This collection contains original, photocopied, and transcribed documents relating to William Osman, a newspaper printer and owner and a civil servant from Ottawa, Illinois. His papers include correspondence, newspapers, and other materials.
Osman was born in 1819 in Gratz, Pennsylvania. As a youth, he served as an apprentice in several printers' shops in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and then attended Gettysburg College. In 1840, he moved to Ottawa, Illinois to begin work as a printer for the Illinois Free Trader, a Democratic newspaper. From 1843 to 1847, he shared ownership of the paper with editor John Hise. He then left the paper to enlist as a volunteer during the Mexican War alongside his brother, Moses Osman. Returning to Ottawa after the war, William and Moses became full owners of the Illinois Free Trader in 1848, when John Hise retired. In November of that same year, William married Mary Hise, John's sister.
In 1852, he gave up his stake in the paper for a position working as a clerk with the Illinois House of Representatives as an enrolling and engrossing clerk. Osman also briefly held positions with the General Land Office in Washington, D.C., and with the Chicago Democrat before he returned to Ottawa and repurchased the Free Trader in 1856. A staunch Democrat, Osman was a close friend of politicians such as Stephen A. Douglas and advocated throughout his life for the Democrats' cause. He also held several civil positions, including two terms as postmaster of Ottawa (serving from 1857 to 1859, and again from 1885 to 1889), and was a member of several local organizations. William Osman died on January 18, 1909 in Ottawa.
The collection consists mostly of correspondence written to and by William Osman from 1838 to 1847. Earlier letters describe student life at Gettysburg College and discuss such topics as politics, slavery, colonization, racial attitudes, temperance, and trade unionism. Later letters reveal the concerns and aspirations of a young man trying to establish himself in the newspaper business during this era, and also contain references to religion, courtship, and emigration to the West. The collection also contains other personal papers from Osman, such as diary fragments from April 1839 and a narrative of the travels and "adventures" of William and his brother Joshua. These documents give insight into Osman's work and his life in Pennsylvania and connections to his family.
Other types of papers in the collection include a copy of the last will and testament of Osman's father, Robert; the agreement made between Osman and John Hise to dissolve their partnership at the Free Trader in 1848; and a collection of newspapers relating to Osman, his work, and contemporary events.
The collection also contains photocopies of Osman's letters, diary fragments and legal papers, and a typed transcription of Osman's letter book. Alongside these documents, there is also a bound volume of the genealogy of the Osman family, compiled by Jay M. Osman in 2003.
There is also a microfilm which includes copies of Osman's correspondence, diary, legal papers, and obituary (Microfilm Master 00-0093/1).
Professor Elizabeth M. Osman, William Osman's granddaughter, donated the collection to the Illinois Historical Survey, predecessor of the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections unit, in 1993.