Collection of Osborne Family Materials
Scope and Contents
The collection contains photographs, clippings, and published materials relating to Samuel Osborne and his family. The collection also includes alumni files for Edward Samuel Osborne (Colby Class of 1897, non-graduate) and Marion Thompson Osborne Matheson (Colby Class of 1900), as well as correspondence between the college and members of the Osborne family.
- 1865 - 2018
Conditions Governing Access
Materials to be used on site during regular Special Collections hours or by appointment. Photocopying or scanning may be possible at discretion of staff for nominal fee. Digital cameras are permitted. Materials may be protected by copyright.
Conditions Governing Use
Collection is open for research.
Biographical / Historical
Samuel Osborne (1833-1904) was an African American freed slave who settled his family in Waterville, Maine, at the end of the Civil War. Osborne worked as a janitor for 37 years at Colby College. Two of his children, Edward and Marion, were among the first black students at the college; Marion would be the first African American woman to graduate from Colby with the Class of 1900. Marion, along with her sisters Annie, Alice and Lulu, and several of the Osborne grandchildren would go on to serve their communities as teachers.
Samuel Osborne was born on October 20, 1833, on the slave plantation of Dr. William Welford in Lanesville, Virginia, and grew up in Fredericksburg where Welford relocated. There he was raised with another child slave, Maria Iverson (1836-1913), whom he would eventually marry. Sam was hired out to a local boarding school for boys where he first acquired experience working with youth in an academic setting, experience he would later draw on during his career at Colby. The Osbornes and their three young daughters, Flora, Amelia, and Lulu, were freed as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation but continued to work as servants until the end of the Civil War.
Osborne worked for a time in the office of Col. Stephen Fletcher (Colby Class of 1859), the U.S. Provost Marshall at Danville, Virginia. In May 1865, Fletcher returned to his home town of Waterville, Maine, accompanied by Sam and two of his daughters. Sam began work at the Maine Central Railroad, and within six months was able to bring his wife, Maria, their third daughter, and his father, Richard, to join him in Waterville. Richard began work as the janitor at Colby University, but when he died early in 1866 at age 73, Sam took over his role at the college.
Sam came to excel at the position of College Janitor, which was steady work but chronically underpaid. The family’s financial stress and the birth of another daughter, Isabelle, who died in infancy in 1868, may have led to their “adopting out” their daughter, Lulu Clifton Osborne (1864-1907?), to the household of Colby Professor Charles E. Hamlin and his wife, Elizabeth. The Hamlins, who were childless, raised Lulu as their own, although no official documentation of her adoption exists. Lulu retained her family name of Osborne, even when she accompanied the Hamlins to Cambridge, Mass., where Hamlin took a position at Harvard. Lulu graduated from Cambridge High School in 1882 and became a teacher in Burlington County, New Jersey, where she married a fellow teacher, Theodore E.H. Connor.
The oldest daughter, Flora Molly Osborne (1854-1921) married Emile N. Strange, the eldest son of another black family who for a time shared the Osborne residence at 5 Ash Street in Waterville in the 1870s. Flora would run a boarding house nearby at 11 Ash Street. Amelia Osborne (1857-1930) became a nurse, and later served as the housemother to the Delta Upsilon fraternity at Colby.
The Osbornes had four other children born in Waterville: Annie, Alice, Edward, and Marion. Annie J. Osborne (1869-1901) became a teacher in Kent County, Maryland. Alice E. Osborne (1871-1968) was a grammar school teacher in the Waterville public schools, and later a book keeper in a local doctor’s office. Edward Samuel Osborne (1874-1956) attended Colby in 1893-1894 (as a youngster he had found early work as an organ pumper in the college chapel) and was a standout on the baseball team. Edward withdrew from Colby to enter the workforce, beginning a 59-year career as a local Railway Express Agency Messenger. Marion Thompson Osborne Matheson (1878-1954) was the first African American woman graduate of Colby in 1900; she served as a teacher in Brooklyn, N.Y., and later worked as a secretary.
In spite of many obstacles Samuel Osborne was able to establish a significant role for himself and his family in the Waterville community. During his lengthy 37-year tenure as College Janitor, spanning seven administrations of college presidents, Osborne became recognized as a central figure at Colby. At his death on July 1, 1904, Samuel Osborne, an unschooled former slave, left a legacy of service to education, one that was carried on by the Osborne Family through the work of many of his children and grandchildren.
0.5 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
The Osborne Family Collection centers on the members of an early African American family who settled in Waterville, Maine after the Civil War. The collection contains materials relating to Samuel Osborne (1883-1904), his wife, Maria Iverson Osborne (1836-1913), and their children: Flora Molly Osborne Strange (1854-1921), Amelia Osborne (1857-1930), and Lulu Clifton Osborne Connor (1864-1907?), all born in slavery in Virginia. The remaining Osborne children: Isabelle Osborne (1868), Annie J. Osborne (1869-1901), Alice E. Osborne (1871-1968), Edward Samuel Osborne (1874-1956), and Marion Thompson Osborne Matheson (1878-1954) were born in Waterville, Maine. Samuel Osborne worked as the Colby College Janitor for 37 years, and was an active participant in local community groups, the Baptist Church, and the Order of Good Templars (a Temperance organization). The Osbornes’ daughter Amelia served as the housemother to the Delta Upsilon fraternity at Colby, and their two youngest children attended the college: Edward with the Class of 1897 (a non-graduate) and Marion with the Class of 1900. Marion was the first African American woman to graduate from Colby. The collection contains photographs, clippings, and published materials relating to the Osborne Family and their lives in Waterville.
Materials arranged in six series: Samuel Osborne Materials, Maria Iverson Osborne Materials, Edward Samuel Osborne Materials, Marion Thompson Osborne Materials, Additional Osborne Family Materials, and Photographs.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Materials acquired via gift or purchase.
- Finding Aid to the Collection of Osborne Family Materials
- Colby College Special Collections, Waterville Maine
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note