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David Rankin Barbee Papers

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS145

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

The bulk of the Barbee Papers concerns his research, accomplished primarily between the years 1928-1958. The Papers are organized according to provenance into seven series, out-lining his historical interests. The series are: I. Abraham Lincoln; II. Death of Lincoln; III. Lincoln and Booth; IV. John Wilkes Booth; V. Conspirators; VI. Rose O'Neil Greenhow; and VII. American History. Because the collection is largely subject-oriented, due to the inter-relatedness of topics the same subject files may be found in a number of series. File headings as they appear in the folder descriptions are either in large case to indicate subject files or in small case to indicate correspondence files.

The Barbee Papers contain correspondence, manuscripts, transcribed material, photocopies of documents, newspaper clippings, printed material, and photographs. Transcribed material, photocopies of documents, and newspaper clippings represent an enormous amount of research through published and unpublished sources. Barbee was able to gain access to a great deal of material still in private hands, the continued existence of which is uncertain. It is interesting to note that Barbee was one of the scholars to read through the Lincoln Papers when they were opened to the public. Through his studies, he not only concerned himself with major historical figures, but identified many less central characters and spent a great deal of time in reconstructing their societal context.

Correspondence contains fascinating discussions of history, shared with a wide variety of individuals, in addition to including specific research inquiries in search of source material. Because of the years in which Barbee conducted his research, he was fortunate in being able to correspond with close relatives of historical figures from the Civil War era, such as Mrs. Lee D. Marie, grand-daughter of Rose O'Neil Greenhow. Barbee's large correspondence with historians includes letters from Paul M. Angle, Charles Beard, Samuel Ashe, Matthew Page Andrews, Frank Maloy Anderson, Ray P. Basler, Otto Eisenschiml, Lyon G. Tyler, Philip Van Doren Stern, Henry Steele Commager, Emmanuel Hetz, Archibald Henderson, and Albert J. Beveridge, among others. Other correspondents include Bennet Cerf, General Merritte W. Ireland, Stephen Early, Nicholas Murray Butler, Claude G. Bowers, Cordell Hull, Adlai Stevenson, Patrick Hurley, William Jennings Bryan and Lyndon B. Johnson. Other material of note includes original correspondence concerning the estate of Rose O'N. Greenhow. Included are letters between A.M. Waddell of Wilmington, North Carolina and Richard Savage, dated 1866-1869. The question of the Greenhow estate is particularly interesting since she was found after her death with large amounts of gold, presumably for the Confederacy. Also included in the Greenhow series are three photographs of Greenhow, including a carte-de-visite taken in London shortly before her death, a memorial card after her death, and a daguerreotype, date unknown.

Size: 25.0 linear feet; 17 boxes Dates: 1886-1956 (terminal) 1928-1956 (bulk)


  • 1886 - 1956
  • Majority of material found within 1928 - 1956

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of the materials being used, establishing who the copyright owner is, locating the copyright owner, and obtaining permission for intended use.

Biographical note

David Rankin Barbee was born on October 15, 1874, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the son of Rev. John Dodson and Margaret Rankin Barbee. His father, a Methodist minister, was commissioned a chaplain during the Civil War, holding the first commission signed by President Jefferson Davis. His maternal grand-uncle Rev. John Rankin was a founder of the Southren abolitionist movement, establishing a society in Carlisle, Kentucky in 1818. Barbee attended Emory and Henry College, without receiving a degree. In his own words, he 'never was graduated from anything from kindergarten to the university.' In 1896 Barbee began a career in journalism with the Nashville Banner. From that date until 1928, he worked on numerous Southern papers in Memphis, Chattanooga, Montgomery, Mobile, New Orleans and Ashville. In 1928 he came to Washington, D.C. as a feature writer for the Washington Post. His column Profiles earned a large and loyal audience. In 1933 Barbee joined the Roosevelt administration as a public relations writer for the Federal Alcohol Administration. In similar capacities, many journalists became a part of the New Deal by reporting on agency operations within the expanding federal government. The Papers contain an interesting letter from Stephen Early, Assistant Secretary to the President, in which he states that 'our main objective is to open up and oppose the closing up of governmental agencies whose activities are of interest to the people of the country.' Barbee's own analysis of Roosevelt's use of the press can be found in a commencement address delivered at Emory and Henry College.

From his retirement in 1942 until his death in 1958, Barbee devoted his time to historical research. His interests, while unusually Catholic, centered on Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, confederate spy Rose O'Neil Greenhow, and on Southern history in general. Barbee was a member of a generation of Southern historians and writers who took seriously the need to present their understanding of the South's role in our national development. Although motivated by sectional pride, Barbee's research was both exhaustive and objective in an attempt to arrive at interpretation based on fact. The results of his labors appeared as articles in such journals as Tyler's Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine and the Southern Churchman and as letters to editors of numerous newspapers and periodicals. Barbee published two major works: Washington: City of Mighty Events and An Excursion in Southern History. The latter is a compilation of excerpts from a lengthy correspondence between Barbee and Senator Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana, written primarily during the research of Beveridge's biography of Lincoln. The Papers contain three manuscripts written by Barbee yet never published: 'The Inside Story of Lamon's Life of Lincoln', 'Lincoln and Booth', and 'The Story of Mrs. Robert Greenhow' (or 'The Nemesis of Abraham Lincoln'). Barbee viewed himself as an 'unreconstructed' Southerner, yet saw the Lincoln assassination as an act 'so cruel, so cowardly, so unnecessary and so tremendous in its consequences that by common consent, it has come to be regarded as the greatest incident in American history.' Barbee died in Orange, Texas, on March 7, 1958.


18 Linear Feet (18 Hollinger Record Storage boxes)

Language of Materials


David Rankin Barbee Papers
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C.
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057