In 1832, Jesse W. Fell moved to Bloomington, Ill., where he practiced law and later became involved in real estate and other business enterprises. Considered the founder of Normal, Ill., Fell was active in locating the first State Normal School there in 1857. An early friend of Abraham Lincoln, Fell took part in organizing the Republican Party in Illinois and the campaign of 1860. Appointed paymaster by Lincoln in 1862, he served for two years.
This collection mainly contains transcripts of letters, memoranda, drafts, and telegrams, with correspondents including Orville H. Browning, David Davis, Joseph Duncan, William L. D. Ewing, J. B. Foraker, Lincoln, John A. Logan, Richard J. Oglesby, John M. Palmer, John Reynolds, N. H. Ridgely, Leonard Swett, and Lyman Trumbull. Letters from Fell to Dr. Richard Edwards discuss the Larchwood, Iowa, land project, in which Fell sold land to colonizers to pay off his debts. In addition, the collection contains transcripts of eulogies of Fell; newspaper obituaries of Fell; and an original document nominating Fell as paymaster, signed by Lincoln, Secretary of War Stanton, and Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas.
Alice and Fannie Fell, of Normal, Ill., loaned the originals to the Survey for copying in 1913. The originals are now in the Library of Congress. Transcripts of the Iowa manuscripts were acquired in 1957 from Dr. Helen E. Marshall of Illinois State University.