Collection Scope and Content Note
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Correspondence between John and his parents, Dr. Reuben Curtis and Elizabeth Virginia Barcly Moffat, constitutes the greatest part of this collection; there is also correspondence between Moffat and his brothers Edgar, George, and Burnham, sister Ada, and several relatives and friends, including Aunt Liney (Adelaide Curtis) and her sons Gram, Frank, and Ernest.
Also included in this collection are essays, class notes, examinations, room and board receipts, an Appleton's Railway Map-U.S. and Canada, 1871, and memorabilia including reception invitations and dance cards.
In September 1869, Moffat left his home on Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn to attend Cornell University, where he took up residence at Cascadilla Hall with his cousin Gram (1872) as roommate. (On the same floor of the Hall were also the rooms of Professor Fiske and Goldwin Smith; see hand-drawn map diagram, Nov. 28, 1869.)
In letters to family and friends, Moffat relates many of his daily experiences at the University; they in turn reveal something of life in Brooklyn in the early 1870's. Dr. Moffat was a homeopathic physician who made his calls by horse and carriage. A series of letters recounts the accidental death of his horse "Skip" and the long search for a suitable replacement. At times the doctor refers to some medical cases; often he writes at length on theological matters. The Moffats were members of the Society of the New Church in Brooklyn, of which Dr. Moffat was Sunday School superintendent, and where the family participated in many activities such as fairs and theatrical performances. Mrs. Moffat was also active in matters concerning a hospital and orphan asylum and benefit dances. Both Dr. and Mrs. Moffat offer an abundance of parental and spiritual guidance to their son. Two
brothers write briefly about their clerical jobs and about rowing and yacht racing on the Hudson River.
At Cornell, Moffat was a member of the Natural History Society of Cornell University and the Philidor Chess Club, charter-member of the Chemical Club of Cornell University, and a corporal in the Independent Cadets; at the time of graduation, he was Captain of Company C in the Military Department.
Among the subjects on which Moffat writes are the following: cadet uniforms, drills, and outings; religious services (held in the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Ferris?) and the move to organize the New Church at Cornell; Moffat's and Curtis' room, and the food at Cascadilla; activities such as studying, rowing on the lake (Cayuga?), hikes in the general area; student behavior and student receptions; Moffat's academic courses; typhoid and other illnesses; the death of Professor Wilder's child Ruth of scarlet fever (Feb. 27, 1870); travel between Brooklyn and Ithca via the Erie Canal and other routes.
A letter from Gram Curtis to his uncle Reuben (Dr. Moffat) discusses plans for supplying water to the University from Fall Creek. (At Commencement Exercises in 1872, Curtis read his essay entitled "The Supply of Water and Water Power to the University.")
A letter from Mrs. Moffat encloses a letter (Dec. 5, 1871) concerning family history; a copy made by Moffat remains in the collection. (Reuben Moffat's grandfather, John L. Moffat, was a surveyor with Simeon DeWitt.)
Letters from Dr. Moffat prescribe and enclose medications for Moffat and fellow students. A letter (Feb. 24, 1870) discusses typhoid fever, giving descriptions of symptoms and treatment.
Family and friends' letters mention the Gold Panic of 1869 and the Chicago Fire of 1871.