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Home / Guide Collections / Horace Capron Memoirs

Horace Capron Memoirs


The Horace Capron Memoirs consist of a two-volume typewritten manuscript (circa 1884) chronicling Capron’s life and career. The work describes Capron's activities as an operator of mills in New York and Maryland, and as a plantation owner and livestock breeder in Maryland and Illinois. In addition, Capron details his service in the Union Army during the Civil War and his tenure as the third Commissioner of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Finally, he discusses his pioneering work for Japan in the development of the island of Hokkaido. This two-volume autobiography is a copy of the original.

Biographical Note

Horace Capron (1804-1885) was the Commissioner of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 1867 to 1871. He was appointed to this position by President Andrew Johnson. During his tenure as Commissioner, Capron commenced plans for several new USDA buildings and established the grounds for an arboretum.

Capron was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts. His family moved to New York State in 1806, where his father, Dr. Seth Capron, established a medical practice and opened cotton and wool mills (the first of such kind in the state of New York and the United States, respectively). After an unsuccessful attempt to gain an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, Horace began a career in the cotton manufacturing business. He became superintendent of a cotton mill in Baltimore County, Maryland in 1829. In 1834, he married Louisa Snowden, who was from a prominent family in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Horace Capron started his own mill in Laurel, Maryland in 1836, built on land that Louisa had inherited upon her father’s death five years earlier. Louisa Capron died in 1848.

In 1852, Horace Capron received a Commission from President Millard Fillmore as special agent for native tribes in the Southwest. He held this post through the end of 1853. Capron married Margaret Baker of New York City in early 1854, and resettled on farmland in northern Illinois. He served in the Civil War, during which he raised and led a Union Army regiment from Illinois. He was appointed Commissioner of Agriculture in 1867, a post he held until 1871. He resigned this commission to become a foreign advisor to the Kaitakushi Department of Japan, where he was involved with the development of the island of Hokkaido. Capron returned to the United States in 1875, and lived his remaining years in Washington, D.C.


Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library (NAL) acquires, arranges, describes, preserves and makes available rare materials significant to the history of agriculture. Materials are obtained through donation or active collection in accordance with the established Special Collections collection development policy. Special Collections staff organize and describe materials according to archival principles and create descriptions and indexes to enhance access. Staff do not edit or otherwise modify the original materials. The views expressed in the collections do not necessarily reflect the policies of the National Agricultural Library or the United States Department of Agriculture.


Information for the Biographical Note was taken from the following sources:

Addison, Heidi. “The Capron Line.” Unpublished manuscript, 1991-1997.

Capron, Horace M. Memoirs of Horace Capron – Volume 1: Autobiography, [1884]. Special Collections, National Agricultural Library.