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James F. Stepter and the Steptoe Family papers

 Collection 0140-MDHC

The papers of James F. Stepter and the Steptoe family consist of fifty letters which span the period 1862 to 1864. Twenty-six letters were written by James Stepter to his wife Amanda from Harpers Ferry and Union encampments near Brandy Station, Cullet Station, Bealton, and Berryville, Virginia. Major topics include Stepter's personal observations on the war and military life, politics, and family concerns.

Twenty-threer letters were written by various members of the Steptoe family to Henrietta Steptoe Manuel, James's sister. One letter was written by John C. Steptoe to Rebecca Steptoe. Major topics include the health and well-being of the three brothers serving in the Union Army; and the soldiers' observations on the war and military life, politics, and family matters.


  • 1862-1864

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.


2.50 Linear Feet


James Fulton ("Foot") Stepter (1833-1864) was one of ten children born to William Henry (1808-1871) and Sarah Fulton (1808-1878). William was the son of Henrietta Steptoe (1776-1850), a mixed race woman, who resided in Washington, DC; his father is unknown. Sarah was born in Maryland and most of their children were born in Cecil County, MD. In addition to James, William and Sarah's children included William Jr. (1829-1872), Henrietta (1831-1883) who married William Manuel (1830-1895), George Washington ("Wash") (1835-1874) who married Emma Mingen, Ann Rebecca ("Beck") (1838-1924), John Christopher (1841-1863), and Andrew Thompson (1850-1913). Four others died before 1860. Most of the family members are buried in Delaware where the Manuel and Steptoe families resided following the war.

James F. Stepter served as a private in the Union Army during the Civil War. On August 14, 1862, he enlisted in Company B of the 6th Maryland Regiment Infantry, a company from Cecil County. Stepter was wounded and captured on May 5, 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia. He was held a prisoner of war at Andersonville, Georgia, and died either there or more likely in prison at Charleston, South Carolina, allegedly on October 4, 1864.

James married Amanda Kershaw and they lived in Elkton, Maryland, in Cecil County, prior to the Civil War. According to the 1860 federal census, James F. Stepter was a twenty-seven-year-old weaver. His wife, Amanda Kershaw, was twenty-six years old at the time of the census, and the couple had a three-year-old son named William (Will) and a one-year-old daughter named Sarah E. (Ema). A third child named Lewis (Leau) was born before Stepter's enlistment. At some point after James Stepter entered the Union Army, his wife and family moved to Chester, Pennsylvania. Amanda Stepter was born in Pennsylvania and Chester may have been her hometown. Although Amanda Stepter traveled to Elkton on at least one occasion, it appears that the family remained in Chester for the period covered by these letters. Following James' death, Amanda Stepter married William Simpers in about 1867 and had three more children; she died after 1880.

James' sister, Henrietta Steptoe Manuel, and her husband, William resided near Newark, Delaware. William was a spinner in a woolen mill. At the time of the correspondence, they had three children; a daughter died in 1862.

George Washington ("Wash") Steptoe served in the 10th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. In late 1862 and early 1863, his company was assigned guard duty in Washington, DC. In the spring of 1863, the company moved near Suffolk, VA to fight the Confederates. By the summer of 1863, they were in Philadelphia, PA. George was at his brother John's bedside when he died there in July.

Ann Rebecca ("Beck") Steptoe was a mill worker who may have lived at home with her parents during this period.

John Christopher Steptoe served in the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry. He was wounded July 3, 1863 in the Battle of Gettysburg. He was taken to the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon & Hospital in Philadelphia where Beck wrote that his wound was not serious but he had typhoid fever. John died there on July 28 surrounded by his parents, his brothers Andrew and George, George's wife Emma, and Beck.


The confusion surrounding the spelling of the last name of this family comes from the family members themselves. James signs 16 of his known letters to his wife as Stepter and five as Steptoe between 1862 and 1864. Letters to Henrietta Steptoe Manuel and Rebecca Steptoe from their siblings are signed Steptoe. The collection was originally named for James F. Stepter and these letters retain the Stepter spelling assigned in 1996. The letters written by the Steptoe siblings acquired in 2011 are titled according to the spelling that they consistently used.


This collection is organized into two series.

Series 1
Correspondence from James Stepter
Series 2
Correspondence to Henrietta Steptoe Manuel and Ann Rebecca Steptoe

Custodial History

The University of Maryland Libraries purchased twenty-one letters of James F. Stepter to his wife Amanda from rare books and manuscript dealer, Charles Apfelbaum, in 1996.

The Steptoe family papers were donated to the university by Thomas C. Byrnes in October 2011. These papers consist of twenty-five letters: twenty-three letters written to Byrnes' Great-Grandmother Henrietta (Steptoe) Manuel by: James F. Steptoe, Amanda Steptoe, George W. Steptoe, John C. Steptoe and Rebecca Ann Steptoe; one letter from John C. to his sister Rebecca; and one letter from James F. Stepter to his wife Amanda (July 16, 1863).

The letters first passed to Henrietta's daughter Amanda (Manuel) Cornog. When Amanda died in 1928, her sisters Sarah, Anna, and Florence collectively decided to place the letters with Anna (Manuel) Ryan's son Arthur Ryan. When Arthur died in the early 1950s, the letters passed to his sister Edith (Ryan) Byrnes. Edith (Ryan) Byrnes preserved and protected the letters throughout her lifetime and, when she died in 1961, the letters passed to her son Thomas C. Byrnes. He maintained the collection for fifty years, sharing transcriptions and copies with other family members. In 2011, with the earliest letters about to turn 150 years old, Mr. Byrnes donated the collection to the university to assure its permanent preservation and public availability.

Four additional letters written by James Stepter to Amanda Stepter (May 27, 1862; July 27, 1863; November 14, 1863; December 3, 1863) were purchased from G. Leamon Martin, Jr. in September 2018.

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital copies of several of the letters in Series I of this collection are available at in the University of Maryland's Digital Collections. The letters that were added to this collection in 2012 and 2018 have not been digitized.

Related Materials

The following websites and sources include background on the Stepter family as well as materials at other libraries.

  1. 72d Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company E.
  2. Archives of Maryland online, History and Roster of Maryland Volunteers, War of 1861-6, Volume 1, Sixth Regiment Infantry."
  3. Maryland Genealogical Society Journal.(Baltimore, Md: Maryland Genealogical Society). (UMCP HBK Maryland Room, Maryland Stacks F180 .M362. vol. 52, no. 2, 2011). Article: "A Family War" by Jack F. Fallin, pg. 229-291.
  4. MSS218, Edward A. Fulton collection, Special collections, University of Delaware Library. Edward (about 1836-after 1870) was a cousin of the Steptoe siblings and served in the Union army in the same regiment but a different company with John C. Steptoe.

Processing Information

All materials have been placed in acid-free folders and boxes. Transcriptions of several letters were created by Jack Fallin and Thomas C. Byrnes in 2010-2011. These transcriptions have been linked to the finding aid to assist researchers.

Guide to the James F. Stepter and the Steptoe Family papers
Processed by Pamela Alsop. Guide revised and new material added by Terry Ann Sayler, May 2012. Additional materials added by Emily Flint, July 2019.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742