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Skilton Family papers

Identifier: MC 22

Scope and Contents

The Skilton Family papers (MC 22) are comprised of the papers of three brothers, James, Julius and George, all natives of Troy and graduates of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The collection focuses mainly on their professional careers, with most of the material pertaining to James and George. Topics covered include international affairs, legal issues, engineering discussions, and personal and family matters. The material in the collection consists of correspondence, legal documents and news clippings. The papers of each individual are arranged into series and further divided into sub-series. Two notable sub-series are the Brooklyn Ethical Association Papers and the U.S. and Mexico Claims Commission Papers. James Skilton was deeply involved with the Brooklyn Ethical Association, a philosophical group devoted to discussing social issues, which attracted leading thinkers of the time, including Herbert Spencer. All three brothers were involved with the U.S. and Mexico Claims Commission and the Mexican Consulate. Of particular interest is a collection of news clippings covering a wide array of topics from the late nineteenth century and a scrapbook of clippings regarding President James A. Garfield’s assassination.


  • Created: 1830-1903


Biographical or Historical Information

James Avery Skilton was born in Troy, NY on January 13, 1829. He was the first son of Avery Judd Skilton and Mary Augusta Candee. James was schooled at Troy Academy and entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1845. He remained there for a year and then went on to take over his father’s medical office and financial affairs, although he never was formally trained in medicine. In the 1850’s, James spent time in the South engaging in various business ventures involving land, railroads and transportation. The Civil War seems to have forced James to return north. After the war, James studied law at Albany Law School and received his LL. B. He then briefly returned to the South to practice Constitutional Law. Ultimately, James settled down in Brooklyn as a Patent Lawyer and while in Brooklyn, he became involved with the Brooklyn Ethical Association. Through this association he became quite taken with the work of Herbert Spencer, whom he ultimately corresponded with and they became known as friends. James married Agnes Sheppard in 1879 but was widowed by 1882; he was later remarried. James died on Feb. 19, 1904 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Julius Augustus Skilton was born on June 29, 1833 in Troy, NY. Growing up, Julius studied medicine with private teachers and attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1847-1849, graduating with a Bachelors of Natural Science. He went on to get an A.M. from Wesleyan University and a M.D. from Albany Medical College. He practiced medicine in Troy until the outbreak of the Civil War when he enlisted as an assistant surgeon. Following the Civil War, Julius traveled on assignment for the New York “Herald” to Mexico with his wife, Harriet Ingersoll (whom he married in 1856). Julius escorted Mexican President Juarez back to Mexico from New Orleans and proceeded to assist with his restoration of Mexican rule. During this time, Julius owned and edited a newspaper devoted to the Juarez cause. He was also commissioned to exhume and examine the body of Maximilian before it was sent back to Austria. Because of his diplomatic involvement, in 1869 Julius was appointed US Consul in Mexico City by President Grant. From 1872-1878 he was the US Consul General in Mexico. Eventually Julius returned to the United States and took up residence in Brooklyn. It was there that Julius died on November 20, 1897.

George Steele Skilton was born on November 25, 1845 in Troy, NY. His early education consisted of schooling at Troy High School (until 1859), continued in Savannah, Georgia for the next two years, and culminated with studies at Amenia Seminary, located in Dutchess County, NY. From 1865 to 1868, George attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and graduated with a Civil Engineering degree. At R.P.I. he was actively involved in extracurricular activities and he gave a commencement speech at his graduation (included in his correspondence). Following graduation, George moved to Mexico and remained there until 1886, engaging in a wide variety of business and government enterprises. He worked as an engineer for several railroad companies including the Mexican Railroad Company (1871-1872), the Mexican Central Railroad (1874-1876 and 1880-1882), the Kansas City Southern Railroad (1879), and the Sinaloa and Durango Railroad Company (1884-1886). In addition to his railroad work, he also applied his engineering expertise to several public works projects. George was involved in government activities while in Mexico, holding the title of Vice Consul and Vice Consul General of the United States to Mexico (1869-1871, 1873-1879). He was also actively involved in the United States and Mexico Claims Commissions, providing consul to the claimants and working on over sixty different claims. In 1880 George married Adah Gould Sawyer. George and his family left Mexico in the late 1880s. Upon returning to the United States George continued to hold engineering positions, doing some work for the City of New York. George died in 1921 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York.

The Brooklyn Ethical Association sought to apply “evolutionary philosophy and ethics to the study and discussion of the pressing problems of politics and statesmanship to come before the people of United States…” They achieved this goal through essays and lectures. According to their stated essay course for 1891-1892: “The Brooklyn Ethical Association: The objects, character and scope of its work in general under its Certificate of Incorporation. A. The scientific study of ethics, politics, economics, sociology, religion and philosophy, and also of physics and biology as related thereto. B. The application of the results of such studies to the problems of practical philanthropy and statesmanship. C. The procurement, preparation and delivery of popular lectures, expositions and discussions, and the circulation of the same, together with other printed matter relating to such objects. D. The promotion of unity and harmony among the friends of progress, by correspondence, friendly intercourse and the application of the scientific method to social, religious and political reforms. E. The maintenance of a library for the purpose of more effectually carrying out the objects of the Association.”

The U.S. and Mexican Claims Commission was created in 1868 to address claims of citizens on one country against the government of the other. A “Proclamation” announcing this agreement reads: “Whereas it is desirable to maintain and increase the friendly feelings between the United States and the Mexico republic, and so to strengthen the system and principles of republican government on the American continent; and whereas since the signature of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, of the [2nd] of February, 1848, claims and complaints have been made by citizens of the United States, on account of injuries to the persons and property of Mexican citizens by authorities of the United States of that republic, and similar claims and complaints have been made on account of the injuries to the persons and property of Mexican citizens by authorities of the United States; the President of the United States of America and the President of the Mexican republic have resolved to conclude a convention for the adjustment of the said claims and complaints…” The claims were heard by two commissioners, one from Mexico and one from the United States. Each commissioner was appointed by the President of their country.


6.80 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The Skilton Family Papers are comprised of the papers of James, Julius and George Skilton, three brothers, natives of Troy and graduates of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The collection focuses mainly on their professional careers with a focus on international affairs, legal issues, engineering discussions, and personal and family matters.

Arrangement Note

This collection is arranged in five series. Please go to the full collection inventory for complete series and sub-series information.

Skilton Family Papers
Jes Zacher
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Institute Archives and Special Collections Repository

110 8th Street
Institute Archives and Special Collections
Rensselaer Libraries, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy NY 12180-3590 US
518 276 8340