Washburn Legacy

Washburn Legacy

The Washburn's Famous Sons

​The Washburn family is one of Maine’s, and the nation’s, most political and industrious families. The history of the Washburns at Norlands can be traced back more than 200 years when Israel Washburn, Sr. purchased the original homestead built by Cyrus Hamlin (father of Hannibal Hamlin) in 1809 and raised ten children with his wife, Martha Benjamin. They lived a life of poverty as they worked the farm. The four oldest sons worked for neighboring farms to help pay their father’s debts. With humble beginnings, the seven Washburn sons rose to gain prominence with state, national and international politics, business and industry, diplomacy, and military affairs.

Three of the brothers served in U.S. Congress at the same time representing three different states, two became Foreign Ministers, one served as Civil War Governor of Maine, one was a U.S. Senator, one was a Civil War General, one owned a bank, one ran a newspaper, one founded the Soo Railroad, and one served as a Captain in the Navy during the Civil War. Two of the brothers formed flour mills: one became Gold Medal Flour and the other merged with Pillsbury Flour. No other American family has produced an equivalent level of political and business leadership in a single generation than that of the Washburns from Livermore, Maine.

Thanks to Leavitt High School Summer Institute students for creating this Norlands’ Deep Dive video for us!


The Washburns of Livermore: A Maine Connection to the Civil War

Israel Washburn Sr. 1784-1876

Israel came to Maine from Raynham, Massachusetts in 1806. In 1809, he purchased the Livermore farm originally owned by Dr. Cyrus Hamlin, father of Hannibal Hamlin. He opened a general store and in 1812, married Martha "Patty" Benjamin. When the store failed in 1829, he turned to farming. Israel was highly involved in town politics. Thirty years later he lost his sight from cataracts.

Martha “Patty” Benjamin Washburn 1792-1861

Martha was the daughter of Lieutenant Samuel (Revolutionary War veteran) and Tabitha Livermore Benjamin. She married Israel Washburn in 1812 and she bore him eleven children, ten surviving. She was a devoted wife and loving mother who instilled ambition in her children.  Thanks to Leavitt High School Summer Institute students for creating this Norlands’ Deep Dive video for us!

Israel Washburn Jr. 1813-1887

Israel and Martha’s first born child became a lawyer in 1834, was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1842, and to Congress in 1851. Israel was influential in forming the Republican Party. He served as Governor of Maine in 1861 and 1862. Israel later became a collector of the port of Portland, Maine, appointed to the position by President Lincoln. He had four children with his first wife, Mary Maud Webster. In 1876, he married Robina Napier Brown of Boston. Two years later he became President of the Rumford Falls Railroad.

Instead of beginning about vallies and rills and mountains and fountains and pleasurer and leisure from some grand and renowned poet of antiquity I should have introduced some late genious who could write a few lines that people could understand.” – Algernon Sidney Washburn, July 1871.

Algernon Sidney Washburn 1814-1879

Algernon “Sid” left home at age 15 and got a job as a clerk in a dry goods store in Hallowell, Maine. He eventually moved to Boston and owned his own store called Shaw and Washburn. In 1853, Sid returned home to Maine and became co-founder and head cashier of The Bank of Hallowell. One year later, he married Sarah Moore in Bangor, Maine. They had four children. In 1862 he organized the First National Bank of Hallowell. Sid was the first of the brothers to make money and supported his younger brothers with loans, which they always paid back.


Elihu Benjamin Washburne 1816-1887

Elihu left home at the age of 13 to work on a neighboring farm to help pay off his father’s debt. He eventually became a lawyer and moved to Galena, Illinois. He added the ancestral “e” to the Washburn name. Elected to the U.S. House of Representative in 1852, Elihu served until 1869, so long that he became known as “Father of the House” and “Watchdog of the Treasury.” Appointed as U.S. Minister to France, Elihu lived in Paris from 1869 to 1877. He is best known for his personal and political friendships with Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. He married Adele Gratiot in 1845 and had eight children.

Thanks to Leavitt High School Summer Institute students for creating this Norlands’ Deep Dive video for us!

Cadwallader Colden Washburn 1818-1882

Cad was the first of the Washburn brothers to travel west and make his fortune. In 1842 he settled in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, practiced law and owned a land office and bank. He and his wife, Jeanette Garr, had two daughters. He was elected to Congress in 1855, where his brothers Israel, Jr. and Elihu were already serving. During the Civil War, he went back to Wisconsin and rose to the rank of Major General. He returned to Congress for two more terms after the war and was elected governor of Wisconsin. Cad made a fortune in lumbering, saw mills, and his flour company. In 1880 he entered his flour in a contest at the Miller’s International Exhibition in Cincinnati, Ohio, where it won the bronze, the silver, and the gold prizes. His company became Gold Medal Flour.

Martha Benjamin Washburn Stephenson 1820-1909

Martha was the first daughter born into the Washburn family and the maternal namesake of Martha "Patty" Washburn. She attended the one-room schoolhouse located near her family's home. She then furthered her education by attending the Waterville Liberal Institute. She taught school in Livermore until she married Charles L. Stephenson, a friend of Cadwallader, in 1849. She bore him five children, one of whom died in infancy. After Charles died in 1880, Martha spent her final days with her daughter in North Dakota.

Charles Ames Washburn 1822-1889

Adventurer, Diplomat, Miner-49er, author, newspaperman, entrepreneur, inventor… the list continues.
• Graduated from Wesleyan Seminary at Kents Hill and from Bowdoin College in 1848.
• Worked in the land office in Washington, DC.
• In 1849, Charles went west to join the California Gold Rush. The gold he found financed his career as a writer and editor of a San Francisco newspaper.
• Appointed American Minister of Paraguay from 1861-1868, and later wrote a two-volume history of Paraguay. was eventually rescued from his post by an American gunboat.
• Married Sallie Catherine Cleaveland, a New York socialite. They had three children.
• Invented “Washburn’s Typeograph” which he later sold the patent to the Remington Company.

“That it can be made vastly superior to Sholes’ machine is now palpable and admitted by all who have studied it. Of one thing I am very confident – that is, I can run Sholes’ machine out of the market.”
– Charles Ames Washburn, October 1875


Samuel Benjamin Washburn 1824-1890

The only seafaring son, Samuel shipped out at age 18 and later became the master of his own vessel. During the Civil War, Samuel was Acting Master in the U.S. Navy and became an officer on the gunboat Galena. During battle, he was wounded in the hip, which left him lame for the rest of his life. His first wife, Lorette May Thompson, died in 1869. He married Addis Brown Reade in 1872, one year after returning home to Livermore to care for his aging father. Samuel had five children.

Mary Benjamin Washburn 1825-1867

Mary’s aunts delighted in her disposition as a child. Their letters are punctuated with special endearments and mementos sent to “especially Mary” and refer to her as “the lovely child”. She married Gustavus Buffum in 1856 in Livermore and then moved west; first to Wisconsin and then to Iowa. There she had three children. In 1867 a pregnant Mary insisted on a hospital birth after having delivered her previous children at home. Sadly it was here that the administration of an anesthetic during her labors led to her death 10 days after giving birth to twins, both of whom died shortly after her. Despite her untimely passing, she is the only daughter to have living descendants today.

William Drew Washburn 1831-1912

William Drew graduated from Bowdoin College in 1857, studied law with brother Israel, and eventually settled in Minnesota with his wife, Elizabeth Muzzy. They had nine children. In Minnesota, he constructed dams, flour and saw mills. His flour mill eventually merged with the Pillsbury Flour Company. He founded the SOO Railroad and became a Congressman and later a Senator.  Find out more by clicking here.

Caroline Ann Washburn Holmes 1833-1920

The youngest child, Caroline attended the local school before continuing her education at the Waterville Liberal Institute and the Gorham Seminary. She met Dr. Freeland Holmes in Orono. They married in 1857 and settled in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, until the Civil War broke out. Freeland enlisted as a surgeon and died in 1863, leaving Caroline a widow with two children. She returned home to Livermore. Upon the death of her father in 1876, Caroline moved to Wisconsin to be near her brothers, Cadwallader and William.