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Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00006

Scope and Contents

The Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald Papers consist of four linear feet of diaries, correspondence, commonplace and letter books, photographs, maps, drawings, and paintings. The bulk of the material dates from 1784 to 1840, with a few items from 1970 to 2004.

SERIES I consists of two subseries: Biographical Materials and Memorabilia. The first contains miscellaneous biographical material, including a genealogy along with letters regarding the publication of the diaries (1970), and biographical information on James Wodrow (n.d). Of particular interest is a piece written by Robert W. Archbald entitled "Archbald Family in Auriesville, NY" (2004). It is based on the contents of the diaries and also includes genealogical material.

Memorabilia includes a catalogue of books from Mary Ann Archbald's library (n.d.); letters, photographs, and a map of Little Cumbrae Island, Scotland (1986); and silhouettes of James and Mary Ann Archbald (circa 1815). A series of fifteen photographs of her watercolors accompanied by related texts (circa 1805-40) is especially worth noting. The watercolors consist mostly of flowers and plants, but also contain several portraits. These include a self portrait, one of her cousin Margaret Wodrow, and another of Helen Louise Wodrow. There are also two watercolors of Little Cumbrae Harbor.

SERIES II. consists of original correspondence, diaries, letterbooks, and commonplace books along with transcripts. The original correspondence consist of ten letters from Mary Ann to her cousin Margaret Wodrow. They are undated but were probably written in the late 1700s to early 1800s. In addition there is a photocopy of a letter to an unknown recipient (1820). There are eight volumes of original diaries (1785-1806, 1839-40). These primarily document Archbald's social and artistic activities, her courtship and first years of marriage, and daily life on the island of Little Cumbrae. They cease just prior to her immigration to the United States and pick up again in the years just prior to her death in 1840. There are two volumes of commonplace books (1821-1827 and 1831-circa 1834). They include information on the books that she read and reveal her lifelong literary and intellectual pursuits and love of nature. Two volumes of letterbooks (1784-1825) consist of letters to her family in Scotland and describe her life as a pioneer woman in a small farming community in New York as well as copies of letters to others. These include a letter she wrote to New York Governor DeWitt Clinton (1821) in her attempt to intervene on behalf of a young Irish laborer whom she believed had been unjustly convicted of assault.

There are also two sets of transcripts of the correspondence, diaries, and commonplace and letter books. In 1951, her great grandson, Hugh Archbald edited the diaries and letterbooks for The Letters and Diaries of Mary Ann Archbald, 1762-1840, A Scotch Emigrant. In 1995 Alison Scott transcribed them as part of a Ph.D. thesis: "These Notions I Imbibed from Writers": The Reading Life of Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald (1762-1841), which is located in the Sophia Smith Collection's Browsing Collection. Scott also included transcripts of correspondence with DeWitt Clinton (1822-27), the originals of which are located in the DeWitt Clinton Papers at Columbia University.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1784-2004
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1784-1840


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection may be governed by copyright. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald was an immigrant, farmer, homemaker, and pioneer.

She was born in 1762, the youngest daughter of Rev. Robert Wodrow and his second wife Anne Ruthven Wodrow, and raised on Little Cumbrae Island off the coast of Ayrshire, Scotland. She married James Archibald in August 1789. Their first child, Robert Wodrow, died shortly after birth in July 1790. They also lost two sets of male twins in July 1791 and February 1799 and a son in September 1799. James IV (Jamie) was born in 1793, Margaret Ann in 1796, Patrick Peter in 1802, and Helen Louisa in 1805.

James Archibald was a successful farmer. He grew vegetables and hay; kept sheep, marketing lambs and wool; sold fur and meat from local rabbits; fished; and sold seaweed for fertilizer. In addition to her domestic chores, Mary Ann was an independent producer of textiles and knitted products and wove thread for professional weavers and tailors.

At some point in the early 1800s, Mary Ann removed the "I" from Archibald. According to Ann R H Lee (a descendent of James' brother John), this was because "She was unhappy, dissatisfied and resentful of James’s brothers who by Mary Ann high standards were lesser beings." (E-mail from Ann R H Lee to Special Collections, July 3, 2023)

In 1807 James and Mary Ann emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York on April 17th after a twenty-five day passage. They were both forty-four years old and were accompanied by their four children. The decision to immigrate was not easy, but Mary Ann's hope was for a better life for her children in America. A friend purchased a farm for the family located along the Auries Creek, probably near present day Auriesville, New York, which Mary Ann called Creekvale. Sometime between 1810 and 1811 the Archbalds sold or leased the farm and moved to a larger one in Auriesville on the Mohawk River, which Mary Ann called Riverbank. Although she became somewhat disenchanted with America, especially after the War of 1812 (James, as head of the household, had to register as an enemy alien), Mary Ann never wavered in her idea that being in America was for the good of her children. However, James was never happy with his new life.

With the help of his sons and eventually his sons-in law he raised wheat and sheep while Mary Ann and her two daughters spun and made cloth for home and for sale. The prosperity of the family varied over the years depending on economic trends and available markets. After James' death in 1824, Mary Ann remained on the farm with her eldest daughter, Margaret, until Margaret's death in 1829, after which she lived with her daughter Helen Louisa and her husband, Jacob Snyder. Mary Ann died January 3, 1841.

Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald was an avid reader and writer, and in her later years produced watercolors, especially of flowers. She wrote letters to public figures to further private charities and for assistance in personal matters. After her husband's death she petitioned Governor DeWitt Clinton after learning that New York State forbade aliens from conveying real estate. As a result, a law was passed in 1825 enabling resident aliens to take and hold real estate.

For more detailed biographical information see Alison Scott's dissertation "These Notions I Imbibed from Writers": The Reading Life of Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald (1762-1841) in the Sophia Smith Collection and Robert's Archbald's "Archbald Family in Auriesville, NY" in SERIES I of the papers.


2.083 linear feet (4 containers)

Language of Materials



Immigrant, Farmer, Homemaker, Pioneer. The Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald papers include diaries, correspondence, genealogical materials, commonplace and letter books, photographs, maps, drawings and watercolor paintings. Her diary (1785-1806, 1839-1840) documents her life on the island of Little Cumbrae, follows her move to western New York state, and reflects her lifelong literary and intellectual pursuits and love of nature. Original letters to her family in Scotland describe life as a pioneer woman in a small farming community in New York. The collection features the original diaries and correspondence as well as edited transcripts of the material.


This collection is organized into two series:


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Archbald's great granddaughter, Ruth (Archbald) Little, donated the Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald Papers in 1964. Additional material was donated by Mary (Brooks) Griswold in 1986 and Robert Archbald in 2004. Alison Scott donated transcripts of the original materials in 1997.

Additional Formats

Commonplace books, journals and letters are available on the History of Women microfilm series (New Haven: Research Publications) available in the Sophia Smith Collection and Neilson Library, Smith College and through interlibrary loan.

Processing Information

Processed by Susan Boone, 2005.

Finding aid to the Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald Papers.
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Susan Boone
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:12-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2020-08-14: Finding aid copyedited and brought up to standard as part of Description QC project

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063