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  • The Blinn Family Papers
  • Debra Burgess

Few family names in Cincinnati carry more historical weight than that of “Kemper.” Kemper Road, Kemper Lane, and Kemper Avenue transect Cincinnati, while the surrounding area is dotted with many villages, homes, and properties, which bear a connection to the family and evidence its impact since the turn of the nineteenth century. The Blinn Family Papers document the personal, spiritual, educational, and commercial relationships of the Kemper, Chapin, and Blinn families. These families share a common ancestry, but their kinship ties were strengthened, and sometimes faltered, through the challenges of war, illness, financial stresses, and the untimely deaths of spouses or children as reflected in the correspondence that captures nearly one hundred and fifty years of American family life.

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Charles Amory Blinn (1871-1954).

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The collection includes letters and other documents that cross generations and geography, as it offers a window onto some of the most turbulent times in history from the days of frontier exploration, confrontation with Native Americans, the War of 1812, the American Civil War to the financial rollercoaster of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With more than 2,700 documents, the collection features several correspondents who played significant parts in regional and local history as well as pivotal roles in the complex family dynamics of this extended kinship group. The papers were a gift from the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Amory Blinn, through their daughter, Mrs. William R. (Eloise Blinn) Yonker, in October 1955.

The patriarch of this extended clan was Deacon Samuel D. Chapin of Springfield, Massachusetts. The deacon does not appear in the collection with the exception of an infrequent genealogical reference, however, the Kempers and Blinns each have ancestral claims on the Chapin legacy. Samuel was born in Devon, England to John Chapin and Phillipe (or Phillipa) Easton in 1598. In 1623, he married Cicely Penny and they had ten children, seven of whom survived into adulthood: David, Catherine, Sarah, Josiah, Henry, Japhet, and Hannah. The older children were born in England while Japhet and Hannah were born in Massachusetts. The Chapins immigrated to America sometime between 1630 and 1635 as members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Originally settling in Roxbury, they moved to Springfield in 1642.1

For more than two decades, Samuel served in a number of Springfield political offices, including selectman and commissioner, and in 1650 he was elected a deacon of the First Church. He died in Springfield in November 1675, three days after the town was devastated in King Philip’s War. Cicely survived him by another seven years and all of their children, who were already adults at the time of his death, married and produced a total of seventy-two children of their own. In addition to the Chapin, Kemper, and Blinn families represented in the collection, the descendants of the deacon are believed to include, among others: two U.S. presidents (Taft and Cleveland), abolitionists John Brown and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and financier John Pierpoint Morgan.2

The earliest letters in the Blinn collection were exchanged among members of the Vecissimus Chapin family; a branch of the Massachusetts Chapins that relocated in the early eighteenth century to the Wetherfield, Connecticut area. Brothers Lucius and Amzi Chapin moved on from the East to Kentucky and Indiana following the American Revolution. They were hymnodists, teachers and composers of Christian hymns and other forms of sacred music. One particularly intriguing document in the early part of the collection is a letter from Cephas Chapin to Lucius Chapin that contains one of the first-known musical notations to the most widely popular tune for Amazing Grace. The notation is on the back of the letter and appears to be in Lucius’s handwriting.3 [End Page 68]

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May 30, 1828 letter from Cephas Chapin to Lucius Chapin with musical notation for Amazing Grace.

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Lucius and his wife, Susan (Susannah) Rousseau, had a daughter Juliet (Julia) Eliza who married Charles A. B. Kemper in Cincinnati. Charles was the youngest of sixteen children, fifteen of whom survived into...


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