(Green, Hetty)
Letters and Ephemeral material related to Hetty Green and her Howland family members in Hilo and Honolulu, Hawaii Territory, 1890-1923

4 letters, 21 pp., plus 5 stock certificates, and 2 stock purchase receipts, dated 13 December 1890 to 9 February 1923.

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Hetty Green (1834-1916) and the Howland Family

Born Henrietta Howland Robinson in 1834, she later married Edward Henry Green in 1867 and became known as Hetty Green. Her father was Edward Mott Robinson and her mother Abby Howland. Her family became wealthy in the whaling industry and the China Trade. Her mother died in 1860, her father died, five years later, in 1865. Hetty inherited about $5 million from the death of her parents and launched her career as a thrifty business woman and investor, eventually amassing a fortune of over $100 million by the time she died in 1916. She was the richest woman in America. Her estate was left mainly to her two children Edward Howland Robinson "Ned" Green and Harriet "Sylvia" Ann Howland Green Wilks. Hetty Green became notorious for her wealth and thriftiness and became known as the "Witch of Wall Street."

Of the four letters in this collection, three were written by cousins of Hetty Green, the other by a presumed friend. Two of these were written by Benjamin "Franklin" Howland (1877-?) and the other by Franklin's brother John "Hastings" Howland (1870-?). Franklin and Hastings were the sons of Reuben R. Howland (1839-1884), second cousin to Hetty Green.

Franklin and Hastings were both heirs to the famous will of Sylvia Ann Howland (1806-1865) Hetty Green’s aunt. Sylvia Ann Howland died in 1865, leaving roughly half her fortune of some 2 million dollars (over $30 million in today's money) to various legatees, with the residue to be held in trust for the benefit of Robinson (Hetty Green), Howland's niece. The remaining principal was to be distributed to various beneficiaries on Robinson's death, which at the time of Hetty's death amounted to over four hundred people, Franklin and Hastings included.  It was her Aunt Sylvia's will that Hetty went to court over in a famous case Robinson v. Mandell.

Hetty produced an earlier will, which left her aunt's whole estate outright to her. To this will was attached a second and separate page, putatively seeking to invalidate any subsequent wills. Sylvia Ann Howland's executor, Thomas Mandell, rejected Robinson's claim, insisting that the second page was a forgery, and Hetty sued. The case became famous for the forensic use of mathematics by Benjamin Peirce, a Harvard professor, as an expert witness, which showed the mathematical likelihood of the handwriting of this other "will" when compared to various known samples of Sylvia Ann Howland's handwriting was astronomical, and thus this other will was a forgery. This evidence was able to be kept out of the decision of the court and the case was settled and Hetty received the original interest on the estate during her lifetime as well as several hundred thousand dollars.

Hastings and Benjamin Franklin Howland

Reuben R. Howland (1839-1884), was born in New Bedford, he was connected with the office of John Hastings, oil merchant. He married Martha Yeomans Brightman (1843-1881). Together the couple had several children, including: Major John Hastings Howland; Benjamin Franklin Howland; Katherine Howland Walker; and Anna Howland Bartlett. Reuben R. Howland and Hetty Green were second cousins; their grandfathers (Gideon Howland, Jr. and Pardon Howland) were brothers, the sons of Gideon Howland and Sarah Hicks.

Reuben Howland's oldest son was Major John Hastings Howland, who was born 21 August 1870 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was a civil engineer. From 1887 to 1891 he was an assistant in the New Bedford Water Works department and subsequently went to Honolulu where he was connected with the installation of a new water works system. Later he was a member of the committee on fire prevention of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, making his home at Upper Montclair, New Jersey. He volunteered for services in World War One and held the rank of Major in the engineering division of the ordnance department, and was stationed in Washington, D.C. He was married in 1908 to Alice May Hoitt, a well-known singer. One letter in this collection is written by him and signed "Hastings." It was sent to his sister Anna during the time that Hastings was living and working in Hawaii.

Hastings’ younger brother was Benjamin Franklin Howland, who was born 8 June 1877, in New Bedford. He became a civil engineer and moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. He was married on 24 November 1914 to Rheta C. McDonald, of Boston. Two letters are written by Benjamin, who went by his middle name "Franklin." They are written to his brother-in-law Sidney Grant Walker, on one of these he includes his sister Katherine as one of the addressees.

Katherine Howland, the sister of Hastings and Franklin, was born 19 April 1873, in New Bedford. She married Sidney Grant Walker, son of Dr. Augustus C. and Maria C. (Grant) Walker of Providence, Rhode Island. Sidney Walker was vice president and engineer of the Massachusetts Mutual Fire Insurance Co. for Rhode Island. They had two children: Hastings Howland Walker born 24 May 1899 and Sidney Grant Walker born 27 February 1901.

One of Franklin's letters mentions the death of his sister Anna. Hastings’ letter was written to Anna. Their sister Anna Wood Howland was born 13 April 1879, in New Bedford. She was married in 1914 to Clarence Hathaway Bartlett of New Bedford, son of George Fearing Bartlett and Clara Gordon Nye. Bartlett was associated with the brokerage house of Sandford & Kelley, New Bedford. His father was a whaling and oil merchant of New Bedford. The Sandford & Kelley firm was the company that handled the stock sales of the Howlands, as per the receipts that are included in this collection.

         Inventory of Collection:


4 letters, 21 manuscript pages, (no envelopes), as follows:


1. To "My Dear Sister Anna" from "your affec. brother Hastings," 3 manuscript pp., dated Hilo, Hawaii, 1 August 1899, on letterhead of "Walker & Howland, Civil Engineers and Surveyors, Hilo, Hawaii."


2. To "Dear Sid," from "Franklin," 9 typed pp., dated Honolulu, T.H., 11 September 1916, on letterhead of "Honolulu Planing Mill, Ltd., Contractors and Builders, Honolulu, T.H."


3. To "Dear Sid and Kate," from "Your brother Franklin," 5 typed pp., dated Honolulu, T.H., 23 September 1919, on letterhead of "Honolulu Planing Mill, Ltd., Contractors and Builders, Honolulu, T.H."


4. To "My Dear Ms. Green" from "Sarah B. Homlen," of Sandford House, Kinkstale, near Leeds, 3 manuscript pp., dated 12 Nov [no year]


With - 5 stock certificates for Potomska Mills Corporation as follows:


No.1011. Potomska Mills Corporation, James H. Howland of New Bedford, MA, proprietor of five shares, dated 13 Dec 1890.


No.1091. Potomska Mills Corporation, Mrs. Elizabeth T. Howland of New Bedford, MA, proprietor of eight shares, dated 14 Sept 1891.


No.1450. Potomska Mills Corporation, Andrew M. Howland of Boston, MA, proprietor of one hundred shares, dated 5 Dec 1892.


No.3410. Potomska Mill Corporation, Elizabeth K. Howland, of New Bedford, MA, proprietor of fifteen shares, 29 December, 1922.


No.3758. Potomska Mill Corporation, Hetty H. R. Green Estate, of New York, NY, proprietor of one hundred shares, 9 Feb. 1923.


And - receipts for sales of stock:


Sanford & Kelly, Bankers, receipt for purchasing from Andrew M. Howland 15 shares of stock of the Potomska Mills Corporation, dated 9 Nov. 1899.


Sanford & Kelly, Bankers, receipt for purchasing from Andrew M. Howland 10 shares of stock of the Potomska Mills Corporation, dated 19 Dec. 1899.


         Sample Quotations:


         One letter is addressed to Mrs. Green and is written from a friend in England and deals with financial matters:


[12 Nov - no year]


"My dear Mrs. Green,


    I duly received your letter and the file of exchange enclosed for which many thanks. As the stocks held by me seem now to be selling well, as we observe by the quotations of each week we have decided that it will be better to have them all sold and invested in U.S. 5/20 bonds this will issue six per cent interest payable in gold and we shall also have a fixed sum which is a great thing to be [liked] upon in the state of doubt - and uncertainty in which all business matters seem to be in America. In order that the securities may reach you in safety, Mr. Homlen will send them by some friend going out - and as there are many parties out now for business he will no doubt soon be able to hear of some one. If one may judge of the state of business in the States by the number of buyers there are not this season, it is not very brisk, indeed I think I have not known a winter since he has been in Bradford that he has been less busy for America. The panic in the money market here has subsided finally though I suppose its effects will be felt for some time. There was a very heavy failure here last week a house in the China Trade and for many years it was one of the most respectable in the business, Dent is the name you may have heard of them...We live so far from town that I see but few friends and of course dear less of business then in former years for my husband only returns from town at seven o'clock and as we get up early, and now before it is quite day light we go to bed in good season. We are all very well and with much love to Mother... I remain love yrs' truly Sarah B. Homlen..."


         The three other letters are all addressed from Hawaii and concern Hetty Green’s family, the Howlands:


"Hilo, Hawaii, Aug 1st, 1899


Dear Sister Anna: -


   "Aloha nui nui" (native for very much love). Hearty congratulations on your most successful exit from behind the scenes of the Friends School. I presume you are now enjoying the pleasures of summer resort life. Well now if you should drop in on us here in Hilo you would find Katherine with a fat baby in her arms, two of your cousins (with ¼ native blood) on the Lanai (piazza) singing the beautiful native songs, Frank your sure to find on one of our two saddle horses while Sid & I would probably be either on the saddle or in our driving rig.


   Our two cousins Mary & Carrie Howland from Honolulu came down abt two weeks ago to make us a visit and we shall keep them with us until school opens abt the first of September. They are fine company suing together fine, bright and interesting in their conversation all are all round jolly good girls...


     You have no doubt heard of our volcanic outburst that has been the source of so much pleasant excitement with us recently. Last week it went to sleep and is now as quite as though nothing had ever happened. The outbreak was of exceptionally short duration as heretofore the eruptions have continued flowing from six to fifteen months. We have no fear whatever of them here in fact it affords quite a little amusement to us, parties are always starting up to climb to the summit and witness the grand scene. At night crowds are seen in the open spots around Hilo gazing at the volcano. It is a wonderful sight after dark as the fire lights up the heavens for miles around and although the volcano is 45 miles away you can readily distinguish the flames shooting up high into the air from out the mouth of the crater molten lava boils over the side and flows down the side of the mountain like a river of fire. In older flows the lava has worked it was way down the valleys to Hilo but this one went but a short distance from the summit. The natives used to walk along side of the lava flows as they descended and make forms out of the hot lava the lava moving so slow. It looks [like] thick black molasses wriggling and squirming along on top of the ground, one can lay down and roll faster than it ordinarily travels...With lots of love your affec. brother Hastings"


Honolulu Planing Mill, Ltd

Contractors and Builders

Honolulu, T.H.

Sept. 11, 1916,


Dear Sid,


     I am sending a copy of this letter to Pud. This letter is explanatory of a Cable Message which I expect to send to you in the near future, it may possibly reach you before this letter does, but I hope the letter will make clear to you and Pud why I have the nerve to ask such a great favor of you two, that is, it will I hope show you what a good thing I am after and how handsomely it will pay in the future.


The Cable I expect to send to Pud will ask you and Pud between you, as a very great favor to me and one that will mean a great deal to my future, to loan me, and cable same to a bank here (so that I may get it within ten days of this time I cable you) the sum of $2500.


In regard to paying it back, as soon as I received any money from the Hetty Green fund I would turn that right in on account, and the balance I would pay within a year.


I would never consider asking this until I was square with you two for what I owe you at present, but if I can swing this deal, I'll soon be in a position to square everything up and have a nice income for years to come. I consider it THE CHANCE OF A LIFE TIME if I can put it through and the finest proposition in Honolulu today. It is Safe and Sure but at the same time a Gold Mine.


For a part of it you will have to take my word for it, and that is, the tremendous amount of tourist traffic which is headed for these Islands and the unforeseen (but sure to come) influx we will have here in the future now that the islands are the most advertised Winter and Summer resort in the world.


This much is a fact that I have taken the trouble to verify. The Promotion Committee and the Chamber of Commerce are stewing their heads off right now, because it is a well-known fact that there are not accommodations here for the Tourists who are ALREADY BOOKED for the steamers from the coast, let alone the thousands that will book later in the season.


Our real Tourist Season is not supposed to start until Nov or Dec yet a person cannot now get passage from Frisco unless he is booked two weeks in advance. Harry Lucas came home today on the Matsonia and her booking was full (when she left here three weeks ago for the Coast) for this trip from Frisco.


Every Real Estate Office has a bunch of applications on file for people who desire to rent homes, but the houses are not to be had.


And (HERE IS WHERE MY SCHEME COMES IN STRONGLY) the Tourists particularly but also a large percentage of the recent comers among the residents, prefer to live at, or as near as possible to, the Beach. If you have anything in the way of a shack within reach of the Beach you can rent it for 24% of its total cost per year.


This is not hearsay, as I have taken the trouble to make a pretty thorough canvass of the whole Beach District. The average Bungalow home out there cost as an average $2500 and they all rent for from $50 per month up.


Another thing, our Beach Land with its fine bathing the year around is very limited in extent; so much of it is held by very wealthy private parties and our big hotel The Moana.


Here is my proposition, I have taken an Option on a long lease of an Estate here known as the Robinson Estate, which contains approx. 40,000 sq. ft. and has a frontage of 145 ft on the Beach. Here is a BIG FEATURE, and I'll guarantee that anyone here that you may ask, who is familiar with our Beach will agree with me, This property has the best stretch of Beach in Honolulu, and is absolutely the only beach which is ABSOLUTELY Free from coral.


On the following sheet I show a rough sketch of the size and dimensions of this property. On both sides of it are private residences, but at the next to the adjoining place on the town side, a Mrs. Grey now runs (and has for over three years) a Select Boarding House. She now charges $60 per month as a minimum (up to $100) for a small room and board in the Main House. If you wish a cottage (which by the way, you cannot get for Love nor Money) she charges $75 for each person in a cottage and no cottage to have less than two in it....Franklin”


     The letter goes on for a full nine pages, and includes the sketch of the property mentioned above, as well as the financial proposal for the project, which includes a thirty year lease on the estate, with the idea to build fourteen furnished rental cottages. Franklin's partner in the project is B. F. & L.C. Howland. The numbers for the balance sheet of the project show the projected debt for the first eight years, which shows a profit starting in the sixth year. The Hetty Green Fund that is mentioned by Franklin is the fund that was created by the death of Hetty Green's Aunt Sylvia Howland. The interest on the fund was paid to Hetty during her lifetime and at her death the fund was to be distributed to other heirs, which amounted to over 400 by the time of Hetty's death, Franklin being one of them. An interesting letter of real estate speculation in the tourism business of Honolulu with a connection to Hetty Green.


The last letter is another letter from Franklin, dated three years after the above letter. It starts out with the sad news of Anna's death from T.B.:


“Honolulu Planing Mill, Ltd.

Contractors and Builders

Honolulu, H.T.

Sept 23, 1919


Dear Sid and Kate,


Many thanks to you for your letters of July 22nd enclosing Power of Atty on Olaa land, and for your later letter telling of Anna's sad death.


Clarence very thoughtfully wired us the bad tidings, so that we received the news the day following her death. I suppose that you folks were more or less prepared for it, but it was awful shock to us, as only a few days previous we had received a very optimistic and encouraging letter from Clarence telling us what a wonderful difference Dr. Sinclair's visit had made and how much better Anna was.


It hit me pretty hard, as I not only felt all cut up at Anna's death, but also to thank that all through her long siege of illness and suffering, we were so far away and had not been able to help in any way or make it easier or less sad...


         Later in the same letter there is talk of a man encroaching on Franklin's property:


              "...I judge from what Abram said that you will get your price for them, though it may take a little time for the applicant to decide. As for the Olaa land, Abram says that also will be leased in time. The Jap that is after it is most anxious to get it, but has not the ready money to pay the first $500 years' rental in advance, and Abram insists upon his doing so. They are raising wonderful Irish potatoes up in that neighborhood and great quantities of them. This is true on Miss Renicks old place just adjoining ours. The Jap on Miss Renicks place has built his shack right upon against our boundary and at first I thought he was on our land. I am inclined to think that when the Japs cut the firewood on that place that they came quite a bit over the boundary into our land, but not being up there is nail them in the act, I judge we have no redress. In fact, without going to some expense, which I think you agree with me we do not wish to do (I do not doubt but what we are losing firewood all the time, also cattle are being grazed on our place promiscuously). I do not see how we can prevent these losses."


            The letter also mentions Franklin being called as an "expert witness" in a case between the Olaa Sugar Company and the American Board of Foreign Missions. The letter is signed "your brother Franklin" and is five pages in length.