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This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the Duplication Policy section for more information.
This collection was rehoused under the sponsorship of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Preservation, Washington, D.C., 1990-1992.
|Size||5.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 3000 items)|
|Abstract||Thomas David Smith McDowell (1823-1989), of Bladen County, N.C., was a planter, legislator, and Confederate congressman. His father, physician Alexander McDowell, was an Irish immigrant and was clerk of Bladen County, N.C., 1812-1844. Besides managing Purdie Plantation with his brother John A. McDowell, Thomas served in the state House of Commons, 1846-1850; in the state Senate, 1852-1855 and 1858-1860; and in the Confederate Congress, 1861-1863. He married Mary Elizabeth Davis of Richmond County, with whom he had two sons, Alexander, who moved to Georgia, and John A., Jr., who took over management of the family lands. The collection includes correspondence, financial and legal papers, and other items, chiefly of Thomas McDowell and his father Alexander. Business and political papers document Bladen County court business, particularly from 1735 to 1844, and include tax lists, slave lists, petitions for road work and mill construction, lists and expenses of jurors, and correspondence about court matters. There is also some information about Alexander McDowell's medical practice, including holograph cures. Papers after 1845 document Thomas McDowell's political career and business interests in the Cape Fear region, especially Elizabethtown, Fayetteville, and Wilmington. They relate to management of Purdie Plantation, which produced naval stores, and activities of the Democratic party in the Cape Fear region. A small group of family materials includes Civil War letters from McDowell's brother John, who was on active duty in Virginia, and from the homefront in Columbus, Miss., to McDowell family relative Lucy Ann Brown, who moved from Columbus to the Owen Hill Plantation in Bladen County during the war. Also included is correspondence in the 1850s that documents the McDowell family's close ties to the Carr family in Ireland.|
|Creator||McDowell, T. D. (Thomas David), 1823-1898.|
The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.
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Thomas David Smith McDowell (1823-1898), planter, legislator, and Confederate congressman, was born 4 January 1823 on his parents' plantation in Bladen County, N.C. His father, Dr. Alexander McDowell (1775-1846), was born in Ballydavy, County Down, Ireland, on 1 November 1775. Alexander McDowell was graduated from Edinburgh College and the medical school of the University of Glasgow, Scotland, but he was forced to emigrate when the Irish struggle for independence he had actively supported failed. He settled in the Cape Fear region, began practicing medicine in Elizabethtown, and married the widow Mary Jane Smith Purdie. By 1812, Alexander McDowell was serving as the county's "Clerk and Master in Equity." From that time, almost until his death, McDowell held county office. In addition, he continued to practice medicine, engaged in a variety of business interests, and managed his Purdie plantation, which chiefly produced naval stores--chiefly timber and turpentine.
Thomas David Smith McDowell studied at the Donaldson Academy and then entered the University of North Carolina, graduating in 1843. He later served as a university trustee from 1858 to 1860 and from 1874 to 1881. After his father's death in 1846, Thomas and his brother John managed the Purdie Plantation on which they had been reared. In 1860, the plantation contained 320 acres, housed 57 slaves, and was valued at $65,000.
A lifelong Democrat, McDowell served in the state House of Commons from 1846 to 1850, and in the Senate from 1852 to 1855 and from 1858 to 1860. He was a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Education and the Literary Fund, but he sponsored no particular program; his bills ranged from the incorporation of the Cape Fear Division of the Sons of Temperance to the banning of the emancipation of slaves by the owner's will after his death. McDowell opposed secession until Abraham Lincoln's call for troops following the firing on Fort Sumter, when, as a member of the Secession Convention, he voted for disunion. He won a close contest in the convention for a seat in the Confederate Provisional Congress, and, in October 1861, was elected to the First Congress without opposition. McDowell's primary concern as a Confederate congressman was the defense of the North Carolina coast. At first, he supported legislation granting substantial war powers to the Jefferson Davis administration, but later he resisted most efforts to amplify or extend them. He did not run for reelection in 1863. After the war, McDowell took no further role in public affairs, although he continued to have influence in local Bladen County politics. By 1885, he had turned over to his son John most of the operation of his plantation. Thomas died there in 1898 and was buried in the family cemetery outside of Elizabethtown.
Thomas McDowell married Mary Elizabeth Davis, the daughter of Dr. Goodwin Davis of Richmond County. They had two sons, Alexander and John. John managed the family business interests in North Carolina; Alexander moved to Georgia with his wife Bessie. The McDowell family was Presbyterian.
For additional biographical information, see entry in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Volume 4, 1991.Back to Top
Correspondence, financial and legal Papers, and other items of Thomas David Smith McDowell, his father Alexander, and other family members, showing McDowell family influence in the political life and business development of Bladen County and the Cape Fear region, especially Elizabethtown, Fayetteville, and Wilmington.
Papers have been organized into two series. Series 1, Business and Political Papers, contains correspondence, tax lists, petitions, accounts, slave lists, and other financial and legal items organized chronologically. These papers document Bladen County court business, particularly from 1735 to 1844, and Thomas McDowell's political career and business interests, particularly after 1845. Letters from family members such as Thomas McDowell's brother John A. McDowell, are included as business correspondence because they relate chiefly to plantation management and local politics, and contain very little personal family information. Series 2, Other Papers, contains personal family correspondence unrelated to Thomas McDowell's business or political concerns. A significant group of letters in this series relates to Lucy Ann Brown of Columbus, Miss. Brown was a McDowell family relative who returned to North Carolina during the Civil War. Letters to her document war experiences in Columbus and postwar life in Bladen County. Also included in this series are writings, school materials, newspaper clippings and other items.Back to Top
Correspondence, bills, receipts, indentures, tax and slave lists, petitions, and other financial and legal documents of Thomas David Smith McDowell, his father Alexander, and others showing long-term McDowell family influence in the political life and business development of Bladen County and the Cape Fear region.
Papers from 1735 to 1844 consist chiefly of financial and legal items and relate particularly to county court business. Papers after 1845 consist chiefly of correspondence and relate to Thomas McDowell's political career and business interests. There are occasional copies of letters written by McDowell, but the bulk of the correspondence is composed of incoming letters that reveal little information about his personal ideas.
Letters from family members such as Thomas McDowell's brother John are included as business correspondence because they relate chiefly to plantation management and local politics and contain very little personal family information.
Bladen County tax lists, petitions, land grants and surveys, jury lists and travel receipts, warrants, and other county court documents apparently collected by a sheriff or county official. Much of the information in this subseries is contained in tax lists from various county districts, which typically include the names of white men with their slaves, land and town lots, and livestock. Materials from 1782 in particular relate to Revolutionary War claims filed against county Tories for property loss or damage. Some items relate to the Smiths--possibly family of Thomas McDowell's mother, Mary Jane Smith Purdie--but the bulk of the papers documents early county development in general, including a "journal of proceedings of commissioners" (15 July 1801) detailing their debate about the line between Bladen and Brunswick counties.
Correspondence, petitions (especially for road work and construction of mills), receipts, deeds, and other items chiefly documenting county development and court business. Papers indicate that James S. Purdie served as county court clerk or justice of the peace for much of this period, and that Alexander McDowell became a significant recipient of correspondence in 1807. By 1812, Alexander McDowell had become "Clerk and Master in Equity." James Purdie disappears from the collection in 1817.
Papers of Alexander McDowell, chiefly documenting county court business, but including personal business matters. McDowell served as county court clerk from about 1812 to about 1844. Court documents he collected during this period consist of correspondence and a wide variety of financial and legal Papers, such as jury lists, receipts showing payments to witnesses who attended court, financial agreements, deeds, indentures, and other items related to cases before the court.
Personal business materials include slave lists; bills for medical services performed by McDowell; documents related to his management of Helen Jane Purdie's financial affairs, including yearly hiring of her slaves and money expended for her tuition; his 1836 agreement with Isiah Buie, whom McDowell hired as overseer; negotiations he conducted for slave hire, including copies of his outgoing correspondence, 1838; taxes paid on his house and lot in Fayetteville, 2 April 1840; and a group of 1842 tuition receipts from Elizabethtown School that suggest McDowell was involved in financial management of the institution.
Papers of Thomas David Smith McDowell documenting plantation business and his political activities related to service in the North Carolina Assembly. Documents for 1845 refer to Alexander McDowell as "late Clerk and Master," although several notes from apparent patients during 1845 and 1846 indicate that he continued to practice medicine after retiring from public service. A draft of his will, dated 1 November 1845, suggests his preparation for impending death, which is ultimately documented by an 1846 "list of the property belonging to the estate of Alexander McDowell, dec'd."
Thomas McDowell had assumed the management of family business interests by 1845. His correspondence contains information about the sale of staves transported by raft down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington. Correspondence for 1846 indicates that McDowell was a partner in the mercantile business of Robinson & McDowell. A financial summary of the partnership, completed in 1851, shows accounts beginning in 1844 and contains an 1846 inventory of the store's contents, which included a wide variety of medicines and medical instruments. A few letters from 1847 suggest that Thomas was investing in land in Leon County, Fla.
After he was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons in 1846, Thomas received regular and substantive reports in Raleigh from his brother John A. McDowell, who wrote in a letter dated 22 December 1851, "I intend going to your place once a week and will attend to your business as well as I can." Letters also show that Thomas's wife, Mary Eliza, and his Irish overseers, Pat and John Carr, managed daily farm activities. While the Purdie plantation specialized in naval stores--timber and turpentine--other farm products documented include corn, pumpkins, peas, oats, mules, sheep, cows, and hogs. Correspondence also contains negotiations for slave hire. John McDowell's letters show that in addition to managing Thomas's business interests, he also kept his brother informed about local political news. On 26 October 1852, he apologized for not writing sooner, "I have been about from home so much of late attending Democratic meetings. ... There has never been the excitement since 1840 about the elections. There has been Democratic meetings in nearly every precinct in the county and Five Pierce and King Flags raised at the different precincts."
Much correspondence for this period concerns political issues and events in Bladen County and the Cape Fear region. Many office seekers wrote requesting Thomas's support. Others wrote to influence Thomas's vote on particular pieces of legislation before the Assembly. Many items reveal Thomas's considerable political influence throughout the Cape Fear region, and the response of his constituents to major issues facing the state, such as free suffrage (see 6 July 1852) and the Know Nothing Party (see 18 June 1858).
Of particular interest is correspondence related to the Carr family of Ireland that documents the McDowell's lingering ties to their mother country. Pat Carr worked as Thomas's overseer until he drowned in 1853. John Carr wrote on 29 August 1853 from Ireland that he hoped to be in America soon. By December 1854, he was working as overseer of Purdie Plantation. Thomas received several more letters from the Carr family in Ireland seeking information about John and about Pat Carr's estate.
Personal family information is rare, even in the correspondence of John McDowell who concentrated on plantation business and politics. However, family news is occasionally tucked into business letters from Thomas's neighbors and business associates. For example, H. N. Roberts of Elizabethtown informed Thomas in a letter about the incorporation of Bladen Steam Boat Company that Mary Eliza had given birth to a stillborn male child, but "she suffered much less than usual."
McDowell family business interests primarily consisted of investments in Wilmington, Fayetteville, and Elizabethtown, but letters from travelling business associates may have stimulated Thomas's interest in the West. Willis Singletary wrote from Panola County, Tex., on 18 October 1857 describing the countryside; on 18 October 1858, P. Murphy on the Steamer Hiawatha wrote of the "splendor" of Mississippi steamboat life and "the allurements of the West," particularly "the fertility of the lands"; and Robert Barksdale, a ward of Thomas McDowell, moved to Louisiana around 1855 and wrote several letters about his experience clerking in Woodville. (See also Subseries 2.1.)
Correspondence and financial and legal items related to Thomas McDowell's Civil War activities, especially his service in the Confederate Congress, 1861-1863. Letters from 1861 primarily discuss the formation of local home guard companies and regular troops, along with requests for military commissions and government contracts. John A. McDowell continued to be a significant correspondent, although, as the war progressed, the content of his letters shifted from plantation matters to military affairs. On 12 August 1861, John, apparently a soldier, wrote from Richmond enroute to Manassas. Letters from John and others reflect disillusionment with camp life. For example, on 6 January 1862, John complained "I thought there would be no dificulty [sic] in going home every two or three months when nothing doing but Genl. Holmes is opposed to any person going at anytime which I believe will be a great obsticle [sic] in the way when new recruits are wanting." On 30 January 1862, he wrote, "I can see no use in exposing my life fighting the Yankees and my property going to the devil at home." In addition to battlefield letters from John, Thomas received war news from his cousin Thomas J. Purdie, who was killed in 1863, and from his nephew, James A. Robinson. Apart from occasional copies of letters written by Thomas McDowell, there is little information about his personal opinions or movements during this time.
While letters chiefly concern military matters and politics of the Confederacy, financial and legal papers continue to document plantation activities. For example, a plantation medical account, ending on 4 March 1861, but begun in 1858, shows procedures performed on slaves, and accounts with B. F. Rinaldi for general merchandise show continuing plantation and household expenses. Of particular note are financial and legal documents related to Lucy Ann Brown. Thomas was executor of her estate after the war. (See also Subseries 2.2.)
Papers documenting the retirement of Thomas McDowell from political life. On 2 February 1866, W. N. H. Smith of Raleigh wrote Thomas that he was "glad to find you have escaped the sweep of invading armies, and like myself, survive the convulsions which attended the final fall of the Confederate government." Letters show that following the war Thomas retired from political life, although people continued to write to him seeking his influence and advice. He devoted himself to plantation matters and rebuilding the local infrastructure. Thomas was on the building committee for a new jail on the courthouse square in Elizabethtown (see contract, specifications, and related documents, 1866). The plantation continued to produce chiefly timber and turpentine, but letters show that that there was also cultivation of grapes and wine production. T. D. Love, Jr., of Bladen County, ordered four barrels of "Scuppernong" on 4 May 1871. Thomas maintained his business interests in Wilmington and Fayetteville, but also dealt frequently with businessmen in Virginia and Georgia.
Financial and legal documents relating to Lucy Ann Brown, and business correspondence to Thomas McDowell from H. W. Guion of Charlotte about Brown's plantation, Owen Hill, are also included. Thomas McDowell was executor of her estate in 1871. (See also Subseries 2.2.)
While much correspondence continued to be written to Thomas, letters show that, around 1877, John A. McDowell, Jr., had taken over management of the farm and business interests. The farm maintained its longstanding production of naval stores, which John marketed in Baltimore (see 1903 letter from H. R. Stubbs & Co.). Joe M. Climer of Greensboro, N.C., with ten years of tobacco-raising experience wrote in response to McDowell's interest in hiring someone who understood how to raise that crop. The last letter to Thomas McDowell was written in 1897, and there is very little material after that date. (See also Subseries 2.1 for letters from Thomas McDowell's son Alexander and daughter-in-law Bessie, who moved to Georgia during this period.)
Undated business and political materials, including tax lists, petitions, financial and legal documents, and correspondence. Papers have been arranged in loose chronological order according to the type of material or chief collector if identifiable. Undated items address subjects similar to that in materials filed with dated business and political papers.
Personal family correspondence, writings, school materials, newspaper clippings and other items.
Several McDowell family members, including Thomas and his wife Mary Eliza, were recipients of letters in this subseries. These letters primarily concern private family matters or contain information substantially unrelated to McDowell's North Carolina business and political interests. Included is Simeon Cotton's report of 28 August 1837 to Alexander McDowell about Thomas's school progress, and a rare letter, dated 20 October 1852, from Thomas's wife Eliza, in which she revealed her resentment of his many extended absences at the legislature in Raleigh. Also included are letters from Thomas's sons while they were away at school and letters to Eliza from her nieces. Son Alexander and his wife Bessie wrote home several times after their move to Georgia in the 1890s.
Of particular interest are two letters that document Owen and Brown family connections to North Carolina. In 1832 John Owen wrote to Lucy Ann Owen of Bladen County from Cincinnati, Ohio. He visited Louisville, Lexington, and Henry Clay's farm, and penned a vivid description of Kentucky development and the dramatic growth of Cincinnati. Lucy Brown, on 25 November 1834, wrote to her son, Thomas Brown, who had recently settled in Columbus, Lowndes County, Miss., "may your expectations be answered." Also of note are a series of letters from a McDowell family relative named John McDowell, who moved with his family to a plantation near Memphis, Tenn. (Note that this is John A. McDowell who appears in Series 1.) He sent Thomas several long letters describing the dramatic growth of Memphis and the surrounding area, and boasting of the family's impressive financial successes, including a description, dated 2 October 1854, of his wife's profitable butter business.
Letters to Lucy Ann Brown, chiefly from friends and financial advisers in Columbus, Miss. Apparently Brown's father Thomas had moved to Mississippi from North Carolina in 1834. Lucy returned to Owen Hill, the family's Bladen County plantation during the Civil War. Her chief correspondent was Thomas Christian, who managed her Mississippi investments and sent regular, substantive reports from Columbus. His letters document the activities of her slaves, who Christian attempted to hire out in Mississippi.
On 20 November 1863, Christian informed Brown, "Our town is now the seat of government of the state. The Legislature is now in session and the town is filled to overflowing. ... Our town is filled with celebrities both civil and military," including such distinguished guests as generals Forrest and Lee. Christian went on to describe an ironic combination of parties and prices at "starvation rates," expressing concern for the town's poor, whom he feared "are greatly neglected." Subsequent letters from Christian detail problems with Brown's investment in the Choctaw Factory, which produced clothing for the Confederate Army. The Factory was burned by Union troops and rebuilt after the war as the Mississippi Manufacturing Company at Wesson, Miss. Letters from L. E. Eagar during the 1860s contain specific news about various Columbus residents.
By 1870, Brown was receiving letters primarily from North Carolina correspondents in Wilmington, Raleigh, Charlotte, and from a Trinity College student she was supporting. She also received several notes from neighbors documenting a local, post-war barter economy--buying butter, borrowing fly poison and sheep shears, sharing products from corn to hair tonic. There are no copies of letters written by Brown herself. (See also Subseries 1.5 and 1.6 for financial materials related to Lucy Ann Brown.)
Medical and instructional materials include an "Essay delivered by Alex. McDowell before the Faculty in Faculty Hall Glasgow," and part of a holograph volume of medical definitions, cures, and instructions for making "cheap paint" and for managing fighting cocks. Writings consist chiefly of short essays, probably by a school-aged Thomas McDowell on such subjects as the United States Navy and the French Revolution. School reports, 1904-1905, are for Willie and Mary E. McDowell, probably the grandchildren of Thomas McDowell.
Maps of Belfast and North America, fancy work directions, and a variety of newspaper clippings, 1842-1898.
Processed by: Lisa Tolbert, March 1992
Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008
This collection was rehoused under the sponsorship of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Preservation, Washington, D.C., 1990-1992.Back to Top