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Rev. William E. Barton Abraham Lincoln Collection

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William E. Barton

Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives
Scope and Contents

William E. Barton was a Congregationalist minister and historian of Abraham Lincoln who had a prolific career as an author with 113 works in our library alone. The Barton Collection donated to Oberlin College include his books on Abraham Lincoln and many of his writings on religious subjects. A further gift was later bequeathed to Oberlin by Mrs. F. M. Barton in 1936, containing a collection of rare Bibles, the Book of Common Prayer, and other books, including multiple works by English writer and preacher John Bunyan. Files from the time of the gift maintain a record of books donated although these are not currently searchable using our online catalog.

Biographical Sketch | Inventory | Additional Resources

Biographical Sketch

William Eleazer Barton (1861-1930) was a Congregational minister, writer, and chronicler of the life of Abraham Lincoln. He was born in the village of Sublette, Illinois, on June 28, 1861. Following undergraduate studies at Berea College, Barton received his divinity degree from Oberlin Theological Seminary in 1890.  He had a long career as a minister, serving in Tennessee, Massachussetts, Litchfield and Wellington in Ohio, and finally Oak Park, Illinois, until his retirement in 1924. Barton was a writer and lecturer, publishing his sermons and thoughts on religion, culture, morality, and ecclesiastical history. He was a cousin of Clara Barton (1821-1912), founder of the Red Cross.

In addition to his career as a minister, Barton held a life-long fascination with Abraham Lincoln. Some of Barton’s earliest memories were of seeing the celebration of the Civil War’s end immediately followed by the sadness of Lincoln’s death. Seeing the reactions to the President’s death left an impression, inspiring Barton to look deeper into Lincoln’s life. Barton spent many years researching his subject, interviewing many who knew and worked with Lincoln personally. His first book on Lincoln, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln, was published in 1919. It was followed by The Paternity of Abraham Lincoln in 1921, The Life of Abraham Lincoln in 1925, and The Lineage of Lincoln in 1929. Additionally, Barton wrote on subjects from Lincoln’s professional and personal life, including his parents, relationships with Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglass, and the Gettysburg Address. Barton’s final work on Lincoln was published in 1929 a year before he died.


List of Oberlin College Library materials authored by William E. Barton

Additional items include a 1912 donation of a rare Torah Scroll from North Africa acquired in Palestine c.1902. Initially thought to be from the 19th century, the Torah was later dated by leading Torah scribes to be from the 14th century, making it one of the oldest Torahs in the United States and the oldest complete manuscript in the Oberlin College Library. Also of note is a 15th-century Mamluk Qur’an lent to Oberlin in 1913, before being officially donated in 1926. On the Qur’an’s inside cover a handwritten note by Barton indicates it was brought over to the United States as part of a Jerusalem exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. How exactly it first left Jerusalem, and who was involved in bringing it to the US, is still largely unknown (see article by Esra Akin-Kivanc)

Additional Resources

14th-Century Torah Scroll Discovered in College Library.” Oberlin Alumni Magazine 81, no. 2 (Spring 1985): 5-7

Akin-Kivanc, Esra. “Such a Koran No Individual Might Own: The Biography of a Mamluk Qur’an from Jerusalem.” The Journal of Ottoman Studies XLVIII (2016): 229-268

Angle, Paul. William Eleazer Barton: 1861-1930. Illinois State Historical Society 23, no. 4 (January 1931): 685-686

Other Institutions with William Barton Collections

Congregational Library and Archives

Syracuse University Library

University of Chicago Library William Barton Collection of Lincolniana

Compiled by Robert Bartels 4/2017

Last updated:
October 4, 2018