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Williams-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers

Identifier: MA.00321

Scope and Contents

The Williams-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers consist primarily of two main groups of correspondence and documentation: first, that of missionary Frederic Williams, his four wives (Sarah Pond, Hattie Harding, Carrie Barbour, Kate Pond), and children Talcott (AC 1873) and Cornelia during the family’s residence in the Ottoman Empire between 1848 and 1884. This group of materials provides an insight into the lives of a nineteenth-century American missionary family from central New York, including descriptions of family life, living conditions, travel, and work.

The second group of correspondence and documentation consists of that related to the third generation of Williams family members in the Middle East, especially Kate Chambers Seelye, her husband Laurens Seelye (AC 1911), Dorothea Chambers Blaisdell, and her husband Donald Blaisdell. There is a modest amount of material related to other family members, including Laurens Seelye’s parents and brother, as well as the children of Laurens and Kate Seelye.

In addition, the collection is comprised of an unpublished manuscript by Dorothea Seelye Franck, the great-granddaughter of Frederic and Sarah Williams. This manuscript, “Yankees from New York to the Garden of Eden” is a family history told within the context of historical events in the Middle East, covering a period from about 1845 to 1900. It is based on the correspondence of the first generation in the Middle East, as well as to papers in related family collections at Amherst College (see Related Materials note). The manuscript draws on and is brought together and contextualized by Dorothea Franck's lifetime of experience in the Middle East.


  • Creation: circa 1832-1985


Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to the collection for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

The main subjects in the Williams-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers are:

William Frederic Williams (called Frederic) was born on January 11, 1818 in Utica, New York, to William and Sophia Wells Williams. Frederic was one of 14 children of the couple. He joined the Presbyterian church in Utica in 1831; entered as a sophomore at Yale College in 1837, left Yale on account of illness in the summer of 1838, and worked for the next six years (including as a civil engineer) until entering Auburn Theological Seminary in the autumn of 1844. He graduated from the seminary in 1847.

In 1846 Williams wrote to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to offer himself for work as a missionary. He was ordained in February of 1848, married to Sarah Pond in August of that year, and sailed for Beirut (then part of Syria) in January of 1849. Williams spent the next twenty years in the areas of Mosul, Iraq, and Mardin, Turkey. His four wives were Sarah Pond, Harriet (Hattie) Harding, Caroline (Carrie) Barbour, and Clarissa Celinda (Kate) Pond. Williams had seven children, of whom five survived past childhood, including Sarah’s children, Talcott Williams (AC 1873), Cornelia Pond Williams Chambers, and Henry Dwight Williams (who died before he was 20). Frederic Williams died in Mardin, Turkey, on February 14, 1871.

Sarah Amelia Pond Williams, Frederic’s first wife, was born May 8, 1823, in Clinton, New York. She was the daughter of Julius C. Pond and Julia Ann Crary, and was a sibling of Thomas, Louisa, Cornelia, and Samuel Pond. Records of the First Presbyterian Church of Rome, New York, suggest that Sarah and Frederic met when he was a temporary preacher at her church sometime during 1847 to 1848. The couple married in 1848 and departed for Beirut less than six months later. Sarah's life as a missionary is documented in her letters and a few journal entries, as well as in her husband's letters home. Sarah Williams died outside Mosul in 1854 after an aborted summer trip to the missionary station in Ooromiah, Persia – her husband documented the journey and her slow death in a long letter to his family in the United States (see Box 1, Folders 12 and 47). Sarah's descendants are the source of the Williams-Chambers group of papers in the Archives and Special Collections (the “Franck Papers,” the “Blaisdell Papers,” the Talcott Williams (AC 1873) Papers, the Talcott Williams Seelye (AC 1944) Papers, etc.).

Second wife Harriet Bethia Harding Williams was born in in Waltham, Massachusetts, on September 15, 1836, to Rev. Sewall and Eliza W. Harding. Harriet was one of six children, and the younger of two daughters -- her sister Eliza Mercy Walker was also a missionary in Turkey. Harriet attended Lasell Seminary in Newton, Massachusetts, graduated in 1855, and was a teacher for a brief period afterward. She married Frederic Williams on April 30, 1857, sailed from Boston for the Assyrian Mission on July 7, arrived in Smyrna on September 4, thence to Mosul arriving in November, and died in Mosul on December 25, 1857, perhaps from dysentery. A sermon preached at her death records the reaction of her loved ones: "One month only in Mosul. No pestilence! No raging heat! We cannot understand it." (Sermon by E. W. Clark, 1858, available online and in print in the Archives and Special Collections). The collection contains a few writings by Harriet Williams as well as a quarter-plate daguerreotype of the young bride, her new husband, and her three stepchildren.

Caroline Priscilla Barbour Williams was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 24, 1835, to Rev. Isaac Richmond Barbour and his second wife Caroline Matilda Woodbridge. In 1857 she traveled to Constantinople to teach missionary children -- at first, the children of Isaac Grout Bliss (AC 1844), but other children subsequently joined her class. Mission and family records suggest that she met Frederic Williams in Constantinople in the late summer of 1861, when he was on his way back to his station and travelled via Constantinople. It would therefore have been a brief courtship: the couple was married on October 4, 1861. Their first child, Samuel Wells Williams (named after Frederic’s famous missionary-Sinologist-linguist brother of the same name), was born in late October 1862. He died at 2 years old in September 1864, and Carrie too died in Harpoot, Turkey, on January 15, 1865, while carrying her second child. Carrie’s death after a brief, violent illness was documented by a fellow missionary, Kate Pond (later Williams), in her diary and in a letter home, as well as in accounts by other missionaries. Carrie's life as a missionary (and as a daughter, sister, and wife) is documented in the collection with her letters both to her husband and to her family at home.

Clarissa Celinda (Kate) Pond Williams, a distant cousin of Sarah Pond Williams, was born on August 28, 1841, in Vernon Center, New York. She was the daughter of Horace and Caroline Hannah Hungerford Pond. She attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, graduated in 1857, and continued there as a teacher into 1864. In September 1864 she left the United States to teach at the Harpoot Female Seminary in Harpoot, Turkey, 1864-1866. She met Frederic Williams not long after her arrival and knew him well by the time of their marriage on October 11, 1866. The couple had two children, Sophia Wells Williams (1870-[1946])) and Frederick Williams (1871-1944). After Frederic Williams died in 1871, Kate remained in Turkey and continued to teach, later serving as principal of the Home School for Girls in Constantinople from 1875-1883. Kate retired to the United States in the late 1880s and died on January 23, 1895, in Newton, Massachusetts.

Researchers should note that there is some confusion about Kate Pond Williams’ full name, and in some places she is listed as Clara Catherine Pond. However, census data for 1850 and 1855 list her as “Clarissa C.,” and the “Lineage book of the National Society of Daughters of Founders and Patriots of America” (1924, vol. 14) lists her as Clarissa Celinda Pond. Kate herself lists her birth name as Clarissa C. Pond in her 1864 passport application. Furthermore, census and other records show that her paternal grandmother was Clarissa Pond and her maternal grandmother was Celinda Hungerford. Unless Kate changed her name late in life, “Clara Catherine” would appear to be a mistake and may have crept into the record via the publication “The Williams Family: Tracing the Descendants of Thomas Williams of Roxbury, Massachusetts” (published by the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in January, 1880, when Kate was still alive).

Journalist and educator Talcott Williams (AC 1873), the son of Frederic and Sarah Williams, was born in Abeih, Lebanon, on July 20, 1849. He spent his early years in the Middle East, including most of the decade after his mother’s death in 1854. In spring 1865 his father sent him to the United States to study at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. After graduating from Phillips, he attended Amherst College from 1869-1873. The Williams-Chambers-Blaisdell Papers (the “Blaisdell Papers,” Box 3, Folder 34) contain a letter from him to his stepmother Kate Williams explaining the career choice he made while at Amherst to become a journalist rather than a missionary – the latter choice seems to have been the expectation. Williams began his career in journalism with the “New York World.” Then, from 1877 to 1879, he was the Washington correspondent for the "New York Sun." He married Sophia Wells Royce in 1879; in the same year he became an editorial writer for the "Springfield Republican," where he remained until 1881. After leaving the “Republican,” Williams began what would be a thirty-one year career writing and editing for the "Philadelphia Press." By the time he left the “Press” in 1912 he had become the paper’s associate editor. Williams also traveled to Morocco twice, in 1889 and 1897, collecting artifacts and botanical specimens for the Smithsonian Institute and the University of Pennsylvania Archeological Museum. Williams left his longtime position at the Press in 1912 and, after thirty-nine years of newspaper experience, became the first director of the Columbia University Pulitzer School of Journalism. He was also a trustee of Amherst College and the Constantinople College for Women. He died on January 24, 1928.

Cornelia Pond Williams Chambers was born in Beirut (then part of Syria) to Frederic and Sarah Williams on December 3, 1850. Cornelia was too young to fully understand her mother’s death in the summer of 1854, and she had just turned 7 when she sustained her second loss, that of her first stepmother, Harriet, who died in 1857. Cornelia and Talcott continued to live with their father in the Middle East, and the siblings’ strong bond that is so evident in the correspondence perhaps began during these difficult years.

Cornelia traveled with Talcott to the United States for schooling in 1865, a few months after the death in January of second stepmother Carrie Barbour Williams. She attended Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary, graduating in 1872. After a few years teaching and working in the Missionary Home in Auburndale, Massachusetts, she returned to Turkey in 1879 to join stepmother Kate Pond Williams in teaching at the American School for Girls in Scutari (now called Uskudar, a municipality of Istanbul). She taught there for five years before her marriage in 1884 to William Nesbitt Chambers, who had arrived in Turkey a month after her in 1879.

William Nesbitt Chambers (called Nesbitt) was born in North Norwich, Ontario, Canada, in 1853. He graduated from Princeton in 1876 and then received a doctorate in theology from Union Seminary in 1879. In September 1879 he left the United States for missionary work in Turkey, together with his brother and sister-in-law Robert and Elizabeth Lawson Chambers. The Chambers brothers and their families would work together for many years in Turkey. Nesbitt Chambers’ first post was in Erzerum Province, and not long after his arrival in Erzerum, he met Mary Bliss, originally from Illinois and the daughter of Henry H. and Lucy Comstock Bliss. Mary had attended Knox College in Illinois and was teaching in Erzerum. The couple was married in May 1880, but Mary died in childbirth after one year of marriage. About three years later, in 1884, Nesbitt wed Cornelia Pond Williams, who was also teaching in Turkey when they met. The couple had four children, Talcott, Ralph Gordon, Kate Ethel and Dorothea Nesbitt.

While in Erzerum, Chambers was an eyewitness to the massacres of Armenians in 1896. In 1899 the Chambers family moved to Adana, Turkey, and Nesbitt was made president of the International Relief Commission. In 1909, still in Adana, he again witnessed a massacre of Armenians. He documented his life as a missionary in his memoir, "Yoljuluk: Random Thoughts on a Life in Imperial Turkey," (1930; a copy is in the Archives and Special Collections). In 1922 Nesbitt and Cornelia moved to Beirut where they lived with their daughter Kate Seelye and her family but continued to work at assisting Armenians who had moved to the city after World War I. Nesbitt remained in Beirut the rest of his life and died in a village on the outskirts of the city on August 8, 1934. Cornelia Chambers survived him to 1940, by which time she had returned to live with family members in Washington, D.C.

Kate Ethel Chambers Seelye, the daughter of Cornelia and Nesbitt Chambers, was born in Turkey in 1889. In 1903 she went to the United States under the care of Talcott and Sophie Williams (her aunt and uncle). She attended the Agnes Irwin School in Philadelphia and then nearby Bryn Mawr College, receiving her degree in 1911. Afterward, she attended Columbia University in New York to pursue a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, which she received in 1915. By this time she had met Laurens Hickok Seelye, whom she married on October 4, 1915. The couple had five children: Dorothea, Mary-Averett, Talcott (AC 1944), Muriel, and Katherine (“Kitty”). Kate Seelye spent many years in the Middle East and was on the faculty of the American Junior College in Beirut, Lebanon. She died on May 31, 1973, in Syracuse, New York.

Laurens Hickok Seelye (AC 1911) was born in Butler County, Ohio, on July 25, 1889. He was the son of Mary Alice Clarke and William James Seelye (AC 1879) and the grandson of Julius H. Seelye (AC 1849), Amherst College’s fifth president from 1876-1890. After attending Amherst College, Laurens attended Columbia University and received an M.A. there, studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York, and was then ordained as a Congregational minister. He was a professor of philosophy at the American University of Beirut from 1919 to 1933. In 1933 he taught religion at Smith College and in 1934 he taught at Bennington College. He was President of Saint Lawrence University from 1935-1940. In 1942 he returned to Istanbul as a professor of logic, psychology and philosophy at Robert College and the American College for Girls. He also headed the board of the Istanbul Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). During his retirement he taught at Rollins College in Florida. He died in August 1960 after a long illness.

Dorothea Nesbitt Chambers Blaisdell, second daughter and youngest child of Cornelia and Nesbitt Chambers, was born in 1896 in Erzerum, Turkey. In 1899, the family moved to Adana, Turkey. At 14, Dorothea left Turkey for Utica, New York, where she attended high school. After graduation she returned to Turkey for a year and then -- at the beginning of World War I -- left again for Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1919 and then earned a master’s degree at Columbia University.

Dorothea's first job after graduating from Columbia was with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Adana, Turkey, where she remained until the center closed in 1921. She moved to Istanbul, where she worked for the Istanbul YWCA until her contract expired. She then taught at Constantinople College. Her memoir, "Missionary Daughter: Witness to the End of the Ottoman Empire," describes her life during this tumultuous time in the Middle East.

In Istanbul, Dorothea met Donald Christie Blaisdell, a professor at Robert College. After a courtship of a few years -- during which time Dorothea continued to work for the YWCA -- the couple married in 1926. The Blaisdells lived most of their married life in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Dorothea Blaisdell died in 1985.

Julius Franklin Seelye was the brother of Laurens Hickok Seelye. He was born in Wooster, Wayne, Ohio, on June 8, 1899, and attended Monson Academy in Massachusetts. He died in 1918 during military training in Newport News, Virginia.

Other Seelye family members represented in the papers in a more modest way include Mary-Averett Seelye, daughter of Laurens and Kate Seelye, and Mary Alice Clarke Seelye, mother of Laurens Hickok Seelye.

For additional biographical details and documentation on all the individuals above as well as for other family members not mentioned here, see the finding aids for the Williams-Chambers-Seelye-Franck Papers (the “Franck Papers”) and the Williams-Chambers-Blaisdell Papers (the “Blaisdell Papers”).


15.5 Linear feet (11 records boxes 7 archives boxes 2 half archive boxes 2 flat boxes)

Language of Materials



The Williams-Chambers-Seelye Family Papers consist primarily of the correspondence of three generations of the family of William Frederic and Sarah Pond Williams with relatives and friends during the family’s residence in the Ottoman Empire between 1848 and 1933, when they were missionaries working for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and (later) educators at various institutions. The collection also contains documentation relating to the personal and professional lives of these family members. A manuscript by Dorothea Seelye Franck, the great-granddaughter of Frederic and Sarah Williams, is also in the collection. The collection is approximately 16 linear feet, and the bulk dates are 1850-1930.


The papers are organized in 11 series. Note that the dates in brackets reflect the approximate coverage of the material in the given series, not birth and death dates.

Series 1: William Frederic Williams [1832-1871] Series 2: Sarah A. Pond Williams [1837-1854] Series 3: Clarissa C. (Kate) Pond Williams [1859-1892] Series 4: Talcott Williams [1859-1927] Series 5: Cornelia P. Williams and W. Nesbitt Chambers [1878-1935] Series 6: Kate E. Chambers Seelye [1910-1960] Series 7: Laurens Hickok Seelye [1910-1958] Series 8: Dorothea Chambers Blaisdell [1930-1970] Series 9: Julius F. Seelye [1917-1918] Series 10: Other Seelye Family Members [1887-1944] Series 11: Dorothea C. Seelye Franck [1950-1970]

Series Arrangement:

Series 1, William Frederic Williams [1832-1871], is organized into six sub-series: A. Outgoing Correspondence [1832-1871] B. Incoming Correspondence [1849-1871] C. Journals [1844-1888] D. Printed Material [1849-1889] E. Photographs [1849-1882] F. Transcriptions of Correspondence [1832-1977]

Series 2, Sarah A. Pond Williams [1837-1854], is organized into two sub-series: A. Correspondence [1837-1854] B. Journals [1848-1854]

Series 3, Clarissa C. (Kate) Pond Williams [1859-1892], is organized into three sub-series: A. Outgoing Correspondence [1864-1891] B. Incoming Correspondence [1867-1892] C. Journals [1859-1883]

Series 4, Talcott Williams [1859-1927], is organized into seven sub-series: A. Outgoing Correspondence [1859-1927] B. Incoming Correspondence [1884-1920] C. Journals [1883-1925] D. Travel Documents [1889-1898] E. Personal and Estate Documents [1879-1937] F. Printed Materials [1862-1988] G. Photographs [1882-1885] H. Correspondence of Sophia Wells Royce Williams [1884]

Series 5, Cornelia P. Williams and W. Nesbitt Chambers [1878-1935], is organized into seven sub-series: A. Outgoing Correspondence [1884-1923] B. Incoming Correspondence [1884-1920] C. Journals [1883-1925] D. Armenian Massacre [1906-1915] E. Travel and Financial Documents [1878-1935] F. Miscellaneous Printed Matter [1883-1933] G. Photographs [1882-1885]

Series 6, Kate E. Chambers Seelye [1910-1960], is organized into five sub-series: A. Outgoing Correspondence [1902-1973] B. Incoming Correspondence [1896-1940] C. Journals and Notebooks [1902-1967] D. Education and Speaking Engagements [1903-1911] E. Educational Activities [1914-1969]

Series 7, Laurens H. Seelye [1910-1958], is organized into six sub-series: A. Outgoing Correspondence [1925-1957] B. Incoming Correspondence [1910-1958] C. Amherst College [1910-1936] D. Beirut [1935] E. Education Materials [1883-1958] F. Personal and Financial Records [1930-1945]

Series 8, Dorothea Chambers Blaisdell [1930-1970], is organized into two sub-series: A. Outgoing Correspondence [1912-1946] B. Incoming Correspondence [1931-1938] C. Autobiography [1970]

Series 9, Julius F. Seelye[1917-1918]

Series 10, Other Seelye Family Members [1884-1944]

Series 11, Dorothea C. Seelye Franck [1950-1970], is organized into two sub-series: A. Miscellaneous Personal Papers [1931-1972] B. Family Research, including drafts of her family history, “Yankees from New York to the Garden of Eden [1838-1970]

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were a gift of Dorothea Seelye Franck in the 1970s.

Related Materials

Related materials at Amherst College:

William-Chambers-Seelye-Franck Papers (complementary, with some duplicated material; gifts of Karen Franck 2010-2015)

William-Chambers-Seelye-Blaisdell Papers (complementary, with some duplicated material; focus on Dorothea Chambers Blaisdell; gift of her daughter Ann Irvine, 2014)

Talcott W. Seelye (AC 1944) Papers (complementary, with some duplication; focus on Talcott [AC 1944] and Joan Seelye; gift of their daughter Kate Seelye [AC 1984])

Julius Hawley Seelye (AC 1849) Papers Talcott Williams (AC 1873) Papers Laurens Perseus Hickok Papers

At Mt. Holyoke College:

Clara Catherine "Kate" Pond Williams Papers, 1857-1895 (Bulk: 1865-1866). Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections

Processing Information

Processing and draft list in 2009-2010 by Molly Brown, Intern, Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

Edited, front matter added, and finding aid entered into ArchivesSpace in 2017 by Margaret R. Dakin, Archives and Special Collections Specialist.

Molly Brown, Intern, Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science; and Inter-Library Loan Associate, Frost Library (2009-2010) and Margaret R. Dakin, Archives and Special Collections (2016-2017)
2010, 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299