Collection Number: 00602

Collection Title: Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1884.

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.

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Size 12 items
Abstract The collection documents Philip Henry Pitts, a white cotton plantation owner and enslaver in Union Town (now Uniontown), Perry County, Ala. Included are manuscript volumes, with typed transcriptions, containing accounts and diary entries by Philip Henry Pitts; letters written to and from members of the Pitts family; and miscellaneous papers. The volumes document financial dealings in the cotton trade and in both the Alabama and Mississippi Railroad and Selma and Meridian Railroad, loans and debts, household expenditure for his Rurill Hill Plantation, and expenses, including medical care, relating to people enslaved by him. Other information about enslaved people includes births and deaths, hiring out, and enfranchisement and hiring of freed people after the American Civil War ended. There are also entries that describe enslaved people who self-emancipated by running away and a case of enslaved people who allegedly murdered their enslaver. Other topics include planting and livestock, the weather, folk medicine, anti-Semitism, Radical Republicans, and politics, business, crimes, and social news in Perry County. The Caldwell and Davidson families are frequently mentioned and there are anecdotes about Alexander Caldwell Davidson, Wiliam Rufus King, and Zebulon Baird Vance. The diaries also record the involvement of family members in the 4th Regiment, Alabama Volunteers during the American Civil War. The letters relate to family matters and business councerns of Pitts and of his father, Thomas D. Pitts, including the latter's involvement as an officer in the War of 1812. A song lyric about the Nullification Crisis of 1832 is included.
Creator Pitts, Philip Henry, 1814-1884.
Curatorial Unit University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.
Language English
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Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the Philip Henry Pitts Papers #602, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alternate Form of Material
All or part of this collection is available on microfilm from University Publications of America as part of the Records of ante-bellum southern plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War, Series J.
Acquisitions Information
Received from Maud Pitts of Selma, Ala., before 1940; from Benie Pitts of Uniontown, Ala., in October 1946; and from Mr. and Mrs. P. Henry Pitts of Greensboro, Ala., in March 1949. Typed transcriptions were added by the Historical Records Survey of North Carolina in 1938 and in later years (see control file).
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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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.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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Philip Henry Pitts, a white cotton plantation owner in Alabama, was born 3 June 1814, probably in Essex County, Va. He was the son of Thomas Daniel Pitts (d. 26 August 1851) and Polly Pitts (d. 4 March 1839). Thomas D. Pitts and his family moved from Lloyds, Essex County, Va., in 1833 to Oak Lawn, near Union Town (now Uniontown), Perry County, Ala. Some of the Pitts family remained in Virginia, while others moved to Mecklenburg County, N.C. Philip H. Pitts married Margaret Pitts (b. 25 May 1824), probably before 1841 when their first child was born. They had ten children, most of whom survived into adulthood--sons Philip Henry ("Henry" or "Harry") Pitts Jr., Arthur D. Pitts, Thomas Daniel Pitts, Ellic Pitts, John Pitts (26 June 1843-27 June 1862), and David W. Pitts, and daughters Mary Grey Pitts Walker (b. 27 February 1841), Adelene Pitts (b. 1 January 1862), Sarah E. ("Kitty") Pitts Hudson, and Pattie Pitts (b. 2 March 1858).

The Pitts family was related to several other socially and politically influential Uniontown families frequently mentioned in Philip Henry Pitts's diaries, including the Davidson family (also with members in North Carolina), most notably Alexander Caldwell Davidson, Democratic representative from Alabama to the 49th and 50th U.S. Congress. Other frequently mentioned families were the Caldwell family of North Carolina and the Rennolds or Reynolds family of Virginia. There was a great amount of travel by Pitts relations between North Carolina and Alabama during the years covered by the diaries.

Thomas Daniel Pitts was a captain in the 4th Regiment, Virginia Militia, in Westmoreland County, during the War of 1812. One of the letters in the collection relates to his service in that war. Thomas and his sons, Arthur B. L. Pitts (d. 25 July 1853), David William ("William") Pitts (d. 22 July 1861), and Philip Henry Pitts, were landowners, cotton growers, and enslavers in the Cane Brake or Black Belt Region of west central Alabama. At the time of the 1860 census, Philip owned 2200 acres and 89 slaves, as well as stock in the Alabama-Mississippi Railroad, for a total worth of $175,300. His estates were called "Rurill Hill" (probably named after John Davidson's "Rural Hill" plantation in Mecklenberg Co., N.C.) and "Kings." He may have owned land in other areas of Alabama, perhaps including Choctaw County, as well. Following the end of the Civil War, Philip Pitts retained at least part of his holdings at Rurill Hill, but Kings seems to have disappeared. In 1870, he bought a section of the Lodebo plantation adjoining Rurill Hill. He remained a cotton grower until his death on 22 April 1884.

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The collection documents Philip Henry Pitts, a white cotton plantation owner and enslaver in Union Town (now Uniontown), Perry County, Ala. Included are manuscript volumes, with typed transcriptions, containing accounts and diary entries by Philip Henry Pitts; letters written to and from members of the Pitts family; and miscellaneous papers. The volumes document financial dealings in the cotton trade and in both the Alabama and Mississippi Railroad and Selma and Meridian Railroad, loans and debts, household expenditure for his Rurill Hill Plantation, and expenses, including medical care, relating to people enslaved by him. Other information about enslaved people includes births and deaths, hiring out, and enfranchisement and hiring of freed people after the American Civil War ended. There are also entries that describe enslaved people who self-emancipated by running away and a case of enslaved people who allegedly murdered their enslaver. Other topics include planting and livestock, the weather, folk medicine, anti-Semitism, Radical Republicans, and politics, business, crimes, and social news in Perry County. The Caldwell and Davidson families are frequently mentioned and there are anecdotes about Alexander Caldwell Davidson, Wiliam Rufus King, and Zebulon Baird Vance. The diaries also record the involvement of family members in the 4th Regiment, Alabama Volunteers during the American Civil War. The letters relate to family matters and business councerns of Pitts and of his father, Thomas D. Pitts, including the latter's involvement as an officer in the War of 1812. A song lyric about the Nullification Crisis of 1832 is included.

Typed transcriptions accompany the volumes and one of the letters. They contain some typographical errors and omissions of text, although none of major proportions.

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Contents list

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1839.

12 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Folder 1

Correspondence and other loose items, 1814-1838 and undated #00602, Series: "Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1839." Folder 1

  • 4 August 1814: letter from John M. Parnell to Captain Thomas D. Pitts at Camp Yeocomico, Westmoreland Co., Va., regarding a problem with an underage U.S. Army substitute for whom Pitts was responsible. Parnell mentioned the legal status of age of substitution for the U.S. Army. Also, he discussed the amassing of troops and the imposition of the draft during the War of 1812 for the U.S. Army stationed on the Potomac, perhaps in response to the imminent British invasion of Washington, D.C. He also mentioned "a most bloody engagement in Canada," probably the Battle of Lundy's Lane on 25 July 1814, at Niagara Falls.
  • 1832: music sheet with the handwritten lyrics to a song "Save De Union," set to the tune of "Clare De Kitchen." The lyrics are about the Nullification Crisis of 1832, focusing on Virginia's wish to preserve the Union despite hatred of the tariff.
  • 4 November 1833 or 1834: letter from B(?) Rennolds at Philadelphia to Philip H. Pitts at Union Town, Perry County, Ala., mentioning a possible trip of the Pitts family to Virginia, the cousin's soon-to-be-earned diploma, and news of births, deaths, and marriages.
  • 10 April 1838: letter from Philip H. Pitts at Union Town, Perry Co., Ala., to David William Pitts at Davidson College, Mecklenburg Co., N.C., giving news of the Pitts family as well as births, deaths, and marriages of local families in Perry County. A typed transcription accompanies this letter.
  • Undated: three letters in draft form, written by Thomas D. Pitts at Oak Lawn near Union Town, Perry County, Ala. The first draft concerns a business matter. The second is to "Robert," regarding the death of Thomas Pitts's wife Polly from inflammatory fever on 4 March 1839. The third draft is a reply to a man inquiring about relocation to the Cane Brake region of Alabama. Pitts extolled the virtues of Marengo and Perry counties, including the fertility and inexpensiveness of the land; he also extended an invitation to the visitor to stay with his family, and gave advice about hiring out enslaved people.
  • Undated: letter, either a draft or unfinished, to "Reverend Sirs" from Thomas D. Pitts at Union Town, Perry County, Ala., asking for aid in finding a female teacher of French, English, and the piano to come to the female academy in Union Town (at that time, a town with 150 inhabitants). Pitts wrote in his capacity as one of the seven trustees of the academy.
  • Undated: manuscript with a short anecdote about three family dogs.
  • Undated: loose page of accounts from manuscript volume 3.
Folder 2

Volume 1: September 1850-February 1853 #00602, Series: "Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1839." Folder 2

103 pages.

Volume 1 is composed of a mixture of Philip H. Pitts's accounts and memoranda, as well as diary entries and a number of pasted-in newspaper clippings relating to enslaved people, farm, household, cooking, and medicinal matters. Entries include notices of births and deaths of enslaved and white people; records of labor performed by enslaved people who are listed by name and include statistics for cotton, corn, potatoes, and oats (p. 18, 21-22, 25-26,); notes on the livestock owned by Pitts--horses, sheep, pigs, and cattle, including records of hog killings; notes on the weather and planting by the signs; church news and critiques of various visiting preachers; Pitts's business dealings with the Alabama-Mississippi Railroad and the Selma-Meridian Railroad; financial matters dealing with loans and debts, cotton sales, insurance, and taxes; accounts relating to the building of his home; the purchasing and hiring of enslaved people from other enslavers, enslaved people in the county who self-emancipated by running away, and the case in February 1853 of an enslaved man allegedly murdering his enslaver (p.98); local politics; a description of Pitts's encounter with U.S. vice president and senator from Alabama William Rufus de Vane King (1786-1853) regarding the latter's illness and cure (p.89); the deaths of Pitts's father Thomas D. Pitts (p.50) and brother Arthur B. L. Pitts (p.53); news of the Davidson and Caldwell families; and the construction of a brick kiln (p.93).

Folder 3

Typed transcription of Volume 1 #00602, Series: "Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1839." Folder 3

Folder 4

Volume 2: Accounts, January 1856-1865, July 1884; Diary and Accounts, August 1882-March 1884 #00602, Series: "Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1839." Folder 4

The accounting entries on pages 1-105 and pages 295-300 (January 1856-1865) record Philip H. Pitts's debts and loans: purchases of lumber and building supplies; labor costs associated with hiring out of enslaved people; cotton sales, bale weights, and shipment to Mobile, Ala., via railroad; doctor's bills for his family and enslaved people; the purchase of provisions; and the purchase of twenty marriage licenses for freed people and ten for white people from a judge (p. 100). There is an alphabetical name index to the accounts in the front pages of the volume. Pages 189-270 contain a scattering of the accounts of Arthur D. Pitts, dated July 1884. The diary on pages 106-186 was written in the back of the older account book. It covers the last two years of Philip H. Pitts's life. At this time he still grew cotton, but by then hired Black people to work in crews in place of enslaved labor. The diary is primarily concerned with Pitts's family matters, livestock, garden and crops; weather; and local news. Some mention is made of local politics and the nascent Republican (Radical) Party. Also mentioned are details of local crimes and court cases--his sons Henry and Ellic were apparently part-time lawyers on the Circuit Court. There are also scattered accounts throughout the diary. The failed cotton crop and ensuing financial panic of 1883 is discussed. Pitts's interest in church business, the railroads, and medicinal cures continued, although not as strongly as in previous years. A new theme of anti-Semitism is present in this volume. Pitts also mentioned the Alabama congressional elections, corruption in Alabama politics, and a brief history of the Alabama railroads. There is an anecdote from Dr. Davidson about the cure from impotence of Governor Zebulon B. Vance (1830-1894) of North Carolina. Again, the Davidson family, Alexander Caldwell Davidson in particular, is mentioned frequently in this diary.

Folder 5

Typed transcription of selected entries from Volume 2 #00602, Series: "Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1839." Folder 5

88 pages.

Folder 6

Volume 3: January 1860-January 1863 #00602, Series: "Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1839." Folder 6

121 pages.

Volume 3 is for the most part a diary, although it does include lists of accounts for the railroad, cotton, etc. Other entries relate to agriculture, livestock, planting advice, and the weather; legal concerns; and local county births, deaths, and marriages. Pitts took a great deal of interest in home remedies and the symptoms of different illnesses of both humans and livestock; and in local crimes and court trials, as well as his own legal disputes with different individuals. He primarily attended the local Presbyterian church, although he was interested in preaching and the comparative church activities of the local Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Baptist churches. Pitts was also concerned with railroad business and elections, and he discussed the hiring of enslaved people from other enslavers and his relationships with his overseers. He also discussed the financial panic of 1861. In 1860, he took part in the Census, giving his total worth as $175,300. In 1860, the presidential election and news of the impending American Civil War were mentioned. News of the war increased as Pitts's brother David "William" Pitts and son John Pitts both enlisted in the Cane Brake Rifle Guards of the 4th Regiment Alabama Volunteers, leaving Uniontown 25 April 1861 for Harper's Ferry, Va. Pitts recorded the death of William in the First Battle of Manassas, 22 July 1861 and John on the third day of the Seven Days Battles at Gaines Mill, near Richmond, Va., on 27 June 1862, one day after his 19th birthday. Pitts wrote extensively about their burials and the settling of his brother's estate.

Folder 7

Typed transcription of Volume 3 #00602, Series: "Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1839." Folder 7

91 pages.

Folder 8

Volume 4: 1 January 1870-28 December 1870; 1 May 1874 #00602, Series: "Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1839." Folder 8

372 pages.

Volume 4 is a datebook for the year 1870, with entries for almost every day. This volume continues the listing of accounts for Pitts's cotton and oat crops, local crimes, court cases, gossip, and agricultural and weather notes. At this time, Pitts retained his Rurill Hill plantation, although he had apparently lost his Kings estate after the American Civil War. Frequent themes are the problem of hiring and getting freed people to work, local politics of the Republican (Radical) Party, and the enfranchisement of Black people. He also wrote about his purchase of a section of the Lodebo plantation adjoining Rurill Hill. Other items of note are folk tales about medicinal cures and the weather; railroad elections and business; and an increasing theme of anti-Semitism, which is even more strongly expressed later. (See Volume 2, 1882-1884).

Folder 9

Typed transcription of Volume 4 #00602, Series: "Philip Henry Pitts Papers, 1814-1839." Folder 9

60 pages.

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Processing Information

Processed by: Elizabeth Pauk, May 1991

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

Concious Editing by Nancy Kaiser, September 2022: updated abstract, headings, biographical note, collection overview, contents list.

Since August 2017, we have added ethnic and racial identities for individuals and families represented in collections. To determine identity, we rely on self-identification; other information supplied to the repository by collection creators or sources; public records, press accounts, and secondary sources; and contextual information in the collection materials. Omissions of ethnic and racial identities in finding aids created or updated after August 2017 are an indication of insufficient information to make an educated guess or an individual's preference for identity information to be excluded from description. When we have misidentified, please let us know at wilsonlibrary@unc.edu.

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.

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