Manuscript Group 1252, Downer Family Papers, 1824 – 1886

Archives Documents, Manuscripts, Maps, & Photographs

Manuscript Group 1252, Downer Family
Papers, 1824-1886, 0.2 linear feet / 5 folders
Call Number: MG 1252



Correspondence of Yale College student (Class of 1828), David Robinson Downer (1808-1841) to his father, Samuel, and sister, Lucilla Downer of Westfield, New Jersey. David describes in detail student life at the College and charts the progress of religious revivalism as well as the incidence of smallpox. Upon graduation, David R. Downer studied theology at the Auburn Seminary in New York; his letters indicate that he taught a sabbath-day class in the state prison. Also included is correspondence to David’s wife, Eliza Sayre Downer (1816-1873), and to their son David Robinson Downer (b. 1839), and letters to Sarah C. Barnes and other miscellaneous items such as cemetery deeds and receipts.

Biographical Note:

The Reverend David Robinson Downer was born in Westfield, New Jersey in 1808. In 1824, he went to study at Yale College and graduated from that school in 1828. He then studied in the seminary in Auburn, New York. On March 25, 1832, he was ordained as the first minister of the West Presbyterian Church of New York. Downer married Eliza Sayre (1816-1886) and together they had three sons: William Richards (b. 1834), Alfred Sayre (1837-1893), and David Robinson (b. 1839). In October of 1841, Reverend Downer resigned from the West Presbyterian Church due to health problems and died that November.

William Richards Downer, the son of Eliza Sayre Downer and David Robinson Downer, moved to Ayer, Massachusetts in 1855 and lost contact with the family shortly thereafter.

Alfred Sayre Downer, the second son of Eliza Sayre Downer and David Robinson Downer, became the manager of the New York Office of the Western Union Telegraph Company. He married Caroline Lavere in 1865 and their son, Charles A. Downer (b. 1866) became a professor of French at the College of the City of New York.

David Robinson Downer (b. 1839) married Adelaide Tiffany (b. 1846), the daughter of Helim W. and Elizabeth Ann Tiffany, in New York City. The couple had two children: Edith Adelaide (b. 1868) and Arthur Tiffany (b. 1870). David was interested in the family genealogy and wrote The Downer Family in America.

Edith Adelaide Downer married Willis C. Barnes of Utica, New York and with him had one son, Arthur Field (b. 1896).


David R. Downer. The Downer Family in America (Newark, New Jersey, 1900).

Provenance Note:

The New York State Historical Association donated this collection in 1986.

Scope and Content Note:

This collection consists largely of the correspondence of the Downer family dating from 1824-1886. The collection also includes a membership card, a small number of photographs, and essays and notes regarding David Robinson Downer and the West Presbyterian Church.

The papers contain the correspondence of David Robinson Downer (1808-1841), Eliza Sayre Downer (1816-1886), and David Robinson Downer (b. 1839). The correspondence has been divided by recipient and then arranged alphabetically by author. The exception is the first folder, which contains letters written by David Robinson Downer. The correspondence discusses David Robinson Downer’s college days at Yale College and seminary life at Auburn College; sympathy letters to Eliza Sayre Downer in her times of illness; letters regarding William Richards Downer (b. 1834) and sympathy letters to David Robinson Downer regarding the death of his mother. The series also contains letters to Sarah C. Barnes that discuss family updates and the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Illinois.

The final folder in the collection contains a variety of documents, arranged by date and pertaining to the Downer family. These documents are: the “Recollections of Mr. Downer” (an address written by the Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the West Presbyterian Church after the death of Reverend David Robinson Downer in 1841); meeting minutes from the West Presbyterian Church, Board of Trustees; David R. Downer’s membership in the Old Time Telegraphers Association; Eliza Downer’s obituary; and 2 photographs, one of which says to Eliza Downer.

Related Collections:

For more materials related to the Downer Family see:

Manuscript Group 1406, William Ross Genealogy Collection: Sayre Family folder

Folder List:

Folder Contents Dates
1 Letters written by David Robinson Downer (1808-1841) 1824-1833
2 Letters to Eliza Sayre Downer (1816-1886) 1836-1837
3 Letters to David Robinson Downer (b. 1839) 1886
4 Letters to Sarah C. Barnes (fl. 1871-1873 1871-1873
Documents Pertaining to the Downer Family:  
5 Address and Meeting Minutes 1839-1841
  Old Timers Telegraph Association Membership 1873
  Eliza Sayre Downer’s Obituary 1886
  Photographs (2) No Date

Processed by James Lewis, March 2001 as part of the “Farm to City” project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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