James Davie Butler Papers, 1706, 1765-1912

Summary Information
Title: James Davie Butler Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1706, 1765-1912

  • Butler, James Davie, 1815-1905
Call Number: Wis Mss KK

Quantity: 5.4 c.f. (1 record center carton, 14 archives boxes, and 1 flat box)

Archival Locations:
Wisconsin Historical Society (Map)

Correspondence, memorandum books, diaries, and addresses of James Davie Butler, professor of ancient languages and literature at the University of Wisconsin, 1858-1867, lecturer, and antiquarian. The bulk of the early papers, 1797-1844, concerns the business affairs of James Butler, Sr., a merchant of Rutland, Vermont. Butler's own correspondence, mainly 1870-1905, deals with Wisconsin Indian languages and archeology; the Frederick S. Perkins collection of copper implements; history and identification of portraits of Christopher Columbus; genealogy of the Butler and Weatherbee families; book collecting; numismatics; and personal matters. There is a 12-page letter by James Stevenson giving personal recollections of James Bridger; memorandum books and diaries, particularly for 1839-1844, including a trip to Europe in 1842, and much briefer notes on later travels; a commonplace book kept by Butler, and one kept by Joseph Hinde, started in 1706; and articles, sermons, and addresses.

Language: English

URL to cite for this finding aid: http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/wiarchives.uw-whs-wis000kk
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The activities of Butler as pastor, teacher, lecturer, world traveler, scholar, antiquarian, and genealogist covered an unusually wide field of experience. Born in Vermont and educated in New England, he spent the first years of his life out of college as a Congregational minister. He retired from the pulpit over half a century before his death, but frequently thereafter served as supply pastor and as chaplain of university commencements. In 1858 he came to Madison as a member of the university faculty, but retired from teaching in 1867. He continued to reside in Madison, except for his frequent and often protracted trips abroad and to other parts of the United States until the end in 1905.

Scope and Content Note

The Butler Papers are organized in three groups: Correspondence, Articles and Sermons, and Notebooks and Diaries.

CORRESPONDENCE: The two boxes of correspondence cover the years 1776-1901, the material up to 1844 being the papers of his father, James Butler, Sr., a merchant of Rutland, Vermont. Included are drafts, receipts, notes, inventories of stock in the general store, accounts of estates administered, and a few letters to his children and to merchants. After 1844 there is a gap in the material until the seventies, and from then on material pertains largely to five general subjects.

Indian antiquities . There are a number of letters relating to Indian history, relics, and mounds, and particularly concerning the collection of copper implements for the Wisconsin Historical Society's museum. There are replies to inquiries which Butler made, and some correspondence relating to the large and valuable collection of copper specimens belonging to Fred S. Perkins, including a catalog of the collection in 1885. There are a number of rough drawings and illustrations of copper implements and relics, and some correspondence with Horace Rublee in Berne, Switzerland and with European antiquarian societies.

Indian linquistics . There are some letters relating to the subject of Indian sign language, Indian word etymology, and Indian vocabularies.

History, identification, and description of portraits of Columbus is the subject of a group of letters grouped around the years 1882-1883.

A fourth group deals with genealogical matters , particularly the genealogy of the Butler family and early Wisconsin families.

Miscellany . Scattered letters relate to the purchase of rare books, to numismatics, the stockade at Rice Lake, and personal matters. There is some data in a questionnaire answered by George W. Jones on the route of retreat of Blackhawk's forces in 1832. A twelve-page letter (February 28, 1886) of James Stevenson gives personal recollections of his acquaintanceship and travels with James Bridger. Other correspondents include S. F. Haven, Bela Hubbard, and Charles P. Daly (the latter has only two letters).

ARTICLES AND SERMONS: These cover a wide range of subjects. Most of the manuscripts are articles. When he came to Madison, popular lectures were much in vogue, and it was probably for public occasions that many of the articles were written. The variety of subjects may be indicated by a sampling of titles: “Rambling among the Ruins of Rome,” “Our Composite Nationality,” “Characteristics of a College,” “The Alps,” “Legendary Lore,” “Vocabulary of Shakespeare,” “Aesthetic Culture,” “Fourth of July Gratiot,” “Soldiers' Duty,” and “Prehistoric Wisconsin.”

NOTEBOOKS AND DIARIES: It was Butler's habit all his life to keep notebooks and diaries chronicling the events of the year. Some of the volumes date from college days and contain class lecture notes. Others have to do with the genealogy of the Wetherbee family, material for Rutland history, and sermon notes. He tells in other notebooks of his travels, of his European trip of 1842-1843, his trip to Florida and Cuba, 1887, and his trip around the world, 1890-1891. There is a boarding house account book for his first years in Madison, a manuscript volume entitled Hinde's Commonplace Book, dated 1706, and presented to Butler in 1882. Of his own making is the huge Index Rerum, a commonplace book begun in 1836 while a college senior and kept to the end of his life. In it Butler entered quotations from books, brief notes summarizing such works, his own ideas, thoughts, facts, and impressions resulting from conversations with people, etc. There is also a book of witticisms. A daybook, 1796, which apparently belonged to his father, is in the collection. Two volumes of Butler family genealogy are also in the collection.

Administrative/Restriction Information
Acquisition Information

Papers primarily presented by Mrs. B. W. Snow and Anna Butler, 1906; Anna Butler, 1938; and Mrs. Burr Jones, 1945. The Index Rerum was presented by Henry S. Butler, September 14, 1933. Several items in Box 10 were presented by Mrs. Burr Jones, July 1947. A letter dated Madison, March 29, 1902 by J. D. Butler was presented by Edwin H. Frost, January 31, 1949. Purchased from Mrs. Grace (Woodhead) Zeiss, October 1949, are correspondence of J. D. Butler with John E. Woodhead, dated October 27, 1888 - February 17, 1894, and typed copies of 2 articles written by Butler for Mind in Nature, March 1885 and February 1887; also letters dated August 1869 and February 18, 1888 written by John Muir to Mr. and Mrs. Butler. Four items were presented by Mary Isabel Winslow, Dodge City, Kansas, November 11, 1974.

Contents List
Wis Mss KK
Series: Correspondence
Box   1
Folder   1
Box   1
Folder   2
Box   1
Folder   3
1847, 1867-1869, 1873-1876
Box   1
Folder   4
Box   1
Folder   5
Box   2
Folder   1
Box   2
Folder   2
Box   2
Folder   3
Box   2
Folder   4
Box   3-10
Series: Articles and Sermons
Scope and Content Note: These materials are unfoldered and seem to be in no order. Box 10 also includes three folders. One folder contains several mementos: a typescript of paper, probably read before the Douglas County bar banquet, February 24, 1900 and before the state bar banquet, July 15, 1915; an obituary; two Civil War discharges; and a certificate of thanks issued by the President of the U.S., dated December 15, 1864 (presented by Mrs. Burr Jones). The second folder contains typed copies of two articles written by Butler for Mind in Nature, March 1885 and February 1887 (presented by Mrs. Grace Woodhead Zeiss). The third folder contains four items, 1902-1905, concerning Butler birthday celebrations (presented by Mary Isabel Winslow).
Series: Notebooks and Diaries
Box   11-14
54 unnumbered small volumes of various kinds
Box   16
Volume   1
Index Rerum of James D. Butler
Box   16
Volume   2
Joseph Hinde's Commonplace Book, 1706
Box   15
Volume   3
Daybook of James and Anthony Butler (begins in , 1796)
Box   16
Volume   4
A partial list of published writings of J. D. Butler
Box   15
Volume   5
Butler family genealogy. O.
Box   16
Volume   6
Butler family genealogy. F.