Winn-Cook Family Papers Papers, 1861-1875

Held by The Filson Historical Society 

Creator:  Winn-Cook Family Papers 

Title:  Papers, 1861-1875 

Rights: For information regarding literary and copyright interest for these papers, contact the Collections Department. 

Size of Collection:  1 cubic foot 

Location Number:  Mss. A W776 

Scope and Content Note 

The letters collected by Martha Winn-Cook cover many aspects of the Civil War and Reconstruction history. Martha and her friends and family are immigrants from England. Her brother Robert Winn and future husband Matthew Cook served in the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry. There are also letters from William Brunt and William Usher who were neighbors of the Winn family in Hancock County, Ky. before Martha moved to Du Quoin, Illinois. Brunt was an abolitionist who served in an Illinois regiment before he became involved in the training of “contraband units”. Usher served in a Kentucky infantry unit and writes from the Atlanta Campaign. Robert’s wife Amelia writes of rebel activity in Hancock County including an encounter with rebel guerrillas by her son. John Taylor left Hancock County for Nebraska to avoid the draft and tellsof his experiences as a farmer in that territory. There are also letters from family back in England and Matthew’s nephews in Utah. 

Robert Winn is very well educated and his letters to his sister discuss many subjects of interest. He was a surgeon’s assistant so he discusses medical care and diseases in his letters. He also discusses politics and is very vocal on his opinions of politicians. Religion is another favorite subject of discussion and there are letters with pages filled with arguments about baptism and biblical prophecy. Matthew Cook is illiterate and other people have to write his letters for him so he does not have the depth of information that Robert Winn has in his letters. Even so he does tell of the operations of his unit in the war and describes scouts and raids. 

Biographical Note 

The Winn family are English immigrants that settled in Hancock County, Kentucky and became involved in the coal mining industry. During the war the Winns move to Du Quoin, Illinois. The collection consist of letters collected by Martha Winn sent to her by friends and family. 

Robert Winn, Martha’s brother, and Matthew Cook, her future husband, served in the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry during the Civil War. Robert married Amelia Nugent who was 19 years his senior with several children and had a farm near Hawesville, Ky. She writes several letters to Martha during the war describing the guerrilla activity in Hancock County. While in the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry Robert served in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. He became an assistant to the surgeon and spent most of the war in this non-combative position. He is very religious and well educated. His letters discuss the politics of the time, slavery, the draft, and religion. After the war he returns to Hancock County where he is considered a double outsider because he is English and a Yankee. He continues to farm his wife’s land and becomes involved in creating a Sunday School at his church. He also works some winters in the coal industry selling coal in Illinois. 

Matthew Cook is also English and a coal miner. He is also illiterate so his letters are written by a third party, often Robert Winn. His role in the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry is more active than Robert’s and he is often on prolonged scouts and chasing guerrillas. He gets out of the Army in late 1864 for medical reasons and returns to Du Quoin to marry Martha Winn. He then joins with her father working for United Coal Mining Company. 

John Taylor is a Scotsman who worked as a blacksmith in Hancock County. He had a wife and four children when the war began so in 1864 he leaves Hancock County and moves to Nebraska Territory to avoid the draft in Kentucky. He buys a farm in Nebraska and later enlarges its size through the Homestead Act. His wife gives birth to a couple more children and then dies. He also loses a daughter to typhoid fever. 

Matthew Cook’s family in England write as well. His sisters are still in England and describe the economic conditions of the country. They also tell how his sister Elizabeth Cornwell’s husband ran off to Utah with her three eldest boys. He later contacts these nephews of his and receives several letters from Utah. 

Other people writing to Martha Winn-Cook include William Usher, another English coal miner from Hancock County in the Union Army and William Brunt an Englishman who joins an Illinois regiment and later becomes involved in the training of “Contraband” troops. 

Folder List 

Box 1 

Folder 1: Robert Winn Correspondence 1861. 

Folder 2: Robert Winn Correspondence 1862. 

Folder 3: Robert Winn Correspondence Jan. – Sept. 1863. 

Folder 4: Robert Winn Correspondence Oct. – Dec. 1863. 

Folder 5: Robert Winn Correspondence Jan. – Feb. 1864. 

Folder 6: Robert Winn Correspondence March 1864. 

Folder 7: Robert Winn Correspondence April – May 1864. 

Folder 8: Robert Winn Correspondence June – Aug. 1864. 

 

Box 2 

Folder 9: Robert Winn Correspondence Sept. – Dec. 1864. 

Folder 10: Robert Winn Correspondence Jan. – March 1865. 

Folder 11: Robert Winn Correspondence April – May 1865. 

Folder 12: Robert Winn Correspondence June – Dec. 1865. 

Folder 13: Robert Winn Correspondence 1866 – 1867. 

Folder 14: Robert Winn Correspondence 1868 – 1875. 

Folder 15: Robert Winn Correspondence Undated. 

Folder 16: Amelia Winn Correspondence 1864. 

 

Box 3 

Folder 17: Matthew Cook Correspondence 1861 – 1862. 

Folder 18: Matthew Cook Correspondence 1863. 

Folder 19: Matthew Cook Correspondence 1864. 

Folder 20: James and John Taylor Correspondence 1864 – 1875. 

Folder 21: William Brunt Correspondence 1862 [1863] – 1664. 

Folder 22: Miscellaneous Correspondence 1863 – 1871. 

Folder 23: Miscellaneous Papers. 

Folder 24: Newspaper Clippings.