The Washburn Family
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A pull-ye-up-by-the-bootstraps biography of one of the most famous families in 19th-century America that nobody has ever heard of, by a sympathetic descendant.

Kelsey’s ambitious, consistently engaging text portrays the ten Washburn siblings born between 1813 and 1833 in Livermore, Maine. (Actually, the seven accomplished brothers get almost all his attention, though the sisters receive a chapter chronicling marriages and children.) By midcentury, three of the brothers were serving as Congressmen from three different states, all devoted to the Republican Party they helped form, all committed to limiting the expansion of slavery. Due to their isolated, Universalist background as children of Israel and Patty Washburn, who ran the farm and country store 25 miles north of Lewiston, they had big dreams and unflinching determination—to get out. Though separated geographically, they would remain closely knit. Lawyer Israel Jr. worked tirelessly in Congress for Maine statehood and the fate of the Union, and became governor. Wealthy banker Sid helped bankroll many of his brothers’ schemes. Elihu hung out his law shingle in Galena, Ill., served in Congress, became the “watchdog of the Treasury” and later ambassador to France, rewards for his loyalty to presidents Lincoln and Grant. Cadwallader, several times over a Congressman from La Crosse, Wis., then a major general during the Civil War, made a fortune from lumber along the Black River and in Minnesota flour mills, gradually developing the new city of Minneapolis (with the help of enterprising younger brother William Drew), and later serving as Wisconsin governor. William, “prince charming” of the family, merged the Pillsbury-Washburn mills in 1882 and won seats in Congress, then the U.S. Senate in 1890. Sam would be broken by wounds in the war as well as business failures in Minnesota; Charles spent an ill-starred stint as American representative in Paraguay. All exhibited the qualities Kelsey promotes as most winningly American: self-sufficiency, independent thinking and boundless energy.

A study bursting at the seams with admiration for its subjects.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-88448-299-4
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Tilbury House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2007