This collection has access restrictions. For details, please see the restrictions.
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||1.0 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 800 items)|
|Abstract||The Skinner Family, including Maria Lowther Skinner (1786-1824) and Joseph Blount Skinner (1781-1851) and their children, Tristrim Lowther Skinner (1820-1862) and Penelope Skinner Warren (1818-1841), owned plantations and enslaved people in Bertie, Perquimans, and Chowan counties. The collection is chiefly correspondence that documents a wealthy white family's experiences. Women wrote about their education and reading, courtship and marriage, pregnancy and child care, household and social activities, and political opinions, especially about the War of 1812. Of note are letters documenting the relationship of brother and sister, Tristrim Skinner and Penelope Skinner Warren, and Penelope's 1840 pregnancy. Other letters describe trips to spas in North Carolina and elsewhere. Letters written by school-aged children show differences between male and female education. Letters of several male family members document their experiences at the College of William and Mary and at the University of North Carolina, 1813-1814. Family correspondence also includes scattered references to some of the enslaved people working in the house, including "Annie," "Harriet," "Aunt Eliza," and "Emmaline," and of the challenges of managing an enslaved labor force. Vital statistics about the people they enslaved and other evaluative information about their labor, as well as other aspects of plantation management at Plantation House, Mansion House, and Yeopim, such as work performed, crops, and agricultural reform, can also be found in correspondence, journals, and other papers. Other plantations and residences mentioned include Rosewell, Belgrade, River Farm, and Eden House. Other subjects include North Carolina and Whig Party politics; life in the 1st North Carolina Infantry Regiment, C.S.A.; life on the Confederate homefront; and social conditions in Edenton and Hillsborough, N.C., and Williamsburg and Norfolk, Va.|
|Creator||Skinner (Family : Skinner, Joseph Blount, 1781-1851)|
|Curatorial Unit||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.|
Processed by: Lisa Tolbert, May 1992
Encoded by: Roslyn Holdzkom, February 2007
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.
Revisions by: Benjamin Bromley, December 2009: Nancy Kaiser, June 2020 (box-level container information added and series arrangement simplified).
Conscious Editing Work by: Nancy Kaiser, May 2020. Updated abstract, subject headings, biographical note, and scope and content note.
Updated by: Laura Hart, March 2021
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 email@example.com.Back to Top
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.
Penelope Johnston Dawson (d. 1797) married John Dawson in 1758, and they lived at Eden House in Bertie County, N.C. Their daughter Penelope Dawson (1763-1820) married Tristrim Lowther (1760-1795) and had at least two children: Maria (1786-1822) and William D. (fl. 1810). William D. Lowther attended Princeton, and Maria Lowther married Joseph Blount Skinner (1781-1851), and had two children--Tristrim Lowther (1820-1862) and Penelope (1818-1841)--before she died in 1824.
Joseph Blount Skinner, planter and legislator of Edenton, N.C., and his brother Joshua owned several plantations in Bertie, Perquimans and Chowan counties. Plantation House in Chowan County was one mile outside Edenton. Yeopim and Mansion House were in Perquimans County, the latter about 20 miles from Edenton and 12 miles from Hertford (see letter dated 5 January 1841, Subseries 1.4).
After Maria Lowther Skinner died, her children were raised in the household of Frederick Nash of Hillsborough, N.C., where they received their early education. While Tristrim was sent to school as a young boy in New Haven and Philadelphia, his sister Penelope remained in Hillsborough. He attended the College of William and Mary from 1838 to 1840, and briefly studied at the University of North Carolina in 1840. Tristrim Lowther Skinner was summoned home to manage his father's plantations in 1840, when Joseph Blount Skinner's health failed. Between 1846 and 1848, Tristrim served as a member of the North Carolina House of Commons. He married Eliza Fisk Harwood (1827-1888) of Williamsburg, Va., in 1849, and they had four children: Marian Fisk, who was a teacher; Frederick Nash, an Episcopal priest who served in South Carolina; Tristrim Lowther Jr., who moved to Mississippi; and Maria Louisa Warren, who married Robert Brent Drane. In 1860, Tristrim was commissioned captain of Company A, 1st North Carolina Infantry Regiment. He was killed at Mechanicsville, Va., in 1862.Back to Top
The Skinner Family Papers consist chiefly of correspondence documenting a wealthy white family in Edenton, N.C., and other parts of eastern North Carolina. Skinner and related family members generally wrote long, substantive letters containing information about a wide variety of subjects. There are several significant female correspondents who wrote about their education and reading habits, feelings about courtship and marriage, experience of pregnancy and childcare, household and social activities, and political opinions. Of note are letters documenting Penelope Skinner Warren's 1840 pregnancy, which she endured in Hillsborough, N.C., while her physician-husband was in Edenton, N.C. There are also letters documenting trips taken by family members to spas in North Carolina and other locations.
There are quite a few letters written by school-aged children, showing differences between male and female education and containing specific information about reading materials and study habits. Letters of several male family members document their experiences at universities, such as Princeton, the College of William and Mary, and the University of North Carolina.
Family correspondence also includes scattered references to some of the enslaved people working in the house, including "Annie," "Harriet," "Aunt Eliza," and "Emmaline," and of the challenges of managing an enslaved labor force. Vital statistics about the people they enslaved and other evaluative information about their labor, as well as other aspects of plantation management at Plantation House, Mansion House, and Yeopim, such as work performed, crops, and agricultural reform, can also be found in correspondence, two journals, and other papers.
Additional subjects documented in family correspondence include North Carolina politics--Joseph Blount Skinner and Tristrim Lowther Skinner both wrote letters about their work as members of the North Carolina House of Commons, Joseph in 1807 and 1814 and Tristrim in 1846-1848, and their support for the Whig Party. Letters contain a wealth of information about social life and customs in several towns--most prominently Edenton and Williamsburg, Va., but also New Haven, Conn., Hillsborough, N.C., and Norfolk, Va.
The collection also contains financial and legal papers, especially about land development in Perquimans County, N.C., Bertie County, N.C., and Chowan County, N.C. There is a deed, 1816, that documents the purchase of "Pegg," an enslved woman, and her two children. Other papers include poetry and writings, newspaper clippings, and other items, as well as pictures of members of the Dawson and Fisk families, relatives of the Skinner family.Back to Top
Chiefly personal family correspondence documenting four generations of Skinner family members.
Chiefly letters documenting activities of Dawson and Lowther family ancestors of the Skinners. Letters from 1770 to 1796, relate to Penelope Johnston Dawson (d. 1797) of Eden House, Bertie County, N.C. She wrote to her brother, Henry Johnston, and other family members about her children, illness in the household, and her close feelings for her brother.
After 1794, letters relate chiefly to Maria Lowther (1786-1824), granddaughter of Penelope Johnston Dawson. Maria's parents were Penelope Dawson (1763-1820) and Tristrim Lowther (1760-1795). There is little correspondence of Penelope Dawson, although she is mentioned in many of the letters that document her role in negotiating Maria's marriage. Among the letters are several written by Maria as a child to friends and family members, including her uncle William Dawson at Congress in Philadelphia. Her chief correspondents were her cousins, Margaret and Judith Page of York, Va., whose father became governor of Virginia. The girls wrote about moving from their plantation, Rosewell, to the state house in Richmond in 1803. On 31 May 1804, Anne Isabella Iredell wrote Maria about reading novels.
The first Skinner letters appear in 1802 and 1803, when Joseph Blount Skinner (1781-1851) of Edenton proposed to Maria Lowther. They were married in 1804. (See also Subseries 1.6 for undated letters relating to Maria Lowther Skinner and her mother, Penelope Lowther.)
Letters of Joseph, Joshua, and Maria Lowther Skinner, documenting the married life of Maria Lowther and Joshua Skinner. There are no letters written by Maria, but there are many letters written to her from her husband, from Joshua Skinner, and from female friends in Virginia and Edenton, who discussed a wide variety of topics--their experiences as young brides and mothers, household management, the impact of the War of 1812 in Edenton and along the North Carolina coast, their political views, and religious revivals and social events. Letters document Maria's own interest in gardening.
Much of the correspondence during this period was between the Skinner brothers, Joseph and Joshua, who wrote each other long letters about plantation work, business matters, and politics. Family business took them to various places beyond Edenton, including county courts in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties and Hillsborough, N.C., as well as to New York and Philadelphia, where they established family ties to Thomas Skinner, a minister. Joshua managed the Skinner family plantations while his brother was away on business and kept Joseph well-informed about the work. Joseph apologized for the trouble this sometimes caused in his letter of 31 July 1823: "I lament you have had so much trouble with my negroes. ... I am confident you manage them and the crop better than I could and I hope you will not despond under vexatious troubles and difficulties."
Joseph served in the North Carolina legislature in Raleigh 1807 and 1814 and wrote several informative letters about assembly business. He apparently had little patience with lawmaking and lawmakers: "We yet continue to do but little business of any nature and none of public utility," he wrote Maria on 24 November 1807. "Indeed our State house is a theatre in which many of the Legislators are farcical actors and some of them play their parts, far beyond what can be conceived to judge from external appearances."
Of interest are letters documenting Joseph's management of Penelope Lowther's business interests and the education of her son, William D. Lowther. William's letters to his sister, Maria document his education and extra-curricular activities at Princeton, 1810-1812, and the University of North Carolina, 1813-1814. His letters are long and informative, containing information about religious revivals in New Haven, northern opposition to the War of 1812, and student-faculty strife in Chapel Hill.
Maria died in childbirth in 1824; the last letter to her was written in that year by Lucy Page of Williamsburg.
Chiefly correspondence of Joseph Skinner and his children Tristrim Lowther and Penelope. Plantation correspondence also continues between Joseph and Joshua. After Maria's death, the children lived much of the time with Judge Frederick Nash and his family in Hillsborough, N.C. Letters from Nash and the children document their childhood and early education in Hillsborough. In 1827, Tristrim attended a school in New Haven, Conn. Thereafter, he and Penelope were often separated, and their letters reveal the close relationship they shared with each other and their strong desire to please their strict and distant father. Penelope and Tristrim both wrote Joseph details about their studies, including specific texts they were reading and the amount of time they devoted to their school work.
By 1832, Tristrim had returned to North Carolina to attend Bingham's School in Hillsborough, while Penelope was a student there at Miss Burk's School. Between 1835 and 1838, Tristrim was in Philadelphia preparing for college. "I study french and english and dancing at present," he wrote in January 1835. Joseph was particularly keen on the importance of modern languages and encouraged the children to write in French, which they did reluctantly.
Tristrim entered the College of William and Mary in October 1838. While in Williamsburg, he lived with the Dickie Galt family, where he met their ward, Eliza Fisk Harwood. There is little information about her in this subseries. Penelope moved from Hillsborough to live with her father at Plantation House in Chowan County, near Edenton. She was apparently confined to the plantation and found it to be less desirable than the social context of town. In 1837, while still in Hillsborough, she wrote her brother, "Beaux are not very scarce with me. Do not tell if I tell you something. I refused three or four week before last." From the plantation in November 1838, she complained, "Father is so strict and particular that the young men will I fear soon begin not to come here at all."
Tristrim's letters from college and Penelope's from the plantation dramatically document the different expectations of young men and women preparing for separate adult roles defined by gender. Penelope filled her letters with anxiety about finding the proper husband, while Tristrim kept his father well-informed about his attention to his studies. Brother and sister wrote each other candid, personal letters revealing some of their innermost thoughts.
After two well-documented, broken engagements, Penelope became engaged to Dr. Thomas D. Warren of Edenton in 1839. Also in 1839, Tristrim left Williamsburg, and Eliza Harwood Fisk wrote her first letter to him in August: "The ring remains as you placed it and if it be a good wish I hope it may be realized."
There is no correspondence for 1828-1830 and 1834.
Chiefly letters documenting the friendship, courtship, and marriage of Tristrim Lowther Skinner and Eliza Fisk Harwood. Their correspondence is in two phases. The first is from 1840 until about 1845. The tone of their letters was friendly and playful, with Tristrim offering Eliza advice about her William and Mary suitors. They kept each other informed about their separate lives--she in Williamsburg, he in Edenton. Tristrim's letters became more serious during 1846, but Eliza rejected his marriage proposal. On 7 April 1846, she wrote, "I never expect to love anyone well enough. Unless I can love someone so much that I feel my existence dependent upon him, I do not think I can marry. With me love must be all absorbing." They stopped writing to each other for two years.
Their second letter-writing phase began in October 1848, when Eliza relented and decided to accept Tristrim's proposal. Eliza affectionately referred to Tristrim as "Old Walter" because he reminded her of a character in the novel Grantley Manor. They were married in 1849. After this, their correspondence was less regular, although occasional separations occasioned informative letters throughout their marriage. Eliza and Tristrim had four children who were frequent subjects of their parents' correspondence.
During this period, Tristrim and Joseph Blount Skinner were also frequent correspondents. Their letters are filled with news about plantation work and North Carolina politics. In October 1840, Tristrim, at school at the University of North Carolina, was summoned home from Chapel Hill to manage the family plantations during his father's illness; he never returned to the University. In January 1841, Tristrim wrote Eliza that as soon as his father was well enough he "moved to Perquimans county where we have established ourselves in the midst of the wild woods" at Mansion House. "I find that a farming life suits me very well," he continued. "Two of my uncles live near us and as they have pretty large families some of us meet every day."
Tristrim's letters show his keen interest in agricultural management. He encouraged competition among overseers at each plantation: "Clayton puts his river field against Brady's road cuts--and vice versa--while Barelift with no particular cut to boast of, talks largely of his whole crop," he wrote on 14 June 1847. He sent his father detailed information about the condition of specific crops, with lists of insect pests and weeds that threatened the harvests. "After speaking of the bugs and worms, to cheer you I will inform you that passers by stop to admire our Oats," he proudly wrote Joseph on 3 June 1847. (See Series 3 for Tristrim's plantation journal.)
Family letters also contain much information about enslaved people. Letters of 5 August 1849 and 3 July 1850 show that Tristrim was concerned that Joseph's health would suffer without the attention of Annie, an enslaved nurse who tended her patients at Plantation House. A letter of 23 February 1849 shows that when Eliza arrived as Tristrim's new bride in Edenton she was welcomed by "Annie and Harriet--the two principal members of the household. ... After a while the washerwoman was presented--Aunt Eliza."
Tristrim's political activities are documented in letters he wrote as a member of North Carolina delegation to Whig presidential convention in Baltimore in May 1844; as a representative to the North Carolina House of Commons, 1846-1848, including information about his successful re-election campaign in 1848; and as a lobbyist for family business interests at the legislature in 1857.
Of particular interest are letters documenting Penelope's pregnancy when she was in Hillsborough during the summer of 1840 while her husband, Dr. Warren, remained in Edenton. She wrote long letters to keep her physician-husband informed about her health. Penelope died in childbirth in 1841, survived by her only child, Maria Warren.
Also of note are letters written during trips made by various family members, including Tristrim's visit to Boston, 30 September 1842, where he saw "the celebrated cemetery," Mount Auburn, and wrote vivid descriptions of his impressions and his trip to the Whig convention in Baltimore, 3 May 1844. In January 1859, Tristrim wrote a long detailed account of a fire next to his hotel in Norfolk, Va. Regular summer visits to springs and resorts, such as Nags Head and Shannondale Springs also produced descriptive correspondence. Dickie Galt wrote Eliza from Cardenas Island, Cuba, on 6 January 1851, describing local scenery and customs.
Chiefly letters from Tristrim documenting his Civil War service. He appears to to have written to Eliza about twice a week. Although Tristrim's letters clearly indicate that Eliza wrote him often, few of her letters seem to have survived.
Tristrim spent much of the war camped near Richmond and Fredricksburg, Va., especially at Camp Bee near Acquia Creek. He was briefly stationed at Camp McIntosh near Goldsboro, N.C. Tristrim referred to his letters as "diaries" of his experience and filled them with descriptions of camp life. He saw more men die of pneumonia than in combat. He wrote of the war refugees he encountered and the sentiment of civilians toward the Confederacy. For example, while camped near Acquia Creek, he wrote, on 18 August 1861, that the soldiers had been ordered not to buy provisions from the citizens of the neighborhood for fear they might poison the Confederates. He also sent Eliza instructions about how to secure family property and important papers and offered advice on how to manage the enslaved people. Tristrim often made references to enslaved people who took advantage of the war to self-emancipate from their masters.
Eliza spent the early part of the war as a boarder in Oxford, N.C. She wrote, on 11 May 1862, that "all the ladies here, residents and refugees, are going to meet tomorrow to form a 'Soldiers Aid Society.'" On 6 June 1862, she informed Tristrim that she had "been engaged all day preparing bandages, lint and little pillows for amputated limbs." (See also Series 3 for Eliza's Civil War experiences near Hertford in Perquiman's County.) Tristrim also received a few letters from his niece, Maria Warren during this period.
On 24 June 1862, Tristrim wrote his last letter home. "Matters seem really to be drawing to a focus. ... I have not a doubt but that this week will witness the great battle for the relief of Richmond." He was killed two days later at Mechanicsville. Also included is an undated envelope from T. L. Skinner giving instructions about who should receive the $1600 that was in the envelope if it was found on him, and a note from J. W. Cameron saying that he deposited the money.
There are no letters from 1863 to 1868.
There is very little information after 1862. An 1869 letter from a Skinner family relative visiting Nashville gives a postwar description of agricultural recovery in Middle Tennessee. An 1871 letter shows that Eliza was living near Norfolk, Va., when her lawyer wrote to report action on a lawsuit he was handling for her. Undated letters relate chiefly to Maria Warren, Maria Lowther Skinner, and Penelope Lowther.
Chiefly deeds and indentures relating to Skinner family plantations in Chowan, Bertie, and Perquimans counties, N.C. Early documents seem to refer to land eventually accumulated by Joshua Skinner, first named in documents during the 1770s. Early documents also refer to John and Penelope Dawson of Eden House and include rental agreements they negotiated with tenants on their Bertie County lands.
Included are a 1796 will of Penelope Johnston Dawson, who left her property to her daughter, Penelope Lowther, with special provisions for her granddaughter, Maria Lowther; papers from 1809 dealing with a law suit involving Penelope Lowther in her capacity as administrator of William Johnston Dawson's estate and regarding disputed land grants issued between 1788 and 1789 when Dawson was secretary to the governor of North Carolina; a deed, dated 11 December 1816, documenting Joseph B. Skinner's purchase of two town lots in Edenton and the enslaved woman Pegg and her two children; wills of Joseph Blount Skinner, 1853, and Tristrim Skinner, 1861; and miscellaneous bills and receipts for items such as furniture bought in Philadelphia in 1853 and materials for an iron fence in 1858. Researchers should be sure to consult the oversize paper folder OPF-669/1 for materials that may interest them. (See also Series 3 for financial and legal materials in plantation journals.)
|Oversize Paper Folder OPF-669/1|
Kept by Tristrim Skinner, who made a wide variety of entries documenting ploughing, planting, production, and profit at each of his plantations. Lists of enslaved people show names and ages; skills; dates of birth, death, or sale; and dates of self-emancipation. There is also a list of "Women having children & Annual increase."
Skinner arranged many entries by plantation--Belgrade, Mansion House, Yeopim, Plantation House--indicating the number of acres, total and improved, at each farm; financial accounts of investment in land, enslaved people, and stock; and substantive notes about work performed (e.g., in 1843, he discussed his plan for getting rid of wild Cammomile, "a weed which has taken possession of all the Belgrade plantation.") Chief crops included wheat and corn, which he sent to Baltimore, New York, and Charleston. Other entries include tax lists showing amounts paid on Chowan, Perquimans, and Hertford town lots. Lists include "New Tools received by the Hands," showing name, tool, and date received, and "Times of Planting and Harvesting," 1843-1851. Also included are an "Account of the preparation--mode of culture--product of my acre of land in Corn entered for competition in 1856"; accounts showing the number and weight of hogs killed each year from 1843 to 1851; accounts for guano and plaster of paris purchased for Plantation House, Yeopim, and the River Farm; and accounts for lime and shells purchased for Mansion House and Yeopim. Also in this volume are school notes taken by at least two different students: Marian Fisk Skinner who attended summer school at the University of North Carolina, circa 1894, took notes on teaching methods and bookkeeping; and arithmetic problems and French exercises of an unknown nineteenth-century student.
Probably kept by Eliza F. H. Skinner upon her return to Perquimans County after the death of Tristrim Skinner. Entries include references to enslaved people whom she often sent to Hertford on errands; management of household work, such as spinning, weaving, selling lard, and hog killing; management of farm work; visiting and visitors: war rumors and experiences (e.g., 27 January, "Memorable day. While at Dinner we see a Soldier riding down the road ... first Yankee I have seen since the war commenced. Soon the advance guard appeared followed by the Capt. who called to inquire for arms"); and her changing relationship with the people enslaved by the family (e.g., 11 April, "The Negroes claim more time for themselves. Em[maline] very insolent--trouble coming no doubt from them. Harriet says she must have her wages raised or must leave. She can leave. Troubles thicken on every side"). There are also scattered accounts documenting monthly expenses.
Original poems composed by E. F. H. (Eliza Fisk Harwood?), including an 1840 poem about the end of a love relationship; by Tristrim Skinner, including an 1848 love poem to Eliza; and by Cornelia Skinner of Norfolk, including an 1853 poem, "In heaven, angels do always behold the face of my Father." There are also transcriptions of poetry and other undated original compositions.
Among the other papers are newspaper clippings, including an obituary of Eliza F. H. Skinner (1827-1888), which reveals that after Tristrim Skinner was killed, she "came alone to Edenton from the upper county, and safely conveyed the negroes and stock from her plantation near town," and that she eventually married Dr. W. J. Leary of Edenton; an address by Tristrim Skinner delivered to an agricultural society; "directions to clean varnished work"; a lace envelope with a wedgewood seal; and a drawing of the Skinner family crest.
|Oversize Paper Folder OPF-669/2|
Prints made by the Frick Art Reference Library from miniatures owned by Mrs. Joseph Cheshire Webb.
Their daughter, Penelope, married Tristrim Lowther (1760-1795).