While the Eaton-Shirley family papers primarily focus on John Eaton, Jr., the collection also contains a significant amount of information regarding other members of the Eaton and Shirley families. These members include John Eaton Jr.’s wife, Alice Eugenia (Shirley) Eaton, one of their children, Elsie Eaton, and several of John's siblings: Lucien B., Nathan A., Charles, Frederick, and Christina Eaton. Papers regarding John Eaton Jr.’s uncle, Horace Eaton, and his aunt, Ruth Dodge Eaton, are also present. The primary Shirley family members represented in the collection are Alice E. (Shirley) Eaton’s parents, James and Adelaine Shirley; her uncles, Robert and Edward Shirley; and her brother, Quincy Shirley. Though the Eaton family was from New Hampshire, the bulk of the papers in this collection are from places where members of the family relocated - most prominently, Vicksburg, Mississippi; Toledo, Ohio; and Memphis, Tennessee. The most prominent figures in this collection are John Eaton, Jr., Lucien B. Eaton, and various members of the Shirley Family.
John Eaton Jr. (December 5, 1829-February 9, 1906) was born in Sutton, New Hampshire, to John and Janet Cole (Andrews) Eaton. He was the eldest of 9 children. At the age of 16, he became a district schoolteacher. His mother died when he was 17 (in 1846). Eaton attended classes at the Thetford Academy in Vermont, and then graduated from Dartmouth in 1854. For two years after graduation, he served as principal of Clinton Street (Ward) School in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1856, John Eaton, Jr., became superintendent of the city schools in Toledo Ohio. He resigned in 1859 and entered Andover Theological Seminary. After ordination in 1861, he volunteered for the Union Army and became chaplain of the 27th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was in rebel hands two times, following which, in 1862, General Grant made him Superintendent of Freedmen in the Mississippi Valley. This position included caring for and organizing the large numbers of African American men and women who escaped slavery behind Union lines. Eventually, Eaton's jurisdiction as Superintendent of Freedmen encompassed the entire departments of Tennessee and Arkansas.
In October 1863, John Eaton, Jr., was given a colonel's commission for the 63rd U.S. Colored Infantry, raised near Vicksburg, and was later brevetted Brigadier-General. He accepted a position with the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands as assistant commissioner in charge of Maryland, the District of Columbia, and parts of Virginia. On September 29, 1864, Eaton married Alice Eugenia Shirley, the daughter of a Vicksburg Unionist, and three months later, he resigned his commission. In 1866, with the financial assistance of several prominent men, he established The Post in Memphis, Tennessee (the first Republican newspaper in the Mississippi Valley between New Orleans and St. Louis). In 1867, he won election as state superintendent of education.
In March 1870, General Grant appointed Eaton Commissioner of Education. His experience and political savvy helped him salvage the Bureau of Education from congressional annihilation. He promoted important changes in elementary level instruction, aided improvement in schoolhouses, promoted greater attention to hygiene in public schools, and helped to improve the qualifications of teachers and the standards of legal and medical instruction. He also oversaw the development of the Bureau's collection of statistics. John Eaton, Jr., was appointed by President Grant to represent the Department of the Interior at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876.
After resigning from the Bureau of Education for his poor health, Eaton became president of Marietta College, Ohio, in 1886, where he stayed until 1891. He assisted in the publication of several pamphlets bearing strong anti-Mormon sentiments. In 1895, he was unanimously elected president of the Sheldon Jackson College (now Westminster College), a Christian college in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In January 1899, General Eaton became the first American Commissioner of Education in Puerto Rico for the purpose of establishing an American school system there. He was forced to resign a year later as a result of serious illness. Among his many other honors, he became an honorary member of the French ministry of Public Instruction, and Commander of the Order of the Rose, which was granted by the Emperor of Brazil. He was also a member of the society of Japanese savants for the promotion of education.
Lucien Bonaparte Eaton (b. March 8, 1837) was John Eaton, Jr.'s brother. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1859, and then studied law with William Callamer in Woodstock, Vermont, and with Hill and Pratt in Toledo, Ohio. Following his education, he was appointed head of the Prospect St. School in Cleveland. In 1861, he was appointed 2nd Lieut. 65th Regt. Ohio Volunteers, then later 1st Lieut. and Captain.
During the Civil War, Lucien fought in the Battle of Stone River Bridge, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Recaca, and in other conflicts under General Sherman. He was appointed Lieut. Col. 69th Regt. U.S. Colored Volunteers, and then promoted to Colonel in 1865. In 1866 he assisted his brother, General John Eaton, Jr., in establishing the Memphis Daily Post. General Grant appointed him U.S. Marshall of the Western District of Tennessee in 1870, where he served until 1878, when he resigned. He then practiced law in Tennessee, primarily focusing on real estate, and became one of the largest real estate owners in Memphis.
Shirley family . James Shirley (1794-1863) was the father of Alice (Shirley) Eaton and a native of Goffstown, New Hampshire. He was a graduate of Dartmouth College, and studied law in Albany, New York, before moving to Georgia where he ran an academy. He practiced law in Alabama. He married Harriet Walsworth and was a Whig with a firm allegiance to the Union.
While traveling in Mississippi, James stayed the night at a plantation owned by a Mr. Pryor. There, he met his second wife, Adelaine Quincy, who had taken a job there as governess at the age of 19. She was a native of Boston, Massachusetts. They took up residence near Vicksburg, Mississippi, on a plantation, living in what would later become known as “The Shirley House.” The Shirleys had three children, Quincy, Frederick, and Alice Eugenia (b. May 2, 1844).
During the Civil war, Alice moved to the small town of Clinton (near Vicksburg) with her father, while Adelaine stayed at the Shirley House with her son, Quincy. Frederick had fled to Indiana to escape southern hostility toward Union sympathizers. During the Siege of Vicksburg, Adelaine refused to abandon the Shirley House. She and Quincy stayed in their home until the battle was over, even though the house was badly damaged. In 1902, the secretary of war authorized the repair of the Shirley House, and it is now a part of the Vicksburg National Military Park.