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  • Notes on the Manuscript Collection: Charles Carleton Coffin Papers

    John B. Carney

    Published Date : December 1986

    Mss 40, Two linear feet

    Charles Carleton Coffin, 1823-1896, was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, the ninth and youngest child of a farmer.  He became a surveyor, telegraph and railroad expert, and a reporter.  During the Civil War his dispatches from the front to the Boston Journal were considered models of accuracy, and as he specialized in getting the news to the readers as quickly as possible, he attained Considerable fame.


    The Charles Carleton Coffin papers are divided into two major divisions.  The first contains speeches delivered before patriotic gatherings in the 1870s and 1880s; the second contains souvenirs of his reporting days during the Civil War, including papers which he found in the streets of Richmond when it fell 3 April 1865.


    The thirty-seven patriotic addresses which make up the first section were delivered during the years following the Civil War.  Although some show his skill as a reporter, most are patriotic effusions identifying America with the Promised Land.  Some may have been intended as chapters for books.  This section also includes a notebook with rough retrospective notes on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. This section also contains an 1869 letter to Coffin with maps of the district of Bayfield, Wisconsm.


    The second section, containing papers Coffin picked up during his Civil War travels, has been divided into seven parts: military papers, papers of Confederate government agencies, papers from state governments, letters to public men, literary contributions to Southern newspapers, papers on slave sales before the War, a cheerfully patriotic ballad, and retrospective material.


    The military papers are scrappy. The first subdivision contains appointments of three military officers. The second sub-division contains battle reports, but only the defense of James Island in Charleston harbor, 16-20 June 1862, is covered in depth. Another sub-division includes letters to Col. Francis Henney Smith, 1812-1890, superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute. There is also a sharp exchange of letters between General Robert E. Lee and General Henry W. Halleck on alleged Union atrocities. The last item in this section is a small packet of material on provisions for prisoners of war in Richmond in 1868.


    The section of letters to public men includes letters to Jefferson Davis from Clement Claiborne Clay; Thomas F. Drayton; S. Basset French; Abrosio Jose Gonzales; Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter; Christopher Gustavus Memminger; Virginia McLaurine Mosby. The letters to Mrs. Jefferson Davis include a letter from her husband’s doctor concerning her husband’s care, and a letter C from a widow with four Sons in the army seeking employment for the fifth. There are also four items by or to Judah P. Benjamm.

    The sections containing government papers, state papers, slavery sales items, and retrospective material are very small.

    Over all, the papers in the Coffin collection include individual items of considerable interest, but are so fragmentary as to have no narrative coherence.  They are manuscript souvenirs of the Civil War.


    Spec. doll. 11 C 5, 3 linear feet


    The Jeremiah Colburn collection consists of the private papers of Jeremiah Colburn, 1815-1891, and of papers collected by him for their historical and autograph value.

    Colburn was born in Boston in 1815, son of Calvin Colburn of Leominster and Catharine Sybil Lakin of Groton, Mass.  The Colburn family was originally from Dedham.  Colburn started working for a Boston hatter in 1830, and when his master retired in 1840, Colburn took over the business.  He was appointed one of the appraisers at the Boston Customs House, and gave up the hat business.  He retired from his appraiser’s appointment in 1861, and devoted his remaining thirty years to antiquarianism and numismatics.  He was elected a resident member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in 1857 and served on its board of directors from 1862 to 1889.  In 1860 he was one of the founders of the Boston Numismatic Society.  He was also one of the founders of the Prince Society, and the Boston Antiquarian Club which later became the Bostonian Society.

    He married in 1846, Eliza Ann Blackman of Dorchester, who used her step-father’s name of Raymond. Their only child died in infancy.  Colburn’s ancestry is detailed in Genealogy of the Descendants of Edward Colburn-Coburn (1913).

    The Colburn papers fall easily in two parts: his personal papers, and those collected by him.

    Sub-group I consists of papers concerning the Colburn Family.  Three series concern various Colburn families not closely related to Jeremiah.  They concern Hannah Colbourne Aldridge, fl. 1720 of Dedham; Benjamin Colburn of Deham, fl. 1715-1747; and James Smith Colburn, merchant of Boston and Charleston, South Carolina, fl. 1806-1841.  The fourth series concerns Jeremiah Colburn himself. It is sub-divided into personal [301] papers 1842-1892, and memberships: Boston Numismatic Society; Bostonian Society; Prince Society; Old Londonderry Historical Society.  It continues with material on his manuscript collecting, his business papers as a hat merchant and with the Customs House, and genealogical correspondence and notes.  This sub-group closes with three separate series for other members of his family.

    Sub-group II concerns various members of the Lakin family from 1719 through 1814.

    Sub-group III contains an interesting coliection of the papers of Daniel Denison Rogers, 1751-1825, merchant of Boston.  It includes correspondence from 1771 to 1811, and bills and receipts from 1725 to 1829.  Much of the correspondence concerns business with merchants and lawyers of Philadelphia. Although not considered a Tory, Rogers was connected by marriage to the Tory Bromfield and Clarke families, and had to deal with conflicting claims on Bromfield and Clarke property, and try to save it from confiscation.  His sister’s sons, unsuccessful tin or coppersmiths who went to Marietta, Ohio, about 1800, also wrote him for help in obtaining metal for their work.

    The last section of the collection consists of miscellaneous manuscripts collected by Colburn to supplement a group of seventeenth and eighteenth century documents from Groton, Mass., collected by his brother-in-law, Charles Woolley, which documents are mostly deeds from early families. Colburn added documents with personal value, institutional documents, and treatises such as sermons and diaries.  The items of personal note include a transcript of a letter by Benjamin Franklin from France in 1776, and two John Hancock items.  Also included is an undated note by Francis O. J. Smith  to Samuel Finley Breese Morse concerning depositions Morse was to make about the early development of the telegraph.  Of more local interest are details of the arrangements with the selectmen made by John Fowle, 1727/8-1786, Harvard 1747, for the school term he kept in Woburn, Mass., in 1747; and tax valutations for 1814-1815 among the papers of James Winthrop, 1752-1821, Librarian of Harvard College 1772-1787, and Chielf Justice of the Court of Common Pleas of Middlesex County and Registrar of Middlesex.

    The last section also contains material from the town of Groton, and includes official papers as well as material on the Blood, Lawrence, Shattuck and Shepley families.  Among the items of Boston interest is a list of passengers landed at the Port of Boston 6 Sept. 1762 from the fishery at Newfoundland, and also a list of the mostly Irish laborers filling in South Cove in 1844, with amounts paid for labor and loads of gravel.  Business papers from Boston jewelers, Taft, Gayetty and Lee date from 1815 to 1819, and concern primarily Peter J. Gayetty.

    By John B. Carney

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