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Christopher Gardner Pearce papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Pearce

Scope and Content of the Collection

Primarily letters from 1839-1851 between Christopher Gardner Pearce and his wife Jane Ann (Sackett), containing details about life as a Mississippi steamboat captain, the life of a captain’s wife especially as it pertains to motherhood, and descriptions of events and opinions in the western states and territories at the time. One letter from Jane Ann after the birth of their first daughter includes a long note from Pearce’s cousin, Jane Maria Fuller. Also a clipping of Pearce’s obituary from an Ohio newspaper, and a miscellaneous 1943 newspaper clipping of a reprint of a check that Pearce wrote to a grocer in 1865.


  • Creation: 1839-1943
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1839 - 1851



Materials are in English.


The Christopher Gardner Pearce papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Christopher Gardner Pearce papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Christopher Gardner Pearce

Mississippi River steamboat captain from Cincinnati, Ohio.

Captain Christopher Gardner Pearce was born in Rhode Island on February 11, 1811. He eventually moved to Pittsburg in 1834, becoming a clerk for the steamer “Alton.” In time, Pearce constructed, captained, and eventually sold several steamboats, including the “Monsoon,” the “Goddess of Liberty,” and the “Cincinnati.” His routes regularly took him to places like St. Louis, Louisville, and New Orleans. Pearce married Jane Ann Sackett in 1840. She remained in Cincinnati, and it appears that she lived with her mother and Pearce’s cousin, Jane Maria Fuller. Other relatives from both families were frequently employed by Pearce and occasionally resided in Cincinnati.

The Pearces were a deeply affectionate couple, though they suffered increasing emotional strain from their frequent separation, particularly following the birth of their daughters Ann Maria in 1841, and Margaret Jane in 1845. Later letters indicate the birth of a son in 1847, and a fourth child was presumably born in 1851. Jane Ann’s health declined over time, and her letters illustrate the daily difficulty of having to raise her daughters alone. She provides detailed descriptions of the affliction and treatment of illness in the household or among friends. Her correspondence also occasionally dispenses and requests gossip, chiefly on the scandalous behavior of her brothers.

Christianity is a frequent subject in the letters, including belief in Temperance, keeping the Sabbath, and Pearce’s noteworthy crisis of faith while observing a Baptist revival in Paducah in 1846. Pearce also details a variety of other episodes to Jane Ann, including his participation in transporting Mormon “emigrants” to Nauvoo, Illinois, the sinking of the “Monsoon,” a firsthand account of the Great Flood of 1844, and a trip to the Iowa Territory to dispose of his brother’s share in a township. Pearce eventually remarried in 1864, and had three more children. Despite Jane Ann’s growing plea for Pearce to find a local profession and live permanently in Cincinnati, his river career continued for another twenty years after her death.


0.4 Linear Feet (1 box)


Correspondence between Christopher Gardner Pearce, who was a Mississippi steamboat captain, and his wife Jane Ann (Sackett), beginning during their courtship in 1839 and continuing until 1851, the year in which Jane Ann died. The letters discuss a variety of subjects, including Pearce's life on the river, Jane Ann’s domestic life in Cincinnati, business, religion, politics, and family news and gossip. Also included is Pearce’s obituary from 1882, and a 1943 newspaper clipping that reprints a large check that Pearce wrote to a grocer in 1865.


Materials are arranged chronologically.

Collection Stack Location

1 27 2


Gift, Reginald Atkinson, 1955.

Processed by

Emma Reynolds, 2010.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Christopher Gardner Pearce papers, 1839-1943, bulk 1839-1851
Emma Reynolds
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States