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Friday, April 27, 2018

New Discoveries: The Edgar Mills Letters

With history research, there are always new things to discover and the internet has made many of those discoveries easier than ever.  Recently, when I was looking for something completely unrelated, I stumbled upon a description for the Edgar Mills papers at the California State Library.  Part of the collection included correspondence with his brother, D.O. Mills, and his nephew, Ogden Mills.  The description also mentioned that the correspondence included a discussion of Ogden's engagement to Ruth Livingston.  Since we know very little about their courtship and marriage, I was very excited by the prospect of reading these letters.  Keep reading to see what I found!

Headline in Sacramento's The Record-Union, February 4, 1882

Born in North Salem, NY, Edgar Mills (1827-1893) was the younger brother of Darius Ogden (D.O.) Mills and moved to California in 1849 to survey land.  He worked for his brother's bank in Sacramento and was also in business with a third brother, James.  Although he did not get as rich as D.O., he was still a very successful businessman in his own right.  When he died in 1893 at age 65, he left a wife, three children, and an estate of $1.5 million.

Headline in Sacramento's The Record-Union, January 16, 1893

Edgar Mills was in frequent contact with his brother, D.O. and nephew who both frequently visited Edgar in California after moving back to New York in 1873.  A folder of this correspondence has been saved in the California State Library and within the correspondence there are four letters in the collection that mentioned Ogden's engagement.  Three were written by Ogden to his uncle and one by D.O. to his brother.

D.O. Mills (From California State Library)

In the first letter, Ogden tells his uncle about his engagement to Miss Ruth Livingston.  He writes, "I have been trying to write you for several days to announce my engagement to Miss Livingston. I am sorry I have not succeeded before as I am afraid you will have heard of it + I should have wished you to be the first to know of it from me. I am very happy over it and I think the family are all well pleased."  The letter dates January 20, 1882 and Ogden asserts that they will be married in the spring, and indeed they did get married in the spring on April 11, 1882.

The next letter that Ogden writes to his uncle is dated March 27, 1882 and he continues to mention his upcoming wedding plans.  Ogden says, "I wrote you last about my engagement – the only letter I wrote about that interesting event. Since then I have been very quiet rarely going to the club + generally behaving myself. It isn’t remarkably good fun."  What a very human thing to say!  Even though it can hard to infer tone and meaning from a written document, it is clear that Ogden has a close and comfortable relationship with his uncle.

In the same letter, Ogden continued, "I know you will like your future niece. I sent you her photograph by mail so you can judge a little how she looks. I think both Mama + Papa are pleased."  Here Ogden seems to be showing off his future bride to his uncle by sending him a photograph since his uncle cannot travel East for the wedding.  He seems eager to please his entire family.

The letter from D.O. Mills sheds a bit more light on the relationship between Ruth and Ogden.  He writes, "She seems a very interesting young lady near his own age of an old family and I think taking all things into consideration should be very satisfactory at any rate [sic] has made his own choice."  If nothing else, we know that Ogden chose his bride and was not pushed into marriage by his family for reasons of elevating his social standing.  One would hope that marriage would turn out to be more than satisfactory, but regardless, the match was looked upon favorably by Ogden's father.

Ruth & Ogden Mills, circa 1900

We have always wondered how Ruth and Ogden met and while these letters do not answer that long standing question, they do fill out the story a little more and humanize it.  According to oral tradition, the two had a happy marriage, and these letters add to the proof that they were very fond of each other until separated by death.

* Thank you to Karen Paige at the California State Library for responding to my request, locating and scanning the letters!  The library has even more materials related to the business careers of Edger & D.O. Mills and we hope there is still new information out there just waiting to be discovered.

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