Center for Archival Collections

Reference Services | Manuscripts by Subject | CAC Homepage

The Martha Butman Collection - MS 605

Introduction | Biographical Sketch | Scope and Content | Series Description | Inventory


The Martha Butman Collection consists of correspondence, family historical and legal documents, newspaper clippings and literary writings of Martha Butman and her descendants. The collection was donated to the Center for Archival Collections by Ruth Colburn on July 5, 1991. Mrs. Colburn continues to search for additional documents on the family and periodically places what she discovers with the collection.

The collection is open to the public, however, literary rights to the collection remain with the donor and her children until July 1, 2041, at which time they enter the public domain.

Biographical Sketch

Martha Butman was born in Milan, Ohio in 1825. Her parents, John and Caroline Butman had migrated to Ohio in 1820. Martha was the fourth oldest child; her siblings were Thomas, Maria, John Jr., Myron, Julia, Bruce, Fannie and Carrie. Martha became a business woman in Milan, Ohio, but her local fame came on March 4, 1851, when she left Dr. R.C. Rutherford, at the altar, publicly refusing to marry him. The event was followed by letters written by Martha, Rutherford, and others interested in the event which were published in the local newspapers.

In 1856, she married John Seneca Brown. She divorced him in 1866, returning her name to Butman. In the years they were married, the couple had two sets of twins, Ada and Vera Ida in 1858 and Emma and Ernest early in 1860, and a daughter, Emily, in late 1860. Martha continued to manage rental properties, including homes, barns, and warehouses.

Martha lived in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and California before settling in Waterville, Minnesota. She was listed in her obituary as an original settler of this town. She died on January 29, 1894.

Additional family and genealogical information can be located in the collection, specifically in folder one, "The Martha Butman Story."

Scope and Content

The Martha Butman Collection consists of transcriptions of most of the letters in the collection along with genealogical information compiled by the donor and entitled, "The Martha Butman Story." Also included in the collection are the original letters, newspaper clippings and the literary writings and family information on Martha's descendants.

The letters provide detailed insights into the lives of women who settled and lived in the Midwest. The majority of these letters are dated from 1845 to 1851. Of particular interest are the letters from Martha's cousin Nancy (Nan) who attended Free Soil meetings, furthered her education, was involved in women's rights, and discussed in great detail the restrictions placed upon women during this time period.

Other events chronicled in these letters include outbreaks of scarlet fever, measles and smallpox in Ohio in 1849, medicinal uses of cocaine, wagon train business trips to the far west, academic careers in the mid-1880s, church events, San Francisco architecture and the introduction of cable cars during the 1880s. Also of interest is a letter from a relative, Edward Fiske, that details customs, language (including phonetic spellings), religion and medicine of the Illinois area Native American tribes in 1899.

Genealogical information is included on Martha's daughters and their families along with literary works of daughter Vera Ida Brown Fiske.

Series Description


Includes "The Martha Butman Story," a transcription of letters and genealogical information, compiled by Martha's great granddaughter, Ruth Colburn.


Includes original letters written to Martha Butman from various friends and relatives, as well as correspondence of Martha's daughters. The letters date from 1845 to 1937. A detailed inventory of the letters follows this inventory.


Includes letters published in local newspapers regarding Martha's public act of refusing to marry R. C. Rutherford. These letters were published during March 1851.


Includes various financial documents of Martha Butman, legal and genealogical documents on Martha and her family and the literary writings of her daughter, Vera Ida Brown Fiske.



  1. August 11, 1845 Letter to Maria Butman from brother John (?)
  2. September ?, 1847 Letter to Martha Butman, Milan, Ohio from Nancy Butman; describes her daily activities, wants news from Martha
  3. October 16, 1848 Letter to Martha Butman, Milan, Ohio from Cousin Nan, Battle Fort, Illinois; upset that she has not heard from Martha; likes it with Aunt Nancy and Cousin James; discusses house, politics
  4. February 14, 1849 "Valentine" - poem written by "W" to Martha
  5. February 18, 1849 Letter to Cousin (Martha Butman) from Cousin Lucy, Vienna discusses going to school; scarlet fever, measles and small pox outbreaks; family news
  6. February 26, 1849 Letter to My Dear Friend (Martha Butman) from Frank, Sandusky City, Ohio not able to borrow money he needs and wants Martha to ask Mitchell and Page and let him know; Matta sends her love
  7. April 5, 1849 Letter to M.B. from J.S. Cunningham, Huron, Ohio requests to rent Martha's stable at $.50 per week; house and office for $1.75 per week (postmarked letter)
  8. April 10, 1849 Letter to M.B. from F.F. Mercuen (?), Buffalo, New York ready to come to Milan but requires a letter listing names of 10 scholars and how many guitars needed; includes list of scholars from Norwalk (postmarked letter)
  9. April 22, 1848 Letter to M.B. from Frank A. Fuller, Sandusky City, Ohio states he has not heard from her; Mattie sends love and living at Mr. Parish's
  10. April 29, 1849 Letter to My Dear Martha from Martin Smith, Indian Territory California Encampment opposite St. Joseph (MO) appears to be making trip west by wagon train, possible for gold; talks about his outfit and men (postmarked letter)
  11. May 14, 1849 Letter to M.B. from E. Merry, Sandusky, Ohio searched deed records for her, located Alex King to Elizabeth Waterman deed to land in Huron (postmarked letter)
  12. June 17, 1849 Letter to Friend Martha from R.C.R. (Rutherford), Ashland, Ohio discusses setting a time at her convenience "to go somewhere"; asks about Lucia and Martha
  13. June 20, 1849 Letter to Martha from ? (probably Rutherford)
  14. June 30, 1849 Letter to Friend Martha from R. (Rutherford) in Detroit urges her to come to M (Michigan?); sorry he was absent; wants to talk; "the thing is somewhat mixed now"
  15. July 10, 1849 Letter to Dear Martha from R.C.R., Detroit, Michigan addressed to Martha at DeWitt, Clinton Co, Michigan states he now is at Mackinaw and going to Jackson; hopes to see her on return home (postmarked letter)
  16. September 13, 1849 Letter to Miss M.B. from O.W. Bennett(e), Jackson, Michigan rather lengthy letter in which he states his desire to court her and not her friend, "Sizzie"; wants her to write to him.
  17. September 14, 1849 Letter to Dear Martha from R.C.R., Jackson, Michigan just concluded course here and going to Marshall; wants to hear from her; thinks she is being severe with Sarah
  18. October 20, 1849 Letter to Miss Martha from O.W. Bennett(e), Jackson, Michigan planning to come to Milan next Friday to see her
  19. November 4, 1849 Letter to My dear cousin Martha from Cousin Nan, Waukegan, Illinois discusses activities there; wants news from Milan; talks about being old maids
  20. February 1, 1850 Letter to Dear Cousin Martha from Cousin Nan Butman, Waukegan, Illinois discusses California gold rush trips by people in area; inquires about family in Milan; tells of her Christmas activities
  21. February 3, 1850 To Dear Martha from O.W. Bennett(e), Jackson, Michigan discusses Rutherford's being with married ladies; talks of friends in Jackson and Milan; asks about Capt. Atwood and the "Arrow"; asked to go to Europe with a friend
  22. February 20, 1850 To Cousin Martha from Friend Caroline, Port Gibson, Ohio discusses schooling; friends of Martha's from school; what cousin Lucy is doing
  23. March 18, (1850) To Dear Martha from O.W. (Bennett(e) talks of going east for the summer and would like to see her and Lucy in April or May
  24. April 17, 1850 To Dear Martha from O.W. (Bennett(e)), Jackson, Michigan he is sorry he missed her in Sandusky when he visited Lucy; discusses trip he took on the "Arrow" from Detroit to Sandusky
  25. May 3, 1850 To M.B. at the Exchange Hotel, Sandusky from "C", Islander Hotel, (looks like Rutherford's handwriting) hope Martha had a pleasant tour of the West; missed her in Sandusky when he had to take a trip to Fremont; talks about taking in tow the Schooner "Puritan" with Capt. Grover
  26. May 12, 1850 To Dear Martha from O.W.B. (Bennett(e)), Jackson, Michigan talks about his feelings for her; not sure the relationship will work but leaves it up to her
  27. After May 1850? Letter is not dated but it is from O.W. (Bennett(e)) and is written probably sometime after May, 1850; he is upset that she thinks he is after her money and slandering other people's character; breaks off relationship unless she reconsiders
  28. July 20, 1850 Letter to Miss Butman from H. Halleck, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania notifying her of death of W.J. Totten(r) on April 3rd
  29. July 20, 1850 Letter to Martha from Lee or Sue?
  30. August 13, 1850 Letter to Dear Cousin from H.N. Throop, Steam Boat, Ontario, Oswego apologizes for last letter written two years ago; not heard from her either
  31. September 14, 1850 Letter to Ma Chere Martha probably from Rutherford, Fort Wayne, IN talks about wanting to see her; learned that he received a position in church
  32. October 6, 1850 Letter to Dear Lucia from R (Rutherford), Fort Wayne, Indiana writing to inquire why Martha does not respond to his letters
  33. December 11, 1850 Letter to Lucia from R.C.R. (Rutherford), Louisville, Kentucky again wants to know why he has not heard from Martha; will be spending next 2-3 weeks with "Supreme Judge of State" in New Albany, Pennsylvania, then returning to Ohio
  34. January 27, 1851 Letter to Lucia from R.C. (Rutherford), Cincinnati, Ohio been busy and have had problems which are partly over; leaving Cincinnati and moving north
  35. March 7, 1851 Letter to Martha from (C?) supporting her public act of leaving Rutherford at the altar.
  36. March 29, 1851 Letter to Dear Madam from L.F. Reed (?), Cleveland, Ohio invited by Capt. Atwood to go to Cleveland and will try to get to Milan; "the doctor is loosing friends very fast in Sandusky. .you've done the right thing" (Rutherford?)
  37. June 9, 1851 Letter to Miss Butman from Charles Sanderson, Huron, Ohio has applicants willing to pay $1.00 per month to keep horses in her brick barn
  38. September 11, 1874 Letter to Dear Sister (Ida) from Emma, Chicago misses her; she and mother not doing well and cannot leave Chicago because do not have enough money
  39. August 20, 1875 Letter to Dear Sis (Ida) from Ada, Saginaw, Michigan news from Saginaw; misses her sister and wants to know if Mamma will let Father sell his land
  40. September 3, 1876 Letter to Ida from Emma, Benton Harbor, Michigan misses her and is sad but cannot discuss on paper the reasons
  41. November 15, 1880 Letter to My Dear Cousin Sill from Emma Butman, Waterville, Minnesota not teaching; going to work and live with Judge Bryant and wife (study law) in St. Paul; asks about family and discusses being an old maid
  42. May 8, 1881 Letter to Cousin Sill from Emma B., St Paul, Minnesota family news; Mother wants to go on a camping expedition out West during summer
  43. January 31, 1882 Letter to My Precious Sister (Ida) either from Ada or Emma discusses going to banquet with Mr. Hall; social life
  44. April 18, 1883 Letter to My Precious sister (Ida) from Emma, San Francisco visiting Mother who is not well situated, wants Ida to come visit for the summer
  45. May 18, 18(83) Letter to Cousin Sill from Emma, San Francisco discusses life in San Francisco, prices of food, sightseeing; will be returning to Chicago in September with Mother
  46. not dated, but probably in 1884 Letter to Aunty from Emma B., Waterville, Minnesota contesting John Seneca Brown's will (died April 15, 1883); then will return to studies in Chicago
  47. October 24, 1884 Letter to Cousin Sill from E.B., Waterville, Minnesota still awaiting court decision on will
  48. August 14, 1889 Letter to My dear dear Mother (Martha) from Ida, Kendall's Inlet, Lake of the Wood, Ontario visiting the Kendalls; describes trip and beauty of the area
  49. October 5, 1889 Letter to Dear Sir (Rev. Fiske) from Ida V. Brown, Copkins, Minnesota (copy) discusses prohibition and women suffrage; tending to sprained ankle; will be pleased to have him visit
  50. August 7, 1893 Letter to My dear Mrs. Fiske (Ida)from George L. Brown, Newpark, RI (copy) discusses visiting with his 90 year old mother; hope she and baby are doing well
  51. January 29, 1894 Obituary of Mrs. Martha Butman-Brown, Waterville, Minnesota
  52. October 27, 1899 Letter to Dear Sister (Harriet) from Edward (Fiske), Chicago, Illinois (copy) lengthy letter discussing Indians in the Beloit, Wisconsin area
  53. September 11, 1937 Letter from Mumsie (Ida) to Sinclair and Adah, Milan, Ohio (copy) discusses background of Brown family and development of Monroeville, Ohio
  54. September 16, 1937 Letter from Grandmother Fiske (Ida) to Claire (copy) same type of information as in above letter
  55. Pieces of two letters; one signed Nan Butman and one signed R.C.

Manuscripts by Subject | Family Collections | Multicultural Collections |  Women's Studies Collections | MS 605 Summaries of Letters