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Guide to the Starkey Family Papers, 1855-1889

Collection number: MC 224

Size: 1 box (0.20 cu.ft.)

About the Starkey family

The Starkeys of West Swanzey were poor farmers and schoolteachers in rural southwestern New Hampshire in the middle of the nineteenth century. Like most American families of the era, the Starkeys lived through that great conflict of national transformation, the American Civil War. On April 26, 1861, two weeks after the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, Elmer Starkey (b. July 9, 1839) enlisted in the Union Army. He did so in probable answer to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to quash the rebellion. Technicalities involving state quotas and militia rules, however, appear to have barred Elmer and many of his fellows from mustering out. He re-enlisted for three years on May 20, 1861, as a corporal of Company G in the 2nd New Hampshire Infantry. Elmer’s uncle, Isaac Starkey, enlisted that September. The military placed him in Company E of the 2nd New Hampshire Infantry. He was forty-three years old. In joining the service, Isaac bid farewell to his wife, Fanny C. Hemingway Starkey (b. circa 1812), his daughters Ruth (March 31, 1848-Jan.19, 1863) and Martha (b. circa 1853), and two sons Milan and Martin (b. circa 1857 and 1859, respectively).

Assigned to the same regiment, Elmer and Isaac enjoyed the benefit of their proximity to each other. Elmer, for example, often took advantage of the opportunity to correspond with his Aunt Fanny and cousin Ruth at the end of Isaac’s letters. The pleasure of the other’s company, however, came with the burden of sharing the same dangers. The 2nd NH Regiment participated in the principal early engagements of the Eastern theatre of the war. These included the first Bull Run campaign in July of 1861, McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign of 1862, and the second Bull Run campaign in August of 1862. On May 5, 1862, Isaac received wounds to his back and hips in the Battle of Williamsburg. His injuries severely affected his ability to walk. “Now I am so lame that I can hardly git around,” he wrote his wife on July 18, 1862. In consideration of his disablement, the Army discharged Isaac on September 15. By that time, Elmer had also been wounded, having suffered injuries to his hip on August 29, 1862, during the Second Battle of Bull Run. Elmer spent the autumn and winter recuperating at College Hospital, Georgetown in the District of Columbia. He was officially discharged in the city of Philadelphia on January 24, 1863.

Isaac returned to his family in Swanzey with a physical handicap. He collected a pension from the government for the remainder of his life, but it appears not to have been enough to get by on. By 1870, Isaac and his son Milan were employed at a pail mill, while Martha taught in school and Fanny continued her housekeeping duties. While enduring financial strain, the couple also lost their daughter Ruth, who died on January, 19, 1863, as well as their son Martin, who passed away sometime later in the 1860s.

About the Starkey family papers

The papers of the Starkey family are chiefly composed of letters to and from family members during the first three years of the Civil War. Also included are envelopes, pension records, a few insurance company trade cards, and two poems, one of which is by Ruth Starkey. In all, the collection is composed of one hundred and two items, sixty-one of which are letters, twenty-nine are envelopes, and twelve are pension records and miscellaneous other items.

The letters of Isaac and Elmer Starkey describe the perspective and experiences of ordinary men engaged in an extraordinary conflict. One of Isaac’s letters reveals his awe at the size of the Union army. “I think it is the largest business that I ever see,” he wrote home on October 2, 1861. Uncle and nephew write of camp life, diet, drill protocol, road-building, guard duty, their Confederate opponents and “lice about as big as mice,” (Isaac to Fanny, November 11, 1861). Most of the letters, however, are not particularly colorful or expressive. There is little or no elaboration on their experiences in battle or of their belief in the righteousness of the Union cause. Sometimes, however, it is this lack of embellishment that proves to be powerful, as when Isaac writes to Fanny on April 19, 1862 that “I have not bin sorry that I come out here [and] if I dye here I mean to live so as to die in oner [honor] to my cuntry.” Isaac describes the war as “like a contra horse[:] you do not [know] when he is agoing to start nor where he is agoing to stop.”

Elmer’s correspondence with his aunt Fanny and cousin Ruth, composed from his hospital bed in D.C., are the most affecting of the letters. The young man’s suffering is palpable, as is his fear of never being able to walk again and of being a lifelong cripple. For his part, Isaac repeatedly professes his sobriety to his wife in his letters. “I have not seen a drop of licker sense I have bin here” (October 2, 1861). He records the phrase seven more times over the course of his wartime correspondence. “I mean to go in [battle] a sober man,” he writes his wife on April 19, 1862. “If I am shot,” he continues, “I mean to die a sober man.”

Isaac’s continual professions of his sobriety are in keeping with the financial plight the family finds itself in. Indeed, researchers interested in studying the trials and travails of northern women and families in the Civil War should find some useful information in this collection. Both husband and wife grapple with the consequences of failing to receive payment, whether from the army or from the town of West Swanzey. Both hold particular contempt for the latter, possibly due to the town’s lack of support while Isaac was off serving the nation’s cause. “I do not consider them any better than the Sesses,” Isaac writes of the town fathers (September 10, 1860). Fanny’s trouble in securing payment from West Swanzey’s selectmen translated into a personal battle for her family. “What a warfare I have to fight,” she writes Elmer on February 7, 1862. “I have to keep my gun loaded all the time[,] not visibly, but in mind.” Poverty is such an issue that at one point Fanny asks Isaac whether she should give away the children. Later she suggests to Elmer that the town should be sold to the rebels to get it out of poverty. Financial strain only added to the family’s emotional stress and duress. The frequent use of the words “absence” and “absent” attest to the pain of separation endured by this and many other families of the period.

Other topics of interest in the Starkey family papers include insights into health, sickness, gossip, family ties, and economy in rural New Hampshire. A few letters from Jesse Hemingway, Fanny’s brother, describe his move west and the business of his wood farm.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

This collection is open.

Copyright Notice

Contents of this collection are governed by U.S. copyright law. For questions about publication or reproduction rights, contact Special Collections staff.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Starkey Family Papers, 1855-1889, MC 224, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

Acquisitions Information

Donated: Kenneth Oros, July 2009

Collection Contents

Series I: Correspondence, 1855-1875

Subseries A: Isaac Starkey, 1860-1862

Box 1
Box 1, Folder 1 Isaac Starkey to his wife and children, 1860-1861 (9 letters)

To Fanny, Portsmouth Grove, RI, September 10, 1860
To Fanny, Manchester, NH, September 15, 1860
To Fanny and children, with letter from Elmer to Fanny, Maryland, October 2, 1861
To Fanny, Leadensburg, Maryland, October 20, 1861
To Ruth, Birds Ferry, Maryland, November 11, 1861
To Fanny, Birds Ferry, Maryland, November 25, 1861
To Fanny, Birds Ferry, Maryland, December 22, 1861
To Martha, undated
Box 1, Folder 2 Isaac Starkey to his wife and children, January-April 1862 (11 letters)

To Ruth, with letter from Elmer to Ruth, Birds Ferry, Maryland, January 15, 1862
To Fanny, Birds Ferry, Maryland, January 22, 1862
To Fanny and children, Birds Ferry, Maryland, February 17, 1862
To Ruth, with letter to Martha, Camp Beaufort, Charles County, Maryland, February 23, 1862
To Ruth, Camp Beaufort, Charles County, Maryland, March 1, 1862
To Ruth, Camp Beaufort, Charles County, Maryland, March 20, 1862
To Fanny, Camp Beaufort, Charles County, Maryland, March 23, 1862
To Ruth, Camp Beaufort, Charles County, Maryland, April 2, 1862
To Fanny and children, Yorktown, Virginia, April 19 and April 29, 1862
Box 1, Folder 3 Isaac Starkey to his wife and children, May-August 1862 (5 letters)

To Ruth, Poplar Hill, Virginia, May 27, 1862
To Fanny, Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island, July 18, 1862
To Fanny, Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island, August 5, 1862
To Fanny, Portsmouth Grove, Rhode Island, August 19, 1862
To Fanny, fragment, undated

Subseries B: Fanny Starkey Starkey, 1861-1862

Box 1, Folder 4 Fanny Starkey (wife) to Isaac, 1861-1862 (7 letters)

To Isaac, West Swanzey, NH, October 12, 1861
To Isaac, with letter to Elmer, West Swanzey, NH, January 24, 1862
To Isaac, with letter to Elmer, West Swanzey, NH, February 7, 1862
To Isaac, West Swanzey, NH, July 11, 1862
To Isaac, West Swanzey, NH, September 15, 1862

Subseries C: Ruth and Martha Starkey, 1861-1862

Box 1, Folder 5 Ruth Starkey and Martha Starkey (daughters) to Isaac,

1861-1862 (14 letters, 1 poem)

Ruth to Isaac, with letter to Elmer, West Swanzey, NH, September 20, 1861
Ruth to Isaac, with letter to Elmer, West Swanzey, NH, December 15, 1861
Ruth to Isaac, with letter to Elmer, West Swanzey, NH, January 5, 1862
Ruth to Isaac, with letter to Isaac from Fanny, West Swanzey, NH, January 28, 1862
Ruth to Isaac, West Swanzey, NH, July 20, 1862
Martha to Isaac, West Swanzey, NH, August 17, 1862
Ruth to Isaac, West Swanzey, NH, August 17, 1862
Ruth to Isaac, West Swanzey, NH, August 31, 1862
Ruth to Isaac, West Swanzey, NH, September 15, 1862
Ruth to Isaac, West Swanzey, NH, undated
Poem, “Don’t run in debt,” by Ruth Starkey, undated

Subseries D: Elmer Starkey, 1861-1862

Box 1, Folder 6 Elmer Starkey to Fanny and Isaac,

1861-1862 (5 letters)

Isaac to Ruth, with letter from Elmer to Fanny, Camp Baker, Hilltop, Maryland, November 11, 1861
Elmer to Isaac and Fanny, College Hospital, Georgetown, D.C., November 1, 1862
Elmer to Isaac, College Hospital, Georgetown, D.C., November 20, 1862
Elmer to Isaac, College Hospital, Georgetown, D.C., December 4, 1862

Subseries E: Miscellaneous Family, 1855-1875

Box 1, Folder 7 Miscellaneous family member correspondence,

1855-1875 (11 letters)

Jesse Hemingway to Fanny, Pipestone, New York, January 31, 1855
Niece Mary E. Parker to Fanny, Pottersville, NH, June 2, 1861
Anne H. Wheelock to her brother, Swanzey, NH, February 2, 1862
Nephew R. and niece Mira Hemingway to Fanny, Sodus,

March 25, 1863 (2 letters)

Niece Mary E. Parker to Fanny, Pottersville, NH, May 24, 1864
Niece Mary Wright to Fanny, West Swanzey, NH, December 16, 1864
Niece Mary Richardson to Fanny, New Alstead, January 11, 1869
Jesse Hemingway to Fanny, Saint Joseph, March 23, 1873
Jesse Hemingway to Fanny, Saint Joseph, April 18, 1875
Letter fragment, undated

Subseries F: Envelopes, 1861-1863

Box 1, Folder 8 Envelopes, 1861-1863 (29 envelopes)

Series II: Miscellaneous and Pension Documents, 1869-1889, 1869-1889

Subseries : Pension Documents, 1869-1889

Box 1, Folder 9 Pension records, 1869-1889 (7 documents)

Elbry Albee to Isaac, Winchester, NH, September 30, 1869
Pension circular, Concord, NH, February, 1870
Pension circular, Concord, NH, August, 1870
Pension circular, Washington, D.C., December 18, 1887
P. J. Lockwood to Isaac, Washington, D.C., December 5, 1888
Physician’s affidavit, 1889
P. J. Lockwood to Isaac, Washington, D.C., January 14, 1889

Subseries : Miscellaneous documents, undated

Box 1, Folder 10 Miscellaneous documents, undated (4 items)

NH Fire Insurance Company cards, undated (2)

Blank note addressed to Mrs. William, undated
Poem, “The Battle of Bull Run,” by E. Norman Gunnison, undated

One Response to “Guide to the Starkey Family Papers, 1855-1889”

  1. Ken Oros Says:

    These are letters that had been saved in boxes and were carefully taken out on occasion to look at. The penmanship was amazing and told a story in itself as you watched Isaac’s bold cursive handstroke evolve into a weak scraggly line after his injuries. I thank the University Library for taking the time and making the effort to capture and record the stories of my family. Without their efforts these artifacts would still be in held boxes and the stories and sentiments never expressed for all of us to see and share. Ken Oros

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