Otis family papers  1861-1862
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Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection is made up of correspondence, diaries, financial papers, legal documents, photographs, printed items, and ephemera related to Ziba Roberts of Shelby, New York, and his family. Much of the material concerns his service in the 28th New York Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, veterans' pensions, reunions, genealogy, and estate administration.

The Correspondence series (approximately 110 items) includes a group of 17 items (1826-1852) related to the family of James Harland, an ancestor of Cynthia Dewey Roberts. Harland, who lived in Manchester, New York, received letters from his son William, who moved to Clarksfield, Ohio, around 1839. Shortly after his arrival, William described local marshes and discussed his land and the prices of various crops. His later letters concern his financial difficulties and his Christian faith. A letter of September 3, 1841, includes a small manuscript map of property lines.

The remaining correspondence pertains to Ziba Roberts and, to a lesser extent, his wife and children. The first item is a letter from his sister Henrietta dated March 14, 1858. Roberts regularly corresponded with family members and friends while serving in the 28th New York Infantry Regiment between January 1862 and April 1863. In his letters home (around 20 items), he described aspects of military and camp life, including food, hygiene, illness, long marches, and general boredom; several items concern his experiences in occupied Winchester, Virginia, in the spring of 1862 and his treatment after his release from Confederate prison. He sometimes commented on news of the war, expressing confidence in a Union victory. During this period, Roberts occasionally received letters from family members at home, who discussed farming, religion, and family news (5 items).

The Roberts correspondence resumes in 1886 and continues as late as 1937; most date between 1889 and 1912. Roberts received a series of letters from William W. Eastman in South Dakota, who wrote at length about his financial difficulties. Most of his late correspondence concerns Civil War veterans' affairs, particularly related to pensions and reunions. Some writers complained about the difficulty of receiving a pension, the health issues that affected former soldiers, and Roberts's own disability claim. One printed circular contains reminiscences by members of the 28th New York Infantry Regiment (printed and distributed in May 1892). In 1912, Ziba Roberts received letters from fellow veterans regarding the 28th Regiment's annual reunion; most expressed or implied a lasting sense of comradeship with their fellow veterans, though many declined the invitation on account of poor health or other circumstances (with some reflecting on whether deaths would put future reunions in jeopardy).

The latest correspondence, written in the 1920s and 1930s, concerns the Grand Army of the Republic, insurance policies, and Roberts and Sanborn family genealogy. One correspondent returned an essay written by Ziba Roberts in December 1916: "A Brief History of the Methodist Episcopal Church at East Shelby" (enclosed with letter dated February 27, 1924). Minutes of the 28th Regiment's 68th reunion, held in May 1929, note the death of Ziba Roberts and other soldiers.

Ziba Roberts wrote two Diaries between November 14, 1861, and December 31, 1862. His daily entries concern aspects of his service with the 28th New York Infantry Regiment in Maryland and Virginia, including his imprisonment in 1862. He wrote about marches, guard duty, drills, health, and rations.

The Documents and Financial Papers series (74 items) includes legal documents and financial papers dated 1864 to 1940. Correspondence, indentures, and mortgages pertain to land ownership, management of decedents' estates, and a legal dispute between William W. Dewey and Seneca Sprout in the 1890s. Four items are Grand Army of the Republic commissions for Ziba Roberts, dated between 1918 and 1922. One group of tax receipts pertains to payments made by Ziba and Cynthia Roberts as late as 1940.

The collection's account book originally belonged to Ziba Roberts in the late 19th century. Roberts recorded around 35 pages of accounts between around 1884 and 1919, including records related to everyday purchases of food and other goods, a female domestic worker's wages, road construction, and estates. A later owner recorded tax payments for the years 1922-1944.

The Photographs series consists of 2 photograph albums and 8 loose items. Together, the photograph albums contain around 120 cartes-de-visite, tintypes, and cabinet cards. These items consist of studio portraits of members of the Roberts, Dewey, Wolcott, and Sanborn families, as well as additional friends and family members. Most of the pictures, which feature men, women, children, and infants, were taken in New York.

The loose items are made up of photographs of Ziba Roberts, including a heavily retouched portrait and a corresponding print of the original image; portraits of soldiers in the 28th New York Infantry Regiment; pictures of Colonel Dudley Donnelly's tomb; and a group of soldiers posing by the High Water Mark of the Rebellion Monument at Gettysburg. Additional items show a group posing for a souvenir photograph after a "balloon route trolley trip" in Los Angeles, California, and members of the Sprout family standing in front of their home.

The Printed Items and Ephemera series (30 items) includes Civil War materials, such as scores for the songs "We're Marching on to Richmond," "The Passing of the Veteran," "We Old Boys," and "Have You Got the Countersign"; and a printed booklet of war songs issued by the Grand Army of the Republic and related veterans' societies. Other items pertain to veterans' reunions and reminiscences.

Additional pamphlets and ephemeral items concern New York political reforms, cholera, and a meeting of the descendants of Henry Wolcott. One newspaper clipping describes the career of William Ziba Roberts. The series includes a biography of George Dewey and history of the Dewey family (Adelbert M. Dewey, 1898). The final items are World War II-era ration books, with many stamps still attached.

The Genealogy series (21 items) is comprised of records related to the Roberts and Dewey families, and to the ancestors and descendants of Ziba and Cynthia Dewey Roberts. A manuscript volume contains approximately 35 pages of family trees; registers of births, marriages, and deaths; and the military service of Daniel Roberts (Revolutionary War) and Ziba Roberts (Civil War). Other items include additional registers, death notices, and notes.

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