Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MS Am 2111

John Read papers


Papers of John Read (Harvard College A.B 1862) Civil War Union naval officer, prisoner-of-war, Massachusetts State Senator and Representative, and partner in the family firm, William Read & Sons. Also includes Read family memorabilia and artifacts.


  • 1853-1915

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.


3.5 linear feet (10 boxes)

The bulk of this collection centers around the life of Civil War veteran and statesman John Read. Some materials concern the extended Read family, especially Read's son, William Read (b.1872) who attended Harvard College's Lawrence Scientific School. The collection includes: personal and family correspondence and letters to naval Paymaster Read from the Auditor for the US Navy; Read's Civil War diaries (some are copies only); autograph compositions (mostly speeches and poems) by Read; visual materials including photographs, cartes-de-visite, and drawings; Civil War artifacts (caps, mess kit); medals; Read's Bibles; printed biographical materials by and about Read; genealogical materials on the Read family; and scrapbooks relating to Harvard College (covering the years 1856-1897) and to the political career of JR in Cambridge and Massachusetts.

Also includes 2 drawings by Civil War artist Charles Wellington Reed.

Biographical / Historical

John Read was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on May 19, 1840, the fifth of nine children of William Read and Sarah Goodwin Atkins Read. He prepared at the Cambridge Latin High School and received an A.B. from Harvard College in 1862 and an A.M. in 1865.

Upon graduating from Harvard, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy on November 7, 1862 and first served as a Union naval recruiting officer in Harvard Square. On April 7, 1863 he became the paymaster aboard the "Keokuk," a turreted ironclad ram ship that was later sunk during an attack on Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. His next service was in the West Gulf Squadron as paymaster on the gunboat "Granite City." This ship was involved in a blockade of the Louisiana and Texas coasts and eventually was captured during an engagement at the Calcasieu Pass, Louisianna. John Read and the other survivors were taken prisoner by the Confederate forces on May 6, 1864.

For seven and a half months Read was confined in the Confederate prison camps of Camp Felder and Camp Groce in Texas. The rate of mortality in the stockade prison camps in Texas was among the worst in the entire South. Of the 111 men captured with him, only 32 survived. He was released with the other naval prisoners on December 19, 1864, when the Confederate forces closed the camp and sent the survivors back to Union lines at Galveston, then on to New Orleans. After release, Read was assigned to the United States sloop of war "Kearsarge," but he resigned from military service on March 18, 1865 due to poor health caused by the imprisonment.

After his return from the war, Read entered his father's military and sporting goods firm in Boston and eventually became a partner with his brother under the firm name of William Read & Sons. In 1865 he married Elise Welch of Boston (d. October 22, 1913) and had three sons, J. Bertram Read, William Read II, and Harold W. Read.

Read was also active in public life. He was a Republican member of the Cambridge Common Council in 1880 and 1881, Board of Cambridge Aldermen in 1882 and 1883, Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1888, and the Massachusetts Senate in 1892 and 1893. He was also on the Board of Overseers of Harvard College in 1895, was a state commissioner of the Nautical Training School of Massachusetts from 1899 to 1913, a trustee of the National Sailor's Home, president of the Cambridge Civil Service Association from 1901 to 1906, and commander of the Massachusetts Commandery of the Naval Order of the U.S. He died in Cambridge on July 29, 1915.


Organized into the following series:

  1. I. Correspondence
  2. II. Compositions by John Read
  3. III. Images
  4. ___A. Individuals
  5. ___B. Groups
  6. ___C. Other
  7. IV. Biographical materials

Physical Location

b, pf

Immediate Source of Acquisition

*2000M-60. Gift of Eleanor B. Read, 4 Skiff Lane, Masons Island, Mystic, Conn. 06355; received: 2001 May 7.

*2000M-61. Gift of Ann H. Brace, 491 Sudbury Road, Concord, MA 01742; received: 2001.

*2001M-1. Gift of Robert Read Batchelder, 207 Ashmont Ct., Lynchburg Va. 24503; received: 2001 July 5.

*2001M-16. Gift of Robert S. Szemes in memory of Anita Read Szemes, 14 Vista Lane, New Providence, NJ 07974, and Mr. John B. Read, 18 Middle Street, Marblehead, MA 01945; received: 2001 Sept. 12.

Processing Information

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt

Read, John, 1840-1915. John Read papers (MS Am 2111): Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

Harvard Yard
Harvard University
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2440