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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Draper, Lyman Copeland 1815 - 1891


collector, historian, corresponding secretary of the State Historical Society, author, b. Erie County, N.Y. He attended local village schools and spent two years (1834-1836) at Granville College, Ohio. Influenced by the tales of frontier adventure that he heard as a boy, Draper developed an abiding interest in the drama of the West. He read all the available literature on the subject, and, noting its inadequacies, determined to devote his life to writing biographies of the frontiersmen and collecting authentic data on their lives. Aided by the financial support and sympathetic interest of Peter A. Remsen (the husband of Draper's cousin, Lydia Chadwick), he began to travel throughout the Allegheny region and into Alabama and Mississippi, interviewing old settlers and collecting their reminiscences and manuscripts. In 1840-1841 he made an unsuccessful venture into the newspaper business in Mississippi. For a short period he also tried farming. From 1842 to 1843 he worked as clerk in the office of the Erie Canal in Buffalo, N.Y., but in 1844 returned to the patronage of Remsen and continued his collecting activities. In 1852 he moved to Madison at the insistence of his Granville College classmate, Charles H. Larrabee (q.v.), with the specific purpose of gaining the appointment as state librarian. In 1854 he became corresponding secretary of the State Historical Society, and held this office continuously until 1886. He was untiring in his efforts to increase the Society's membership, to get increased state support, and to build its library. A Democrat, he was state superintendent of public instruction (1858-1859), and in this position was instrumental in promoting the beginnings of the university library and securing the services of Henry Barnard (q.v.) as chancellor. Although continually expressing his desire to write, Draper was adept at procrastination, and his literary output was limited. Among his writings are King's Mountain and Its Heroes (1881) and The Helping Hand (1870), a book of household information and farming advice that he wrote with W. A. Croffut. He also prepared several short biographical sketches for Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, and wrote numerous articles for the publications of the State Historical Society. Two of his works remained unpublished, Border Forays and Adventures, which he wrote in collaboration with C. W. Butterfield, and an unfinished biography of Daniel Boone. It was not in writing history, but in the collection of manuscripts and pioneer reminiscences that Draper performed his major service. During his years with the State Historical Society, he gathered an enormous volume of manuscripts from Wisconsin and from outside the state. He was responsible for editing the first ten volumes of Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1855-1888), and in the years following the Civil War was especially effective in gathering documents from the South. In 1886 Draper retired, but continued to live in Madison until his death. A meticulous collector and scholar, Draper was more attracted by the dramatic aspects of the frontier than by its social, political, or economic history. At his death he bequeathed his personal collection to the Society, and these 478 volumes, together with the materials that he had gathered as secretary, formed the nucleus of the Historical Society's manuscript collection on frontier history, which became one of the largest and most important in the nation. View more information. Dict. Amer. Biog.; W. B. Hesseltine, Pioneer's Mission (Madison, 1954); Wis. Mag. Hist., 5, 35; WPA MS; L. C. Draper Papers.

View pictures relating to Lyman Copeland Draper at Wisconsin Historical Images.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Lyman Copeland Draper Papers for details. See also the Draper Manuscripts. See also the Draper Family Genealogical Material. See also the Lyman Copeland Draper Autograph Essay Files. See also the Hoisington Family Genealogical Material. See also the Lyman Copeland Draper House Plans.

View a related article at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.

View Draper's memorial at Wisconsin Historical Collections.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]
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