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Kelly-Seavey Family papers

Identifier: Coll 186

Scope and Contents note

The Kelly-Seavey Family Papers consist primarily of John Kelly's political and business files, files of other Kelly family members and a small segment of Seavey family papers as well as several boxes of photographs. Kelly's political and business files are comprised of correspondence, various writings, government publications, and documents. The correspondence, the largest segment of material, is arranged chronologically and spans the years 1846 through 1902. There are letters from all of the prominent Oregon Republican-Unionists, including voluminous correspondence with John Mitchell and George Williams. Jesse Applegate is another significant correspondent.

Of note among the writings is a speech that contains Kelly's observations regarding a senatorial campaign. The government publications are an assortment of federal and State of Oregon pamphlets. Documents belonging to John Kelly consist of warranty deeds and indentures, which are arranged chronologically; appointment and membership papers; stocks and insurance deeds; and miscellaneous bills and receipts which are also arranged in chronological order.

Material belonging to other Kelly family members consists primarily of correspondence. Most of the letters are addressed to Elizabeth Kelly from her children and their families. Letters written between 1904 and 1905, during the courtship of Bessie Kelly and James Seavey, can be found at the end of this subseries. Of interest is Bessie Seavey's travel diary detailing her sailing trip around the world in 1927. The postcards she collected from this trip are also part of this series.

The final series in the collection consists of photographs of the Kelly family and Alexander and James Seavey. Also included are pictures of their property holdings and McKenzie River scenes. Two oversized framed photographs, 1922 and 1928, of the Pacific Coast Zone Trap Shoot complete the collection.


  • 1837-1951


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical/Historical note

Oregon pioneer John Kelly was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1818. Having learned his father's trade as a woolen goods manufacturer, Kelly emigrated to Canada in 1838 where he worked as a manager of a woolen mill. Two years later he moved to Vermont to pursue the same vocation. After a brief period as a seaman, Kelly settled in 1842 in Wisconsin where he established the Waterford Woolen Mills with George Hovey.

In 1848 Kelly responded to the call for volunteers to fight in the Mexican War and joined a Missouri regiment. He had a reputation as an intrepid scout and quickly gained the confidence of his superiors who assigned him to many important missions. In 1849 he was appointed wagon-master for the battalion of Colonel Loring which was headed to Fort Vancouver. Near Fort Hall Kelly left the command and traveled alone to Oregon City.

In 1850 Kelly contracted to supply a regiment of mounted riflemen with beef and formed a partnership with three men, including General Joseph Lane, to drive 300 head of cattle to California. On their way, they stopped in the Rogue River Valley to fatten the cattle at which time General Lane made his treaty with the Indians of the Rogue River Valley. While wintering in Tehama County, California, the three men mined for gold at Olney Creek. After delivery of the cattle in Scott Valley, California in the spring of 1851, Kelly returned to Oregon, bought 200 head of cattle for himself for farming and stock raising, and took up a land donation claim near Roseburg.

Kelly married Elizabeth Parker in 1853. In 1861, he was appointed Registrar of the United States Land Office, located in Roseburg. Five years later, Kelly moved to Springfield but could not be discharged from his government position in Roseburg. President Andrew Johnson insisted upon Kelly's release but the Senate refused to confirm a successor and the popular Kelly remained in the post until President Grant secured his discharge in 1869.

The Senate's action was indicative of Kelly's standing in the political arena. He was in communication with all the prominent figures of the Republican-Unionist party. He was a delegate at state Republican conventions from 1860 to 1866, in addition to serving on the Republican State Central Committee between 1876 and 1884. Kelly was appointed by President Chester A. Arthur in Special Collections Inventory 1882 to inspect the section of the Northern Pacific Railroad between Clark's Fork and Jacko. Later, in 1890, Kelly was appointed Superintendent of the Census of Oregon.

Kelly's business dealings, primarily farming, ranching, and land transactions, brought him considerable wealth. At one point he owned 100 acres near Springfield, 500 acres on Fall Creek, and 900 acres in the Mohawk Valley.

The Kellys were the parents of eight children: Mary, wife of H.B. Miller; Theresa (Frez), wife of L.G. Jackson; John; Marcella (Marcy), wife of Albert H. Tanner; Abraham; George; Bessie, wife of James Seavey; and Katie. Bessie married Seavey in 1905 and the couple had two children, Alexander and Marcella.


11.5 linear feet (22 containers)

Language of Materials



John Kelly (b. 1818) was a 19th-century Oregon rancher, businessman, and politician. The Kelly-Seavey Family Papers comprise the political and business papers of John Kelly, papers of other Kelly family members, and a small segment of Seavey family papers, as well as several boxes of photographs.

Arrangement note

Collection is organized into the following series: 1. Kelly Family papers 2. Seavey Family Papers.

General Physical Description note

22 containers

Processing Information note

Collection processed by Robert Charbonneau, Manuscript Processor.

Guide to the Kelly-Seavey Family Papers
Revise Description
Finding aid prepared by Robert Charbonneau
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA