Digitizing the Governor Milton Letterbook (Part One)

Reunited, and It Feels So Good…

On July 10, 2013, volume one of Governor John Milton’s letterbooks returned to Tallahassee. The mostly dis-bound, fire-damaged letterbook resided in Florida’s capital city on at least two separate occasions prior to this year when the Florida Historical Society lent it to the State Archives for digitization.

The State Archives holds part two of Milton’s letterbooks, which covers the period from 1863 to 1865, but this is the first time in a long time that both volumes have been in the same location. The story of how these two letterbooks were reunited in Tallahassee reveals the often circuitous route taken by historical documents, from the time of their creation until they find a permanent home.

Letter from John Milton to Jefferson Davis, November 1861

Letter from John Milton to Jefferson Davis, November 1861

The most obvious distinguishing feature about volume one of Milton’s letterbook is the fire-damaged pages. The fire in question occurred at the residence of William Hall Milton, grandson of John Milton, in Marianna, Florida, in about 1912. According to W.H. Milton, the fire burned many family papers, but a tin box preserved the letterbook and a few other documents tucked safely inside.

In 1937, W.H. Milton came into contact with Daisy Parker, a student at the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee (FSCW). Parker was in the process of writing a senior paper on John Milton and somehow became aware of the singed papers in Marianna.

Kathryn Abbey, a professor at FSCW, wrote to Watt Marchman, a professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, about Parker’s discovery. Marchman, a member of the Florida Historical Society (FHS), contacted W.H. Milton about adding the letterbook to their collections. Milton agreed to the proposal, and promised to have the letterbook forwarded to Jacksonville (then the home of the FHS) upon the completion of Parker’s research.

The letterbook arrived in Jacksonville on July 1, 1937. It is not known whether Parker consulted volume two of Milton’s letterbooks, which at the time resided at the State Library in Tallahassee, or if she ever submitted her senior paper.

And so it was that one Milton letterbook left Tallahassee for the second time since its creation during the early years of the Civil War.

By 1979, the FHS collection, including volume one of Milton’s letterbooks, had been transferred to the University of South Florida in Tampa. Archivists overseeing the FHS collections contacted the Bureau of Archives and Records Management (BARM) in Tallahassee about exchanging copies of the letterbooks to aid researchers at both institutions. In the summer of 1979, an agreement was made and the two repositories swapped photocopies of their Milton letterbooks.

Since the exchange of photocopies in 1979, researchers at both institutions (FHS later moved to Cocoa, Florida) have enjoyed access to the complete John Milton letterbooks, though with one volume at both sites being in the form of photocopies.

Because of the fragile nature of the fire-damaged portions of the letterbook, few researchers have had access to the volume one originals. This will remain the case, but through digitization researchers can now see the originals online, burnt edges and all.

Careful high-resolution scanning of the originals will ensure the continued integrity of the documents as well as make them available online via the Florida Memory website. The digitization of this project is ongoing and should be completed in the summer of 2014.

Stay tuned for future posts on interesting finds in the charred pages of John Milton’s first letterbook…

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4 thoughts on “Digitizing the Governor Milton Letterbook (Part One)

  1. Pingback: Friday News Round-Up | Florida-Archivist.org

  2. I didn’t realize these letter books were in existence. This is
    great to be able to preserve and share these with the public. Thanks for the work.

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