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About the Collection

Letter from 1829.
Letter from November 5, 1829 in Box 1, Folder 2 of the Henry and Elizabeth Baird papers, 1798-1937.
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Invitation from 1853.
Invitation to Examination of Cadets at West Point, 1853 from Box 5, Folder 3 of the Henry and Elizabeth Baird papers, 1798-1937.
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Insurance policy from 1851.
Insurance policy, 1851 from Box 5, Folder 3 of the Henry and Elizabeth Baird papers, 1798-1937.
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Indian Prayer book cover.
Cover of the Indian Prayer book in Box 5, Folder 1 of the Henry and Elizabeth Baird papers, 1798-1937.
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The Henry and Elizabeth Baird Papers (call number: Wis Mss V at the Wisconsin Historical Society) date from 1798 to 1937. The Wisconsin Historical Society received the manuscripts between 1941 and 1962 from Baird's descendants. In 1974, archivists arranged them into seven series: Correspondence, Business Papers, Personal Financial Records, Writings, Scrapbooks and Clippings, Miscellaneous Volumes, and Miscellaneous. They fill five archive boxes and one flat box.

The Henry and Elizabeth Baird manuscripts are significant because they document the birth and growth of Wisconsin over the course of the 19th century.

Seventy percent of the manuscripts have been digitized for this online collection.

Series 1

The Correspondence is by far the richest series in the collection.

  • Elizabeth exchanged letters often with her French-Canadian and metis (mixed-race) relatives, and preserved many others written by her forebears. These family letters, from 1798 to the 1830s (many of them in French), reveal much about Wisconsin during the Fur Trade Era.
  • Letters from the 1830s onward include both incoming and outgoing correspondence of Henry Baird on business, legal, and political matters.
  • Noteworthy correspondents include U.S. President John Quincy Adams; Indian activist Eleazer Williams; U.S. Secretary of War George W. Crawford; Governor Hamilton Fish of New York; Wisconsin governors Henry Dodge, James Doty, and Lucius Fairchild; Astor fur trade agent Ramsay Crooks; and members of the Hercules T. Dousman family.
  • Significant groups of letters document the Civil War draft in 1862 and relief efforts following the Peshtigo Fire of 1871.
Series 2-7

The remaining series were scanned selectively because many documents were considered to be of little interest to most researchers. Only the following documents are included in the digital collection:

  • Baird's contemporary notes on the trial of Menominee chief Oshkosh for murder in 1830.
  • Military records Baird created during the Black Hawk War of 1832.
  • Baird's notes on Indian treaty negotiations during the 1830s.
  • Notebooks in American Indian languages.
  • Autobiographical essays written by both Henry and Elizabeth between 1870 and 1890.
How it's organized

The digital manuscripts are divided into seven series. The online collection includes Series 1, the Bairds' complete correspondence - 3,865 pages in 17 folders. The correspondence is arranged in chronological order, with undated letters in alphabetical order at the end. Series 2 through Series 7 contain selected contents of about 400 pages from 10 folders.

  • Series 1: Correspondence
  • Series 2 & 3: Business papers and personal financial records
  • Series 4: Writings
  • Series 5: Scrapbooks and clippings
  • Series 6: Miscellaneous volumes
  • Series 7: Miscellaneous

The Baird manuscripts were scanned in color as 300 dpi TIFF files. These were compressed to JPG format for screen presentation in CONTENTdm. A PDF of each folder is also available for downloading. No transcripts or indexes exist. Researchers should click any folder title to open the folder at its first page, and then browse the digital versions exactly as they would handle the originals. Click anywhere on a page to zoom in.

A complete container list of all the Henry and Elizabeth Baird papers is available for viewing.

About the Bairds

Henry S. Baird was a territorial politician and prominent early Wisconsin settler. Elizabeth Baird was the daughter of a British fur trader and a French-Ottawa mother.

The Bairds were connected to most of the founders of modern Wisconsin by family ties, marriage, business interests, and politics. They participated in or witnessed the birth of nearly all the state's important social institutions. They helped shift millions of acres of land from American Indian to government ownership. They watched hundreds of towns grow from frontier backwaters to cities teeming with new immigrants. They saw Wisconsin's landscape transformed from unbroken forest and prairie into thousands of bustling farms.

See the full biography of the Bairds.

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