M. H. (Matthew Henry) Peters, born in Bavaria in 1843, grew up as an orphan in New Orleans and in Ohio. During the Civil War, he served in several capacities, mainly in the 74th Ohio Vol. Inf. Enlisting as a private in Co. F, he mustered out as a major. He later became a colonel by virtue of his activities in the Illinois National Guard.
Peters settled in Watseka, Illinois, in 1867, and operated a book and stationery store before and after serving as the editor of the Iroquois Times, 1872-74, and the Iroquois County Times, 1878-91. Twice chosen as mayor of Watseka, he was elected to the Illinois legislature in 1878, and served one term. He later ran for public office as a Democrat but lost. Long interested in military affairs, he also wrote on Iroquois County in the Civil War and on his own military experiences.
Between 1909 and 1917, Peters compiled two scrapbooks of clippings about Abraham Lincoln. Many clippings relate to Lincoln monuments of that period. Peters's interest in this subject is indicated by a photocopy of a letter with the second scrapbook from James B. Merwin on June 16, 1913, regarding the Congressional appropriation for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (The Lincoln Memorial may also have engaged Peters's attention because Henry Bacon, its architect, was born in Watseka.) Several articles in the scrapbooks report addresses on Lincoln by Maj. Merwin, a Civil War chaplain who wrote on Lincoln and prohibition.
Pasted into the first scrapbook is a copy of N. P. (Norton Parker) Chipman, Abraham Lincoln (Sacramento, Calif.,1906), Monaghan 1492. About a quarter of this scrapbook is filled with articles about George Washington between 1909 and 1914. The second scrapbook contains a number of undated clippings, mainly reporting political and military news in 1864, as well as a few poems. Most if not all of these items were clipped from the Louisville Daily Journal and theCincinnati Daily Commercial.
In addition, between January and July, 1916, Peters compiled a scrapbook of clippings about World War I, mostly from the pages of the Illinois Staats-Zeitung of Chicago. He affixed in the scrapbook three notes explaining his purpose. Feeling that most American newspapers of the day unduly favored the Allies, he "concluded to subscribe for a German paper," for he wished "to preserve source data" that would give the German point of view. He clipped only articles written in English, but the captions of many of the pictures in his scrapbook are in German. This scrapbook also contains an assortment of unmounted clippings.
Peters's scrapbooks about Lincoln and about World War I were preserved, in turn, by his widow, by Lorraine Martin, and by Norm Owens, all of Watseka. In 2004, Robert M. Owens arranged for their donation to the Illinois Historical Survey.