The Rotch-Wales Papers

The Rotch-Wales Papers are a collection of personal and business letters of both Thomas Rotch and Arvine Wales I. These letters are helpful in learning the history of Kendal, now a part of Massillon.

Digitization of the Rotch-Wales collection has been made possible in part by a generous award by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was designated a We The People project because of its importance in the teaching, study and understanding of American history, culture, and democratic principles.

Description of the Rotch-Wales Collection

The first part of the collection contains personal and business correspondence, diaries, documents, accounts, ledgers, and daybooks of Thomas Rotch (1767-1823) and members of his family. Rotch was active in the whaling and shipping industry in Nantucket and New Bedford, MA, between 1790 and 1801; in farming, sheep-raising and woolen manufacture in Hartford, CT, between 1801 and 1811; and in the laying out and settling of the town of Kendal (now Massillon) OH, and the establishment of farming, sheep-raising, and manufacturing there between 1811 and 1823. There is also much Quaker and anti-slavery material. The Rotch papers comprise slightly less than half the collection.

The rest of the collection contains the personal and business correspondence, documents, and business papers of Arvine Wales I (1785-1854), who accompanied Rotch from Hartford to Ohio in 1811, worked for him, and carried on Rotch’s business interests after his death; also the papers of his son, Arvine C. Wales (1827-1882) who was a lawyer in Massillon and prominent in the growth and civic affairs of the town.

The finding aid for the Rotch-Wales Papers is in file card format (three drawers) and is in the process of being microfilmed and digitized online.

Provenance

The collection was gift to the Massillon Public Library by the heirs of Arvine Wales I, 1963 and 1964.

Background

Thomas Rotch’s long transition from seaman to merchant began in a family that owned a whaling and shipping company. Two of the family’s ships were involved in the Boston Tea Party. He married Charity Rodman in 1790 and became more involved in Quaker missionary efforts along with myriad business pursuits. When Merino sheep were introduced in 1802, he began breeding them for their fine wool.

Charity Rodman’s health was fragile, and her physician recommended they move to a milder climate. Desiring to remain in a state without slavery, Thomas and Charity set out on horseback for the Ohio Valley. After traveling along the Ohio River to Cincinnati, they headed northeast seeking good pastureland and a site for a woolen mill. The land they chose in Stark County had been cleared by Indians for hunting, and had a creek for waterpower. They returned East to wrap up their affairs, and journeyed back by carriage, with six men on foot and a flock of 400 Merino sheep. The journey took two months.

Thomas eventually owned 4,000 acres of land, and in 1812 recorded the plat for Kendal, a settlement designed to resemble a New England town. An Owenite communal society at Kendal was short-lived but still intrigue researchers. As Kendal grew, the Rotches built a permanent home, Spring Hill, known as a station on the Underground Railroad. The Rotches, like other Quakers, were opposed to slavery and their correspondence on this topic is another attraction of this collection. The Rotches were appointed to deal with the Indians, investigate the finances of German immigrants who founded Zoar, and conduct other business for the Quakers.

Thomas and Charity died in 1823 and 1824, and the bulk of the estate went to further a dream of Charity’s: the establishment of a school for orphans and poor children, “that they be trained up in habits of industry and economy. ” The Charity School of Kendal, one of Ohio’s earliest vocational schools, operated from 1829 to 1906, educating more than 500 children. School records are included in this collection.

Thomas Rotch was instrumental in attracting to Kendal another famous mariner. Near the turn of the 18th Century, Mayhew Folger played a part in a famous incident. He captained the ship that discovered the surviving mutineers from the “Bounty” while stopping at Pitcairn Island in The South Pacific. Folger’s correspondence with Rotch is included in the collection.

The Rotch-Wales Collection includes gems as diverse as household remedies and recipes, weather reports and machinery plans, to a personal letter to Charity Rotch from a signer of the Declaration of Independence (Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, giving her medical advice.) It would be a valuable addition to the Ohio Memory Project Database.

This important collection is used extensively by researchers interested in mid-17th Century New England, colonial-European trade, early Ohio topics such as Indian affairs and the role of Pioneer Quakers. The need exists for greater accessibility to the collection with less physical handling. Every piece is handwritten, naturally, and very few pieces are yet transcribed. The Massillon Public Library is committed to broadening access to this collection and has hired historical transcriptionists to begin this task.

To search the collection, follow this link.