Special Collections of the ODU Libraries

James Washington Singleton Papers, 1770-1975, undated | Special Collections and University Archives

By Jodi L. Bennett

Collection Overview

Title: James Washington Singleton Papers, 1770-1975, undated

Predominant Dates:1850-1920

ID: 00/MG 10

Primary Creator: Singleton, James Washington (1811-1892)

Extent: 20.8 Linear Feet. More info below.

Arrangement: The collection is organized into eleven series: Series I: Correspondence; Series II: Legal and Government Documents; Series III: Financial and Bookkeeping RecordsSeries IV: Business Papers; Series V: Miscellaneous Material; Series VI: Speeches; Series VII: Miscellany; Series VIII: Memorabilia; Series IX: Newspaper clippings; Series X: Publications; and Series XI: Photographs.

Date Acquired: 01/14/1977

Subjects: Copperhead movement, Politicians--Illinois, Singleton, James Washington, 1811-1892, Singleton family, United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865, United States. Congress. House

Languages: English, German


Prominent Peace Democrat from Illinois during the Civil War. Served in the United States House of Representatives (1879-1883). Contains family papers spanning five generations, dating from 1770 to 1975. Includes correspondence, business papers, military papers, newspaper clippings, and photographs.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The collection consists of family papers spanning the lifetime of five generations of Singleton descendants. The collection includes papers of James Singleton, the father of James W. Singleton; 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. The bulk of the collection concerns the lives of James Singleton, James W. Singleton and Lily Singleton Thomas Osburn.

Collection Historical Note

Biography: James W. Singleton, 1811-1892

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 to represent 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.

Subject/Index Terms

Copperhead movement
Singleton, James Washington, 1811-1892
Singleton family
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
United States. Congress. House

Administrative Information

Repository: Special Collections and University Archives

Alternate Extent Statement: 35 Hollinger document cases; 1 Hollinger drop-front print box, 3 oversize boxes.1 oversize box and 1 Hollinger oversize box

Access Restrictions: The collection is open to researchers without restrictions.

Use Restrictions: Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.

Acquisition Source: Mrs. Judith Ball Wysong Cofer

Acquisition Method: Gift. Accession #A77-5

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], Box [insert number], Folder [insert number and title], James Washington Singleton Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Old Dominion University Libraries.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

[Series I: Correspondence, 1787-1975],
[Series II: Legal and Government Documents, 1833-1908, undated],
[Series III: Financial and Bookkeeping Records, 1770-1941],
[Series IV: Business Papers, undated],
[Series V: Military Papers, 1794-1846, undated],
[Series VI: Speeches, 1812-1881],
[Series VII: Miscellaneous Material, 1785-1944, undated],
[Series IX: Newspaper Clippings, 1851-1865, undated],
[Series X: Publications, 1802-1945, undated],
[Series XI: Photographs, undated],
[Series XII: Oversize Newspapers, 1817-1932, undated],

Series X: Publications, 1802-1945, undated
This series contains books, pamphlets, and other publications collected by the Singleton family. Most of the titles are related to history, languages, and writing but there are also issues of Harper's Monthly in 1856 and 1883. Within each sub-series the titles are arranged alphabetically.
Sub-Series A: General, 1802-1945, undated
Box 32
Folder 1: Almanac, 1802
Folder 2: Art Club of Philadelphia, 1891
Folder 3: Burnett's Floral Handbook, undated
Folder 4: Cord Stunts for Kiddies, 1921
Folder 5: Columbia: The Land of the Free (Anna Singleton McDonald), undated
Folder 6: The Complaint, or Night Thoughts (Edward Young), 1840
Folder 7: The Constant Christmas (Phillips Brooks), undated
Folder 8: Early History of the Daughters of the American Revolution, undated
Folder 9: Eulenspiegl Und Munchhausen (Peter Hagboldt), 1933
Folder 10: Ford's History of Illinois (Governor Thomas Ford), 1854
Folder 11: French Language Guide, 1943
Folder 12: Greek and Roman Mythology (Lloyd E. Smith), undated
Box 33
Folder 1: History of Indian Pottery, undated
Folder 2: Hand Book of Washington Cathedral, 1911
Folder 3: Holy Thoughts and Prayers (Dr. Hook), 1849
Folder 4: Luther Martin: The "Federal Bull Dog" and a Sketch of the Life and Character of Nathaniel Ramsay, 1887
Folder 5: Maryland Life Insurance Almanac, 1899
Folder 6: My Mother-in-Law, Bricktop, circa 1875
Folder 7: A Neglected Phase of Revolutionary History, 1945
Folder 8: New York As It Is, In 1833, undated
Folder 9: Popular Synonyms, undated
Box 34
Folder 1: The Privateeisman: Captain Manvot (Charles J. Finger), undated
Folder 2: The Relations of the United States to Each Other as Modified by the War and the Constitutional Amendments (John Randolph Tucker), undated
Folder 3: Some Emigrants to Virginia (W. G. Standard), undated
Folder 4: To Cuba and Back: A Variation Voyage (Richard H. Dana), undated
Folder 5: Wanderer in Washington, 1827
Folder 6: A Young Veteran of the War (Anna Morgan Getyendanner), undated
Sub-Series B: Serials, 1856-1924
Box 34
Folder 7: Harper's New Monthly Magazine, No. 69, 1856 February
Folder 8: Harper's New Monthly Magazine, No. 392, 1883 January
Folder 9: Harper's New Monthly Magazine, No. 394, 1883 March
Folder 10: Harper's New Monthly Magazine, No. 395, 1883 April
Folder 11: The Prophetic Times, Vol. VI, Nos. 8-9, 1868
Folder 12: Quarterly Journal, 1863
Folder 13: Quincy Motor Club Exhaust, Vol. II, Nos. 1-2, 1924

Browse by Series:

[Series I: Correspondence, 1787-1975],
[Series II: Legal and Government Documents, 1833-1908, undated],
[Series III: Financial and Bookkeeping Records, 1770-1941],
[Series IV: Business Papers, undated],
[Series V: Military Papers, 1794-1846, undated],
[Series VI: Speeches, 1812-1881],
[Series VII: Miscellaneous Material, 1785-1944, undated],
[Series IX: Newspaper Clippings, 1851-1865, undated],
[Series X: Publications, 1802-1945, undated],
[Series XI: Photographs, undated],
[Series XII: Oversize Newspapers, 1817-1932, undated],

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