Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Thomas W. Milburn and family in Washington DC

Thomas William Milburn came from Washington, DC, where he was born on 20 January 1855. He was the son of another Thomas Milburn and his wife Pamelia Sawyer. At home TW had an older sister called Alice, born about 1848. He should have had an older brother George, but that boy died the year before TW was born. We know about George from the notice run on 6 July 1854 in a District newspaper,
On Sunday, the 2d instant, at Vineyard Farm, Charles County, (Md.) George W., aged 17 months, only son of Thomas and Pamel[i]a Milburn, of this city. 
Another sister was born in 1858 or 1859 (there is some difficulty settling on the year) and was named Ada Violet. Two more babies, born during the time of the Civil War, we know only from their graves in the family plot in Congressional Cemetery, where they were buried with no given names recorded. And then one more child, the youngest sister, called Eva, born in 1866. She brings the Milburn family up to its largest number, the four children shown in the census of 1870, Alice, Thomas, Ada, and Eva.

TW’s father, Mr. Thomas Milburn, was described in his census records as a carpenter. That term evidently was applied to the occupation we might call contractor  or builder. Although Mr. Thomas Milburn is very little mentioned in the newspapers, there is one article, reporting estimates submitted for constructing “the new asylum,” which shows him turning in a $34,950 bid. Now, which building might this have been? I’ve never found any asylum in the city to match the date of construction and the architect talked about in the article. The Milburn bid was not, by the way, either the highest or the lowest of the ones recorded. Mr. Milburn seems to have done well enough at his business. He is mentioned in another article carrying $170 in gold on him, which he lost to a pickpocket! In addition to getting on with his business he was a member of both the Odd Fellows and the Masons, and he was elected Commissioner of his city ward (the Seventh). He was evidently a pleasant enough fellow of the common sort, well enough liked, but there isn’t so much to tell about him.

One possibly interesting thing, to me, is the appearance starting in 1869 of advertisements for the partnership of Angus & Milburn. Mr. Angus worked in Northwest Washington. Our Milburns lived and worked in the Seventh Ward, which is to say Southwest Washington. I think the early signs of the decline of that latter part of the city must have already been felt in the 1850s with the coming of the railroad. The B&O eventually crossed through Southwest, in fact right beside the Milburn home. A nuisance of itself, what with the noise, soot, and embers, the train also changed a small scale residential and commercial neighborhood into a more industrial one. Then, after the Civil War was ended, the population of the area started to grow dense from newcomers to the city. So when Mr. Thomas Milburn found a partner in Job Winans Angus, a very well respected builder who flourished in a far more illustrious quadrant of the city, that alliance might have begun a transition to a better established business, in a prosperous and expansive locale.

from an 1869 directory

Mr. Thomas Milburn died in 1872. He was just 48 years old. The paper says it was “after a lingering illness.” Perhaps that was tuberculosis—quite common. And Mr. Milburn’s death was not the only loss happening for the family. Mr. Milburn’s sister Margaret died in 1869 (definitely tubercular), his sister Mary Ann in 1870. In 1874 his little daughter Eva, TW’s sister, went to her grave in May; and old Mrs. Milburn, Mr. Milburn’s aunt, who had been the guardian of the family property, died in November. The following spring the family split into opponents in a lawsuit over some of the property, and TW joined up with the Signal Corps bound for Texas.

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