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Norfolk, Virginia 23529-0256
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The Papers of James W. Singleton

Scope and Contents - Series Descriptions - Access - Container Listing


James Washington Singleton was born on November 23, 1811 at "Paxton" in Frederick County ,Virginia, the estate of his father, General James Singleton. General Singleton (1762-1815) was a Captain in the Virginia troops in 1785. He rose to the rank of Major in 1804 and commanded the Second Battalion 10th, 16th and 18th Brigades of the Virginia Militia. He commanded the 16th Brigade in the War of 1812. He served as a Justice in Frederick County from 1795-1813 and as a member of the House of Delegates during 1806 and 1807. He married Judith Throckmorton Ball in 1797 and they had seven children: James Washington, Ann, Mary, Frances, Judith, Lucy and Elizabeth. Mrs. Singleton had ancestral ties with George Washington's mother, Mary Ball of "Epping Forest", Virginia.

After attending the academy in Winchester, Virginia, James Washington Singleton moved to Kentucky in 1828. He married Mathilde Caves who died in 1832. Singleton pursued the study and practice of medicine in Kentucky. Later he married Ann Craig of Lexington, Kentucky. About 1834 he settled at Mount Sterling, Illinois. He commenced the study of law in Mount Sterling and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1841. During these years the Singletons had a son, James Washington, Jr. but he died in infancy. Ann Craig Singleton also died about 1840.

James Washington Singleton began to distinguish himself in public service during the 1840's. In the "war" against the Mormons he was in command of a military company and he was later commissioned a brigadier-general of militia by Governor Ford of Illinois for his services in the Mormon War. He married Parthenia McDonald on April 9, 1844. He had two children by his third wife: Louise (Lily) born in 1857 and James J. Singleton born in 1860. In 1847 he was elected torepresent his county in a constitutional convention. He served in the Illinois legislature representing Schuyler (Brown) County from 1850 to 1854.

The Singletons moved to Quincy where James Washington practiced law and became active in politics. He served in the state legislature from 1860 to 1862. He also represented Quincy in the state Constitutional convention of 1861. That same year he purchased the most famous country home in the area, Boscobel, a mansion set on an estate of 640 acres. Here he played the roles of gentleman farmer, lawyer, and politician. He also became deeply involved in railroad projects. He was president of two railroads: the Quincy, Alton and St. Louis and the Quincy and Toledo. He was responsible for the extension of the Wabash line through Quincy. In 1862 he served on an international commission that investigated water communication between the United States and Canada.

During the Civil War Singleton may be most accurately characterized as a Peace Democrat who maintained close ties with President Lincoln. He had met Lincoln while he was in legal practice in Illinois in the 1840's. Their friendship lasted until Lincoln's death although they held different positions on the principal political issues of the time. At the beginning of the war Singleton was offered a colonelcy in the Illinois militia by Governor Richard Yates. Although he would have commanded ten companies of cavalry, Singleton refused the commission because he did not believe in the war. He opposed Lincoln's arbitrary measures and was prominent in peace conventions at Peoria and Springfield in 1864. In November 1864 he was in Canada conferring with Clay and Tucker, Confederate "commissioners". He made several trips to Richmond late in the war. He was associated with Senator O. H. Browning of Illinois and Judge James Hughes in a scheme to buy Southern products with greenbacks move them through Grant's lines with presidential permission and sell them for a considerable profit in the North. At first Lincoln apparently approved the scheme so that federal money could pass into Southern hands. He, however, gave General Grant complete discretion in the matter. Grant withheld his approval from the operations in early 1865. Singleton apparently held informal "negotiations" with several people in Richmond including President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee. Lincoln did not give official sanction to these talks but was ready to recognize them if satisfactory Confederate proposals should emerge from the negotiations.

After the war Singleton remained active in politics and farming. Besides attending to the myriad affairs of Boscobel and raising prize stock, Singleton served two terms in the United States House of Representatives (1879-1883). In 1868 he was nominated by the Democratic convention at Monmouth, Illinois for Congress but he was defeated by Mr. John Hawley, the Republican candidate. The Democrats nominated him again in 1878, and this time he was successful. Singleton carried the city of Quincy by the unprecedented majority of 1,732 out of 3,000 votes, and received large majorities in every county in the district. He was reelected in 1880.

Singleton spent most of his later years at Boscobel. He continued to entertain lavishly, manage the affairs of his large estate and give increasing attention to railroad promotion. Political animosities did not disturb his friendships, and he was often called upon to lead civic endeavors. He did not hold any other public office although he sought unsuccessfully the position of Commissioner of Agriculture in the administration of Grover Cleveland. He moved to Baltimore to be with his daughter, Louise (Mrs. Francis W. Thomas) in the fall of 1891 and died at her home on April 4, 1892.


The Papers of James Washington Singleton are a collection of family papers spanning five generations of Singleton descendants. The collection includes papers of James Singleton, the father of James W. Singleton, Lily Singleton Thomas Osburn, the daughter of James W. Singleton, the Thomas children, the grandchildren of James W. Singleton and Judith Ball Wysong Cofer, the great-granddaughter of James W. Singleton. A major portion of the collection dating from 1810 until 1940 principally concerns the lives of James Singleton, James W. Singleton and Lily Singleton Thomas Osburn. The collection is divided into 11 series. They are: correspondence, legal and government documents, financial and bookkeeping records, business papers, military papers, speeches, miscellany, memorabilia, newspaper clippings, publications and photographs.


Series I: Correspondence

This series is further divided into 13 subseries. Within each subseries, the correspondence is arranged chronologically.

Sub series A: James Singleton (1762-1815) includes letters dating from 1787 to 1815. Most of the correspondence dates from the War of 1812 period and is concerned with Singleton's activities in that conflict.

Sub series B: Joseph Holmes Sherrard (1802-1889) includes letters dating from 1826 to 1911. This subseries also includes some correspondence of Sherrard's daughters, Virginia and Elizabeth Sherrard.

Sub series C: James Washington Singleton (1811-1892) includes letters dating from 1837 to 1892. Most of the correspondence dates from 1860 on. There are five folders of letters from 1860-1866 that give a limited view of Singleton's Civil War activities. Also included is correspondence from 1879 to 1883, the period when Singleton served in the House of Representatives. There is also correspondence from 1884-1885 when Singleton was seeking a position in Cleveland's administration as Commissioner of Agriculture.

Sub series D: Parthenia McDonald Singleton (1824-1902) includes letters dating from 1858 to 1898. The correspondence from 1864 to 1866 includes letters from her husband, James W. during his visits to Richmond.

Sub series E: Anna Singleton McDonald (1836-1929) includes letters dating from 1858 to 1923.

Sub series F: Lily Singleton Thomas Osburn (1857-1943) includes letters dating from 1875 to 1942. The principal correspondents in this subseries are Lily's daughter, Cora and historian Matthew Page Andrews. The Andrews' correspondence (1926-1942) contains biographical information about James W. Singleton. Lily corresponded with many relatives and these letters are a good source of genealogical information.

Sub series G: James Jones Singleton (1860-1948) includes letters dating from 1891 to 1906. Most of the correspondence pertains to the death of his father in 1892 and the death of his mother in 1902.

Sub series H: Louise Singleton Thomas Kemp (1884-1969) includes letters dating from 1890 to 1911. This subseries is composed of the childhood correspondence of Lily's eldest daughter, Louise.

Sub series I: Judith Ball Thomas Wysong (1887-1976) includes letters dating from 1894 to1923 is the childhood correspondence of Lily's daughter Judith.

Sub series J: Francis Worthington Thomas, Jr. (1889-1910) includes the letters of Lily's only son Francis dating from 1908 to 1910.

Sub series K: Cora Elder Thomas consists of a few letters of Lily's youngest daughter Cora dating from 1906-1918.

Sub series L:Judith Ball Wysong Cofer (1924- ) dating from 1959 to 1975 includes one folder of letters from researchers requesting access to the Singleton papers or information on James W. Singleton.

Sub series M: Parthenia Marie Thomas de Loach (1892-1983) dating from 1908 to 1936. This subseries contains the correspondence of Lily's daughter Parthenia.

Series II: Legal and Government Documents

This series includes agreements, appointments, deeds, indentures, inventories, estate appraisals, licenses, summons, wills, and miscellaneous government documents.

Series III: Financial and Bookkeeping Records

This series consists of three daybooks (1812, 1832 and 1847), receipts and invoices from 1770 to 1941.

Series IV: Business Papers

This is a small series including miscellaneous Papers concerning the Farmer's Bank of Virginia at Winchester. In addition there are several documents relating to Singleton's railroad interests with the Great Western, the Hannibal and St. Joseph, the Quincy Alton and St. Louis, and the Quincy and Palmyra Railroad Companies.

Series V: Military Papers

Included in this series are commissions, orders and reports. In addition there is a 1794 Proclamation pardoning participants in the Whiskey Rebellion.

Series VI: Speeches

The series consists of several folders of speeches including those given by James W. Singleton during from 1874 to 1881.

Series VII: Miscellany

This series is divided into three subseries.

Sub series A: Materials of Matthew Page Andrews consists of articles on Lincoln and Singleton, book reviews, and notes.

Sub series B: Genealogical and Historical Notes collected by Lily Singleton Thomas Osburn includes notes on the Ball, Fauntleroy, McCarthy, McDonald, Singleton, Thomas, Throckmorton and other families.

Sub series C: Other Subjects Arranged Alphabetically is a collection of materials such as poetry, creative writing, insurance policies, political papers, church papers, report cards, tributes, memorials and James W. Singleton's diary for 1870.

Series VIII: Memorabilia

This series consists of miscellaneous mementos such as calling cards, greeting cards, valentines, Confederate bonds, postcards, opera programs, recipes, and wedding invitations.

Series IX: Newspaper Clippings

The newspaper clippings (1851-1865) are arranged by subject or name. There are many contemporary clippings concerning James W. Singleton. Some clippings are arranged separately in this series in chronological order.

Series X: Publications

The publications are divided into two subseries. Within each subseries the titles are arranged alphabetically.

Sub series A: General Publications includes books and pamphlets.

Sub series B: Serial Publications includes Harper's Magazine (1856 and 1883) and others.

Series XI: Photographs

The photographic collection is divided into three subseries. Photographic records with names or titles have been arranged alphabetically.

Sub series A: Amberotypes and Daguerreotypes Includes images of Edward C. McDonald, Joseph H. and Ann Sherrard with daughter Lizzie, and Virginia Sherrard

Sub series B: Photographic Prints Included in this series are photographs of James W. Singleton, Lily Singleton Thomas Osburn and her children, photographs of the ruins of Boscobel and photographs of Paxton.

Sub series C: Prints, sketches and lithographs.

Oversize Newspaper Box: The collection also includes one oversize newspaper box of old newspapers. They are arranged by state and then alphabetically by place of publication. Newspapers of particular interest include three issues of the Daily Quincy Herald (1878, 1882 and 1919) and three issues of the Quincy Daily Whig (1882).


Gift of Mrs. Judith Ball Wysong Cofer January 14, 1977 Accession #: A76-56, A77-5, A77-90


The collection is open to researchers without restrictions. Questions on literary property rights should be directed to the Special Collections Librarian.


35 Hollinger Documents Cases; One Hollinger Drop-Front Print Box and One Hollinger Oversize Newspaper Box

Revised: December 8, 2011