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Gustavus Richard "Brown" Horner papers

Identifier: MSS 379

Scope and Contents

This collection contains over 4,000 letters to Dr. Gustavus Richard Brown Horner (from family members and colleagues as well as a letterbook containing copies of letters from Dr. Horner in Warrenton, Virginia, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1824 to 1892. (The collection totals 41 document boxes).

The letters chronicle the historical and political events of the time including enslavery, violence against indigenous persons, the Civil War, post war conditions, westward expansion, political elections, banking and business failures, difficulties of farming wheat and other crops, the emergence of railroads, operating an academy, education, and differences between professional and agricultural life in the nineteenth century. In addition to enslavery and the Civil War, there are descriptions of other major historical events including General Lafayette at George Washington’s gravesite, a sketch of Abraham Lincon's hearse, Nat Turners rebellion, and the loss of many family members to Cholera, Scarlet Fever, and other ailments of the time.

Series 4 Enslavery and African Americans (Content Warning:This material contains references or imagery involving racism. The purpose of this note is to give users the opportunity to decide whether they need or want to view these materials, or at least, to mentally or emotionally prepare themselves to view the materials.)There are letters about an enslaved person named Stanton Butler. Of note is a description of seven white men lynching an African American, named Arthur Gordon Jordan in Winchester, Virginia on January 19, 1880. In addition to the description is a sketch of the lynching.(Box 36 Volume 10)

Also included are indentures, receipts, newspapers, school notebooks, artwork, and diaries (journals) about Horner’s medical and naval career, including his expeditions around the world (fighting piracy) as a Navy Ship surgeon, including South America (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Uruquay) the Mediterranean including Italy, Sicily, and Greece. He specifically mentions his voyages on the USS Macedonian I, USS Brandywine, the USS Delaware, the U.S. John Adams, the U.S. Frigate Wabash, the S.S. Savannah, the U.S. Colorado, the Niagara Flag Ship, and the San Jacinto at Saint Lawrence, Key West during the Civil War. He was present during the Gold Rush of 1849 in California. During the Civil War he was stationed at the Gulf Blockading Squadron at Key West, Florida.


  • Creation: 1820-1892 (1920)

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Biographical / Historical

Gustavus Richard "Brown" Horner, a United States Navy Ship Surgeon born at Warrenton, Virginia, June 18, 1804, was the son of William Horner, of Maryland, and Mary, his wife, daughter of Colonel William Edmonds, of Fauquier County, who commanded a regiment in the revolutionary war. He attended Reverend William Williamson's high school near Middleburg, and the Warrenton Academy, and afterwards graduated in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

He was assistant surgeon on the United States ship Macedonian for two and a half years, and was then transferred to the USS Brandywine for six months. He was on the U.S.S. John Adams, and was promoted to surgeon. For three years, he cruised in the Mediterranean sea, and he made a second cruise of four years on the frigate United States. He was then on shore duty until 1841, and went to Brazil on the U.S.S. Delaware, remaining until 1843 as fleet surgeon, and was then sent again to the Mediterranean.

In 1844 as fleet surgeon on the frigate Savannah, he went to California, remaining eighteen months, then coming home in 1850 by way of Panama. In 1856-1858 he was fleet surgeon on the U.S.S. Wabash. In 1861 he went as fleet surgeon to the flag frigate Colorado, of the Gulf blockading squadron. In 1862 he was transferred to the flag-ship Niagara, and later to the San Jacinto, and then to the St. Lawrence, remaining until 1863. He was then on duty at the marine rendezvous at Philadelphia until 1866, when he was placed on the retired list, at the head of the list of navy medical directors. He married Mary Agnes Teresa, daughter of Dr. Charles Byrne, of Jacksonville, Florida.

Source: "Gustavus Richard Brown Horner" Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography. Accessed 8/14/23


20.5 Cubic Feet (41 document boxes and 3 oversize folders.)

Language of Materials



The collection is arranged into 8 series by topic and chronologically by folder. Series 1. Diaries and journals (boxes 28-41), Series 2. Correspondence, Series 3. Enslaved Persons and African Americans (including description of a lynching by Dr. Horner), Series 4. Navy and Medical Career, Series 5. Business contracts, bills and receipts, Series 6. Printed materials, Series 7. Miscellaneous items, Series 8. Art work. It has been partially reprocessed by putting dates in chronological order and updating the description.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was purchased from Mrs. Austin MacDonnell by the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia Library.


This material contains references or imagery involving racism. The purpose of this note is to give users the opportunity to decide whether they need or want to view these materials, or at least, to mentally or emotionally prepare themselves to view the materials.

Gustavus Richard Brown Horner papers
Ellen Welch and Abbie Morgan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States