Archives West Finding Aid
Table of Contents
John Ainsworth Mills Family Papers, 1799-2002
Overview of the Collection
- Mills, John Ainsworth, 1930-
- John Ainsworth Mills Family Papers
- 1799-2002 (inclusive)17992002
6 document cases and 1 flat box
38 cabinet photographs
9 glass lantern slides
7 photographic prints
manuscripts, printed materials, and ephemera
- Collection Number
- Coll 1 (collection)
- Papers of the family of John Ainsworth (Jack) Mills, Portland, Or., banker and civic leader, including photographic materials, manuscripts, biographical and genealogical materials, and financial records. Included are materials relating to the Mills and Low families of New York City and Long Island, and the Lewis, Couch, and Ainsworth families of Portland, Or.
Oregon Historical Society Research Library
1200 SW Park Avenue
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open to the public.
- Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Funding for preparing this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
Biographical NoteReturn to Top
John Ainsworth (Jack) Mills, Portland banker and civic leader, was born in Portland, Or., on September 25, 1930, the son of Abbot Low Mills, Jr. (1898-1986) and Katherine Ainsworth Mills (1903-1993). He is the descendent of many prominent families in Portland and in the New York City area, including the Mills, Low, Smith, Couch, Lewis, and Ainsworth families.
The Low family first gained prominence as merchant seamen and ship owners in 18th century New England. Many family members settled in Salem, Mass. Around 1830, as the Salem harbor became difficult to navigate, Seth Low (1782-1853) moved with his wife Mary Porter Low (1786-1872) and their children to Brooklyn, N.Y. There the family achieved great success in shipping and overseas trade. Their activities extended as far as China, and they became leaders in the silk and tea trade, among other commodities. Their ships included the well-known clippers, Houqua and N.B. Palmer. Seth Low's children included Abiel Abbot Low (1811-1893), who served as the head of the firm of A. A. Low & Brothers; the ship captain Charles Porter Low (1824-1913), who later became a prominent land developer in Santa Barbara, Calif., after 1873; Edward Allen Low (1817-1898); and Josiah Orne Low (1821-1895). A daughter, Ellen Porter Low (1827-1898), married Ethelbert Smith Mills, scion of a wealthy land-owning Long Island family. A son of Abiel Abbot Low, Seth Low (1850-1916) was a well-regarded political figure who served as mayor of Brooklyn, president of Columbia University, and reform mayor of the consolidated New York City.
The Mills Family was connected to the Lows, as noted above, through the marriage of Ellen Porter Low to Ethelbert Smith Mills (1815-1873), but also through the marriage of Josiah Orne Low to Martha Elizabeth Mills (1819-1884). The Mills family came to America from England in 1630, when they settled in Jamaica, Long Island. In 1683 Timothy Mills purchased extensive properties near Smithtown, Long Island, including what is now Mills Pond. The family later intermarried with the Smith, Helme, and Low families. One son of Ethelbert Smith Mills and Ellen Porter Low Mills was Abbot Low Mills (1858-1927), who came to Oregon around 1883 and eventually settled in Portland.
In the east, Abbot Low Mills pursued a somewhat independent career, starting a tea business as a teenager in Richmond, Va. He later graduated from Harvard University (1881) and entered the family business in New York City. After moving to Oregon around 1882 with a Harvard classmate, William Addison Howe, he tried chicken farming in Yamhill County, then opened a bank in Colfax, Wash., with Charles F. Adams in 1885. Mills helped to found the town of Pullman, Wash., and may have served in the Washington territorial legislature. In 1889 he and Adams organized the Security Savings and Trust Company in Portland. In 1899 Mills became vice preisdent of Portland's First National Bank and in 1903 was elected its president. He was active in numerous political and civic organizations throughout the state. Elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1903, he became Speaker of the House in 1904.
In 1891 Abbot Low Mills married Evelyn Scott Lewis (1865-1936), the daughter of prominent Portland merchant Cicero Hunt Lewis and granddaughter of pioneer John Heard Couch, who had developed the original city center. Among the couple's children were Abbot Low Mills, Jr. (1898-1986), who followed his father into a banking career. In 1924 the younger Mills married Katherine Ainsworth, daughter of banker John Churchill Ainsworth (1870-1943), himself the son of a leading Portland businessman John Commingers Ainsworth (1822-1893). Mills, Jr. worked first as vice president of the First National Bank, then moved in the late 1900s to the U.S. National Bank, which had been founded by the Ainsworths and was headed by Mills's father-in-law. In 1952 Abbot Low Mills, Jr., was appointed a governor of the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington, D.C. by President Harry Truman. He was re-appointed under succeeding presidents and served until 1965. His wife, Katherine Ainsworth Mills, served as the head of volunteers for the American Red Cross.
The Ainsworth Family began in Oregon with John Commingers Ainsworth (1822-1893), who was one of the most important business and civic leaders in late 19th century Portland. Born into a poor family in Ohio, Ainsworth began working on river steamboats in his teens, eventually becoming a captain on the Mississippi River. He came to California during the 1849 gold rush, moved to Oregon the following year, and took command of the Willamette River steamboat Lot Whitcomb. He went on to build and operate a fleet of steamboats on the Columbia River and founded the Oregon Steam Navigation Company in 1860, and later the Oregon Portage Railroad. Ainsworth's dominance of transportation on the Columbia River was a boon to the development of Portland, which came to be a nexus of inland waterways and ocean-going shipping. Eventually he founded the Ainsworth National Bank, which became the United States National Bank in 1902.
Leadership of the bank passed to Ainsworth's son, John Churchill Ainsworth (1870-1943), whose daughter Katherine married Abbot Low Mills, Jr., in 1924. Their children included John (Jack) Ainsworth Mills (1930- ), who was educated at Cornell University and became vice president of the U. S. National Bank. In 1952 he married Katherine Leadbetter (1932- ), member of another prominent Portland family. It was Jack Mills who preserved the present collection of family papers and presented them to the Oregon Historical Society in 2002.
Content DescriptionReturn to Top
The collection consists of a variety of items from various periods in the family's history. The most complete segment is the photographic documentation of the Low family in the mid 19th century, including albums of cartes-de-visites and cabinet photographs, probably compiled by Ellen Porter Low Mills (1827-1898). Included here are portraits from the Matthew Brady studio in New York City, probably dating from the 1860s. Mainly represented in these albums are the children and grandchildren of Seth Low (1782-1853) and Mary Porter Low (1786-1872). Also of note is a collection of daguerreotypes documenting this same generation. Among the photographic prints, of note is an oval enlargement of a portrait of Portland merchant Cicero Hunt Lewis.
Among the manuscript materials of particular interest are two legal documents concerning the slaves of William Mills (1757-1839), of Smithtown, N.Y. Also included are steamboat pilot's licenses of John Commingers Ainsworth (1822-1893) dating from the early years of his nautical career in Oregon. The appointment diaries of Abbot Low Mills, Jr., document his activities as a governor of the Federal Reserve Board in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The financial records relate mainly to three family members, Ellen Porter Low Mills, her son Thomas Helme Mills (1850-1876), and John Commingers Ainsworth. Of particular note are Ainsworth's two stock certificate books for the Crane and Driggs and the Gambrenus mining companies, containing information on investors and transactions.
The biographical and genealogical materials are helpful in understanding the complex relationships among the family members represented in the collection.
The artifacts received with the collection (now part of the Oregon Historical Society's artifact collection) include a pocket watch once owned by the writer Mark Twain and given to John Commingers Ainsworth, and a watch fob once belonging to John Heard Couch, an early Portland pioneer.
Use of the CollectionReturn to Top
Restrictions on Use
The Oregon Historical Society is the owner of the materials in the Research Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the Research Library before any reproduction use. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use of reproductions may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners.
John Ainsworth Mills Family Papers, Coll 1, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
Administrative InformationReturn to Top
The Mills Family Papers are arranged into five series:
- Series A. Biographical and genealogical materials, circa 1956-2002
- Series B. Manuscript materials, 1799-1965
- Subseries 1: Mills Family
- Subseries 2: Ainsworth Family
- Series C. Financial records, 1854-[circa 1910]
- Subseries 1: Mills Family
- Subseries 2: Ainsworth Family
- Series D. Ephemera, [circa 1880-1998]
- Series E. Photographic materials, 1844-1982
Parts of the collection were created by various members of the Mills, Low, and related families. It is likely that the Low family photograph albums and the cased images were collected at first by Ellen Porter Low Mills (1827-1898), and passed down to her son Abbot Low Mills, and hence to his son, Abbot Low Mills, Jr., and grandson, the donor John Ainsworth Mills. The Ainsworth family materials came to the donor John Ainsworth Mills from his mother, Katherine Ainsworth Mills.
The following items were transferred to the Oregon Historical Society Artifact Collection:
- Pocket watch, believed to have belonged to Mark Twain, given to John Commingers Ainsworth, circa 1880.
- Masonic medal awarded to John Commingers Ainsworth.
- Commemorative medal of the U.S. National Bank, Portland, Oregon, 1929.
- Corporate seal of the Ainsworth National Bank, Portland, Oregon.
- Watch fob in the form of a ship capstan, once worn by John Heard Couch.
The University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections, holds the papers of Abbot Low Mills (Ax 191 (i)); Abbot Low Mills, Jr. (Ax 199 (i), Ax 205, and A 236); John Commingers Ainsworth (Ax 11 (i) and MF 89); and John Churchill Ainsworth (Ax 796).
The Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, holds the Low-Mills family papers, 1767-1971 (bulk 1806-1940), (mm 81030619 ).
BibliographyGaston, Joseph. Portland, Oregon : its history and builders : in connection with the antecedent explorations, discoveries, and movements of the pioneers that selected the site for the great city of the Pacific . 1911. Mills, Abbot Low, Jr. Abbot Low Mills . 1981. Mills, John Ainsworth. My parents : Katherine Ainsworth ; Abbot Low Mills, Jr. . 2002. Moffat, Abbot Low. Old Low, old Low's son : the descendants of Seth Low and Mary Porter ; 1807-1956. 1956.
Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top
Series A: Biographical and genealogical materials, circa 1956-2002Return to Top
This series contains privately printed pamphlets written by family members. Particularly detailed is the pamphlet "Old Low, old Low's son," by Abbot Low Moffat, which traces all descendents of the Seth Low and Mary Porter from the early 19th to the mid 20th centuries. "The White House Ashtray Caper" contains a reminiscence of President Richard Nixon by John Ainsworth Mills. Oversize genealogies trace the various branches of the Mills, Low, Couch, Lewis, and Ainsworth families
The Couch family log : 1811-1978. Compiled by Kenneth Beebe, 1948 ; updated by Jane Wade Beebe Harris
Includes supplement, January 1985, by Ma'Carry W. Hull.
John C. Ainsworth : 1822-1893. By John Ainsworth Mills.
My parents : Katherine Ainsworth, Abbot Low Mills, Jr. By John Ainsworth Mills
Old Low, old Low's son : the descendants of Seth Low and Mary Porter ; 1807-1956. By Abbot Low Moffat. 1956.
Pamphlets by Abbot Low Mills, Jr.
The White House Ashtray Caper by John Ainsworth Mills
Reminiscence of a visit to the Nixon White House, 1971 Mar. 19
Oversize genealogical charts
Series B: Manuscript materials, 1799-1965Return to Top
Manuscript materials include hand written documents, typescripts, and certificates. Of special note are two documents relating to slaves owned by William Mills of Smithtown, Long Island. One is a manumission document for a slave named Robbin, dated 1799; and the other is a bill of sale for a slave named Clarissa and an unnamed girl, dated 1816. It should be noted that slavery was legal in New York State until 1827. The appointment diaries of Abbot Low Mills, Jr., cover his years as a governor of the Federal Reserve Bank, 1952-1965. The diaries are typescripts housed in ring binders and list Mills' meetings, appointments, and whereabouts. They do not contain personal comments or other annotations. Also included in this series are two certificates appointing Abbot Low Mills, Jr. to the Federal Reserve Bank, signed by presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Steamboat pilot licenses for John Commingers Ainsworth are signed by notable Portlanders, including John Heard Couch.
Subseries 1: Mills Family
Document of manumission for the slave, Robbin, owned by William Mills
Document of sale for the slave, Clarissa, and unidentified girl, from William Mills to Richard Robinson
Appointment diaries of Abbot Low Mills, Jr., as a governor of the Federal Reserve Bank, Washington, D.C.
Certificate of appointment of Abbot Low Mills to the Federal Reserve Board, signed by Harry S. Truman
Certificate of appointment of Abbot Low Mills to the Federal Reserve Board, signed by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Subseries 2: Ainsworth Family
Steamboat pilot licenses of John Commingers Ainsworth
Includes letter of transmission from Abbot Low Mills, Jr., 1961.
Reminiscences of John Commingers Ainsworth, 1877, transcribed by his daughter Belle Ainsworth
Manuscript in leather-bound notebook.
Railway passes of John Commingers Ainsworth
Railway passes of G. W. Boschke (probably collected by the Ainsworth Family)
Certificate to John Churchill Ainsworth from the "Oregon Voter"
Series C: Finanical records , 1854-circa 1910Return to Top
The financial records come from the Mills and Ainsworth families. The Mills records relate to Ellen Porter Low Mills and include a checkbook used by her son Thomas as trustee for a post office property in Brooklyn, 1874, probably part of the legacy of her husband, Ethelbert Smith Mills, who had died the year before. The Ainsworth records include stock certificate books for the Gambrenus Gold and Silver Mining Company and the Crane and Driggs Gold and Silver Mining Company, both of Portland, Or., 1864 and 1869. These books were probably owned by John Commingers Ainsworth and contain stubs listing names of investors.
Subseries 1: Mills Family
Ellen Low Mills, checkbooks, Naussau National Bank and Franklin Trust Company, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ellen Low Mills, cancelled checks
Thomas Helme Mills, checkbook and cancelled checks as trustee for post office property, Brooklyn, N.Y., Brooklyn Trust Company
Ethelbert Smith Mills and Ellen Low Mills, miscellaneous checks and promissory notes
Subseries 2: Ainsworth Family
Checkboo, Ladd & Tilton, Bankers, Portland, Or., probably owned by John Commingers Ainsworth
Checkbook, First National Bank, Portland, Or., probably owned by John Commingers Ainsworth
Stock certificate book, Gambrenus Gold and Silver Mining Company, Portland, Or.
Stock certificate book, Crane and Driggs Gold and Silver Mining Company
Checkbook, Bank of British Columbia
Blank checks, United States National Bank, Portland, Or.
Series D: Ephemera , circa 1880-1998Return to Top
Of interest in the small amount of ephemera are calling cards for both Ellen Low Mills and her son, Abbot Low Mills.
Calling cards and cases for Ellen Low Mills, Abbot Low Mills, Liberta Jahn, and J.H. Valentine
Invitation to ball for the Oregon Historical Society's 100th anniversary and the opening of Johns Landing, 1998; and broadside for the Captain John C. Ainsworth House, Oregon City
Series E: Photographic materials , circa 1850-1982Return to Top
The photographic materials relate primarily to the Low family of New York and include a large number of cartes-de-visites, cabinet photographs, and daguerreotypes dating from around the 1860s to the 1880s. Most of the cartes-de-visites were contained in a photograph album that appears to have been compiled by Ellen Porter Low Mills. Among these is an image of the young Seth Low (1850-1916), who would become the mayor of New York City and president of Columbia University. The studios represented were located primarily in New York City and Brooklyn and include the studio of Mathew Brady. Also represented are a few Portland studios, including Joseph Buchtel. Although some of the images were originally identified, much of the identification came from comparison to other images of the same people. The word "probably" was used in cases where the identification was fairly certain, and "possibly" where the identification was more conjectural. Many of the album pages were blank. Items were removed from the albums for preservation purposes, but the original albums have been retained and are housed in Box 6. A number of the daguerreotypes are hand colored. The lantern slides depict Katherine Ainsworth Mills, the donor's mother, as a girl with her horse. Of special interest among the oversize photographs is an enlargement of a portrait of Cicero Hunt Lewis, a prominent Portland businessman of the late 19th century.
Album 1: Low Family—cartes de visite
Pages 10, 11, 13
Pages 20, 22, 23
Pages 42-44, all by Mathew Brady studio
Album 2: primarily Low and Mills families—cabinet photographs
Loose photos laid in
Pages 1, 5, 6, 8, 9
Pages 15, 19, 20, 23
Album 3: Low family —cabinet photographs
Pages 2, 3, 5, 10
Pages 11, 13, 18, 22
Album 4: Leather case containing two cabinet photographs
Evelyn Scott Lewis Mills (1865-1936); and Evelyn Scott Lewis Mills holding baby Lewis Hunt Mills (1892-1953)
Group of four loose cabinet photographs
Group of six loose cabinet photographs and one carte-de-visite
Laser prints from two glass lantern slides, depicting Katherine Ainsworth Mills on her horse Rowdy
Photocopies of photographs and related materials about the launching of the ships, John C. Ainsworth and Abbot L. Mills.
Originals held by donor, John Ainsworth Mills.
Cased images and lantern slides
Seth Low (1782-1853)—daguerreotype, with oval photograph laid in, probably Mary Porter Low (1786-1872)
Written in pencil on case bottom: "Father aged about 68."
Probably Annie Lyman —daguerreotype
Written in pencil on case bottom: "Lyman."
Probably Mary Porter Low—daguerreotype
Stamped in oval frame: "C.H. Williamson." Written in pencil in case bottom, "Mother aged 66."
Probably Ellen Porter Low Mills (1827-1898) with her children Ellen Low Mills (1853-1854) and Ethelbert Smith Mills (1853-1922) —daguerreotype (colored)
Stamped in oval frame: "C. H. Williamson." Written in pencil in case bottom: "The twins 14 months."
Probably Ellen Porter Low Mills and her children Ethelbert Smith Mills and Ellen Low Mills —daguerreotype (colored)
Same session as image in 5/4 above, but different pose.
Susan Quigley, nurse, and possibly Thomas Helme Mills (1850-1876) and Ethelbert Smith Mills (1853-1922), sons of Ellen Porter Low Mills—ambrotype
Slip of paper, laid in, with ink inscription: "Susan Quigley - nurse. Thomas & Bertie."
Ellen Porter Low Mills—daguerreotype
On slip of paper laid in: "Ellen P. Low - 17 years." On another slip of paper laid in: "Ellen Porter Low - Granpa Mills' mother."
Three women, undidentified, possibly Ellen Porter Low Mills (on right) and two of her sisters —daguerreotype (colored)
Katherine Ainsworth Mills (1903-1993) riding her horse Rowdy—9 glass lantern slides
Images (listed above) removed for preservation.
Cicero Hunt Lewis
Photograph was probably encased in an oval frame at one time.
Ainsworth and Mills photographs
Dedication of Governor Tom McCall Preserve, Rowena Plateau
Gov. Dan Evans of Washington (state), Gov. Tom McCall of Oregon, and Gov. Cecil Andrus of Idaho. Color photograph with signatures of each governor on mat.
|1982, April 3|
Names and SubjectsReturn to Top
- Slaves--New York.
- Ainsworth, Belle.
- Ainsworth, J. C. (John Commingers), 1822-1893
- Ainsworth, John Churchill, 1870-1943
- Couch, John Heard, 1811-1870
- Low, Charles Porter, 1824-1913—Photographs
- Low, Abiel Abbot, 1811-1893—Photographs
- Low, Mary Porter, 1786-1872—Photographs
- Low, Seth, 1782-1853—Photographs
- Low, Seth, 1850-1916—Photographs
- McCall, Tom, 1913- —Photographs
- Mills, Abbot Low, 1858-1927
- Mills, Abbot Low, 1898-1986
- Mills, Ellen Porter Low, 1827-1898
- Mills, Ellen Porter Low, 1827-1898—Photographs
- Mills, John Ainsworth, 1930-
- Mills, Katherine Ainsworth, 1903-1993
- Mills, William, 1757-1839
- Portland (Or.)--History.
- Smithtown (N.Y. : Town)
Form or Genre Terms
- Cabinet photographs--19th century.
- Cartes-de-visite--19th century.
- Checkbooks--19th century.
- Free papers--New York (State).
- Lantern slides--Oregon--20th century.
- Ledgers (account books)--Oregon--20th century.
- Mills, Abbot Low, 1898-1986 (creator)