Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Semantha Atkeson Papers, [1856]-1861

Finding aid created by
Mary Parsons, April 2010, and Meg Hixon, July 2011

Summary Information
Title: Semantha Atkeson papers
Creator: Atkeson, Semantha Jane.
Inclusive dates: [1856]-1861
Extent: 5 items
Abstract:
The Semantha Atkeson papers consist of three antebellum letters of a Buffalo, Virginia (now West Virginia), teenager. The fourth item is a journal excerpt describing in detail Atkeson's experiences during the opening stages of the Civil War, and the last item is a school essay written by Atkeson.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

2010. M-4784.1.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

Semantha Atkeson papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Arrangement

The collection is arranged in three series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Journal
  • Series III: School Essay

The correspondence series is arranged chronologically.


Biography

Semantha Jane Atkeson was born on January 23, 1843, in Putnam County, Virginia (now West Virginia). During the Civil War, the Atkeson family, who owned several slaves, supported the Confederacy; Semantha's two eldest brothers were killed in the war. Atkeson studied painting at the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Art following the war, and in 1875 married John Morgan, a Confederate veteran. Atkeson continued painting during this time, and eventually had four sons with John. She died on March 31, 1926.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Semantha Atkeson papers consist of three antebellum letters of a Buffalo, Virginia (now West Virginia), teenager. The fourth item is a journal excerpt describing in detail Atkeson's experiences during the opening stages of the Civil War, and the last item is a school essay written by Atkeson.

In the collection's three letters, each one page long, Semantha Atkeson corresponded with cousins and acquaintances about daily life in antebellum Buffalo, Virginia. In her letter of August [1856], written to a cousin, Semantha discussed the teachers at her school and related the burning of her Uncle Crawford's house, as well as her grandmother's close brush with death: "…it got set afire by granmother's pipe she let a coal drop on the bed in her room there…but she did not know it till she heard the ceiling crack…and when she seen the fire she was so bad scared that she could not holloar [sic]." Semantha shared further details of her studies, which she generally enjoyed, in a short letter to Mary Pattin (March [1859]). In the third, and final, letter in the collection, dated October 27, 1860, Semantha listed and described five 1859 deaths "in our family," including two "little negro boy[s]" and "old aunt Nanny…an old negro woman who had been helpless as a child for 2 years." Semantha also provided a detailed account of the illness and death of a brother, who died of an "inflammation of the brain."

The collection also contains 8 pages from Semantha's journal, written in October and November 1861, in which she recounted her experiences during the beginning stages of the Civil War. The Atkeson family staunchly supported of the Confederacy, and Semantha's writing vividly reflected their political opinions. Semantha often mocked Union soldiers and twice wrote about taunting them by cheering for Jefferson Davis. She also witnessed a gathering of hundreds of troops for the Confederate cause, and was subject to a Union search of her family's home. Her acquaintance Mary Pattin assisted in nursing wounded soldiers during this time, and Semantha wrote about Mary's experience with two soldiers who, despite both being seriously wounded, "still continued to fight they talked and argued, until they become so excited, that they were injuring their health."

Additionally, the collection holds a school essay entitled "The Bear," written by Atkeson for an assignment and received as "very good" by an instructor.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Confederate States of America. Army.
    • Putnam County (W. Va.)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Women--Education--United States.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    • Essays.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   46, Small Collections  
    Correspondence [series]:
    Folder   31  
     August [1856]
    Folder   31  
     March [1859]
    Folder   31  
      October 27, 1860
     
    Journal [series]:
    Folder   32  
      [May 1861-November 7, 1861]
     
    School Essay [series]:
    Folder   33  
    "The Bear,"  [mid-1850s]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    Morgan, John G., and Howard H. Peckham. A Point in History: The Battle of Point Pleasant. [Charleston]: The Charleston Gazette, 1975.

    Marshall University holds a collection of Morgan family papers that includes correspondence to Semantha Atkinson.

    The West Virginia University West Virginia Historical Archives and Manuscripts Collection holds the Atkeson-Morgan family papers, which include incoming and outgoing correspondence of Semantha Atkeson.

    The Cincinnati Art Museum Mary R. Schiff Library and Archives holds a collection of Semantha Atkeson letters.

    The Filson Historical Library in Louisville, Kentucky, holds a collection of Atkeson-Morgan family letters.

    Bibliography

    Cuthbert, John A. Early Art and Artists in West Virginia: An Introduction and Biographical Directory. Morgantown, W.Va.: West Virginia University Press, 2000.