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George H. Oakes, State Librarian 1864-1865

George H. Oakes

George Oakes travelled to Venezuela before becoming interim State Librarian

George Henry Oakes was born in 1833 in Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin. His parents were  Charles Henry Oakes and Julia Hudon Beaulieu Oakes. Charles had moved to the area to work as a fur trader starting in 1825. Julia was half Ojibwe. The family moved to Minnesota around 1850.

Charles later started a bank with his brother-in-law Charles Borup. Their services seem to have included travel agent as well, based on many newspaper advertisements. Both men were prominent figures in early St. Paul.

In 1850, while in his teens, George lived with the Borup family, his aunt, uncle, and cousins, and worked as a clerk.

He married his wife, Jane Elizabeth Gibson Oakes on December 24, 1853. He started a grocery store in St. Paul that year as well.

At some point it seems he may have become an attorney, since 'esq.' appears after his name as early as 1855, however the attorney records don't begin until 1858. He also moved to Sauk Rapids.

He had two children with his wife, Martha and George. In 1855, Martha died and their home in Sauk Rapids was struck by lightning. Their son George also died young, although there aren't records to show when.

By 1860, he was working as a clerk and living with his wife, parents and a number of other people in St. Paul.

In January 1863, he left for Venezuela on a business trip. He sent detailed journal entries back to Minnesota which were published in the newspaper. He returned in May, planning to go back to Venezuela soon after, but that doesn't seem to have happened. In October of the same year he was in Long Lake, MN, which seems to have been somewhere near the current town of Brainerd.

In 1864, George Oakes was appointed private secretary to the governor and also State Librarian by Governor Stephen Miller. He replaced DeWitt Smith who had served only a few months.  During this period, there was lobbying going on to appoint Louisa Goodwin, a Civil War widow to the position. In March 1865, Oakes' nomination as State Librarian was rejected by the legislature. He resigned his position as private secretary as a result. Louisa Goodwin was nominated and became the first woman state librarian in the country.

Later that year Oakes was travelling again for business, this time to New Orleans.

In 1867, he attended the circus in St. Paul and had an expensive pocket watch stolen. The pickpocket later approached him in the street and asked for a reward to return the watch. George Oakes gave him $20 in exchange for the watch back.

George Oakes died after a long illness February 21, 1868. He was 35 at the time.

signature of George H. Oakes

Image Credits: Signature of George H. Oakes from his Last Will and Testament, Minnesota Probate files,