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 XII: Oversize Newspapers, 1817-1932, undated
This series includes copies of old newspapers. These have been 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).
Sub-Series A: District of Columbia, 1827-1928
Oversize Box 37
Item 1: National Intelligencer, 1827 April 26, 1828 December 18
Item 2: The Washington Post, 1928 October 10, 1936 January 21, 1936 December 13
Item 3: The Washington Star, 1923 October 21, 1926 February 21, 1928 October 14
Sub-Series B: Georgia, 1932
Oversize Box 37
Item 4: Atlanta American, 1932 October 23
Sub-Series C: Illinois, 1876-1923
Oversize Box 37
Item 5: Adams County Democrat, 1882 October 28
Item 6: The Chicago Times, 1876 September 28; 1885 December 26
Item 7: The Highland Park Press, 1923 March 1
Item 8: Daily Quincy Herald, 1878 November 5; 1882 August 3; 1919 May 30
Item 9: Quincy Daily Whig, 1882 August 10; 1882 August 13; 1882 August 18
Sub-Series D: Baltimore, Maryland, 1822-1930
Oversize Box 37
Item 10: American Farmer, 1822-1830
Issues: April 12, 1822, April 26,1822; November 15, 1822, August 1, 1828 May 7, 1830, July 16, 1830
Item 11: The Baltimore Sun, 1889-1930
Issues: April 30, 1889; May 1, 1891; January 9, 1891; July 20, 1891; July 21, 1891; July 22, 1891; December 7, 1892; May 11, 1894; January 17,1895; February 9, 1930; April 6, 1930
Sub-Series E: New York, 1864-1932
Oversize Box 37
Item 12: New York American and Journal, 1902 June 29
Item 13: New York Daily News, 1864 July 27; 1864 December 8; 1932 November 20
Item 14: New York Times, 1922 August 6; 1928 February 12
Sub-Series F: Ohio, 1892-1932
Oversize Box 37
Item 15: Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1892 November 9; 1932 November 9
Item 16: Columbus Dispatch, 1923 December 30
Sub-Series G: Pennsylvania, 1864, 1924
Oversize Box 37
Item 17: Gettysburg Compiler, 1868 March 27
Item 18: Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 1924 November 29
Sub-Series H: Tennessee, 1868
Oversize Box 37
Item 19: Daily Memphis Avalanche, 1868 May 3
Sub-Series I: Virginia, 1817-1900
Oversize Box 37
Item 20: Virginia Free Press (Charlestown), 1845 March 13; 1900 September 15
Item 21: Virginian Herald (Fredericksburg), 1875 December 13
Item 22: The Genius of Liberty (Leesburg), 1817 March 4
Item 23: Lynchburg News, 1892 January 5; 1892 January 14
Item 24: Richmond Whig, 1861 March 26; 1865 March 14
Item 25: Winchester Virginia, 1861 January 2
Sub-Series J: West Virginia, 1910-1929, undated
Oversize Box 37
Item 26: Farmers Advocate, 1910 October 29
Item 27: Martinsburg Evening Journal, 1929 March 2
Item 28: Miscellaneous Central Presbyterian, undated

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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