cover image Remarkable Americans: The Washburn Family

Remarkable Americans: The Washburn Family

Kerck Kelsey, . . Tilbury, $25.95 (402pp) ISBN 978-0-88448-299-4

Kelsey calls this “the story of the most famous family in America that nobody ever heard of,” the Washburns of 19th-century Livermore, Maine. A descendant of the Washburn family, Kelsey followed his publishing and banking careers with a Harvard master’s degree in history at age 70. He surveys his great-great-grandfather Cadwallader Washburn and his nine siblings, who for Kelsey “embodied the best” of 19th-century America. The seven brothers (Cadwallader, Charles, Elihu, Israel Jr., Sam, Sid, William) and three sisters (Caroline, Martha, Mary) grew up in a rural “crucible of poverty,” where pigs had to be slopped and horses shod. Yet they went on to launch law firms, banks, railroads and sawmills. They spread across the continent to the Midwest and California and served the Union, both in uniform and out, during the Civil War. Some became senators, governors and diplomats; others went into business, including the flour-milling firm Washburn Crosby, which in 1928 became General Mills. Though hagiographic in tone, weighing repeatedly on the Washburns’ talent, energy and moral fiber, this chronicle presents a “narrative of big dreams” that reflects the physical and economic expansion of 19th-century America, and the Washburns’ achievements spring to life. 50 b&w photos. (Feb. 1)