the Y.M.C.A. building in Bordeaux, France), men holding beer steins (probably in Munich), and the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne in Paris. Three of these items are real photo postcards; the fourth is lithographed.
Also included is an undated, unlabeled cyanotype depicting five men with rifles posing at a campsite.
Box Folder
3 13 circa 1885, 1904, 1919?, 1922 and 1926
Arrangement: Arranged chronologically.
Summary: A sequence of five letters to Margaret Blackwell from Jane Dennis, a friend or relative. The letters were sent within Middlesex County, New Jersey, from New Brunswick to Mapletown.
Box Folder
3 14 1808-1809
Arrangement: Entries arranged chronologically.
Summary: The diary of a seventeen-year-old girl, Mary Oakley Bartine, who lived in Somerville. The diary has 18 pages and relates accounts of trips to the dentist, as well as activities with friends.
Box Folder
3 15 February 24-March 9, 1897
MISCELLANY, 1850s, 1881, 1896-1897 and undated (1 folder)
Arrangement: Unarranged.
Summary: A set of items that do not belong anywhere else in the family papers. Among the items present are an 1850s envelope (per blue stamp depicting Benjamin Franklin), an 1881 invoice for pants, an 1896 menu, an 1897 school report card, a recipe, dance cards, a (detached?) die cut and other colored lithographs, visiting cards, and a leather object that is likely a visiting card holder.
Box Folder
3 16 1850s, 1881, 1896-1897 and undated