Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Gaff mss., 1857-1872, are papers of Thomas Gaff, 1808- 1884, merchant, banker, and manufacturer of Aurora, Ind. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was brought at the age of three to Springfield, New Jersey, where he received his early education. After learning the distilling business from an uncle, Charles Wilson of Brooklyn, N.Y., he, in partnership with a younger brother, James W. Gaff, 1816-1879, engaged in distilling in Philadelphia. In 1843 they moved to Aurora, Ind. and established the distilling firm of T. & J.W. Gaff & Co. In addition to distilling, the enterprises of the brothers were varied and extensive, including farming, silver mining, founding and machine works, merchandising, turnpike building, steamboat operation, and banking. Thomas Gaff was also a joint partner in two Columbus, Ind. mills, Thomas Gent & Co. and T.C. Sayre & Co., and vice-president of the Aurora, Indiana Gaslight and Coke Co. During the Civil War Thomas Gaff furnished steamboats and supplies for the Union cause. He and his brother were the principal owners of the steamboat, the "Forest Queen," which successfully ran the blockade at Vicksburg.

James W. Gaff moved to Cincinnati before the Civil War, and, while retaining his business connections with his brother, extended his financial interests until, at the time of his death, he was engaged in 32 distinct firms and lines of business.

The papers in this collection consist of letters, bills, receipts, drafts, and miscellaneous papers of Thomas Gaff. They relate to farm operations; the raising of cotton and selling of horses at a Lake Providence, Louisiana plantation; land dealings in Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri; flatboat and steamboat shipments down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers; silver mining at the Treasure Hill Silver Mine, Hamilton, Nevada; brewing; distilling; the steamboat, the "Forest Queen"; and post-Civil War claims against the U.S. government for payment for hay delivered at the mouth of White River, Arkansas, and for the value of the barges, Ottawa, Younker No. 3, and Wabash No. 1.

Collection size: 968 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.