Guide to the John H. James Collection: Manuscripts

John H. James Collection: Manuscripts
Miami University
Phone: 513-529-6720
James, John Hough, 1800-1881
22 linear feet
This collection features correspondence, diaries, photographs and account books belonging to John H. James and various James family members. John Hough James, Abigail Bailey James, Ellen Rachel James, Gertrude James, and John Henry James are featured. Much of the correspondence is related to James's business interests in the Urbana Champaign Mutual Bank Co., the Urbana Banking Co, and the Mad River Railroad. Various bound manuscripts, including account books, ledgers, and journals, provide insight into James' life as a student, his experiences in the Ohio State Senate, the creation of the Urbana Banking Company, and finally, various trips and excursions taken by James and his family.
Mss. Coll. James: Manuscripts
The records are in English

Biography of James Family

John Hough James (1800-1881) was a native of Urbana, Ohio and a graduate of Cincinnati College. He was a lawyer, banker, railroad builder, scientific farmer and stockbreeder, legislator, politician, editor, lecturer and writer. A friend of Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison, James utilized his work as a lawyer and legislator in advising Whig leaders in Congress and the General Assembly of Ohio. As a banker and railroad builder, James was a pioneer in the development of western banking and transportation. He was treasurer and president of the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad, building one of the earliest railroads of the country. He also pursued farming and stockbreeding. Finally, James founded Urbana University, the first Swedenborgian College in the world, giving the land for the campus and serving as a lifelong trustee for the institution. John H. James married Abigail Bailey in 1825. The couple had four children: Ellen Rachel (1826), Gertrude Vanuxem (1828), Francis Bailey (1831), and John Henry (1834), who was affectionately called Bub as a child. All of James' children are featured prominently in this collection with the exception of Francis Bailey who died in early childhood. Ellen Rachel and Gertrude Vanuxem spent most of their adolescence living with James' family in Cincinnati while attending private schools. After completing their educations, James' daughters traveled extensively to visit family and friends and to attend various societal functions. In 1856, Gertrude married Henry Thayer Niles, with whom she had six children: John James, Gertrude, Ellen James, Frank Bailey, Anna Lathrop and Helen. After attending the Kentucky Military Institute, John Henry James traveled briefly throughout the Midwest as a land surveyor. In 1861, John Henry joined the Union Army as an officer and was engaged in several prominent battles of the Civil War. Suffering from typhoid fever and dysentery, John Henry resigned from the Army in 1863. While taking care of a very ill John Henry, both his mother Abigail and his sister Ellen fell ill and died. After recovering from his sickness, John Henry married Harriet Lynch in 1863. The couple had seven children: Abbe Bailey, Margaret Lynch, Gertrude Vanuxem, John Hough, Alexander Lane, Harriet and Fanny. Following the deaths of Ellen Rachel James and Abigail Bailey James in 1863, John Hough James devoted much of his time to the "New Church" or Swedenborgian religion. The remaining eighteen years of James' life were spent practicing law, attending New Church conventions, and entertaining his surviving children and grandchildren at his Urbana home.

Scope and Content

The collection begins in 1826 with correspondence between John H. James and his business associates and clients. Correspondence continues throughout the 1820s and 1830s as James was first working on his father's steamboat and frequently traveling down the Mississippi River from Louisville, Kentucky to New Orleans, Louisiana, and later practicing law in Cincinnati. Many of the letters focus on John's career and detailed discussion of his various financial and business endeavors. While practicing law, John writes most frequently about significant court cases, trial outcomes and travel to Indianapolis for U.S. Circuit Court. As a founding member of the Urbana Banking Company, James writes about both the rise and fall of the banking company, as he struggled to maintain internal relations among board members and investors. Beginning his term as a State Senator in 1836, James made frequent trips to Columbus. In his letters, James discusses proposed legislation and Congressional sessions, but also interactions with prominent members of Columbus society. Finally James exchanges letters which briefly describe his attempts to pass legislation in the Senate pertaining to railroads. After serving as a State Senator, James returned to work as an attorney, making frequent mention of various court cases and their respective locales throughout both Ohio and Indiana. During this time, James also honed his interest in finance and business; purchasing stock in the Ohio Insurance Co. and serving on the board of a railroad company. James exchanges numerous letters with O. Follett of Sandusky concerning railroads and business ventures in Northern Ohio. Additionally, James writes to many bankers in the region, discussing local business activities and policies. The 1850s brought James new opportunity and business in the form of Urbana College. As one of the founders of the Swedenborgian-based institution, James dutifully comments on the construction and development of the newly established college. The letters that James wrote in the early 1860s are filled with information pertaining to the Civil War. As a Union Officer, James' son John Henry wrote home frequently, describing battles and life as a soldier. During this time, James also wrote to other high ranking Union officials concerning both his son's placement and significant battles and skirmishes. Falling victim to illness, James' son, John Henry is forced to resign from the army in February of 1863. In their attempt to restore the veteran to a stable condition, James wife and daughter Ellen contract the illness themselves. Following the death of his daughter and wife, James busies himself with attending the General Convention of the New Church in Philadelphia along with John Henry's marriage to Hattie Lynch. Throughout the remainder of the 1860s, James became increasingly involved in both the New Church, and building his own personal library. During the late 1860s and early 1870s James also writes to and receives letters from various organizations and societies of which he was a member or had a vested interest in, such as the Ohio Horticulture Society and the Western Reserve Historical Society. James personal financial records are included in the collection, providing insight into the James family estate. Additionally, compilations of various newspapers are present, offering a glimpse into late 19th century print material. The concluding series in the collection features photographs of James and his extended family. Images and postcards of the James house and library in Urbana are also included.

Statement of Arrangement

Series I: Bound Manuscripts Subseries I: Business Correspondence Subseries II: Miscellaneous Business Subseries III: Personal Records Series II: Photographs Series III: Miscellaneous Papers

Restrictions on Use

Reproduction of materials in the collection is subject to the restrictions of copyright law. To use any materials not yet in the public domain, the researcher must obtain permission from the copyright holder.

Restrictions on Access

This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the Walter Havighurst Special Collections, Miami University Libraries.

Related Material: Related Material

Smith, William E. and Ophia D. A Buckeye Titan. Cincinnati, OH: Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, 1953. (Spec Covington Collection | CT275.J294 S5)

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to provide access to this collection:


Lawyers--Ohio--19th century
New Jerusalem Church--Ohio--19th Century
Politicians--Ohio--19th century


Urbana Banking Company (Urbana, Ohio)
Urbana University (Urbana, Ohio)


United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
Urbana (Ohio)--19th century

Material Types:

account books
business letters
letters (correspondence)

Preferred Citation

John H. James Collection, Walter Havighurst Special Collections, Miami University Libraries

Acquisition Information

The John H. James Collection was purchased by the Miami University Libraries with the assistance of Dr. Edgar King and James' biographers Dr. William and Ophia Smith.