Transcribing a Piece of History

In the fall of 2021, two Grinnell 5th grade students embarked on a project to research and transcribe a letter written by town founder Josiah B. Grinnell. The letter is a part of the Drake Community Library archives. The students, Malia and Elisa, were being home schooled at the time. Their history assignment brought them to the library in search of founding documents for the town of Grinnell. In the course of the search, archivist Liz Cabelli mentioned this letter and wondered if working with it might interest them. Elisa’s father, Patrick, was able to build several history lessons around the letter. The project led the girls to learn more about Josiah (J.B.) and Julia, his wife. They also researched the Civil War officer who J.B. wrote to (Elliot Rice), as well as his brother (Samuel Rice), who had been a political rival of Grinnell’s at one time. They explored other documents related to these individuals in the Grinnell College archives and at the State Historical Society of Iowa. They learned some tricks to deciphering old handwriting, including taking clues from other letters that have already been transcribed.

The result of their project is represented on this page. You can learn about the people involved and view a scan of the original letter. You can also read the transcription, with notations of the sections that have yet to be deciphered. Perhaps you’d like to give it a look and see if you can help figure out some of the still unknown words!



View images of the 3 page letter below.  You can download the pdf here.

The contents of the letter transcription is below. Lines in bold italics were hard to decipher and are the best guess at this time. Words in [straight brackets] are explanation of abbreviations.  Words in {brackets} are thought two be either of the two words therein.  Blank lines indicate a word or words that have not yet been deciphered.

We welcome your help in determining the remaining pieces of this puzzle. If you think you can help, please call the library and ask to talk to Monique or email

Grinnell Iowa July 23/64

Dear General Rice,

With you I am sad for the death of your Bro [brother]. The country has suffered a great loss. And you and the family one that cannot be made up to you. The family I may see next week. You may have seen the resolution passed at the state convention. There was much probing when presented. So this you know that you can [as or is] all sight I trust. The Dept. writes now that your Commission as Brig.  Gen  was mailed to you on the 28 of June. I am only looking for a letter {for or from} you. Doubtless you are now glad you Bro. [brother] was promoted first and that he left the world with a high rank and {then or the} well earned honor of soldier and a Patriot. I hope you will get a command symbol to give c___ity and highest ambition. Most of the {counties or countries} are for my _______________. I think ___________ with no names for in unless it maybe from your County. I care but little about it anyway. Yet {dismiss or discuss} the ____________ from so far as I dis_____ it. My family and my business requires my time and presence. Mrs. G [Grinnell] is better and leaves the State for the east next week. It will please her to hear from you and _____ health and virtue and s____ peace.  

Regards to all the family,

     S_____ _______

J. B. Grinnell

Samuel Rice (Brother of Recipient)

Samuel Allen Rice was born in New York in 1828. He studied to become a lawyer and after he graduated he practiced law in Iowa. He moved to Oskaloosa, Iowa, just before the Civil War started in 1861. Rice was commissioned as a Colonel in the 33rd Iowa regiment on Aug. 10, 1862. That same year, he ran against J.B. Grinnell for the U.S. House of Representatives. He lost by only 50 ballots. He was promoted to Brigadier General when he helped to win the Battle of Helena on July 4th, 1863. On Apr. 30, 1864, in the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry, General Rice was badly wounded by a bullet that hit is foot. He was brought back to Oskaloosa, his hometown. He died on July 6, 1864 from his wounds. Samuel Rice was 36 when he died.

Elliot Rice (Recipient)

Elliott Warren Rice, younger brother of Samuel Rice (see above), was born in Pennsylvania. He moved to Oskaloosa, Iowa, to practice law with his brother after he graduate from college. In the spring of 1861, Rice was appointed a Corporal in the 7th Iowa Infanty. He was soon promoted to Major and was commissioned Colonel after the Battle of Fort Donelson. He was later promoted to Brigadier General. After the war he practiced law in Washington D.C. He moved to Sioux City, Iowa, where he stayed with his sister until his death at age 51.

Josiah B. Grinnell and Julia Chapin Grinnell

J.B. Grinnell and his wife, Julia Ann Grinnell (Chapin) were founders, along with 3 others, and namesake of the town of Grinnell, Iowa.  Mr. Grinnell was an important U.S. Congressman during the Civil War. He was a Republican and an abolitionist. He signed the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He held many other jobs during his life including minister, land speculator, lawyer, and state senator. He also taught in a one room school  for a while, and even helped build a railroad. He founded multiple towns other than Grinnell, including Chapin, Iowa, named for his wife (are there other town names to include?).  Julia Chapin married J.B. Grinnell in _____. She was from a wealthy family and helped J.B. purchase the land for Grinnell.



Photos of Elliot and Samuel Rice courtesy of the State Historical Museum of Iowa.

Photos of Josiah B. Grinnell from the Library of Congress and available in Wikimedia Commons.

Research included materials from the archives of Drake Community Library, Grinnell College Special Collections & Archives, and the State Historical Museum of Iowa. Sources used in the project:

Josiah Bushnell Grinnell: Radical Abolitionist Through and Through, by Will Hamilton.  Grinnell Undergraduate Research Journal 2016-2017, Vol. 4, No. 1 (2017)

Brigadier General Samuel Allen Rice: Cival War Hero, Iowa Heritage Digital Collections

Brigadier-General Elliott W. Rice, Civil War Notebook, Sept. 29, 2009, by Jim Miller

Civil War portrait of Major General E.W. Rice (1861)  Iowa Heritage Digital Collections


Malia and Elisa

Malia and Elisa were Grinnell 5th graders at the time of this project. Because of COVID19 precautions, their families decided to homeschool. Under the steady supervision of their parents, especially Elisa’s father Patrick, they got some wonderful hands-on experience in historical research.


About Malia

I am 11 years old and am doing 5th grade homeschooling. My favorite subjects in school are reading, music, writing,  and math. All of which I do often. A couple of my hobbies are crafting, swimming, playing piano, collecting water bottle stickers, and spending time with my family. I also enjoy playing chess and Battleship. My favorite animals are flamingos and dogs (especially puppies). Some of my favorite book series are: Aru Shah, Percy Jackson, and Harry Potter.

About Elisa

I am 10 years old. I am homeschooled and in fifth grade. My favorite subjects are linguistics, social studies, and biology. I enjoy playing chess, crafting, bike riding, and reading. I also like to explore nature, draw, spend time with my family, and learn new languages. My favorite animals are cats, red pandas, and pink dolphins. My favorite color is purple.

These items related to Samuel and Elliot Rice are included in the collection at the State Historical Museum of Iowa.

September 27, 1861 –  Elliot Rice becomes a Major in the 7th Regiment for the State of Illinois.

September 4, 1856 – Samuel Rice is elected to Attorney General for Iowa.

July 20, 1864 – Notice of death of Samuel Rice from Major General F. Steele

July 20, 1864 – Notice of death of Samuel Rice from Brigadere General F. Solomon