James Washington Singleton Papers
Scope and Contents
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.
- 1770-1975, undated
- Other: Majority of material found within 1850-1920
- Other: Date acquired: 01/14/1977
20.80 Linear Feet
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open to researchers without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
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.
Biographical or Historical Information
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.
Note written by Jodi L. Bennett
Language of Materials
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.
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.
Source of Acquisition
Mrs. Judith Ball Wysong Cofer
Method of Acquisition
Gift. Accession #A77-5
- A Guide to the James Washington Singleton Papers
- Jodi L. Bennett
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.