University of Texas Arlington

John Franklin Meginness Papers:

A Guide

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Meginness, John Franklin, 1827-1899.
Title: John Franklin Meginness Papers
Inclusive Dates: 1809-1857
Bulk Dates: 1847-1919
Identification: GA119
Extent: 1 box (0.5 linear ft.)
Language: Materials are in English.
Repository: Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library

Biographical Note

John Franklin Meginness was born July 16, 1827, in Colerain, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Benjamin and Sarah Meginness and spent his boyhood on his father's farm. The family moved to Illinois in 1843. He was a diligent student and was devoted to reading. At sixteen years of age, he left his family and returned to Pennsylvania to continue his education. He lived in Danville, where he was employed by the Montour Iron Works until the war with Mexico began. He enlisted April 9, 1847, joining Company D, Fifth U.S. Infantry, commanded by Captain Randolph B. Marcy.

Because of his excellent penmanship, John Meginness was selected by Captain Marcy as clerk of his company. His company sailed from New York on June 19, 1847, for Vera Cruz, Mexico, where they arrived on July 20, 1847. They joined Major Lally and his 1,000 men who were marching to meet with General Winfield Scott's forces. He was engaged in several battles along the way at National Bridge and Cerro Gordo, where Meginness narrowly escaped a musket ball that passed between his right arm and body. Meginness marched to Pueblo, under the command of General Joseph Lane, where Lieutenant Ridgley, commander of his company, was killed. He entered Mexico City with his column, December 7, 1847. He made the march to Mexico City and back to Vera Cruz, never having been wounded.

In addition to serving as clerk of his company, Meginness also kept journals of his experiences. He was fortunate to be present with his regiment in the court yard of the National Palace when the first installments arrived of three million dollars, of the fifteen million that was to be paid for California. The money was carried from wagons and delivered to the Mexican authorities.

On July 17, 1848, his regiment sailed from Vera Cruz on the Jane Gano, for New Orleans. He was discharged at East Pascagoula, Mississippi, in August, 1848. On October 25, 1849, he was married to Martha Jane King. They lived in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, and had ten children.

The achievements of John Meginness were many after his return from the war. He became the editor of the Jersey Shore Republican, a weekly newspaper, on June 9, 1852. He then devoted himself to his new career as a journalist, which began June, 1854. He also saw the importance of preserving the local history of certain sections of Pennsylvania. Meginness undertook the writing of a pioneer history of his state. He became a writer and editor of several papers and was present at the debates between Lincoln and Douglas.

John Meginness served as the managing editor of the daily Lycoming Gazette, the oldest newspaper in Lycoming County, served as city editor of the Gazette and Bulletin and later, its editor in chief. He also founded the monthly magazine, The Historical Journal. He undertook the work of writing an exhaustive biography entitled, Frances Slocum, the Lost Sister of Wyoming. The work was completed and published in December, 1890 and was soon sold out.

John Meginness traveled extensively in addition to his literary and editorial endeavors. He died suddenly in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on November 11, 1899, just weeks after his golden wedding anniversary celebration.


  • In Memory of John F. Meginness, Journalist and Historian. Gazette and Bulletin Printing House, 1900, pp. 1-71.
  • John Franklin Meginness, The Man and His Work. Lycoming Historical Society Proceedings and Papers, No. 1, 1919, pp. 1-28.

Scope and Contents

Series I consists of two journals written by Meginness while serving as a soldier in the American Army during the Mexican War. The first journal was written from June 17, 1847, to September 18, 1847. This short, 35 page journal contains a brief description of the weather and landscape, as observed by Meginness. Most of this journal recounts the beginning of his journey, starting with his enlistment and departure from New York, to sailing into the Gulf of Mexico and his landing at Vera Cruz. Meginness gives details about events and the activities of the life of a soldier in Mexico.

The journal is small, as is the printing, which makes the reading difficult. A magnifying glass will be helpful to the researcher. The journal is fragile but is still usable. The pages are coming loose from the binding, so care should be taken while in use.

The second journal contains 117 pages of entries and was written from February 10, 1848, to July 17, 1848. It was written on the back pages of an old Spanish ledger found in Chapultepec Castle. The ledger is dated 1809, and is in poor condition. A photocopy of the journal has been made for use by researchers. The journal contains daily entries of routine remarks about the weather, the Mexican countryside, the Mexican culture and military activities. The entries all begin with one page of observations per day. Many remarks concern the long wait after the capture of Mexico City by General Winfield Scott. Meginness comments frequently and impatiently about the peace treaty taking so long to be approved. He also quotes, on occasion, the American Army newspaper reports in his entries. The daily entries get shorter at the end of the journal, as he is anxious to leave Mexico and return home. The last entries in the journal concern his march to Vera Cruz where he will set sail for the United States.

The journal not only documents activities and observations of an American soldier in Mexico, but it also has the contents of the old Spanish ledger, which reflects the time period of Spanish rule in North America. The ledger lists the daily supplies received by the Spanish Army.

Series II contains a handwritten manuscript by Meginness about the adventures of Washington S. Sawtelle. Both men served in the Fifth Infantry of Company D in the American Army. The manuscript is a compilation of experiences and observations of both Meginness and Sawtelle. The manuscript was written from notes made by Sawtelle. The last part of the manuscript is the recollection of military activities experienced by Meginness while under the command of Maj. Lally.

The manuscript was written in 1857 and is written in the narrative form. It is well written, legible, and easy to read. The manuscript has 325 pages and 31 chapters. Chapter 29, which covers the punishments used by the American Army, is missing. The manuscript has been divided into six folders for easy access and use by the researcher. Each chapter begins with a listing of subject topics covered in the chapter.

Most of the observations made in the manuscript are about the country of Mexico, its people, the food, the Mexican culture and the climate. Very few remarks are made about the actual fighting or military activities. The references made to army actions are more in the form of a commentary rather than a documentation of facts. The manuscript is a good literary work as well as a historical work.

Series III of the collection contains research material dating from 1848 to 1919. There are three folders of notes from Sawtelle about his personal background used by Meginness in writing the manuscript. There are four folders containing parts of the original draft of the manuscript. There are three folders that contain excerpts from the manuscript that are written as independent stories. There are three folders of fragments. The last of this series contain two folders that hold photocopies of testimonials for Meginness, written in 1900, and tributes to Meginness, written in 1919. These copies are a good source of biographical information on Meginness.



The John Franklin Meginness Papers are organized in three series:
Series I. Journals, 1847-1848 (0.25 linear ft. (3 folders))
Series II. Manuscript, 1857 (0.15 linear ft. (6 folders))
Series III. Research Materials, 1848-1919 (0.10 linear ft. (15 folders))



Open for research.

Literary Rights Statement

Permission to publish, reproduce, distribute, or use by any and all other current or future developed methods or procedures must be obtained in writing from Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library. All rights are reserved and retained regardless of current or future development or laws that may apply to fair use standards.

Index Terms

These materials are indexed under the following headings in the catalog of The University of Texas at Arlington Library. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons or places should search the catalog using these headings.
Meginness, John Franklin, 1827-1899--Archives.
Sawtelle, Washington S.
Meginness, John Franklin, 1827-1899--Mexican captive.
United States. Army. Pennsylvania Infantry, 5th--Biography.
Mexican War, 1846-1848--Personal narratives, American.
Mexican War, 1846-1848--Prisoners and prisons, Mexican.
Prisoners of war--Mexico.
Prisoners of war--United States.
Mexico--Armed Forces--Supplies and stores.
Alternate Titles
Historical Manuscripts Collection
Mexican War

Administrative Information


John Franklin Meginness Papers, GA119, Box Number, Folder Number, The University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections.


The John Franklin Meginness Papers were purchased by the University of Texas at Arlington from the John Jenkins Company of Austin, Texas, on November 12, 1981. The collection was accessioned by Tad Howington.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Diana Lee Mays, September 1997.

 Note to the Researcher 

Care should be taken in the use of both journals. The 1847 journal is small and the entries are written very small and are difficult to read. A magnifying glass will be necessary to read the entries. The front cover has been separated from the journal and the pages are loose. The 1848 journal is fragile and care should be taken in examining it. A photocopy has been made of the 1848 journal for researcher use. Newspaper clippings found in the journal and manuscript are extremely brittle and are more fragile than the journal pages to which they are attached.

John Franklin Meginness also wrote under the name of "John of Lancaster." That name appears several times in the collection and it refers to John Meginness.

Ask to see the holding file on John F. Meginness. It contains a critical examination of the 1848 journal. It was written by Alice Cooksey in May, 1983. She has also written a chronology of John Franklin Meginness' Mexican War journal of 1848. A brief description for each entry is written for each day from February 10, 1848, to July 17, 1848.

Container List


Series I. Journals, June 17, 1847-July 17, 1848
0.25 linear ft. (3 folders)

There are two journals and a photocopy of one of the journals arranged and written in chronological order. Both journals are written by John Meginness during his military service in the Mexican War. The earliest journal was written from June 17, 1847, to September 18, 1847. It begins with the enlistment of Meginness and includes his landing at Vera Cruz, Mexico. It describes the victory at Cerro Gordo Heights and ends with the reports of the capture of Mexico City by General Winfield Scott. The second journal was written from February 10, 1848, to July 17, 1848. It contains personal comments and observations of the weather, landscape of Mexico, the Mexican people and their culture, and military activities. There is a photocopy of the 1848 journal.
Box Folder
1 1 Journal, July 17, 1847-September 18, 1847
Contains the personal journal of John Franklin Meginness, serving as a soldier in the United States Army during the Mexican War. Meginness writes in his own words that his work is, "A collection of incidents connected with the life of a soldier (from his enlistment) in Mexico, during a part of the campaigns of 1847 from Vera Cruz, to the great []." This short journal contains brief daily descriptions of the weather, location of the troops, and observations of events. Most of the journal covers the period of time that the writer is traveling to Vera Cruz by ship in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
Some of the entries are long paragraphs while others are just one sentence in length. When the entry is only one sentence long, it is a statement describing the weather. Most of the entries are factual observations, while others are more poetic and reflective in nature. The reader can detect emotion in his writing during certain parts of the trip. When the day is uneventful or just routine, the entry is a factual report. But, when a problem arises, one can detect frustration and impatience with the situation. After landing at the wrong wharf in New York, and having to inconveniently spend the night in a guard house, Meginness writes that he is "heartily tired of the place and regrets having enlisted."
Meginness records his impressions of the voyage by water, describing a water spout, the deep blue waters, the coastline, sea animals, the harbor of Vera Cruz, the Vera Cruz castle and their landing upon the beach, where they waded ashore. He briefly describes the 5th Infantry victory at Cerro Gordo Heights, commanded by Ridgely.
He later writes that there is a rumor that General Scott has captured Mexico City. While troops await confirmation of the capture, Meginness records more unusual events. He describes going on sick report for diarrhea from which other soldiers are dying, and having the "misfortune of eating a pineapple." He makes mention of the troops from Louisiana and the suspension of the sale of liquor. One entry simply states, "No news, except notorious lies of every description." The last entry appears on September 18, 1847.
The journal is small, fragile and the binding is loose. The handwriting is extremely small and difficult to read. The journal contains 35 pages of daily entries.
Box Folder
1 2 Journal, February 10, 1848-July 17, 1848
Contains the daily journal of John Franklin Meginness while serving in the United States Army during the Mexican War. This journal was recorded on the back pages of an old Spanish ledger, dated, 1809. The Spanish ledger was captured at Chapultepec, Mexico, in 1847, upon the arrival of the United States Army. It held the records of powder material for the Spanish Army. Meginness used the back blank pages as his writing paper for his journal. He recorded his observations while in Mexico. The ledger has value in the documented experiences that are recorded there, as well as the value found in the Spanish entries.
The first 101 pages are numbered and the last 16 are not numbered. Newspaper clippings are attached to the journal at the end of the entries. Many of the clippings are about the peace treaty and the voting taking place in Congress to approve the treaty. There is an entry for each day from February 10, 1848, to July 17, 1848. Most all the entries fill one page per day. The entries get shorter and shorter towards the end of the journal as the time gets closer for the Army to leave Mexico City and return home. The majority of the journal is written during the time period that the American Army is waiting for the final peace terms and approval from congress.
Meginness makes many observations about murders, stealing and other crimes that were committed by Americans and Mexicans, alike. He makes personal and emotional comments about what he has experienced. His descriptions of army life reflect personal events, rather than military events. He observes that, "soldiers have a glorious time, drinking, fighting and gambling." Meginness is intrigued by the Mexican people and overhears them refer to the Americans as "barbarians from the north." The Texas Ranger unit, led by Jack Hayes, is mentioned frequently and appear to have impressed Meginness with their scouting abilities.
The last entries of the journal relate to the departure of the Army. The journal ends abruptly, even in mid- sentence. The journal is in poor condition due to the age of the 1809 Spanish ledger. Care should be taken in handling it.
Box Folder
1 3 Journal-Photocopy of Journal, 1848
Contains a photocopy of the 1848 journal written by John Franklin Meginness. A copy has been made for the use of researchers, as the original is in poor condition.


Series II. Manuscript, 1857
0.15 linear ft. (6 folders)

The manuscript is a chronological account written by Meginness reflecting the period from 1847-1848. It is a narrative of the adventures of Washington S. Sawtelle, a soldier in the American Army during the Mexican War. The manuscript relates his capture by the Mexicans and his observations while a prisoner of war. This work is a compilation of experiences of Sawtelle and Meginness.
Box Folder
1 4-9 Manuscript-Sawtelle, 1857
Contains the original handwritten manuscript by John Franklin Meginness concerning the experiences of Washington S. Sawtelle, a soldier in the United States Army during the Mexican War. It was written in 1857 from original notes made by Sawtelle, while a prisoner of war of the guerrillas of Mexico. The account includes historical information concerning the Mexican War, the country of Mexico, its people and miscellaneous incidents
The manuscript covers the time period from July, 1847 to July, 1848. The events in the manuscript reflect the recollections by Sawtelle and Meginness both, as both men served in the Fifth Infantry of Company D. Meginness states that he can verify the authenticity of the accounts made by Sawtelle, as he too was a witness to all that is described.
The manuscript contains 325 pages and is divided into 31 chapters, of which chapter 29 is missing. Chapters 1-27 deal with Sawtelle and his adventures. Chapter 28 is entitled "Appendix" and is a compilation of observations by Meginness, as are the final chapters of the manuscript.
Each chapter begins with a listing of subject titles found in the chapter. The subject titles are complete and lists even the most minor or brief subject. These subject titles also appear at the beginning of the manuscript and can be used as a convenient reference. The missing chapter 29, appears to deal with punishments used by the American Army. According to the subject titles at the front of the manuscript, chapter 29 discussed numerous kinds of punishments, many of which appear quite cruel, and several viewpoints on the morality of the punishments used. Perhaps, when one considers the nature of the topic of the chapter, one can only guess why it may be missing.
The manuscript begins with the enlistment of Sawtelle in Boston, his landing at Vera Cruz, his capture and treatment by the Mexicans, his release and attempt to rejoin his company. Sawtelle was fortunate to have been present at several historic events and ceremonies in Mexico City while waiting for the peace treaty to be approved. The last part of the manuscript details his departure from Mexico City and his long march back to Vera Cruz where he boards the ship for his return home.
The manuscript concludes with some observations made by Meginness concerning punishments used by the United States Army and details the command of Maj. Lally. These last few chapters are the work of Meginness alone. Meginness refers to other works that he used in gathering material for this manuscript. He states that he relied on the Twelve Months Volunteer to describe the religious events and ceremonies of the Mexican people. Meginness also quotes the writings of Bernal Diaz to describe the conquest of Mexico.
The manuscript is easy to read and captures your interest quickly. It is simply written and contains simple observations, with both facts and emotion. The manuscript has been divided into six folders for easier use and access. It has been divided into the following sections:
  • Folder 4 contains pages 1-33 and includes chapters 1-3.
  • Folder 5 contains pages 34-93 and includes chapters 4-9.
  • Folder 6 contains pages 94-148 and includes chapters 10-14.
  • Folder 7 contains pages 149-200 and includes chapters 15-19.
  • Folder 8 contains pages 201-278 and includes chapters 20-27.
  • Folder 9 contains pages 279-325 and includes chapters 28-31.


Series III. Research Material, 1847-1919
0.10 linear ft. (15 folders)

The research material contains original notes by Sawtelle, original manuscript drafts, excerpt stories found in the manuscript, note fragments, and biographical material on Meginness from other published sources.
Box Folder
1 10 Research Material-Sawtelle Notes, n.d.
Contains an eight page handwritten account of the enlistment of Washington S. Sawtelle into the Fifth Infantry, Company D, of the United States Army during the Mexican War. The account is a personal reflection of the activities he experienced and the emotions he felt during his visit away from home, his unexpected enlistment, his training, his voyage by sea, and his arrival on the coast of Mexico. The nineteen-year-old Sawtelle had some doubts concerning the prudence of his hasty enlistment and is thrust into a world very different than he has known.
Box Folder
1 11 Research Material- Sawtelle Fragments, May 23, 1848
Contains the description of the capture of Sawtelle by "two swarthy looking devils." He reports being taken to a hacienda belonging to a Mexican captain where he ate "Chili Mole," a soup of red peppers and boiled corn. There are 24 pages of notes and all the pages are numbered 1-40, but not all pages are present. There are twenty pages missing from the narrative. The notes are signed, W. S. Sawtelle, Mexico, May 23, 1848.
Box Folder
1 12 Research Material-Sawtelle Fragment, June 4, 1848
Contains two pages of an incomplete description of someone who was "a mortal enemy of Santa Anna." The fragment is signed, "S.S," and dated, June 4, 1848.
Box Folder
1 13 Research Material-Manuscript Draft, January 1, 1856
Contains the first draft of the preface of the Sawtelle manuscript. It is two pages long, signed by "John of Lancaster," and dated January 1, 1856, Jersey Shore, Pa. It is different than the final draft of the manuscript.
Box Folder
1 14 Research Material- Manuscript Draft, n.d.
Contains six pages numbered 263-268. The word "rewritten" is written across the top of each page. These are the original drafts from the manuscript. The excerpt is about the desertion of the beautiful Mexican girl, Mariana, by a cruel American soldier. She later takes her own life to end her torment.
Box Folder
1 15 Research Material-Manuscript Draft, n.d.
Contains three pages of the original draft of the manuscript with the word "rewritten" written across the top. The pages are numbered 279, 280, and 281, all from chapter XXVIII. The word "Appendix" is written at the top. This section is about punishments in the American Army.
Box Folder
1 16 Research Material-Manuscript Draft, n.d.
Contains two pages of the original draft of the manuscript, numbered 321-322. The word "rewritten" written across the top. These pages concern the wounding of Major Lally.
Box Folder
1 17 Research Material-Manuscript Excerpt, n.d.
Contains a three page short story entitled "The Mexican Captive Under Sentence of Death." It is from the manuscript about the adventures of Sawtelle.
Box Folder
1 18 Research Material-Manuscript Excerpt, n.d.
Contains a three page short story entitled "Murdering a Soldier." It is an extract from the manuscript about the adventures of Sawtelle.
Box Folder
1 19 Research Material-Batterone, n.d.
Contains an eight page short story entitled "Romance of the life adventures of Don Manuel de Batterone." The author is unknown, but, the first line states, "My father, Don Antonio Gonzales Batterone, was born in Spain, in 1790." The story of Don Batterone appears in the Meginness manuscript.
Box Folder
1 20 Research Material-Description Fragments, n.d.
Contains six pages of fragments labeled "Mexican material." The pages are not numbered except the last one, which is numbered 13-14. Most of the descriptions are of Mexico City and the surrounding cathedrals.
Box Folder
1 21 Research Material-Notes, n.d.
Contains eight pages of handwritten notes in pencil. The writing is extremely small and difficult to read. The notes pertain to the city of Huamantla, Mexico City and the battalion commanded by Maj. Lally.
Box Folder
1 22 Research Material-Markers, n.d.
Contains three scraps of paper that appear to have been used to mark parts of the Meginness manuscript.
Box Folder
1 23 Research Material-Testimonials, 1900
Contains a copy of a testimonial in memory of John Franklin Meginness. It was printed in 1900, shortly after his death, by the Gazette and Bulletin Printing House. It contains a biographical sketch and many testimonials made by various individuals in honor of Meginness. It contains 71 pages.
Box Folder
1 24 Research Material-Tributes, 1919
Contains a copy of the Lycoming Historical Society Proceedings and Papers publication, featuring John Franklin Meginness. The material is a copy of the address delivered before the Lycoming Historical Society, on October 28, 1919, by Howard Thompson. It contains 28 pages of a tribute to Meginness, highlighting his accomplishments.