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Cilley family papers

Identifier: M354

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Content Description

Correspondence, photographs, legal and financial papers, speeches and writings, and other materials documenting the family and descendants of U.S. House of Representative Jonathan Cilley. The collection includes materials about four generations of Bowdoin College graduates: Jonathan Cilley, Class of 1825 (1802-1838); Cilley's son, Jonathan Prince Cilley, Class of 1855 (1835-1920); Cilley's grandson, Jonathan Prince Cilley, Jr., Class of 1891 (1869-1894), and Cilley's great-grandson, Jonathan Cilley Tibbitts, Class of 1922 (1899-1988).

Hundreds of letters document the deep connection and interpersonal relationship between Jonathan Cilley, his wife Deborah, and their children, Greenleaf, Jonathan Prince, and Julia. There is also correspondence and related materials from Jonathan Cilley's time at Bowdoin College (1821-1825), as a lawyer in Thomaston, Maine, as a democratic member of the Maine House of Representatives (1831-1836), and as U.S. Representative for Maine (1836-1838). Later letters from and to Deborah document her hardships, illnesses, and abiding love for her family life following Jonathan Cilley's murder.

Jonathan Prince Cilley's correspondence span from his childhood to his time at Bowdoin College (1854-1858), during which he exchanged letters with and received advice from then President Franklin Pierce (Bowdoin Class of 1824), to his time fighting for the North during the Civil War.

The collection also includes numerous additional materials related to these individuals, especially Jonathan Cilley. There are legal documents related to his law practice and various lawsuits he was personally involved in; newspaper articles and other papers regarding his 1838 duel with William Graves in which Cilley died; his silhouette album of Bowdoin's Class of 1825, and his wallet including receipts. The collection also includes Deborah Prince Cilley's commonplace books and poems and Jonathan Prince Cilley's Bowdoin College class album from 1858 and materials related to his service for the Union during the Civil War.

Many other members of the Cilley family are represented in the correspondence, photographs, and other documents.


  • Creation: 1820-1923
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1820-1867


Biographical / Historical

Jonathan Cilley (1802-1838) was a skilled orator, lawyer, and United States Representative from Maine (1836-1838). He was born on July 2, 1802 in Nottingham, New Hampshire, and educated at the Atkinson School and Bowdoin College (Class of 1825). Cilley was invited to begin a law career by John Ruggles, a lawyer in Thomaston, Maine, who needed a clerk to oversee his law office while he was working in the state legislature. In 1828, Cilley opened his own law practice in Thomaston, and in 1829, he married Deborah Prince. Cilley served in the Maine legislature from 1832 to 1836 and was Speaker of the House from 1835 to 1836. From 1837 until his death in 1838, Cilley served as a Democratic representative from Maine in the United States House of Representatives. Cilley died on February 24, 1838 from a gunshot wound sustained in a duel with U.S. Representative William Graves of Kentucky. Jonathan and Deborah had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood: Greenleaf (1829-1898), Jane Nealley (1831-1836), Bowdoin Longfellow (1833-1834), Jonathan Prince (1835-1920; Bowdoin College Class of 1858), and Julia Draper (1837-1909).

Deborah Prince Cilley (1808-1844) was the daughter of Hezekiah Prince and Isabella Coombs. She was born on July 8, 1808 in Thomaston, Maine, and educated at a private school in Wiscasset. She was a neighbor of John Ruggles, for whom Jonathan Cilley clerked. Following Jonathan's death, Deborah struggled with both grief and illness, especially tuberculosis, but remained closely connected with both the Prince and Cilley families. She died on August 14, 1844.

Jonathan Prince Cilley (1835-1920) was the youngest son of Jonathan and Deborah Prince Cilley. He was born in Thomaston, Maine, on December 29, 1835. He practiced law briefly in Thomaston before joining the 1st Maine Cavalry in 1861. During the Civil War, he was promoted to Major in 1862, to Lt. Colonel in 1864, and to Bvt. Brig. Gen. in 1865. Following the war, he practiced law in Rockland frp, 1865 to 1919, and also served in the Maine legislature in 1867. He died on April 6, 1920.


3.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The Cilley Family Papers document four generations of the Cilley family of Maine, all of whom had a connection to Bowdoin College: Jonathan Cilley (Bowdoin Class of 1825 and U.S. House of Representative) and his wife, Deborah Prince Cilley; their children, especially Jonathan Prince Cilley (Bowdoin Class of 1858); his son, Jonathan Prince Cilley, Jr. (Bowdoin Class of 1891); and Jonathan Cilley Tibbitts (Bowdoin Class of 1922), the son of Grace Cilley Tibbetts (the daughter of Jonathan Prince Cilley and sister of Jonathan Prince Cilley, Jr.). The law practice, political career, and dramatic death during a duel of Jonathan Cilley are particularly well documented, as is his close relationship to his wife, Deborah. Their son, Jonathan Prince Cilley, is also documented, especially his time at Bowdoin and military career during the Civil War. The collection is composed primarily of correspondence, legal documents, financial records, military records, Bowdoin College-related materials, and photographs.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Jonathan Cilley Tibbitts, Jr., January 2022.


Transcriptions of the majority of the correspondence prepared by Eve Anderson, Thomaston Historical Society, are available.

Guide to the Cilley Family Papers
Kat Stefko and Kate Wing
October 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine 04011 Repository

3000 College Station
Brunswick Maine 04011 USA
(207) 725-3288