The family of Ebenezer Steele (b. Oct. 18, 1808) and Phebe Steele (dates unknown) lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their daughter Julia lived in their household in Ann Arbor until the time of her death on Nov. 11, 1866, of an unknown tuberculosis-like illness. Their son, Valentine, lived in Ann Arbor until the time of his death of an unknown tuberculosis-like illness on June 12, 1874. Another daughter, Ellen (b. Oct. 21, 1835), who worked as a school teacher in Manchester, Michigan, married a man named David B. Sturges, and immigrated with him to Montana Territory sometime between 1856-1866, where they lived in Helena, Virginia City, and Gallatin. Ellen Sturges eventually settled in San Bernardino, California, between 1876 and 1902. The Steeles of Ann Arbor were active in the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor, and ran a boarding house for students at the University of Michigan, where they often attended events.
Scope and Content
The collection contains thirty letters, all but one of which are addressed to Ellen (or Ellen and David) Sturges from her immediate family (and one friend, identified only as "Rebecca") in Ann Arbor. The aberrant letter was written in 1856 to David B. Sturges from Ellen (it is unclear if they were already married at this point). The correspondence contains detailed descriptions of the failing health and treatment of Julia and Valentine Steele in the months leading up to their deaths. There are occasional references to cultural and religious life in Ann Arbor in the letters of the 1866-1876 period, especially regarding the growth of the Methodist Church and the public speeches of Erastus Otis Haven (1863-1869), the second president of the University of Michigan and pastor of the First United Methodist Church. Though politics and national affairs are rarely discussed, HM 73855 includes Phebe Steele's thoughts on President Ulysses S. Grant's unsuccessful bid for a third term. Ebenezer and Phebe Steele express deep anxiety throughout the 1866 correspondence as to their daughter's safety from Indians in Montana, though no specific events are referenced. In addition to the correspondence, there is a family record, believed to be in the hand of Phebe Steele, detailing the birth and death dates of the siblings and parents of Ebenezer Steele, as well as a folder containing seven empty envelopes.