Thomas Corwin Donaldson


The "Memoirs" of Thomas Donaldson
Edited By Watt P. Marchman

(The Memoirs are in 3 sections according to dates)
(Dated 1872-1877)
(Dated 1878-1880)
(Dated 1881-1893)

Thomas Corwin Donaldson, "one of my personal friends, a young man of talents and wonderful energy," as President Hayes described him in May 1879, was born in Columbus, Ohio, on December 27, 1843, the eldest son of Luther and Jane Ijams Donaldson who were natives of Maryland. Luther Donaldson was a Columbus banker (Miller, Donaldson & Co.) and a Columbus city councilman for many years (1853-1872), president of the council (1859-1871), and a police commissioner (1873). He was also a vice president (1880) and director of the Columbus Cabinet Company, manufacturer of furniture and chairs.

"Tom" Donaldson was educated in the Columbus schools and at Capital University. When the Civil War broke out, "Tom’s" patriotism led him to enlist; and, on August 11, 1861, at the age of 17 years, as the youngest man in his regiment, he entered upon an enlistment of three years’ service in the 19th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was placed with the field and staff headquarters, and soon became the regimental wagonmaster. Injured in action, Tom was discharged on the surgeon’s certificate of disability at Corinth, Mississippi, on June 15, 1862. Subsequently, he engaged in secret service work in the Gulf States for a time, and in 1863 went north to Philadelphia.

Tom Donaldson, though, was not yet finished with military service. In order to avoid restrictions of physical disability against further service, he enlisted for a year, under the assumed name Jeremiah L. Lingard, in the 199th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, on September 21, 1864. Assigned to the field and staff headquarters as first lieutenant and regimental quartermaster, Donaldson served only a few weeks, being discharged by special order on November 13, 1864.

Back in Columbus after the War was over, he obtained a position in the office of the Secretary of State of Ohio, under William Henry Smith.

At about this time in his life he became interested in politics and in the law. Taking the stump for the Union Republicans in Franklin County, Ohio, he made speeches in several communities throughout the county. In 1867 he became a delegate from the second ward of Columbus to the State Union Republican Convention, meeting in Columbus, and was named Secretary of the Convention, serving with General Robert C. Schenck as President. It was this Convention which nominated Rutherford B. Hayes for his first term as Governor. The following year, 1868, Donaldson continued his political enthusiasm and was made marshal for a Union Republican rally in Columbus’ second ward, in October.

Between political campaigns, Donaldson read law with Gideon F. Castle, of Columbus, and was admitted to the Ohio bar on March 26, 1868. A month earlier, on February 24, 1868, he was married to Mary Gormley, of Columbus. There were three children born to Thomas and Mary Donaldson: Thomas Blaine Donaldson; Mamie E. Donaldson (Mrs. H. P. Obdyke) and Lena P. Donaldson.

In 1869, Donaldson received an appointment as Register of the Public Land Office for the Territory of Idaho, at Boise City, an office which shifted his career opportunities from his native state.

The Idaho of 1869 was an expansive frontier for the young Ohio couple, and it would be more than 20 years before the Territory would become a state. At Boise City, between 1869 and 1875 Donaldson worked hard and earned the confidence of his associates. He became a public figure by serving as clerk of the Third Judicial District, Idaho Territory, and Boise City, between 1871 and 1873, and also as clerk of the Supreme Court of the Territory. On August 13, 1869 he was appointed by Jacob D. Cox, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, to superintend the construction of the Boise City penitentiary, a commission which he completed satisfactorily in 1870.

Between 1873 and 1876, Donaldson served as mineral commissioner for the United States Centennial Commission, and in this capacity became active as a general agent (1874-1884) for the Smithsonian Institution in preparing the Smithsonian’s mineral exhibit at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. "The arrangement made with Mr. Thomas Donaldson," the Secretary of the Smithsonian reported later, "to gather a full series of the ores of the precious metals of gold, silver and mercury from the Western States and Territories… continued to be highly productive, Mr. Donaldson personally visiting a great number of mining localities, and obtaining a full series of specimens, many of them rich in bullion and thus of very considerable commercial value." This "immense series… gathered by him at the request of the Smithsonian Institution of 1874, 1875 and 1876," continued the Secretary, constituted "the largest part of the great display of the mineral wealth of the country made under the auspices of the Institution in the government building at the International Exhibition of 1876."

In fulfilling the Smithsonian assignment, Thomas and Mary Donaldson moved to San Francisco in 1875 for a few months. Then, when he was named United States Commissioner from Idaho to the Centennial Exposition, he returned to Philadelphia where he was to remain the balance of his life. However, he never gave up his interest in and support of Idaho and its people. In recognition of his continuous support, in 1890, the year in which Idaho became a state, Governor George L. Shoup appointed him aide-de-camp on his staff with rank of lieutenant–colonel.

Prior to the Centennial Exposition’s opening in Philadelphia on May 10, 1876, Donaldson spent much time in the government building assisting Professor William P. Blake and others in organizing and in arranging the mineral specimens for display.

Settling in Philadelphia, Donaldson began to read law with F. Carroll Brewster, and in due course was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. And he again entered into politics, becoming an alternate delegate for Idaho at the Republican National Convention in Cincinnati in 1876, the convention which nominated Rutherford B. Hayes for President. Between 1876 and 1880 he represented Idaho on the National Republican Committee; and as a delegate and Committeeman he became, and continued to be, a strong supporter of James G. Blaine for President. In fact, Blaine was to recommend him to President Hayes for a position in 1877 in these terms: "He is wonderfully efficient, and would be of inestimable use & advantage…. He knows everybody and everybody knows ‘Tom’ and everybody likes him…."

As soon as Hayes had settled in the Executive Mansion in Washington, Thomas Donaldson renewed his acquaintance with the former Ohio Governor. There then developed a warm intimate relationship between the two men and with members of the President’s family. Donaldson’s visits to the White House became frequent.

Among other things, Donaldson shared with President Hayes an interest in collecting Americana—old and rare books, manuscripts and documents, and relics of the "forefathers," etc. The President’s interest at this time was particularly strong because he was involved in building and furnishing a public library and museum in Fremont, Ohio, now the Birchard Public Library of Sandusky County. And, occasionally, Donaldson was able to undertake errands for the President and Mrs. Hayes and for their son Webb, the President’s personal secretary; and Donaldson once took Rud Hayes, the President’s third son, a student at Cornell University, with him on a fifteen day trip to New Mexico, in search of mineral specimens, during the latter part of April, 1880.

Donaldson sent to the President from time to time packets of autographic letters of important or interesting personages, "duplicates from my collection," he said, "and you know all of my duplicates go to you. Some are big men, some are small…."

After he left the White House, the ex-President asked Donaldson for an occasional favor. "If you could quietly pick up an old fashioned, heavy [door] knocker—a historical house [knocker] preferred, but any house’s cast off knocker, if of fair repute, will do," Hayes wrote to him. "And then come out [to Spiegel Grove] and knock with it. If no one comes to answer your call, walk in and make your self at home."

A particularly special errand the ex-President asked him to do. "I want to give Unglaub a New Year’s present of a watch. He was engineer of our train at the time of the accident near Baltimore. Let it be fit and worthy with this inscription engraved on it: "To John M. Unglaub. In grateful recognition of his courage and fidelity. 5 March 1881. R. B. Hayes, L. W. Hayes."

The circumstances of the presentation were this: On March 5, 1881, the special train bearing ex-President and Mrs. Hayes and family and friends, under the charge of Engineer John Unglaub, was returning the Hayes family from the Garfield Inauguration to their home in Fremont, Ohio. The train collided with an unscheduled extra going South, and both trains were wrecked, the engineer of the extra being killed. According to the Washington Evening Star, "Engineer John M. Unglaub … stood manfully at his post, reversing the engine as soon as he saw the approaching extra, but failed to avert the accident. Mr. Unglaub was badly injured, and Mr. and Mrs. Hayes, when they were made aware of the facts, with tears in their eyes thanked Mr. Unglaub, saying that he had not only saved their lives but those of others on the train." The Hayeses also provided every attention for his care and recuperation at his home in Baltimore.

Donaldson had the watch made to order in Philadelphia, and on the outer case he had engraved: "J.M.U." And Donaldson personally went to the engine house in Washington on January 3, 1882, found Unglaub there and presented him with the watch, together with a letter from ex-President and Mrs. Hayes.

As one result of his work with the Public Land Office and with ores and minerals, Donaldson was invited to serve on several national assay commissions. On July 3, 1879, President Hayes appointed him a member of the "Commission to Codify the Land Laws," authorized by an Act of Congress and passed on March 3, 1879. Three members of the Commission were named by Congress in the Act and three were appointed by the President. The commission consisted of James A. Williamson, Commissioner of the General Land Office, President; Clarence E. Dutton, Captain, Ordnance, U.S. Army, Secretary; Clarence King, U.S. Geologist; and Alexander T. Britton, Thomas Donaldson and John W. Powell, appointees of the President.

The Commission’s report was made to the President and to Congress in 1880, and was published in five different volumes. In its report, the Commission stated that "Mr. Thomas Donaldson undertook the compilation of a detailed history of the origin, organization, and progress of the public land systems. The result of this work is… entitled ‘The Public Domain—Its History, with Statistics.’ It contains thirty-three chapters [and 544 pages] giving the origin, growth, and disposition of the public domain, tracing the several systems of operations under, and results of, the several acts for the sale and disposition of the public lands up to June 30, 1880."

Although no longer a resident of Idaho, Donaldson kept his interest alive in the political and other activities of the Territory. In recognition of this continued interest, President Hayes, on June 16, 1880, when he was in Washington, offered him the governorship of the Territory, to succeed Governor Mason Brayman (R.A. Sidebotham was acting governor at the time), but Donaldson declined the appointment. He recommended to the President, however, the appointment of John Baldwin Neil (son of Robert E. Neil, an early settler of Columbus, Ohio), a Columbus classmate of Donaldson’s, who had been President Hayes’ private secretary between 1870 and 1872 when the President was Governor of Ohio. Neil, who had served more recently as Register of the Land Office at Salt Lake City, Utah, under President Hayes’ appointment in 1878, was nominated, confirmed and served 1880-1883 as Territorial Governor.

Donaldson continued his work for the United States National Museum and for the Smithsonian, obtaining gifts for the collections, and undertook, at the prompting of Spencer F. Baird, Secretary of the Smithsonian, the preparation of a descriptive history and illustrated catalogue of the George Catlin Indian Gallery in the National Museum. His labors on this assignment produced a monumental work, which was originally published, with portraits, plates and maps, as Part V (939 pages) of the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution…(Part III), Washington, Government Printing Office, 1886.

Secretary Baird of the Smithsonian also commissioned Thomas Donaldson, "whose services," he said, "to the Institution during the Centennial Exhibition had been of great value," to call on Mons. de la Batut when he was in France in 1878. The latter, Secretary Baird said, "had presented the Institution with relics of James Smithson." Donaldson was requested to "procure from him all the information he could furnish relative to the founder of this Institution," Mr. de la Batut being "the half-brother of the nephew of Smithson." Donaldson was successful in obtaining a few things of interest relative to the Smithsonian’s founder.

It was to follow, as the preparations for the 11th Census of the United States in 1890 were being made, that Donaldson would be called upon to serve as chief of the Indian Statistics for the Census. He was to prepare and publish several monographs for the Census. These included Indians, the Six Nations of New York; North American Indians in the United States (Alaska excepted); Moqui Pueble Indians of Arizona; Pueblo Indians of Mexico; and Report on Indians Taxed and Not Taxed in the United States (Except Alaska).

Other writings on other subjects followed from Donaldson’s pen. These included feature articles for newspapers; a book, Walt Whitman, the Man (New York: F.P. Harper, 1896), written as a tribute to the poet with whom he had shared an intimate friendship; and Idaho of Yesterday (Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, 1941), edited after his death by his son, Thomas Blaine Donaldson.

While in pursuit of his various activities and associations with the Public Land Office, with the Smithsonian Institution and with his active role as an attorney in Philadelphia, Donaldson became an avid collector. His Philadelphia residence became a veritable museum of Americana with relics and souvenirs of all kinds; a gallery of art works, fine glass and porcelain pieces; and a manuscript collection of considerable importance.

About two years after his death, Donaldson’s extensive collection of relics of the American Indians, consisting of samples of work of the mound-builders; blankets, wampum and pipes from every tribe of American Indians; head-dresses; horse equipment and ornaments; were sold to John Wanamaker of Philadelphia who presented the collection to the museum of the University of Pennsylvania.

In Donaldson’s collection of autographs at the time of his death were letters from the men who signed the United States Constitution; the original Thirteenth Amendment with the signatures attached; several autograph letters of George Washington, and Washington’s order book used for months in the Revolutionary War; General U.S. Grant’s famous "unconditional surrender" letter: and letters of exceptional content from politicians, musicians, poets and orators.

Donaldson’s private art gallery contained more than 175 modern paintings by 125 European and American artists, and a collection of European and Japanese porcelains, cut glassware, ivory carvings, small bronzes, etc., over a hundred pieces. After his death the art collection was auctioned off on October 30-November 1, 1899, by the Davis & Harvey Galleries, of Philadelphia.

Among the artists and their works which were represented in Donaldson’s collections were: Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Windsor Castle by Moonlight; Washington Allston (1779-1843), Danoe and the Golden Shower; Richard Parkes Bonington (1801-1828), English Landscape; George de Forest Brush (1855-1941), On the Shore of Lake Erie; Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875), two landscapes; Jean Baptiste Edouard Detaille (1848-1912), The Wounded Comrade, and The Sentry; Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Pena (1807-1876), two landscapes; William Michael Harnett (1848-1892), Fruit; Thomas Hill (1829-1908), Mount Rainier; Snowy Range Back of Olympia, Washington, and Yosemite Valley, from Inspiration Point; Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891), The Musician; The Cavalier (watercolor), and A Courier (watercolor); Edward Moran (1829-1901), Studying Nature; Peter Moran (1842-1914), On the Tesuque Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico; At the Drinking Place; Cattle at Twilight; and The Mexican Burros; Thomas Moran (1837-1926), The Valley of the Rio Virgin, Utah; Coast of Florida—Above Tampa Bay; and The Tower—Sunset; Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685), Man Drinking; George Romney (1734-1802), Joseph Brant; The Mohawk Chief; Theodore Rousseau (1812-1867), Landscape; William Shayer (1788-1879), Fisherman on the Beach; and The Fishing Boat; Christopher H. Shearer (1840-1926), White Landscape; Landscape; and Ringing Rock Hill, Montgomery County, Pa.; Thomas Sully (1783-1872), Mother and Child; and The Sisters; William Thomas Trego (1759-1909), Artillery Going Into Action; Constant Tryon (1810-1865), Cattle in the Fields; and Horses in the Field; and John Harrison Witt (1840-1900), A Quiet Pool.

In Donaldson’s collections were many souvenirs and relics of famous personages. Pieces of furniture from President Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet Room in the White House were included, as were President James A. Garfield’s chair used while he was at the White House; a chair of General William T. Sherman’s; General Philip H. Sheridan’s parade sword and the bit that was in the mouth of his horse on the famous run from Winchester to Cedar Creek at a critical time during the Civil War; Walt Whitman’s chair and his street cane; and Indian Chieftain Joseph Brant’s tomahawk used by him in the Wyoming (Pa.) massacre.

Relics of theatrical interest were also represented in Donaldson’s collections, reflecting his enthusiasm for actors and the theatre. There was Sir Henry Irving’s sword used by the actor in Othello; Charlotte Cushman’s staff which she used in Meg Merrilies; Joseph Jefferson’s gun in Rip Van Winkle; Sarah Bernhardt’s handkerchief and fan; playbills in large numbers; and other items of the theatre.

During his diversified career Thomas Donaldson was brought into numerous associations, political and social organizations and clubs, in Philadelphia, in Washington, and in other cities. He became a charter member of the Philadelphia Clover Club; a member of the Cosmos Club of Washington; the Ohio Society of New York; the State Fencibles of Ohio; the Grand Army of the Republic; art clubs; lawyer’s clubs and bar associations.

An unidentified memoralist said of him at the time of his death: Thomas Donaldson "… was an intense American… He wished to preserve, as far as possible, the historical landmarks of American History… His mind was an inexhaustible reservoir of anecdote and incident" and he was "a most interesting talker… He possessed the friendship and confidence of a large number of our public men… and devoted a considerable portion of his time gathering and recording inside facts and unpublished stories about the great men and great events in our recent history."

It had been his purpose, before he died, to edit and publish his notes and materials as a "memoir." However, when he learned that William Henry Smith, who had been Secretary of State of Ohio when he was in Columbus, had undertaken to write a memorial biography of President Hayes, Donaldson sent Smith notes and drafts from his files, "270 pages foolscap, Typewritten matter," which related to President and Mrs. Hayes, for possible aid to Smith in preparing the biography.

But Smith’s biography was never completed by him; while still collecting material for it, he died on July 27, 1896. His papers then came into possession of his son, Delevan Smith, publisher of the Indianapolis News. Donaldson inquired of Delevan Smith concerning his typewritten notes, etc., which he had wanted to edit and publish. Before the material was found and returned to him, Thomas Donaldson died on November 18, 1898, in Philadelphia, after a brief illness; and his notes remained with the William Henry Smith Collection.

The task of finishing the Hayes biography fell to Charles Richard Williams, son-in-law of William Henry Smith, who completed it in 1914 in two volumes. Williams appeared to have made little or no use of the Donaldson material. The "memoirs" remained with the Delevan Smith and William Henry Smith collections, which collections were bequeathed to the Indiana Historical Society by Delevan Smith in 1922.

A microfilm copy of the Donaldson diaries or "memoirs" and other papers pertaining to President and Mrs. Hayes, preserved in the William Henry Smith Papers, were made for the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center by the Indiana Historical Society about 1940. Donaldson’s pages of notes, and "Typewritten matter" were thereafter transcribed from the microfilm by staff members of the Hayes Center:

Most of Donaldson’s notes were hastily and crudely written originally, somewhat in the form of a diary, on unnumbered sheets. His intention had been, as he had stated, to rewrite and edit the material for publication at his leisure, but his intention never materialized; he did not live long enough to finish the work. The project of checking and editing his notes into his "memoirs" thus became the labors of the editors and staff of the Hayes Historical Journal.

Dr. Gayle Thornbrough, Executive Secretary of the Indiana Historical Society, to whom hearty thanks are expressed, kindly gave the Society’s permission for the publication of Thomas Donaldson’s material, and offered the editors every cooperation with the project. The Memoirs of Thomas Donaldson were published in the Hayes Historical Journal in 1979.

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