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John Gorman Barr papers

Identifier: MSS-0116

Scope and Contents note

This collection contains correspondence to and from John Gorman Barr as well as other documents and manuscripts pertaining to his travels on his way through Europe to Australia to take up his post there as the United States Consul. Many of the letters to his sister describe the cities and places along his journey. There are also letters of condolence from J. M. Tarleton of the State Department and other friends to Barr's family after his death from sunstroke on the way to Australia. There are also four speeches and an essay by Barr when he was a student at The University of Alabama, and two newspaper clippings concerning him.


  • 1840-1858


Biographical/Historical note

John Gorman Barr was born on November 22, 1823, in Milton, North Carolina. His father, Thomas Barr, died in 1826 when Barr was three, and his mother, Mary Jane Gorman Barr, died in 1835, shortly after moving her family to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Barr was apprenticed to a Tuscaloosa printer, but in 1838, with the help of a local merchant, David M. Boyd, he entered The University of Alabama as a scholarship student. He finished with an AB degree (with a .99 grade point average) in 1841, and with an MA in 1842. He tutored math at the University while privately studying law under Harvey Ellis and was admitted to the bar. He began practicing law in 1845. He also wrote for the Tuscaloosa Observer during this time. He made an unsuccessful bid for the Alabama House of Representatives in 1847. That fall, when the war with Mexico began, Barr lead a company of Alabama volunteers to fight. He distinguished himself, winning promotion to Lt. Col. of Volunteers. He was afterwards known as Capt. Barr.

When he returned from Mexico, Barr resumed his law practicce and became the editor of the Tuscaloosa Observer, also writing for the paper; some of his stories were reprinted in larger newspapers. In October of 1855, one of his stories appeared in the national weekly The Spirit of the Times. After that, his stories were published nationally for several years.

In 1857, he ran again for public office, this time for the United States House of Representatives. It was a heated and spiteful race and he eventually withdrew. Barr was an elector for Tuscaloosa in the Presidential election of 1856 and was instrumental in the victory of President James Buchanan. In 1858, Buchanan appointed Barr to serve as the United States Consul in Melbourne, Australia. After making a tour of Europe, he died of sunstroke on May 18, 1858 before reaching Australia. He was buried at sea in the Indian Ocean.


1.7 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Contains correspondence to and from John Gorman Barr, as well as other papers of this University of Alabama student, Tuscaloosa attorney, and United States Consul in Australia, known for his humorous writings.


Gift of Clarissa Gooch, Nancy Sherar, and J. William Sherar, 1982
Guide to the John Gorman Barr papers
March 2014
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Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266