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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||2.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 35 items)|
|Abstract||John Houston Bills was a Tennessee planter who was active in the Democratic Party, the Freemasons, a temperance society, and was a friend of President James K. Polk (1795-1849). The collection includse a diary of Bills, 1843-1871, and a few letters and miscellaneous accounts. Diary entries describe daily life on Bills's plantations near Bolivar in Hardeman County, Tenn. The largely terse entries include information on slavery; the Civil War, especially the Battle of Shiloh; agricultural production; weather conditions; religious services; and descriptions of Bills's travels in the eastern United States, Canada, and Europe.|
|Creator||Bills, John Houston, 1800-1871.|
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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John Houston Bills (1800-1871), Tennessee planter, merchant, and friend of president James Knox Polk (1795-1849), was born in Iredell County, North Carolina, and migrated to Tennessee in 1818. He was active in the Democratic Party, the Freemasons, the temperance movement, and the religious life of his community.Back to Top
The collection consists primarily of Bills's diary, which contains entries dated 1843-1871. There are also a few letters and miscellaneous accounts, 1841-1878. Typed transcriptions of the diary are located in Series 3 of the collection. The transcriptions contain a few minor errors.Back to Top
Correspondence and miscellaneous accounts relating to Bills and his family.
Diary kept by Bills with almost daily entries between 1841 and 1871. Typical entries are 10-25 words in length and include information on weather conditions (usually with temperature), agricultural activities and production (cotton, corn, hogs, etc.), and a very brief account of Bills's activities for that day. Bills was also careful to note prices paid and received for goods and services. Other subjects include slaves--their work, treatment, and prices; problems with overseers; relationships with freedmen after emancipation; land values; religious activities (Bills attended a variety of denominational services); and descriptions of Bills's travels.
The Civil War prompted Bills to abandon his terse style occasionally. Longer entries reveal that he was a Douglas Democrat and a Unionist until Lincoln's call for troops. Although Bills then threw his lot in with the Confederates, entries show that he remained pessimistic about the war's effect on the nation. His hometown of Bolivar was occupied by Federal troops from 5 June 1862 until 9 June 1863, and, from July 1863 until October 1864, the town was subjected to raids and occupations by both sides. Bills included a lengthy description of his attempt to locate his wounded son at the battlefield of Shiloh in April 1862.
Besides wartime events, activities covered in greater detail in the diary include:
1844:Bills's trip to Pennsylvania and New York.
1845: Bills's trip through Virginia, Washington, D.C. (where he visited President Polk), New England, New York, Niagra Falls, and Montreal.
1851:Bills's travels with his friend Mr. P. Miller to England, Scotland, France, Belgium, and Germany.
Most of the longer descriptions are located at the back of the original yearly volume. In the transcriptions, however, they are integrated chronologically.
Processed by: Scott Philyaw, June 1991
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