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Museum Musings - Trash or Treasure?

Before you give away books, boxes and such, make sure you carefully go through each item just in case there is a sentimental memento or a real treasure. Several years ago, rather than send boxes of old files marked for the shredder, I decided to go through the boxes first; just in case. Out of the ten boxes, there was one treasure uncovered!

This letter is from James Barbour who was serving as Secretary of War, appointed by John Quincy Adams, from

March 8, 1825 until May 26, 1828; when he became the Minister to England until September 23, 1829.

The letter is addressed (bottom) to Thomas Swann, Esq., Prest. U.S. Branch Bank & Agent for paying Penions, Washington, District of Columbia.

Its content addresses an attached accounting (statement) alterations in the rolls of his Agency since the 4th of September 1826. It directs payment be made to all "Pensioners", and includes, in the final paragraph, the sums to be paid to "Invalid Pensioners" and "Revolutionary Pensioners..." As the letter is dated February 21, 1827, the "Invalided Pensioners" likely includes those from the War of 1812.

The Barbour family is one of several notable historic families of Orange County, Virginia; Madison and Taylor among them.

James Barbour was born in Orange County on June 10, 1775 to Thomas Barbour & Mary Pendleton at their home, Frascati. Unlike some of the earlier famous Virginians, Barbour attended common schools, educated in part by the blind Presbyterian minister, James Waddel in Gordonsville of Orange County. While serving as a deputy sheriff of Orange County he studied law. Barbour was largely self-taught and attended no institute of higher learning. Barbour married Lucy Marie Johnson of Orange County, Virginia on October 29, 1792. They had five children.

In 1794 he was admitted to the bar at Orange Court House. He served several terms in the Virginia House of Delegates (1796-1812) and as Speaker (1809-1812). Barbour also served as the Governor of Virginia (1812-1814) and then elected as an "Anti-Democrat and States Rights candidate to the U.S. Senate (1814) filling the vacancy caused by the death of Richard Brent. He was re-elected in 1821 and served until March 7, 1825 for a Cabinet portfolio, serving as President pro tempore of the Senate; Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, and then Secretary of War (as noted above). Following his service as Minister to England (5/26/1828-9/23/1829) he stepped away from public life, returning to chair the Whig National Convention in 1839. He was a rector of UVA and the founder of the Orange Humane Society that established the advancement of education for lesser fortunate youth.

James Barbour died in Barboursville, Orange County, Virginia on June 7, 1842 and is interred in the family cemetery.

JAMES BARBOUR J. Q. Adams Administration By Henry Ulke Oil on canvas, 28" x 22", 1873

The letter was a gift from L. Shackelford, 12/1/1977.


Biographical Director of the United States Congress

National Governors Association

Center of Military History, United States Army

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