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Ten Eyck Fonda letters

Identifier: BUSC-2004-002

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of twenty-six letters written by Fonda to his immediate family and are signed either, Ten Eyck or Nike, a nickname used by family and friends. The letters, several of which are written on official Military Telegraph stationery, range from July 12, 1861 to June 14, 1863. There are no letters between mid-September 1861 and April 1862, with the exception of a letter dated December 3. Letters from 1863 are less frequent. There are no accompanying envelopes.

The last letter in the collection, dated July 4, 1863, describes Fonda’s ride to inform General Meade that the Confederate army was concentrating troops at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This letter is a photocopy and was added to the collection on April 20, 2005. The original is part of the Pearce Civil War Collection and is located in the Pearce Museum at Navarro College, Corsicana, Texas. Pearce Museum at Navarro College

Fonda’s letters provide an invaluable insight into a telegraph operator’s responsibilities of maintaining the Union Army’s telegraphic lines during the Civil War. Fonda, assigned to the Army of the Potomac, writes of dispatching messages, establishing or repairing telegraphic lines, sometimes in the midst of battle, and the dangers and fear of capture by the Confederate army.

As he travels with the Army of the Potomac, Fonda’s letters provide a record of destinations and first-hand accounts of the devastation and defeats of the Union Army in the early years of the war. Fonda questions whether the army has the strength to win the war and occasionally comments about commanding officers’ leadership capabilities, or lack thereof.

A recurring theme in letters to a brother focuses on his frustration with the slow progress of his application for a military commission in the U.S. Army. Military telegraph operators were not soldiers, but rather civilians and therefore, not eligible for military honors or pensions, unless they were supervisory personnel who received military commissions, making them eligible for pensions. Fonda, upon obtaining the rank of a Captain, was granted his commission on June 30, 1866 in the New York Fortieth Regiment, Thirteenth Brigade, Fifth Division.

Fonda’s letters also mention how he fills his free time, being thankful for receiving newspapers, and visits with regiments from the Town of Fonda where he obtains information about specific members. He also regularly reprimands his family for not receiving more letters from them.

This collection has been digitized and is accessible from the New York Heritage Digital Collections.


  • 1861 - 1863


Biographical Note

Ten Eyck Fonda, grandfather of actor Henry Fonda, was born December 14, 1838 in Fonda, Montgomery County, New York. Fonda’s ancestors were one of the earliest Dutch families to settle in the Hudson-Mohawk region, establishing settlements in Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Fonda. The Village of Fonda, in Montgomery County, derives its name from Ten Eyck’s great-great grandfather, Douw Jellis Fonda, who was among the first pioneers to settle there. In 1861, at the on-set of the Civil War, twenty-three year-old Fonda enlisted as a military telegraph operator, and remained in service until 1866, attaining the rank of Captain.

After the war, Fonda returned to Mohawk, Montgomery County, New York. Following in his father’s footsteps Ten Eyck worked for the New York Central Railroad as a ticket agent there from 1865 to 1871. During this time, he married Harriet McNeill in 1868 at Broadalbin, Fulton County, NY, and two children, Mabel (1869) and Ten Eyck Jr. (1871), were born.

By 1873, Fonda moved his family to Illinois and soon after Eyck, along with William S., Charles G. and Sidney C. Ingraham, were operating a baking powder business known as Ingraham, Fonda & Co. Two years later he was employed as a ticket agent for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. During this time another son, Douw, was born (1875).

The family then moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1878 where Fonda worked as a clerk and later as a ticket agent for the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, a subsidiary of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Over the next several years three more children were born, William Brace (1879), Edwin McNeill (1882) and Rachel Eliza (1885). Fonda remained with this railroad company until his retirement in 1904. Around 1906 Fonda and his sons established Fonda Bros. and Co., advertising novelties, importers and dealers. His sons took over the business in 1910. Ten Eyck Fonda passed away on December 9, 1921, just a few days before his eighty-fourth birthday.


2 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The collection consists of twenty-six letters written by Ten Eyck Fonda (1838 - 1921) of Fonda, Montgomery County, New York. The letters from 1861 to 1863 were sent to his immediate family while serving as a telegraph operator for the U.S. Military Telegraph Service during the Civil War. They tell of his perilous job, concerns about the capability of the Union Army, provide first-hand accounts of battles and the difficulty of receiving a military commission. The collection has been digitized and is accessible from the New York Heritage Digital Collections.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, 2004.


1850 U.S. Federal Census. Mohawk, Montgomery County, New York, image 2, Ten Eyck Fonda.

1870 U.S. Federal Census. Mohawk, Montgomery County, New York, image 17, Ten Eyck Fonda.

1880 U.S. Federal Census. Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska image 20, Ten Eyck Fonda.

New York, U.S., Military Service Cards, 1816-1979, Ten Eyck Fonda, image 477.

U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Chicago, Illinois, City Directory, 1873. Ingraham, Fonda & Co., image 174.

U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Chicago, Illinois, City Directory, 1875. Ingraham, Fonda & Co., image 191.

U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Omaha, Nebraska, City Directory, 1906. Fonda Bros & Co., image 215.

U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995. Omaha, Nebraska City Directory, 1907. Ten Eyck Fonda, image 210.

The Omaha Daily Bee, October 30, 1907, Fonda Bros. & Co., image 10.

U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995. Omaha, Nebraska City Directory, 1910. Ten Eyck Fonda, image 166.

U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current. Ten Eyck Hilton Fonda

Genealogies of the State of New York: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Founding of a Nation, Volume 2. (Long Island, New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1915). Viewed on Google Books.
Guide to the Ten Eyck Fonda letters
Guide prepared by Randall Miles and updated by Yvonne Deligato
2005, updated 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections Repository

Binghamton NY 13902 USA