McConnell Family Letters, Background and Overview

The letters of Josephine Louise Newcomb housed in the McConnell family papers at Tulane University are completely transcribed here; they have not previously been published, and in fact their existence has never been widely known. There are no citations to these letters, for example, in histories of the University.

James McConnell was a member of the Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund and University attorney. He was charged with defending the last will and testament of Josephine Louise Newcomb on behalf of the University, a will he counseled her to write in her own hand. Almost immediately after her death in 1901, her relatives brought suit challenging the will. The case went before four courts in New York state before finally being settled in favor of the University in 1908.

In preparing for defense of the will, McConnell contacted JLN’s friends and relatives requesting they send him any letters written by her. It appears that McConnell himself, or an assistant, read through the letters selecting those for the court case that pertained to the charges brought by the plaintiffs. The 133 letters in the McConnell family papers collection were not selected for use in the trial.

Two tattered sheets of paper give some explanation as to the relevance of the letters regarding the question of Mrs. Newcomb’s domicile.

The sheet above covers a set of letters with the instruction “Not to be printed because irrelevant to Q of domicile 51 letters in this package.” Then written below those instructions was the notation “Not relevant to question of Domicile nothing about H—” then listed below, “Note 30 letters to Dr. Dixon as above (herein) 25 “ Col Johnston} in two other bundles 27 “ “ “82 total”.

A second group of letters, here, shown as held together by a paper clip in what had been an envelope with the return address of Wilmer & Canfield, Counselors at Law, Atlantic Building 49 Wall Street, New York. (Wilmer and Canfield were the New York attorneys who, with McConnell, represented the University. McConnell would not have been able to practice law in the state of New York).

On the envelope is written:

“Letters to ‘My dear friend’”
Property of Jas McConnell Esq
[words illegible] of Mrs Newcomb + copies
10 Fr Dr. Dixon print
To be Offered
10 letters from Mrs N in this envelope”


Several of the letters had a pencil note at the top indicating something of the content of the letter, for example “Callender.” These notations are indicated in the transcriptions. Other pencil marks on the letters, such as a line down the margin, are not included in the transcriptions.

The earliest correspondence in the Collection dates to 1880. The last is October 1, 1899, approximately six months before her death. The recipients and the number of letters JLN wrote to them, include: Alice Bowman (3), Brandt V.B. Dixon (37), Eliza Carson Dixon (3), Joseph A. Hincks (3), William Preston Johnston (22), Margaret Avery Johnston (1), General G.W. Custis Lee (1), James McConnell (5), Rev. John Percival (1), H.K. Pomroy (23), Sarah Brock Putnam (29), and Francis (Frank) Scratchley (4). In addition, one letter was written to the “Board of Administrators of Tulane University.”