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Grace D. Nichols correspondence

Identifier: BUSC-2004-006

Scope and Contents

This collection contains letters received by Grace D. Nichols (1848 - 1925) of Rockland, Knox County, Maine, mostly between 1864 and 1872, accompanied by some later postcards and ephemera.

Grace Nichols has four main correspondents:

- her friend Georgia Farnum (1846 - 1866) of Rockland, whose nine letters date from August 1864 to September 1865 when Georgia was visiting her sister's family in Exeter, New Hampshire and document social happenings, gossip, and their several correspondences

- Henry P. McCahill, serving as a private in the 182nd New York Volunteer Infantry near Petersburg, Virginia. McCahill's twenty-two letters date from December 1864 to July 1865 and are largely flirtatious in nature, often asking repeatedly for Grace to send a photograph. The letters occasionally provide background on the Petersburg campaign. His letters in the aftermath of Lee's surrender and Lincoln's assassination are particularly interesting. McCahill's correspondence with Grace Nichols seems to have begun after she answered an advertisement he placed under the name James J. Lemons requesting correspondence in the Boston magazine Illustrated Waverley Magazine & Literary Repository; the text has been located in at least the December 17, 1864 issue, p. 398: "Here I am, a gay and festive youth, of the Army of the Potomac. I wish to open a correspondence with a few handsome young ladies of the North. I am a gay defender of our county's flag, which is proudly floating before the doomed City of Petersburg. No old maids need apply. Object, fun and pastime. Address James J. Lemons, Co. E., 182d N.Y.S. Vols. Washington, D.C." McCahill appears to be something of an unreliable narrator, once describing the death of a close friend who seems instead to have survived the war.

- John Porcius Gage (1846 - 1932) of Chicago, Illinois and Vineland, New Jersey, who seems to have been introduced to Grace Nichols by a mutual friend, Celia. His twenty-two letters date from May 1865 to January 1872, and are also frequently mildly flirtatious in nature, requesting her photograph and gossiping about mutual acquaintances. At the time of the last letter Gage has returned to Chicago and is copying books burned during the 1871 fire.

- Robert Rankin of Richmond, Virginia and Belfast, Maine, a son of Grace's mother's first cousin. His twelve letters were written between August 1865 and January 1866 while he was living with the family of his older sister in Belfast, Maine. He had previously lived in Richmond, Virginia, and either served in the Confederate army or held deep Confederate views at the very least.

Other correspondents include two former teachers: A. J. Pickard and Henry Paine; and a young cousin, Waldo P. Lowell, Jr.


  • 1864 - 1920, bulk 1864 - 1866


Biographical Note

Grace Darling Nichols was born Grace D. Blake in Lincoln or Knox County, Maine in April 1848, the daughter of William Daniel and Hannah H. (Rankin) Blake. In the 1850 census the family is living in St. George, Lincoln County, Maine, with William's age given as 26 and his occupation as "Sail Maker." Hannah's age is given as 31, and the children listed are Rankin (4) and Grace D. (2). In the 1860 census Grace (12) is living in the household of Nathaniel and Sarah Nichols of Rockland, with her surname given as Nichols. Hannah (40) is also living in Rockland, listed as a Widow, with children Knott R. (9) and Clarence M. (7). In the 1870 census Grace (22) is living with her mother Hannah (51) and brothers Knott (19) and Clarence (17). Grace's surname here is given as Nichols, while the others go by Blake. Hannah's occupation is given as "Keeping house," and Grace's as "Dress Maker." Her brothers are both listed as "Seaman." The listing of Hannah as a widow in 1860 seems to have been incorrect: her husband was alive, and in February 1863 committed a murder in Camden, Maine, shooting Freeman C. Patterson in a sail loft. Blake pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to hang; the sentence was later commuted and he lived until 1889. This may be why Grace continued to use Nichols as her surname. Grace Nichols married John T. Robbins (1849 - 1926) of Rockland on December 24, 1871; the couple had several children and remained in Rockland until their deaths, Grace's on October 2, 1925 and John's on April 12, 1926. Robbins is mentioned in several of the 1866 letters from Robert Rankin.

Her correspondents:

Georgianna Frances Farnham, known as "Georgia" or "Georgie," was born in Rockland, Knox County, Maine in August 1846, the daughter of David and Mary (Richards) Farnham. She died in Rockland on February 7, 1866, "aged 19 years, 5 months and 28 days" per her death notice in the February 9, 1866 issue of the Rockland Gazette. This is just a few months after her last letters to Grace Nichols, when she complains of feeling ill. Her letters to Grace are written while she is in Exeter, New Hampshire, visiting her married sister Mary Conner. Georgia is buried with her parents and other family members in Seaview Cemetery, Rockland, Maine.

Henry P. McCahill appears from his letters to be something of an unreliable narrator, but he seems to have been born in New York City, possibly in April 1847. If his letters to Grace Nichols are accurate, he was an actor for several years before the Civil War. We have not yet located him in censuses prior to 1900. It is not clear whether he is the same Henry McCahill who enlisted as a musician in the 10th New York on April 26, 1861 and deserted on May 20, 1861. From the unit roster for the 182nd New York Regiment (first known as the 69th New York Volunteer Artillery) we know that he enlisted at New York City on September 26, 1862, to serve three years. He was enrolled in Company K as a private. Before April 1863 he was appointed drummer, and he mustered out with his unit on July 15, 1865, near Washington, D.C. From his last letter to Grace we find that he returned to New York City, and he seems to be the same man who married Mary Lyons in Manhattan on July 28, 1892. The 1900 census finds him and Mary living in Brooklyn, and gives his birthdate as April 1847. His occupation is given as "Laborer, Navy Yard." Grand Army of the Republic records for Post 435 record his entry to the service as October 3, 1862 and his date of muster into the G.A.R. on October 26, 1903. He was suspended on February 27, 1905, reinstated on March 15, 1907, and died on January 10, 1910.

John Porcius Gage (July 31, 1846 - August 30, 1932) seems to have been introduced to Grace Nichols via a mutual friend named Celia, and begun a correspondence as a joke (as noted in one of their letters) but continued it for some years. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John and Portia (Kellogg) Gage, but while writing the family seems to have lived primarily in Vineland, Cumberland County, New Jersey, while attending school in various other places. John Porcius Gage married Mary Celestia Silkman in 1872.

Adoniram Judson "A. J." Pickard (December 24, 1838 - 26 December 1882) was a 1st Lieutenant in Company E, 2nd Maine Cavalry, having previously been the principal of a school in Rockland, Maine after graduating from Bowdoin College with the class of 1863. He enlisted at Rockland on October 12, 1863, was promoted to adjutant in 1864, and was mustered out on December 9, 1865 at Barrancas, Florida. For several years he worked in Pensacola, Florida, before taking a medical degree. He was killed by a railroad train at a crossing in 1882. Note that his name is given in some records as Prickard, including in two of Georgia Farnham's letters.

Robert Rankin, Jr. was the son of Robert Rankin (1805 - 1858), a first cousin of Hannah Rankin Blake, Grace's mother. Robert Jr.'s mother most likely was Robert Sr.'s first wife Desire Gilman (d. 1845) or less likely his second wife Abigail Wardwell. Young Robert is not listed in either the 1850 or 1860 census records with his family in Richmond, Virginia, where his father was a merchant. Nor can he be located for certain in post-war census records, when he was living in Maine with the Kelly or Kelley family (his elder sister Mary having married Benjamin Kelly in 1863). His birth and death dates are not certain. From his correspondence it is not clear whether he had served in the Confederate army or simply harbored Confederate sympathies.

Waldo Pierce Lowell, Jr. (April 18, 1853 - December 19, 1923) was the son of Waldo Pierce and Elizabeth Rebecca (Atwood) Lowell of North Bucksport, Hancock County, Maine. Their family connection to Grace Nichols has not yet been determined.

If you have additional information about these individuals please contact us at


4 Linear Feet (Two archives boxes and one oversize box.)

Language of Materials



Letters received by Grace D. Nichols (1848 - 1925) of Rockland, Knox County, Maine, mostly between 1864 and 1872, accompanied by some later postcards and ephemera. Her correspondents include Georgia Farnham, Henry P. McCahill (serving in the 182nd New York Volunteer Infantry), John Porcius Gage, Henry Paine, A. J. Pickard (serving in the 2nd Maine Cavalry), Robert Rankin, and Waldo P. Lowell. Ephemeral materials include calling cards, a wedding announcement, and several unassociated envelopes. Most of the material in this collection predates Grace Nichols' marriage to John T. Robbins in 1871. The McCahill correspondence was begun after Nichols answered an advertisement by Cahill seeking a correspondent.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, March 2004.

Guide to the Grace D. Nichols corresondence
Originally processed 2005 by Randall Miles. Revised and updated 2023 by Jeremy Dibbell
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections Repository

Binghamton NY 13902 USA