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Edmund F. Ely papers

Identifier: S3045

Scope and Contents

The collection contains correspondence, contracts and agreements, journals, transcriptions of these materials, and reference materials and photographs.

The correspondence, 1835-1904, and journals, 1833-1854, represent one of the few complete sources of missionary narrative for the northeastern Minnesota region. The correspondence contains letters of many missionaries of the region, including Frederick Ayer, W. T. Boutwell, David Green, and Sherman Hall. Other major correspondents include Daniel Rohrer, Albert W. Ely, Ely's cousin Lucinda Day, Delia Cook, and L. H. Wheeler.

The collection also contains photographic portraits, 1856-1898, and a copy of Catherine Ely's diary, 1835-1839. The location of the original diary is unknown. Additionally, the collection contains a volume, Diary and Letters (1833-1854) of Edmund F. Ely Together With Many Documents and Diverse Reports Found Among the Ely Papers, including a Brief Diary Kept by Mrs. Ely, 1833-1834, transcribed for the Superior, Wisconsin Public Library by June D. LaChapelle in 1936 as W. P. A. project 3264.

The journals are intermittent and some parts are illegible. Both the correspondence and journals have been transcribed by various sources.The correspondence and miscellany was transcribed by the St. Louis County (Minnesota) Historical Society. The transcriptions contain typographic errors and information they contain should be verified against the originals. The journals were transcribed by the Minnesota Historical Society and extracts of the journals were copied by Henry S. Ely. These transcriptions, especially the extracts, should also be suspected of errors.


  • 1820-1927
  • Majority of material found in 1820-1904, 1927

Conditions Governing Access

Open for use in the Kathryn A. Martin Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.

Biographical / Historical

Edmund Franklin Ely was one of the first English speaking missionaries to settle in northeastern Minnesota. He was born in Wilbraham, Massachusetts on August 3, 1809 and came to Sandy Lake, Minnesota in September, 1833 under the auspices of the American Board of Foreign Missions. At Sandy Lake, Ely, a Presbyterian, began teaching his mission classes and began learning the Ojibwe language. In 1834, he took his teachings to Leech Lake, Minnesota and then to Fond du Lac, Minnesota.

Ely married Catherine Bissell in 1835 and they both stayed in Fond du Lac until 1839, when they removed to Pokegama, Minnesota. Ely continued his missionary work at this post for ten years, and then moved his family to St. Paul, Minnesota. Ely returned to developing the town of Oneota, Minnesota and was postmaster there for six years.

Handwritten autobiographical information supplied by Edmund F. Ely to the Minnesota Historical Society says that he was an American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions missionary to the Ojibwe Indians in several locations in Minnesota, including Pokegama Lake, 1833-1849, and Oneota, 1855-1862. Ely served as the Oneota postmaster, 1856-1862, and as a St. Louis County commissioner, 1861-1862. He eventually settled in Santa Rosa, California and died there.


1.50 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The collection contains correspondence, contracts and agreements, journals, transcriptions of these materials, and reference materials and photographs.

Physical Location

This collection is located at the University of Minnesota Duluth Archives. For more information about this collection or to make an appointment, contact us at or 218-726-8526.

Related Materials:

NEMHC Archival Collections S3044 Northwest Missions papers

Additional Ely materials are held at the Minnesota Historical Society.


This collection is part of the Northeast Minnesota Historical Collections, which are housed in the University of Minnesota Duluth Archives at the Kathryn A. Martin Library, and are on permanent loan from the St. Louis County Historical Society.

Guide to the Edmund F. Ely papers
Finding Aid Authors: B. H. Bruemmer.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University of Minnesota Duluth Archives and Special Collections Collecting Area

Kathryn A. Martin Library
University of Minnesota Duluth
416 Library Drive
Duluth MN 55812-3001
(218) 726-8526