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Guide to the Thelma E. Smith collection on the William Matthews family ARC.091

128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY, 11201

Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Nicholas Pavlik

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on May 01, 2012
English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Smith, Thelma E.
Title: Thelma E. Smith collection on the William Matthews family genealogy
Dates [inclusive]: circa 1780s-1970s
Quantity: 0.13 Linear feet in three folders.
Mixed materials [Box]: ARC.091 1 of 1
Call Phrase: ARC.091
Sponsor: This collection was processed and described as part of the project, "Uncovering the Secrets of Brooklyn's 19th Century Past: Creation to Consolidation," funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, with additional support from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

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Biographical Note

William Matthews, the son of Peter and Margaret Ross Matthews, was a bookbinder and a prominent member of the Brooklyn community during the 19th century. Born in 1822 in Scotland, he and his family moved to London after the death of his father, where he spent the majority of his early life. In 1833 he was enrolled in the London Orphan Asylum, and after leaving the Asylum, he worked as an apprentice for the London bookbinding firm of Remnant and Edmonds, where he acquired a wide breadth of knowledge about the bookbinding trade. In December of 1843, Matthews immigrated to New York to pursue his trade further, settling in the City of Brooklyn in Kings County. Within two years, he had married Julia Elizabeth Marle (1828-1906), the daughter of bookbinder William Marle (d. 1873). Over the course of their life together, William and Julia Matthews would have seven children.

In 1845, Matthews was working for his father-in-law at William Marle and Co., Bookbinders, located at 74 Fulton Street in New York City. For several years he labored in obscurity with limited financial means. Then, in 1853, Matthews won the silver medal in fine bookbinding at the International Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in New York City. The silver medal was the highest honor awarded at the Exhibition, and Matthews's accomplishment led to a position at the firm D. Appleton & Company as the head of the bindery at the company's newly-opened plant at 107 Franklin Street. The plant later moved to the Town of Williamsburgh in Kings County. In 1850, Matthews became a naturalized United States citizen, and by 1855 he and his family were living in a house he had built in the Village of Greenfield (later Parkville) in the Town of Flatbush in Kings County. After the move to Greenfield, Matthews became an active member of St. Paul's Church in Flatbush, where over time he served as Treasurer, Junior Warden, and Senior Warden.

Matthews gradually accrued substantial wealth, and in 1870 he and his family moved to a grand mansion he had built at 37 Irving Place (now St. Paul's Place) in Flatbush. By this time Matthews had also become a distinguished member of his local community, serving as a founder of the Flatbush Telegraph Company and the Law and Order Assocation of the Town of Flatbush. At the time of his death, he was President of the Flatbush Waterworks Company. Furthermore, by the 1880s, Matthews's reputation as a bookbinder was firmly established and highly respected. His work had been on display at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876, and in 1884 he was elected a member of the Grolier Club, a prestigious organization in New York City dedicated to the art of fine binding, where he did all of the binding until the end of his life. His work was also on display at the Paris Exhibition of 1899. Matthews retired from D. Appleton & Company in 1890, and in the following years his health began to fade, a process that was accelerated after he was hit by a bicyclist while crossing a street near his home. He died at his home in 1896.

The above biographical details on William Matthews were obtained from the work of Thelma E. Smith, who pursued her interest in genealogy research after retiring from her position as Deputy Librarian of the New York Municipal Reference Library in 1970. While indexing the records of St. Paul's Church in Flatbush, Smith became interested in Matthews, whose distinguished career as a bookbinder appealed to her. Smith subsequently set out to compose a biography of Matthews, along with a history and genealogy of his family. Rather than seeking to publish her work, Smith donated her typescript and research notes to the Brooklyn Historical Society. In her later life she lived in Sarasota, FL.

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Scope and Contents

The Thelma E. Smith collection on the William Matthews family contains three folders of material resulting from Smith's research on the history and genealogy of the Matthews family. While the majority of the items were created or collected by Smith during the 1970s, they document the history of the Matthews family as far back as the late 18th century up to the 1970s.

Folder 1 contains Smith's 121-page typescript titled A Nineteenth Century American Book-Binder: William Matthews and His Descendants. The typescript includes a detailed biography of William Matthews, notes on his Scottish ancestry, and the history and genealogy of six generations of the Matthews family, accompanied by original photographs and a hand-drawn map. The typescript also contains a chapter on allied families, including the Camp, Carpenter, Fuller, Johnson, Lyon, Marle, MacKenzie, and Smith families.

Folder 2 contains a large set of research notes, including photocopies of death certificates, obituaries, wills, records of burial grounds at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, correspondence, and school reports regarding members of the Matthews family and its allied families.

Folder 3 includes one photograph, circa 19th century, of a group of women outside St. Paul's Church in Flatbush. Most of the women are unidentified, though there are many signatures on the verso of the photograph that may provide possible identification. In supporting documentation for this collection, Smith has identified four of the women as Margaret Catlin, Mrs. Harmon Salt, Mrs. E. Holden Nelson, and Mrs. Helen Roosen.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Marle, William, d. 1873
  • Matthews, Julia Elizabeth Marle, 1828-1906
  • Matthews, William, 1822-1896

Document Type

  • Biographies
  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Genealogies
  • Obituaries
  • Photographs
  • Wills

Subject Organizations

  • Green-Wood Cemetery (New York, N.Y.).
  • Grolier Club.
  • St. Paul's Church (Flatbush, New York, N.Y.).

Subject Topics

  • Bookbinders -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Bookbinders -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Bookbinding
  • Families -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Genealogy

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Flatbush (New York, N.Y.)

Family Name(s)

  • Camp family
  • Carpenter family
  • Fuller family
  • Johnson family
  • Lyon family
  • Marle family
  • Matthews family
  • Smith family

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use note

Reproduction rights for photographs have not been evaluated. Please consult library staff for more information.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); Thelma E. Smith collection on the William Matthews family, ARC.091, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Related Materials

  1. Thelma E. Smith's two-volume An Index to the Parish Registers of St. Paul's Church, Flatbush is housed in the main collection of the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library. Volume 1 (call number F129.B7615 S78 1972) covers the period 1837 to 1904, while Volume 2 (call number F129.B7615 S79 1974) covers the period 1904 to 1923.
  2. A catalogue of William Matthews's extensive personal library, prepared for auction after his death, is available in the Othmer Library's main collection, call number Z997.M37 1897.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Gift of Thelma E. Smith, 1992.

Processing Information note

Minimally processed to the collection level.

The collection combines the accessions 1992.022 and V1992.021.

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