C. H. Newton and Co. General Store and Palm Leaf Business

Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association
Memorial Street, Deerfield, MA

C.H. Newton and Co. General Store and Palm Leaf Business
On the Common, Royalston, Massachusetts

Description of the Collection
The C. H. Newton and Co. collection consists of business papers and letters of a rural
Massachusetts general store and palm leaf manufacturing business spanning the period 1853-1869. Between the years of 1853 and 1869 Charles Homer Newton (b. May 13, 1828), and his brother, Phinehas Stewart Newton (b. August 20, 1832) owned a general store and palm leaf hat business on the Common in Royalston, Massachusetts. The business was purchased by C. H. Newton from Joseph Estabrook in 1853. C. H. Newton began as a clerk in Estabrook’s store, became his partner, then bought the store and brought in his brother, P. S. Newton, as an associate. Throughout the brothers’ partnership, C. H. Newton kept the store, while P. S. Newton traveled rural Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire peddling their goods and trading with rural families. The store was sold in 1870 to Obadiah Walker. After the sale of the business, C. H. Newton moved to Fitchburg, while P. S. Newton maintained the palm leaf side of the business until his death.

The collection does not document the purchase or sale of the business. In 1853, The
Massachusetts Register shows Estabrook as a palm leaf dealer, and shows both Estabrook and C. H. Newton as owners of the general store. The business papers in the collection address Mr. Estabrook and Mr. Newton in 1853, but in 1854, they address both men with Mr. Estabrook’s name crossed out, indicating that C. H. Newton was the sole owner. Thereafter, all correspondence is addressed to C. H. Newton.

The primary importance of this collection is its ability to document the production and
distribution of palm leaf hats. The invoices show that C. H. Newton purchased palm leaf from importers in Boston and New York City. The primary raw palm leaf supplier was Perrin & Co. of Boston. The leaf was then contracted to local or regional contractors who bleached or colored, and split the leaf into fine strands for braiding. Leaves were bleached by stacking them around walls of a palm leaf “factory” where brimstone or sulfur was burned. The brimstone or sulfur came in hard rolls, did not catch fire and was expected to smolder, enabling the fumes to whiten the leaf. Invoices show that the split leaf was then returned to C. H. Newton who paid the bleachers and splitters for their services. P. S. Newton traveled rural Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire and sold the split leaf to families for women and children to braid into raw forms or “webs” in exchange for money or credit. The braided leaf was then sent to contractors to be pressed into hats and other goods. C. H. Newton would ship finished products to Draper, Clark & Co. in New York City who distributed the goods to stores throughout the country. When splitting leaf, the “butts and tips” were the resultant waste products. These were often sold to contractors to create floor mats.

While this was the basic pattern of Newton’s business, other patterns of the palm leaf
business existed. It appears that the bleaching/splitting contractors would often complete the whole process themselves. The contractors found families to do the braiding in their vicinity and would ship finished products to Draper, Clark & Co. in New York. Their invoice/notes to C. H. Newton often stated that they had finished a number of hats and shipped them to Draper and were billing C. H. Newton for their work. Overall, C. H. Newton would contract goods to be made and shipped, collect finished goods to ship, and would receive payment from Draper, Clark & Co. for the goods coming from C. H. Newton or his contractors.

Scope of the Collection
The majority of the collection is dated 1857-1869. The last year of business records in the collection is 1869, and in the last quarter there are only four items. Through the records, one can trace C. H. Newton’s participation in the palm leaf industry in rural Massachusetts. The palm leaf portion of the collection primarily contains letters and invoice/notes from palm leaf contractors and from distributors of raw palm leaf or finished products. The vast majority of the collection is comprised of invoices associated with the general store. The account books and day books, though mostly relating to the general store, have sections that include the palm leaf side of the business. A close examination of these books may reveal names of individual families of palm leaf braiders as they trade with P. S. Newton.

The first two of the fourteen boxes are exclusively palm leaf related documents. The first
two folders contain letters organized chronologically. While many letters simply report
shipments, some letters discuss the craft of creating palm leaf hats, and others report the business situation of the industry as a whole. The letters are followed by three folders of invoice/notes from individual palm leaf contractors. A number of the invoices are annotated by the contractors.

The first three folders of second box of palm leaf papers hold the papers of business firms
that work with palm leaf. Three firms (Draper, Clark and Co., Perrin & Co., and Rand & Ellis) are the primary suppliers of raw leaf, distributors of finished palm leaf products, and a business that did splitting, bleaching, or finishing. The folders are arranged alphabetically by firm. The items within are arranged chronologically. The fourth folder contains C. H. Newton transportation bills for shipments of both raw and finished palm leaf products. These bills of lading are primarily railroad freight charges, but there are a few steam boat shipments, as well. The final folder of the palm leaf side of the business is a miscellaneous palm leaf file containing only five items.

The remaining twelve boxes (3 – 14) contain the business papers of the general store. Box 3 contains correspondence, transportation bills, and travel expenses. The forth box contains
forty of P. S. Newton’s daybooks which report his business transactions as he peddled and traded goods with families in rural Massachusetts and New Hampshire. There probably is palm leaf information contained in these books, as he traded with families whose women and children braided palm leaf. The fifth through the ninth boxes are the general store’s accounts payable files containing invoices and receipts. These are arranged chronologically and span the years 1853-1869. Boxes ten through thirteen are the general store’s day books. These are arranged chronologically, and have some palm leaf information intermingled with the general store records. Box fourteen is miscellaneous, containing a folder of newspapers, one of school book orders, official papers (tax related, licenses, etc.)

Box and Folder List:
Box 1
Fol. 1 — 1857-1864, Correspondence — Palm leaf Related, 50 items
Fol. 2 — 1857-1864, Correspondence — Palm leaf Related, 87 items
Fol. 3 — 1854-1863, Bills/Receipts/Notes from Palm leaf contractors, 45 items
Fol. 4 — 1864-1865, Bills/Receipts/Notes from Palm leaf contractors, 24 items
Fol. 5 — 1866-1869, Bills/Receipts/Notes from Palm leaf contractors, 50 items

Box 2
Fol. 1 — 1856-1866, Draper, Clark & Co., 9 items
Fol. 2 — 1853-1869, Perrin & Co., 32 items
Fol. 3 — 1860-1868, Rand & Ellis (C.F. Ellis), 40 items
Fol. 4 — 1853-1869, Transportation Bills and Receipts — Palm Leaf, 181 items
Fol. 5 — Undated Miscellaneous Palm Leaf items, 5 items

Box 3
Fol. 1 — 1855-1869, General Store Correspondence, 67 items
Fol. 2 — 1853-1869, General Store Transportation, 159 items
Fol. 3 — 1853-1856, Travel Expenses, 5 items

Box 4
Fol. 1 — 1856-1866, P. S. Newton Day Books; Store Inventories, 40 items

Box 5
Fol. 1 — 1850, General Store Accounts Payable, 2 items
Fol. 2 — 1853, General Store Accounts Payable, 30 items
Fol. 3 — 1854, General Store Accounts Payable, 10 items
Fol. 4 — 1855, General Store Accounts Payable, 26 items
Fol. 5 — 1856, General Store Accounts Payable, 28 items
Fol. 6 — 1857, General Store Accounts Payable, 22 items
Fol. 7 — 1858, General Store Accounts Payable, 76 items
Fol. 8 — 1859, General Store Accounts Payable, 45 items

Box 6
Fol. 1 — Jan-Mar. 1860, General Store Accounts Payable, 15 items
Fol. 2 — Apr-Jun. 1860, General Store Accounts Payable, 37 items
Fol. 3 — Jul-Sep. 1860, General Store Accounts Payable, 16 items
Fol. 4 — Oct-Dec. 1860, General Store Accounts Payable, 21 items
Fol. 5 — Jan-Mar. 1861, General Store Accounts Payable, 15 items
Fol. 6 — Apr-Jun. 1861, General Store Accounts Payable, 28 items
Fol. 7 — Jul-Sep. 1861, General Store Accounts Payable, 27 items
Fol. 8 — Oct-Dec. 1861, General Store Accounts Payable, 14 items
Fol. 9 — Jan-Mar. 1862, General Store Accounts Payable, 13 items
Fol. 10 — Apr-Jun. 1862, General Store Accounts Payable, 12 items
Fol. 11 — Jul-Sep. 1862, General Store Accounts Payable, 4 items
Fol. 12 — Oct-Dec. 1862, General Store Accounts Payable, 16 items

Box 7
Fol. 1 — Jan-Mar. 1863, General Store Accounts Payable, 13 items
Fol. 2 — Apr-Jun. 1863, General Store Accounts Payable, 25 items
Fol. 3 — Jul-Sep. 1863, General Store Accounts Payable, 24 items
Fol. 4 — Oct-Dec. 1863, General Store Accounts Payable, 13 items
Fol. 5 — Jan-Mar. 1864, General Store Accounts Payable, 8 items
Fol. 6 — Apr-Jun. 1864, General Store Accounts Payable, 24 items
Fol. 7 — Jul-Sep. 1864, General Store Accounts Payable, 7 items
Fol. 8 — Oct-Dec. 1864, General Store Accounts Payable, 24 items
Fol. 9 — Jan-Mar. 1865, General Store Accounts Payable, 0 items
Fol. 10 — Apr-Jun. 1865, General Store Accounts Payable, 28 items
Fol. 11 — Jul-Sep. 1865, General Store Accounts Payable, 22 items
Fol. 12 — Oct-Dec. 1865, General Store Accounts Payable, 11 items

Box 8
Fol. 1 — Jan-Mar. 1866, General Store Accounts Payable, 11 items
Fol. 2 — Apr-Jun. 1866, General Store Accounts Payable, 16 items
Fol. 3 — Jul-Sep. 1866, General Store Accounts Payable, 36 items
Fol. 4 — Oct-Dec. 1866, General Store Accounts Payable, 36 items
Fol. 5 — Jan-Mar. 1867, General Store Accounts Payable, 28 items
Fol. 6 — Apr-Jun. 1867, General Store Accounts Payable, 65 items
Fol. 7 — Jul-Sep. 1867, General Store Accounts Payable, 51 items
Fol. 8 — Oct-Dec. 1867, General Store Accounts Payable, 49 items

Box 9
Fol. 1 — Jan-Mar 1868, General Store Accounts Payable, 34 items
Fol. 2 — Apr-Jun 1868, General Store Accounts Payable, 31 items
Fol. 3 — Jul-Sep 1868, General Store Accounts Payable, 57 items
Fol. 4 — Oct-Dec 1868, General Store Accounts Payable, 54 items
Fol. 5 — Jan-Mar 1869, General Store Accounts Payable, 37 items
Fol. 6 — Apr-Jun 1869, General Store Accounts Payable, 38 items
Fol. 7 — Jul-Sep 1869, General Store Accounts Payable, 45 items
Fol. 8 — Oct-Dec 1869, General Store Accounts Payable, 4 items
Fol. 9 — Undated, General Store Accounts Payable, 12 items

Box 10
1840-1856 C. H. Newton Day Books, 4 items

Box 11
1856-1860 C. H. Newton Day Books, 3 items

Box 12
1859-1864 C. H. Newton Day Books, 4 items

Box 13
1866-1868 C. H. Newton Day Books, 2 items

Box 14
1852-1853, Newspaper Subscription Book, 1 item
Fol. 1 — 1900-1904, Newspapers, 5 items
Fol. 2 — 1854-1862, Schoolbook Orders, 23 items
Fol. 3 — 1859-1869, Official Papers, 37 items
Fol. 4 — Miscellaneous, 21 items

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