Whitcomb, Samuel

Born: 1792-09-14 Massachusetts

Died: 1879-03-05 Vermont

Flourished: Washington, D.C.

Samuel Whitcomb was a bookseller, clerk, journalist, landowner, and education advocate. Hailing from Hanover, Massachusetts, Whitcomb became a bookseller in 1810, serving in that capacity until the 1820s, interrupted only by a stint in the military during the War of 1812. In 1817, he married Mary Simmons Joy, who accompanied him in 1818 as he sold subscriptions of Thomas Waits', Publick Documents and State Papers. As Whitcomb travelled through the Midwest and South, he came into contact with America's competing protestant denominations, folk religion, religious skepticism, and pronounced infidelity. His diary of his journey offered a first hand account of religion in America after the War of 1812. In 1824, he met former presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison while selling subscriptions of William Mitford's, The History of Greece. Jefferson and Madison did not purchase any volumes, but Whitcomb did succeed in interviewing Jefferson. Leaving the book trade, Whitcomb settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and in 1825, he secured at position at the Boston Custom House. While living in Dorchester and working in Boston, he became involved in the temperance movement, attending a temperance convention in Boston in September 1835. He joined the Dorchester Workingman's Party, serving as secretary from 1830 to 1832. He moved to Washington, DC, where he got a job as a clerk in the Treasury Department. In 1845, Whitcomb became the Washington correspondent for the Boston Journal, contributing articles on politics and education reform, most nobly the push for comprehensive primary and secondary education. From 1845 to 1849, he worked for the Teachers Placement Agency. In 1850, Whitcomb retired to property he owned in Vermont, where he continued his interest in politics, religion, education, and public improvements. He became an advocate for Vermont's War of 1812 veterans in their efforts to get bounty lands as remuneration for their war service. In 1860, Whitcomb was working as a clerk in Springfield, Vermont, and owned real estate valued at $3,000 and had a personal estate of $300.

Eric R. Schlereth, An Age of Infidels: The Politics of Religious Controversy in the Early United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 168-69; William Peden, "A Book Peddler Invades Monticello," The William and Mary Quarterly 6 (October 1949), 631-36; Proceedings of the Temperance Convention, Held in Boston on the Twenty-Third September, 1835 (Boston: John Ford, 1836), 42; The Biennial Register of all Officers and Agents in the Service of the United States (Washington, DC: Blair & Rives, 1838), 18; "Biographical Sketch," Samuel Whitcomb Papers, 1704-1916, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts, accessed 8 November 2019, https://www.masshist.org/collection-guides/view/fa0085; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Springfield, Windsor County, VT, 56.