Scope and Content
Title: Burrell Family Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1824-1882
Collection number: Mss132
Reginald R. Stuart
Extent: 0.3 linear ft.
University of the Pacific. Library. Holt-Atherton Department of Special Collections
Shelf location: For current information on the location of these
materials, please consult the library's online catalog.
Collection is open for research.
[Identification of item], Burrell Family Papers, Mss132, Holt-Atherton Department of
Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library
The Burrells were a pioneer family of Santa Clara County, California. Lyman J. Burrell
was born in Sheffield, Massachusetts(1801). By 1816 his family had moved to Lorain County
Ohio and in 1839 he there married Clarissa Wright (1805-1857).
Clarissa had attended Oberlin College. Her brother, Elizur, Jr., a Yale graduate, was
professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Western Reserve University, national
secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society (1833-40) and an editor of abolitionist journals.
He was associated as an editor with William Lloyd Garrison and with John Greenleaf
Whittier. Besides his reforming interests (woman suffrage and insurance laws protecting
policy holders) Elizur was a translator of La Fontaine's fables, and, the first Insurance
Commissioner of Massachusetts. He is remembered today as the "Father of American Life
Insurance." Two of Clarissa Wright Burrell's sisters married ministers and two were wives
of Doctors. Her youngest brother, James, became a Presbyterian minister and subsequently
migrated to California (1869).
The Burrells had three children, a son, Birney (b. 1840), and two daughters, Martha and
Clara. In 1849 Lyman Burrell went overland to California for gold. In the winter of
1850-51 Burrell returned to Ohio with $2,000 in gold dust. A year later he returned to
California to farm near Alviso, renting land from Cary Peebels (1852) and the following
year from James Lick. His wife and children joined him there in early 1853. Burrell soon
decided, however, that the South Bay climate was harmful to his wife, and, with his land
titles hopelessly unresolved, he homesteaded in the Santa Cruz Mountains. These hills,
bordering the coastal valleys, lay outside any Spanish land grant and were therefore
public domain. Although the Burrell family soon experienced prosperity, they also faced
hard work, a frugal life-style and ill health. Clarissa did not improve and died sometime
Reginald R. Stuart obtained access to the Burrell family papers and created this
collection of transcriptions in the course of publishing some of Clarissa Wright
Burrell's letters in the California Historical Society Quarterly, 28:4; 29:1 & 2
(1949-1950). Stuart later republished those items bearing an "*" in the container list as
a monograph titled, The Burrell Letters: Including Excerpts from Birney Burrell's Diary
and "Reminiscences of an Octogenarian"; A Contribution to Santa Clara County History from
the Original Manuscripts (1950). This publication includes a few photographs of the
family not found in Ms132. A part of the collection has also appeared in the Summit
(Calif.) Literary Society's irregularly published periodical Mountain Echoes or in the
Redwood Social Club's Mountain Messenger.
Scope and Content
The Burrell family collection includes family correspondence, diaries, family genealogy
notes, reminiscences, farm accounts and Reginald R. Stuart's research notes. The Burrell
family letters are a straightforward account of the rigors of the overland and sea
journeys to California and the trials of placer mining. They are most unique in their
later recital of pioneer ranch life in the California foothills, particularly in the
Santa Cruz Mountains. Lyman and Clarissa Burrell's son, Birney, kept a diary for several
years. His 1852 diary covers the sea voyage to California, while the 1853 to 1862 diaries
depict a life of hard farm work, gathering and hunting food in the mountains and doing
odd jobs for neighbors.