MS063: Melancthon E. Washburn Family Collection

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MS-063: Melancthon E. Washburn Family Collection

(4 boxes, 1.08 cubic feet)

Inclusive Dates: 1857-1883

Bulk Dates: 1861-1865

Processed by: Stephen Light

April 2005

Link to Full Finding Aid - PDF

Provenance The Melancthon E. Washburn Family Collection was donated anonymously in April of 1991.


Melancthon E. Washburn was born sometime during or around 1836, the son of Roswell (?) Washburn and Laura Cleveland (?). Washburn’s mother died in 1839 and Roswell remarried. Known as “Lank” to family and friends, Washburn and his large family and stepfamily lived in Coolville, Ohio as of 1857. In the years leading up to and during the Civil War, Washburn moved throughout a number of different states, variously being employed as a school teacher and studying law.

Between January of 1858 and October of 1864, Washburn taught in the following places: Federalton, Ohio; Cairo, Kentucky; Athens, Ohio; Headquarters, Kentucky; Long Bottom, Ohio; Lebanon, Kentucky; Charleston, (West) Virginia; Camp Piatt (West) Virginia; Mexico Missouri; Meredosia, Illinois; and De Sota, Missouri. During the winter of 1862 and 1863 Washburn was located in Cincinnati, Ohio studying law. It does not appear however that he ever passed the bar.

In 1865 Washburn received employment as a U.S. Military Telegraph Operator in Missouri and eventually in Lawrenceburgh, Indiana. Despite the name, the US Military Telegraph service was run by civilians not soldiers and it was in this capacity that Washburn served. Following the war he began working as a telegraph operator for the Indianapolis and Cincinnati Railroad, and settled in Guilford, Indiana. He was married to a woman named Mary (sometimes referred to as Mollie) sometime between October and December of 1866, and had at least two children (Only two are documented in the collection), William G. who was born sometime before 1871 and Cora Pearl.

Series Description

This manuscript collection is divided into two series.  Series I: Correspondence; and  Series II: Miscellaneous Items.

Scope and Content

The Melancthon E. Washburn Papers consist primarily of correspondence between Washburn and his family members during the Civil War period. While the letters date anywhere from 1857 to 1883, most of them fall into the 1861 to 1865 time frame. The collection also consists of a wide range of miscellaneous items, including newspaper clippings collected into scrapbooks, the diary of Melancthon’s son William Washburn, wedding invitations, Confederate bonds and currency, and a public broadside advertising a slave auction.

The content of the letters cover a wide range of topics, such as the war, politics, daily life, and family news. The letters from Melancthon’s father especially are a great source for understanding the hardships a subsistence farming family had to endure in the era. The letters also provide the unique perspective of a family loyal to the Democratic Party in the North and hostile to the idea of abolition and the Republican Government attempting to implement such a practice.

The scrapbooks contain articles focusing on a few different topics. Included among other subjects in the first scrapbook are the assassination of Lincoln, Mormons in Utah, Slavery, War news, and a complete set of installments of The Pearl of Orr’s Island, a novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The latter scrapbook contains mostly literary stories and poetry, although there is some news coverage as well. 

Link to Full Finding Aid - PDF