1793-1890; bulk: 1860-1865

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection contains the papers of John Worthington Ames. Included is correspondence, personal papers, diaries, papers of other members of the Ames family, and material pertaining to the 11th United States Infantry Regiment and 6th United States Colored Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.

Biographical Sketch

John Worthington Ames (1833-1878) was born 23 November 1833 in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Seth Ames (1805-1881) and Margaret Stevenson Bradford Ames (1804-1847). He graduated Harvard College in 1854, and in December of that year, he sailed to China and British Hong Kong on the Storm King, spending time in Canton and Fuzhou. During his time in China, he stayed at Western trading sites, including the American trading house of King & Co. He returned to Boston in December of 1855 aboard the Don Quixote. At some point, he studied engineering at the Lawrence Scientific School. In 1858, he traveled to Arkansas while working as a civil engineer for the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad Company. He then settled in Bloomington, Illinois, for a time and went into business with a friend. By 1861, he was in Texas to help build a road when the Civil War began and was nearly drafted into the Confederate Army while in Galveston. Ames was able to return north, where he was subsequently appointed first lieutenant in the 16th United States Infantry Regiment on 18 June 1861. On 31 June, he transferred and was nominated as captain in the 11th United States Infantry Regiment, then receiving his commission, went to Fort Independence on 15 August and was assigned to Company C in the 1st Battalion.

After training at Fort Independence, Ames was assigned to a recruiting post in Springfield, Massachusetts. He then joined his regiment in Maryland. As part of the Army of the Potomac, the 11th Infantry Regiment was at times attached to Sykes' Brigade and the V Army Corps, participating in the Siege of Yorktown (5 April-4 May 1862), Battle of Mechanicsville, Battle of Malvern Hill, the Second Battle of Bull Run, Battle of Antietam, Battle of Fredericksburg, Battle of Chancellorsville, and Battle of Gettysburg.

In the fall of 1863, Ames was promoted to colonel of the 6th United States Colored Infantry Regiment. The regiment was organized in the summer of 1863 and, by October, was at Yorktown, Virginia. While attached to the XVIII Corps, part of the Army of the James, the 6th participated in numerous expeditions; the capture of City Point, Virginia; Battle of Baylor's Farm; Battle of Chaffin's Farm and New Market Heights, where Ames was shot through the leg; and Battle of Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road. The 6th was then attached to the XXV Corps and participated in the First and Second Battle of Fort Fisher, as well as Sugar Loaf Hill. The regiment was then attached to the X Corps during the advance and capture of Kinston, Goldsboro, and Raleigh, North Carolina, and was present at the surrender of General Joseph Eggleston Johnston at Bennett Place, North Carolina. The regiment was mustered out 26 September 1865. Ames mustered out of volunteer service and rejoined the 11th in 1865. He was given a recruiting post in Portland, Maine, before resigning from the military in the fall of 1866.

Following his resignation from the army, Ames moved to Burlington, Iowa, where he was employed by the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad Company as a land agent and then as the company's treasurer. In 1873, he left for San Francisco and was appointed president of the European and Oregon Land Company. After the company was disincorporated in fall of 1874, he briefly worked in the mercantile business. In 1876, Ames began to experience health issues from his time in the military. At the beginning of 1877, he went to Hawaii to improve his health. After returning home to California, he was made Surveyor General of California in September of 1877. His health continued to deteriorate, and he died of liver disease on 6 April 1878.

In 1865, John Worthington Ames married Margaret Corlis Plumly (1843-1919), the daughter of legislator and abolitionist Benjamin Rush Plumly (1816-1887) and Rebecca Wilson Plumly. They had three children, Frances Margaret Bradford Ames Randall (1866-1968), Rebecca Worthington Ames Adams Ames (1868-1966), and John Worthington Ames, Jr. (1871-1954).

Collection Description

The John Worthington Ames papers consists of 5 document boxes and 1 oversize folder of correspondence, personal papers, 13 diaries, and family papers. Correspondence and diaries cover his time traveling in China (1854-1855); working as a civil engineer in Arkansas, Illinois, and Texas (1858-1861); and service during the Civil War as a captain in the 11th United States Infantry Regiment (1861-1863, 1865-1866) and a colonel in the 6th United States Colored Infantry Regiment (1863-1865). He details his travels, life and customs in the places he visits, weather, food, the atmosphere and attitudes in the West and South in the lead-up to the Civil War, enlistment, training, troop movements, requests for supplies from home, camp life, battles and skirmishes, his thoughts on the war and how it affects him, and impressions of fellow soldiers and of the South. Also included are a few sketches of military camps. Personal papers include material from Harvard College, military documents, copies of service records, and biographical material from the time of his death. The family papers consist of correspondence of numerous Ames family members, material pertaining to the death of John Worthington Ames, and copies of pension application files submitted by Margaret Corlis Plumly Ames.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Brian Burton, July 2019 and September 2023.

Custodial History

This collection was owned by Frances Randall Hill Lipp. Following her death in 2015, ownership passed to Brian Burton, who had possession of the material while assisting Lipp with research and publication.

Other Formats

This collection contains electronic transcripts of correspondence from John Worthington Ames to Abigail Fisher Dana Ames, Seth Ames, and Fisher Ames for 1861-1865. These transcripts will be made available at a later date.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Correspondence, 1858-1878

Arranged mainly chronologically.

Correspondence of John Worthington Ames mainly consists of letters written by Ames to various family members. The bulk of the letters are from his service during the Civil War in the 11th United States Infantry Regiment (1861-1863) and the 6th United States Colored Infantry Regiment (1863-1865) and provide detailed accounts of camp life, fellow soldiers, battle and skirmishes, the progression of the war, and how his experiences affected him. Other letters are from his time working as a civil engineer in Arkansas, Illinois, and Texas (1858-1861), as well as during his declining health before his death (1877-1878).

Box 1Folder 1-2

John Worthington Ames and Seth Ames, 1862-1868

Box 1Folder 3-44

John Worthington Ames to Abigail Fisher Dana Ames, 1860-1865, 1878

Box 2Folder 1-4

John Worthington Ames to Fisher Ames (1838-1919), 1862-1863, 1878

Box 2Folder 5-16

John Worthington Ames to Margaret Fiske Watson, 1858-1864

Box 2Folder 17

John Worthington Ames to Fiske family, 1862-1863

Box 2Folder 18-27

John Worthington Ames to Sarah Bancroft Howard Hayward, 1861-1864

Box 2Folder 28

John Worthington Ames to Howard family, 1861

Box 2Folder 29-44

John Worthington Ames to Margaret Corlis Plumly Ames, 1863-1864

Box 3Folder 1-35

John Worthington Ames to Margaret Corlis Plumly Ames, 1864-1865, 1877

Box 3Folder 36

Letters to John Worthington Ames and Margaret Corlis Plumly Ames on birth of Frances Margaret Bradford Ames, 1866

Box 3Folder 37

John Worthington Ames to Frances Margaret Bradford Ames Randall, 1877

Box 3Folder 38

John Worthington Ames and Margaret Corlis Plumly Ames to Rebecca Worthington Ames, 1877, undated

Box 3Folder 39

John Worthington Ames to William Ames (1801-1880), 1878

Box 3Folder 40

John Worthington Ames to unidentified correspondents, 1865, undated

Box 3Folder 41

John Worthington Ames likely to Harriet Spelman Longfellow and Cora Spelman Eustis, 1866

Box 3Folder 42

John Worthington Ames to Lorenzo Miles Whiting and Rebecca Plumly Whiting, 1877-1878

II. Personal papers, 1851-1878

Arranged chronologically.

This series consists of the personal papers of John Worthington Ames. It includes material from his time at Harvard College, originals and copies of military documents, articles written by Ames recounting his experiences in the Civil War, and material related to his death. Also included are sketches by Ames that were previously removed from correspondence he sent, mainly while serving in the Civil War. They include sketches of the exterior of Ames' quarters; headquarters of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 25th Corps. near Fort Fisher; 6th United States Colored Infantry Regiment's mess hall exterior along the York River; and a view from Ames' quarters looking out at the camp with a Black soldier in view.

Box 4Folder 1

Harvard College, 1851-1854

Folder OS

Inauguration of James Walker, D.D. as President of Harvard College program, 1853

Folder OS

Blue Beard or the Tyrant's Gory Downfall broadside, 1854

Box 4Folder 2

Miscellaneous, 1855, undated

Box 4Folder 3

Sketches, ca. 1861-1865, undated

Box 4Folder 4

Military papers, 1863-1866

Folder OS

Brigadier General by Brevet certificate, 15 January 1865

Box 4Folder 5-8

Service records 1865-1866 (copies), 2015, undated

Box 4Folder 9

Overland Monthly articles 1869-1874 (copies), undated

Box 4Folder 10

Surveyor General of California papers, 1877

Folder OS

Surveyor General of California certificate, 27 September 1877

Box 4Folder 11

In Memoriam published by the Harvard Club of San Francisco, 1878

Box 4Folder 12

Miscellaneous writings, undated

Box 4Folder 13

Biographical information and genealogy, undated

Box 4Folder 14

Pension application files 1879-1922 (copies), undated

III. Diaries, 1854-1877

Arranged chronologically.

This series contains the diaries of John Worthington Ames. They provide accounts of his sea voyages and visit to Hong Kong, Canton, and Fuzhou in China (1854-1855), where he stayed at Western merchant houses; his time in Arkansas, Illinois, and Texas working as a civil engineer (1859-1861); some of his service during the Civil War as a captain in the 11th United States Infantry Regiment and colonel, later brevet brigadier general, in the 6th United States Colored Infantry Regiment; and his time in Hawaii to improve his health (1877). Drawings purchased in China are pasted onto numerous pages of Ames' diary from that time.

Box 5Folder 1Vol. 1


Box 5Folder 2Vol. 2

July-December 1859

Box 5Folder 3Vol. 3

December 1859-March 1860

Box 5Folder 4Vol. 4

June-December 1860

Box 5Folder 5Vol. 5

December 1860-April 1861

Box 5Folder 6Vol. 6

April-October 1861, March-April 1862

Box 5Folder 7Vol. 7

April-May 1862

Box 5Folder 8Vol. 8

May-July 1862

Box 5Folder 9Vol. 9

September-November 1862

Box 5Folder 10Vol. 10

January-February 1863

Box 5Folder 11Vol. 11

March-June 1863

Box 5Folder 12Vol. 12

July-December 1863

Box 5Folder 13Vol. 13

Disbound, 1877

IV. Ames family papers, 1793-1890

Arranged chronologically.

Material in this series mainly consists of correspondence of various members of the Ames family, including letters regarding the death of John Worthington Ames.

Correspondence, 1793-1881

Box 4Folder 15

Fisher Ames (1758-1808) to Thomas Dwight, 30 October 1793

Box 4Folder 16

Seth Ames and Margaret Stevenson Bradford Ames to Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, 1832-1835

Box 4Folder 17

Frances Worthington Ames (1764-1837) to Margaret Stevenson Bradford Ames, undated

Box 4Folder 18

Margaret Corlis Plumly Ames to Abigail Fisher Dana Ames, 1865

Box 4Folder 19

Seth Ames to Frances Worthington Ames Howland, 1868

Box 4Folder 20

Pelham Warren Ames to John Worthington Ames, 1868

Box 4Folder 21-22

Death of John Worthington Ames, April-December 1878

Box 4Folder 23-26

Seth Ames to Margaret Corlis Plumly Ames, 1879-1881, undated

Box 4Folder 27

Letters to Frances Randall Hill Lipp, undated

Box 4Folder 28

Miscellaneous envelopes, undated

Family papers, 1811-1890

Box 4Folder 29

Harvard College receipts likely for John Worthington Ames (1793-1833), 1811-1813

Box 4Folder 30

Harvard University blank weekly class reports, 1830

Box 4Folder 31Vol. 14

Scrapbook newspaper clippings "Butterfingers to Hawkeye," 1873-1874

Box 4Folder 32

George Partridge Bradford obituary, 1 February 1890

Preferred Citation

John Worthington Ames papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Ames, Seth, 1805-1881.
Ames, Abigail Fisher Dana, 1819-1911.
Ames, Margaret Corlis Plumly, 1846-1919.
Ames, William, 1801-1880.
Ames, Fisher, 1838-1919.
Ames, Fisher, 1758-1808.
Watson, Margaret Fiske, 1837-1885.
Hayward, Sarah Bancroft Howard, 1838-1922.
Ames family.
Fiske family.
Howard family.


United States. Army. Infantry Regiment, 11th.
United States. Army. Colored Infantry Regiment, 6th (1863-1865).
United States. Army--African American troops.
Sea King (Ship).
Don Quixote (Ship).


Ocean travel--Diaries.
Voyages and travels--Diaries.
Fredericksburg, Battle of, Fredericksburg, Va., 1862.
Bull Run, 2nd Battle of, Va., 1862.
Antietam, Battle of, Md., 1862.
Chancellorsville, Battle of, Chancellorsville, Va., 1863.
Gettysburg, Battle of, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863.
New Market Heights, Battle of, Va., 1864.
Fredericksburg, Battle of, Fredericksburg, Va., 1862.
Fort Fisher (N.C. : Fort)--Siege, 1864-1865.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Campaigns.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Psychological aspects.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Regimental histories--United States Infantry Regiment, 11th.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Regimental histories--Colored Infantry Regiment, 6th (1863-1865).
Virginia--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
North Carolina--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
Pennsylvania--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
Arkansas--Description and travel.
Illinois--Description and travel.
Texas--Description and travel.
Guangzhou (China)--Description and travel.
Hong Kong (China)--Description and travel.
Fuzhou (Fujian Sheng, China)--Description and travel.
Hawaii--Description and travel.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection have been removed to Photo Coll. 413.