Jethro Sumner papers  1780-1781
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Edwin Davenport papers contain 29 letters that he wrote to his family (parents, brothers, and sister) just before and during the Civil War. The first letter recalls his trip west in the spring of 1861. He travelled by stage to the base of Mt. Greylock and continued on foot to North Adams, Massachusetts. Davenport travelled by train ("car") through Troy, Utica, Rome, and Buffalo, New York, and walked south to Ellington to stay with his uncle. He reported changes in terrain and climate and mentioned attending a Methodist spiritual meeting. In other early letters, from Oil Creek and Titusville, Pennsylvania, Davenport described the oil boom and the growth of towns and cities in the area, and commented on the difference between living in, what was then, the West and the East. One letter, for instance, referred to two men who had recently died from rattlesnake bites. In his letters from Wisconsin and Illinois, he continued to update his family on his experiences. By August of 1862, he was considering joining the Union army and wrote passionately about the crisis.

After entering the war, Davenport wrote detailed descriptions of his regiment's movements and the notable activities of the forces, Confederate and Union, around him. While he carefully reported on his orders, he also observed interesting details about the south and about the events that had taken place around him. In one undated letter, Davenport described an encounter with a runaway slave, for whom he found clothes and work for wages.

In a letter from March 25, 1863, Davenport described the destruction of the rebel gunboat Mississippi :

At 2 o'clock at night a bright light was seen in the direction of the fort: Firing immediately ceased, the light moved down the River, explosions frequently came from it. Thus for two hours it moved when a flash that lit the heavens and an explosion that shook the ground like an earthquake and the light disappeared: Sunday morning dawned all quiet. Soon we heard that the big gunboat "Mississippi" had been set on fire and blown up.

The last dated letter in the collection is from Thomas Parrish, Head Nurse at the Brashear City Hospital, who wrote the Davenport family about Edwin's death.

Davenport occasionally drew pictures on his letters. The letter from May 5, 1861, contains a sketch of an oil derrick, and the letter from September 12, 1861, contains drawings of a man stepping on a snake and a man hunting squirrels. His letters from Madison, Wisconsin, have large engraved letterheads picturing a view of the lake.

This collection also contains Davenport's corporal stripes.

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