Rundlet-May family papers

Collection Type

  • Manuscripts


1710-1735, undated, predominant 1800-1900

Location Note

HGO-02-105-A-E-305; HGO-02-105-A-F-202; HGO-02-105-A-F-203; HGO-02-105-A-E-105; HGO-02-105-A-J-202




The Rundlet-May family papers (MS025) reflect the life and work of the Rundlet-May family of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Within the Rundlet-May family papers, the materials of James Rundlet are the most numerous and cover, however incompletely, his activities as a textile merchant, woolen manufacturer, and investor in Portsmouth. Of particular interest, however, are the records for the building of the house. They include an account of Rundlet's bills paid for labor and supplies, a daily checklist of workmen on the site and a framing record. Next in quantity are documents produced by five of Rundlet's children, Portsmouth merchants, William and Alfred, physician Edward and daughters Elizabeth Jane and Louisa Catherine. These collections are largely personal in nature and probably reflect random survival more than archival activity. James Rundlet May, of the third generation left a more complete record, particularly of his lifelong interest in theatricals, Harvard alumni activities and the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. His wife Mary Ann (Morison) May also left personal papers relating to her marriage, her sister's collections and other family memorabilia. She is undoubtedly responsible for the presense of financial and religious documents relating to Samuel Lord, her grandfather. It is not clear what brought the Captain Edmund Roberts papers into the household. Because the documents had been sorted through in the past, provenance could not always be determined. The residue is listed, item by item, in the collection titled "Unassociated Documents."

Many manuscript or printed historic documents were collected by Ralph May and for safety are collected here. The large number of documents produced by him, however, remain in his "den" at the Rundlet-May House. While they have been loosely grouped in categories corresponding to those used here, they have not been filed and boxed at this time due to their number, recent production and survival of his wife, Gladys Weir Smyth May. Similarly, several types of manuscript material have been left at the house, including maps, drawings, and photographs which do not add appreciably to our knowledge of its occupants. These too have been centrally located on the third floor.
The collection is arranged in thirteen series.

In 1971, Historic New England acquired the Rundlet-May House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as a bequest from Ralph May (1882-1973), great grandson of James Rundlet (1780-1852). The papers within the house at the time of purchase formed the bases of the collection: Rundlet-May family papers (now MS025). In the early 1980s, Claire Dempsey, architectural historian, and member of the faculty in the American and New England Studies Program at Boson University, Boston, Massachusetts, processed the papers and created the original finding aid. Dempsey arranged the papers in twelve subgroups, chronologically by generation of creator; individuals with few papers were grouped together into one related subgroup. Within each subgroup, the papers were arranged into series by record type: Correspondence, Financial Records, Legal Papers, Literary Papers, Maps and Drawings, and Printed Materials. The folders within each series were arranged alphabetically or chronologically, as applicable.

Original arrangement:
Subgroup 1. Papers of James Rundlet (1772-1852)
Subgroup 2. Papers of William Rundlet (1800-1846)
Subgroup 3. Papers of Edward Rundlet (1805-1874)
Subgroup 4. Papers of Alfred Rundlet (1811-1851)
Subgroup 5. Papers of Elizabeth Jane (Rundlet) Homer (1813-1839)
Subgroup 6. Papers of Louisa Catherine (Rundlet) May (1817-1895)
Subgroup 7. Papers of James Rundlet May (1841-1918)
Subgroup 8. Papers of Mary Ann (Morison) May (1844-1936)
Subgroup 9. Papers of Samuel Lord (1788-1871)
Subgroup 10. Papers of Captain Edmund Robers
Subgroup 11. Papers of Ralph May, collector (1882-1971)
Subgroup 12. Unassociated documents

Additional material to the Rundlet-May family papers (now MS025) was incorporated into the collection around 1982. The addendum was processed and arranged but, not added to the finding aid. The addendum was arranged as follows:

Addendum arrangement:
Folder 1. Rundlet, Miss Louise: letters received
Rundlet, Miss Caroline: letters received
Rundlet, Jane: letters received
Homer, Elizabeth Rundlet: letters sent
Folder 2. Correspondence, letters received by Louisa Rundlet May 1846-48 from Georgiana
Folder 3. Letters received by Isaac Williams from his cousin, Jane Rundlet, 1830s
Folder 4. Letter from John Samuel Rundlet to his wife, 1830
Folder 5. James Rundlet: letter to his wife Jane, 1812
Folder 6. Louisa Rundlet, letters received from Susan Alcock, 1839-40
Folder 7. Louisa Rundlet, letters received from J. Kennard-romantic, also a verse
Folder 8. Miscellaneous correspondence, 1830s-60s. Includes Harvard diploma, 1825, Edward Rundlet

When fully processed, the collection was comprised of twenty-two file boxes (approx. 9.17 linear ft.).

Update: 2013-2014
In 2013-2014, through a National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant (Award Number: NAR13-RH-50051-13: "Family Manuscript Collections: Expanding Online Access to New England Heritage Project"), twenty-six Historic New England manuscript collections of family papers were re-evaluated and processed/reprocessed to meet current archival standards and "best practices;" corresponding finding aids were created/updated to be DACS-compliant and converted into electronic Microsoft Word document form; and the finding aids were made accessible/searchable online through the use of the Minisis M2A archival database of the Minisis Collections Management System. The Rundlet-May family papers (MS025) were part of the grant project.

During the 2013-2014 collection reprocessing/updating, the original 1980s arrangement scheme was maintained; original folder tiles were maintained; the addendum and additional material were incorporated into the collection (appropriate headings and folder titles were supplied, as applicable); oversize material was rehoused appropriately, as applicable; scope and content notes were updated to reflect the changes; and additional research was added to the biographical/historical sketch and genealogy. The collection was rehoused (in acid-free folders and boxes), numbered, labeled, barcoded, and stored accordingly; and related collections held by Historic New England and other repositories were researched and noted. The original 1980s paper document finding aid was updated to be DACS-compliant, as applicable; converted into an electronic 2010-2013 Microsoft Word document finding aid (with corresponding paper finding aid); and entered into the collection record in the Minisis M2A online database.

2013 extent of collection (prior to updating):
·22 file boxes (legal-size)= 9.17 linear feet
·Vertical/flat files
*Yale linear footage calculator: approximately 9.17 linear feet (22 file boxes) plus vertical/flat files

NOTE: Processing/updating the collection and making the finding aid accessible online were made possible through grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (Award Number: NAR13-RH-50051-13), the Bedford Family Foundation, and an anonymous donor.


Descriptive Terms

account books
charitable societies
estates (property)
financial records
legal documents
local history (discipline)
real estate
trade (function)
woolen mills
family papers

Physical Description

5.25 linear ft. (3 file boxes, 4 cartons, plus 1 oversize folder, 3 oversize volumes)

Finding Aid Info

An electric finding aid is available through Historic new England's Collections Access Portal. A paper finding aid is available in the Library and Archives.

Custodial History

·1971: Acquisition of the Rundlet-May House, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and all of its contents from Ralph May (1882-1973), great grandson of James Rundlet (1780-1852)

Collection Code


Collection Name

Rundlet-May family papers

Date of Acquisition


Reference Code



Club and committee records; correspondence; deeds; diaries; drawings; ephemera; estate records; financial records; genealogical material; insurance records; legal documents; memoranda; notebooks; photographic material; printed material; reports; wool samples; etc.; reflecting the life and work of the Rundlet and May families of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Acquisition Type


Credit Line

Gift of Ralph May, 1971


Amesbury (Essex county, Massachusetts)
Boston (Suffolk county, Massachusetts)
Campton (Grafton county, New Hampshire)
Exeter (Rockingham county, New Hampshire)
Illinois (United States)
Lowell (Penobscot county, Maine)
New York City (New York state)
Pembroke (Merrimack county, New Hampshire)
Portland (Cumberland county, Maine)
Portsmouth (Rockingham county, New Hampshire)
Stratford (Coos county, New Hampshire)
Wolfeboro (Carroll county, New Hampshire)
York Harbor (York county, Maine)

Record Details


Rundlet family
May family

Material Type

family papers

Other People

Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848
Hales, John Groves
Lord, Samuel, 1788-1871
May, James Rundlet, 1841-1918
May, Louisa Catherine (Rundlet), 1817-1895
May, Mary Ann (Morison), 1844-1936
May, Mary Hall
May, Ralph, 1882-1973
Morison, Caroline Augusta, 1847-1882
Morison, Horace, 1810-1870
Peabody, Andrew P. (Andrew Preston), 1811-1893
Roberts, Edmund
Rundlet, Alfred, 1811-1851
Rundlet, Caroline, 1797-1880
Rundlet, Edward, 1805-1874
Rundlet, Elizabeth Jane, 1813-1839
Rundlet, Harriet, 1795-1840
Rundlet, James, 1772-1852
Rundlet, James, 1815-1855
Rundlet, Jane (Hill), 1774-1849
Rundlet, John Samuel, 1807-1837
Rundlet, William, 1800-1846

Other Organizations

Amesbury Wool and Cotton Manufacturing Company
Bank of the United States (1816-1836)
Federal Fire Society (Portsmouth, N.H.)
Harvard College (1636-1780)
Historic New England (Organization)
Humane Fire Society (Portsmouth, N.H.)
Knights of the Order of the Pudding Stick
New Hampshire Fire & Marine Insurance Company
New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
New York Life Insurance and Trust Company
Missouri Mining and Smelting Company
Pacific Life Insurance Company
Pemigewasset Bank
Phillips Exeter Academy
Portsmouth Academy (Portsmouth, N.H.)
Portsmouth Atheneum
Portsmouth Female Asylum (Portsmouth, N.H.)
Rockingham Mechanics Mutual Fire Insurance Company
Salmon Falls Manufacturing Co.
Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities
Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company
United Fire Society (Portsmouth, N.H.)
United States. Army


Fire clubs (Cooperative Societies)


·This collection is available for research.
·Allergy note: #3.1-3.20 contain wool samples.
·Note: due to aging materials and condition of the materials, the whole of the collection requires handling with care.

Conservation Note

See Scope and Content note

Description Level


Location Note

HGO-02-105-A-E-305; HGO-02-105-A-F-202; HGO-02-105-A-F-203; HGO-02-105-A-E-105; HGO-02-105-A-J-202

Accruals Note

Accruals are not expected.

Language Note

Materials in English

Preferred Citation

[Item identification.] Rundlet-May family papers (MS025). Historic New England, Library and Archives.

Processing Information

·Ca.1981: Originally processed by Claire Dempsey, Architectural Historian
·2014 June: Updated by Jennifer Pustz, Museum Historian; with assistance from Rebecca M. Fullerton, Volunteer; Alyssa Ramirez, Archives Assistant; and Bridgette A. Woodall, Project Archivist

Rules and Conventions

This finding aid is DACS-compliant.

Historical/Biographical Note

Historical/Biographical Note

James Rundlet was born on December 8, 1772, in Exeter, New Hampshire, the oldest son of James and Dorothy (Stevens) Rundlet. The family had been in Exeter since the seventeenth century. The senior James is consistently referred to as yeoman though he engaged in property transactions with "gentlemen" and his property holdings included a blacksmith shop and slaughterhouse and his home included a shop. He must have had more cosmopolitan goals for his oldest son, however. In 1785, at age 12, James, Jr., was enrolled in the newly formed Phillips Academy to complete his education.

James, Jr., came to Portsmouth in 1794. He began on a small scale as a commission merchant, but later specialized, importing and retailing textiles. The economic environment was favorable, the young man grew wealthy, and the town was prosperous. During the War of 1812 he began the most important phase of his career turning from sales to manufacturing textiles. He was instrumental in the development of two early woolen mills, one in Amesbury, Massachusetts, in 1814 and in Salmon Falls, New Hampshire, in 1823. During his middle years, however, the climate of Portsmouth changed. Rundlet turned from active merchant and manufacturing activities to a more passive role as investor. He had become one of the town's wealthiest individuals and could live the last twenty-five years of his life on the interest of his earlier accumulation.

Rundlet married Jane Hill in Portsmouth on January 1, 1795. Just eleven months after their marriage, Jane Rundlet gave birth to their first child, Harriet (1795-1840). Twelve more children followed, some of whom did not live to adulthood: Caroline (1797-1880), William (1800-1846), Elizabeth (1802-1810), Edward (1804-1805), Edward (1805-1874), John Samuel (1807-1835), George (1808-1830), Alfred (1811-1851), Elizabeth Jane (1813-1839), James (1815-1855), Louisa Catherine (1817-1895), and Francis Matilda (1824-1834) As early as 1821, oldest son William, age twenty-one, entered the textile business. At some point, he apparently took over his father's retail business and his advertisement in Portsmouth papers of the time show his stock to be predominately English imported textiles and more coarse native American products, operating out of his father's Market Street stores. He had little opportunity to achieve prominence on his own, however, leaving Portsmouth in 1834, for the Midwest.

Second son Edward had apparently distinguished himself scholastically, for at 1815 at age ten he attended Phillips Academy, Exeter. He later continued at Harvard, completing his A. B. in 1825, his M. D. in 1829. None of Rundlet's other sons were comparably educated, only Alfred having also attended college at Dartmouth. There is some evidence that he was for a short time also engaged as a merchant but spent most of his long life practicing medicine from his father's home on Middle Street. Rundlet's third son John Samuel received his business training in his father's counting rooms. In 1830, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he managed his father's Illinois lands and formed a partnership, Rundlet and Randolph. He died shortly thereafter, however, in 1835, leaving a complicated estate for settlement. Younger brother George also made his way to this part of the country but died in Galena, Illinois, in 1830 at age twenty-two. Alfred Rundlet chose to remain in Portsmouth and at age twenty-three succeeded his brother William in the dry goods business in 1834. He wandered rather farther afield than his older brother, appearing in the New York directory of 1842-43 at St. George's Hotel. Youngest brother, James Jr., had appeared there as early as 1838. As the port of New York grew in importance many New England merchants favored it for entry and by this time most mercantile firms could count several New Englanders among their number. By 1850, however, James Jr. had made the next move, following the tide of merchants to California. He settled with his family in Sacramento where he died in 1855 at age 48. Alfred, too, went to California, though not to settle, perhaps expecting to turn a quick profit and return east. He died there shortly after his arrival, in 1851, at age forty. Of his thirteen children, the two oldest, Harriet and Caroline, never married and little is known of their personal lives or education. In 1830, at ages 35 and 32 respectively, they were describe d among the "Belles of Portsmouth" in a quatrain. Their younger brother Edward also chose not to marry. Four other of Rundlet's children did not survive to marriageable age.

Only two of Rundlet's children married into local Portsmouth families. In 1823, his oldest son, William, married Frances Brierly, the daughter of textile/dry goods merchant Benjamin Brierly. Alfred married Martha S. Dwight in 1835. The daughter of Dr. Josiah Dwight, she was the first cousin of Frances (Brierly) Rundlet. Their mothers, Margaret and Susannah, were the daughters of Captain Thomas Thompson, a close business associate and neighbor of former governor John Langdon on Pleasant Street. Each of Rundlet's four youngest children chose his or her spouse from outside the town of Portsmouth. John Samuel married Elizabeth Marshall Williams in August of 1830, just before departing for St. Louis. Her father was Philadelphia merchant, Samuel Williams, a business associate of Rundlet's. More important, however, her mother was Elizabeth (Hill) Williams, sister of Jane (Hill) Rundlet, making the couple first cousins. In 1838 Elizabeth Jane Rundlet married Peter Thatcher Homer, member of the Boston dry goods firm Benjamin Adams & Co. She died in childbirth in Manchester, England, a year later. While in business in New York, James Jr. met and married the daughter of Gilbert Mount, merchant of Front Street. Youngest daughter Louisa Catherine married in 1840 the Hartford born, Savannah merchant, George Hall May. Like so many of Rundlet's family, he died prematurely in 1858. Louisa and her twins, James and Jane Rundlet May, rejoined her family at the Middle Street house. James Rundlet May and his family would later inherit the Middle Street house.

The details of James Rundlet's activities in the later years of his life are obscure. He suspended his yearly accounting in 1840, and his ledger was not kept up-to-date. His investments, through the New York investment firm of Prime, Ward, and King, included some slightly more speculative properties, such as insurance policies, municipal public works, but no clear picture emerges. His will provisions were not unusual. The three of his children who made their home with him, Edward, Caroline, and Louisa, were the major beneficiaries. Jane (Hill) Rundlet died in August 1849, at age seventy-five. Two and a half years later, James Rundlet died at age eighty.

James Rundlet May, son of Louisa Catherine May, never left his childhood home. Like his Uncle Edward, James was a doctor, practicing out of the family home. During his and his wife Mary Ann's occupancy, the house changed little. The Mays updated carpets and upholstery, but their mark is most noticed in the garden. James created a graveyard for the family's many pets on the south edge of the property. Mary Ann, while maintaining James Rundlet's original pathways and flower beds, updated some of the flower varieties by adding the peonies, tiger lilies, pinks, and roses popular with her generation. She also added the spiral trellises that remain on the grounds today.

Ralph May and his wife Gladys used the Rundlet-May House as a summer retreat for much of their occupancy. In keeping with the Colonial Revival trend, the couple embraced their family history and decorated the home with James Rundlet's furniture, family portraits, and decorative arts. They kept the peach damask wallpaper hung by James Rundlet when the house was built. Ralph, who was born in his mother's childhood home, which had since become the Portsmouth Historical Society, was a dedicated scholar who wrote many short poems, essays, and histories of his hometown. His interest in history led to a connection with the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England. He deeded the house to Historic New England in1971.


Material within MS025
Rundlet-May House research by Claire Dempsey within resource binder
"Rundlet-May House History," accessed May 5, 2001,
New Hampshire Births and Christenings Index, 1714-1904
New Hampshire Deaths and Burials Index, 1654-1949
New Hampshire Death and Disinternment Records, 1754-1947
New Hampshire Marriage Records Index, 1637-1947



The collection is arranged in twelve series: Series I. Papers of James Rundlet (1772-1852). Series II. Papers of William Rundlet (1800-1846). Series III. Papers of Edward Rundlet (1805-1874). Series IV. Papers of Alfred Rundlet (1811-1851). Series V. Papers of Elizabeth Jane (Rundlet) Homer (1813-1839). Series VI. Papers of Louisa Catherine (Rundlet) May (1817-1895). Series VII. Papers of James Rundlet May (1841-1918). Series VIII. Papers of Mary Ann (Morison) May (1844-1936). Series IX. Papers of Samuel Lord (1788-1871). Series X. Papers of Captain Edmund Roberts (dates unknown). Series XI. Papers of Ralph May (1882-1971). Series XII. Other family papers.

*Collection housing/storage code: #x.x=file box (i.e., #1.2= file box 1, folder 2); C=carton; FB=folio box; FF=fragile files; MB=multi-purpose box; OB=oversize box/folder; OV=oversize volume; VF=vertical files/flat files