1841: A. Griswold to Nathaniel Stevens

What Griswold might have looked like

This letter was written by someone named A. Griswold — probably a law student or clerk in the law office of Adonijah Emmons (1785-1843) ¹ and his son, Halmer Hull Emmons (1815-1877) ² of Detroit, Michigan. The letter was written to textile manufacturer, Nathaniel Stevens (1786-1865), of North Andover, Massachusetts — proprietor of the Stevens Mill on the Cochichewick River. Stevens specialized in the manufacturing of broadcloth and flannel.

We learn from this letter that when the Freeman and Sibley woolen mill in Sutton, Massachusetts — a manufacturer of broadcloth — burned in 1841, creditors sought to recover their loans and were frustrated in their attempts by what appeared to be efforts by the Freeman family to hide their assets with relatives.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Nathaniel Stevens, Esq., North Andover, Massachusetts

Detroit [Michigan]
December 20th 1841

Nathaniel Stevens, Esq.


Page 1

The senior member of our firm has just returned from Adrian where he spent 6 or 8 days taking testimony & examining the defendants to the creditor’s bill wherein you and Mr. Kendal are complainants and Sibley and the Truman’s defendants. The result to our mind is most flattering & establishes beyond a doubt that we shall secure the greater part — if not all — of our your claims. Still there is a question. It appears from the testimony of Joseph L. Freeman that he in behalf of Freeman & Sibley in August (22nd) 1840 sold their farm in Adrian to David Freeman, the father of J. L., for $6233 together with $1,233 worth of personal property and took in payment therefore 3 promissory notes: one dated Sutton, Massachusetts March 30, 1838 for $1387; one dated at Adrian, July 30th 1840 for $4120 both signed by Freeman & Sibley and payable to the order of Hiram H. Phillips on demand; and one of $482 executed by David Freeman to F & S dated same as last above. It further appeared that on the day of the date of the two last notes, J. L. F. wrote to Philips enclosing to him the $4120.00 with an endorsement thereon to be signed by P. “pay to David Freeman without recourse.” That on the 12th of August, Phillips returned the note by letter endorsed with a receipt in full of the account of Phillips and company against the Sutton Woolen Mills. On the receipt of these papers by J. L. F.  on 22d August, he and Sylvester Sibley deeded to David Freeman the farm and conveyed the personal property as above. By the letter of Phillips to J. L. F. it appeared that he had then just got up his receipt from Doct. Sibley. On being compelled to explain the meaning of that receipt, he (J. L. F.) testified that Phillips had informed him that at the request of Doct. Sibley, he had given a receipt for that amount say $4,120 in full of his account against the Sutton Woolen Mills & that the clerk of the Sutton Woolen Mill. Mr. George Barber had balanced his or the account of Phillips & Co. accordingly; that this was done to enable Doct. Sibley to defeat the recovery of claims of the Sutton Woolen Mill creditors against him with whom the property & effects of that company had been left to pay their debts; that though a receipt had been thus given to Doct. Sibley still he had paid nothing and as he had succeeded in pacifying the creditors, he was never willing to give up the receipt to Phillips and has done though he had paid nothing.

It further appeared by the testimony of both Freemans that David Freeman was to pay Phillips 33 1/3 only for his claim or about say $1917 that David Freeman in September 1840 deposited $395 cash for Phillips which money he received from J. L. F. and gave his own note (D.F.) for $1500 payable to Phillips one or two years from the date thereof. J. L. F. testified that Freeman & Sibley owned 1500 shares in the Oxford Bank and 1200 in the Citizen’s Bank, Worcester — that both even pledged for about half their value. After the testimony closed, he stated they owned a ____ ____ in Sutton worth $500 unencumbered &c., &c., &c.

Page 2

Upon the state of facts as disclosed by the defendants themselves, the  ____ to return the appointment of a receiver and examiner of debts and other ______ had been referred by the chancellor ordered an assignment of all the property, personal and real, into the hands of a Receiver which was accordingly done. We have been this particular that you might go or send immediately and ascertain the truth of these statements in order that we may be prepared in case the matter should not terminate here to shew the true state of the case. It would be well to ascertain whether the amount of Phillips & Co. with the S. W. M. was thus balanced. Doct. Sibley should be seen & J. L. F.’s version of the affair of the receipt explained to him. He has a deep interest at stake in the matter charged as he is of a misdemeanor by our laws for which he might be sent to state prison for receiving property of a debtor with intent to defraud or delay creditors in the collection of their debts. The receiver will communicate with you and others in relation to the property. Freeman will also, we expect, write for terms of settlement and compromise as we are bow corresponding with him for that purpose – proposing to take a mortgage for the amount of both judgements and costs by farmers in the neighborhood at $7000 to $8000 cash – subject to a mortgage to  Coit & Son of __ $2000 or rather we should say less that amount. The personal property in and about the premises worth something like 2 to $3000 including closes in action.

In your reply, please give us the names of the witnesses & length & also of three suitable persons with their residences before whom we can examine witness if necessary.

Respectfully yours &c., — A. & H. H. Emmons by A. Griswold

P.S. Joseph L. Freeman and also David Freeman testified that when David Freeman moved from Webster, Massachusetts, he sold and conveyed all his real and personal property for the purpose of enabling J. L. to pay the debts of D. that J. L. did pay all such debts with such property and had left in his hands four hundred dollars which amount he paid to D. F. on the 22d August 1840, or rather J. L. so testified & the old gentleman testified (not having heard his son had sworn) made a very different statement. We wish to know whether there was any such conveyance & also whether J. L. did pay such debts. It is important in one point of view in our enquiry. The substance of this has been sent to Mr. Kendal Boston.


¹ Adonijah Emmons was a lawyer, editor and postmaster in Sandy Hill, N.Y., near the Vermont border. Emmons was described an “active, influential politician … of more than ordinary mental calibre and ability” who also operated a print shop and wrote “calumnies which reflected so severely upon the public life and character of DeWitt Clinton, and incurred the odium and hostility resulting therefrom,” according to historical accounts.

² Hon. Halmer Hull Emmons, United States Judge of the Sixth Circuit, died in Detroit, Michigan, at 11:20 yesterday morning, aged 63 years. He was born at Keeseville, N. Y., was admitted to the bar and practiced there and at Essex, N. Y. While a young man he moved to Cleveland, and from there to Detroit, and has been for 30 years one of the foremost lawyers of Michigan. For a number of years he was one of the leading railroad attorneys of the North-west, and during the war was in trusted with important diplomatic duties in Canada by the Government. In 1870 he was appointed to the Circuit Judgeship, and held the position until his death. He had been ill for some months with a cancerous tumor in the stomach, but the immediately fatal form was not assumed by the diesease until Sunday night. He leaves a wife, four adult children, and a number of relatives. All the courts in Detroit were closed yesterday in respect to his memory. — New York Times, May 15, 1877


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