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 1500 items)|
|Abstract||Peter Evans Smith of Halifax County, N.c., civil and mechanical engineer, inventor, surveyor, cotton planter, and railroad employee. The collection includes personal and business correspondence, business Papers, and various other records of Smith and his relatives. Much of the correspondence is about family matters, but many items relate to Smith's inventions and patents, most of which, such as his electric buoy, were related to navigation, agriculture, and railroads. Other items concern Smith's work on the Confederate ironclad "Albemarle"; navigation on the Roanoke River; planting and lumbering before, during, and after the Civil War; relations with African Americans as slaves, tenant farmers, and laborers; his work with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad; his interests in Vine Hill Academy and the Episcopal Church in Scotland Neck, N.C.; and many other matters. There is also material relating to Smith's daughter Lena, a schoolteacher who established the Cottage Home School in Scotland Neck after her deafness caused her to lose her teaching job. The collection also includes scrapbooks and commonplace books, photographs, clippings, bills, receipts, genealogical notes, and historical sketches, mostly of Civil War incidents and including regimental histories of the 1st and 3rd North Carolina Cavalry, by Smith and others. Also of note is a series of letters written during World War II from a woman missionary in China.|
|Creator||Smith, Peter Evans, 1829-1905.|
|Curatorial Unit||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.|
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.
William Ruffin Smith (1803-1872) and his brother James both married daughters of Peter Evans (1781-1852), who owned Egypt plantation in Chatham County, N.C., and whose LaGrange Mining Co. produced coal for the Confederacy.
Peter Evans Smith (1829-1905) was the son of Susan Evans (1810-1895) and William Ruffin Smith, Jr., of Scotland Neck in Halifax County, N.C. He apparently became deaf at an early age. Nevertheless, he attended Vine Hill Academy and Bingham School, circa 1845, before graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1851. A year later, he married Rebecca Norfleet Hill (1830-1915), who attended Vine Hill Female Academy and St. Mary's School. From about 1852 to the 1870s, Smith earned his living primarily as a plantation owner. During the Civil War, he supported the Confederacy and was involved in the construction of the ironclad, Albemarle. His mechanical potential became evident on this project when he invented a twist drill that dramatically shortened the time required to bore through metal. After the war, Smith became an active inventor, patenting a variety of improvements and inventions, from agricultural designs--such as a cotton planter and sulky plow--to industrial devices--such as an electric buoy, an improved spark arrestor for the smoke stack of wood burning locomotive, a self-coupling device for railroad coaches, and a form of railroad switch. During the 1880s and early 1890s, Smith worked as an engineer for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to design and construct branches from Scotland Neck to Kinston, Washington (N.C.), and other eastern points. He also served as a town commissioner of Scotland Neck and an Episcopal vestryman.
Peter and Rebecca Norfleet Hill Smith had two sons and two daughters who died young; three daughters survived. Lena H. Smith (1854-1943) attended St. Mary's, studied art in New York, taught and served as principal of Vine Hill Female Academy, and started her own school--the Cottage Home School--when she was fired from Vine Hill because of her deafness. Lena gained a reputation as a local historian and genealogist in her later years. Her sister Nan Hill Smith (1865-1954) also taught at Cottage Home School, and married James Henry Durham of Canada, who worked for the North Carolina Lumber Company. Rebecca Whitmel Smith (1861-1940) married Walter Shields (d. 1901).
Peter Evans Smith's brothers were William Henry (1830-1895), George Alexander (1835-1879), Benjamin Gordon (1837-1901), Charles Stuart (b. 1847), Arthur Lillington (b. 1850), and Walter Johnston (1852-1924).
(For additional family information, see Claiborne T. Smith, Jr., Smith of Scotland Neck: Planters on the Roanoke (Baltimore: Gateway Press, Inc., 1976).Back to Top
About one third of the collection consists of family correspondence. Letters from 1822 to 1849 chiefly document the agricultural and other business concerns of Peter Evans of Egypt plantation in Chatham County, N.C., and his son-in-law, William Ruffin Smith, Jr., of Scotland Neck in Halifax County, N.C. Correspondence from 1850 to about 1869 chiefly documents the agricultural interests of Peter Evans Smith and his father William Ruffin Smith, Jr. Correspondence from 1870 to 1893 relates to Peter Evans Smith's inventions and his work for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Letters written after 1893 relate primarily to Smith's daughters, especially Lena who taught at the Vine Hill Female Academy and started her own school, the Cottage Home School, in Scotland Neck.
Correspondence and financial and legal materials offer only a piecemeal impression of plantation development. Nevertheless, these materials do contain significant information about slaves, including the sale and hire of slaves, descriptions of skills, various slave lists, and related labor contracts with freedmen.
Additional subjects documented in correspondence include education: several male family members wrote student letters from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and from Bingham School; and much information relates to the education of Peter Evans Smith's daughters at the Vine Hill Female Academy in Scotland Neck and at St. Mary's in Raleigh. Letters written by Peter Evans Smith to his daughters document an affectionate father/daughter relationship. There are a few letters written during the Civil War that document Smith family support for the Confederacy. However, there is little information in letters written during the war about Peter Evans Smith's involvement in the construction of the ironclad, Albemarle. More information about his role is contained in postwar correspondence and in Lena Smith's writings. Of special note are several letters written during World War II by a female missionary in China and by a female tourist in New York City.
Other papers include historical writings and notes, genealogical information, collected materials (commonplace books and scrapbooks), and pictures.Back to Top
Antebellum correspondence relates chiefly to plantation concerns of Peter Evans and his son-in-law, William R. Smith. The bulk of this correspondence was exchanged after the Civil War and documents Peter Evans Smith's mechanical interests and inventions, his work for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and his relationship with his daughters (particularly Lena Smith). Much of the correspondence after 1893 relates to Lena Smith and her sisters, Rebe Shields and Nan Durham. Lena taught for many years, and eventually served as principal at the Vine Hill Female Academy. After 1899, she started her own Cottage Home School in Scotland Neck.
Chiefly correspondence of Peter Evans (1781-1852) of Egypt plantation in Chatham County, N.C., and his son-in-law William Ruffin Smith (1803-1872) of Scotland Neck in Halifax County, N.C. Scattered business and family correspondence gives a piecemeal impression of family and business concerns during this period. Letters document political interests, plantation development and slavery, the social life of Scotland Neck, and management of North Carolina business affairs for friends and relatives who had emigrated from the state.
William received a letter dated 2 April 1834 from a friend in Washington bemoaning the political climate there: "The Spoils of Office seems to be the great object and aim of men in power and men out of power." Several letters refer to runaway slaves, slave hiring, and development of Evans's Chatham County plantation. By October 1847, however, Evans informed Smith that he was ready to get out of the farming business and that he intended to start a mill and cotton factory.
There are few female correspondents for this period. Of note is a letter, 12 August 1844, to Mary E. Spruill of Warrenton from her Hill cousins in Scotland Neck containing news of that town's new dancing instructor. "The married Ladies like the dancing school as much as we girls," they declared. Also of interest is a report, 10 April 1845, from W. J. Bingham to William R. Smith about his sons' academic progress. Bingham assured Smith that William and Peter were both "good boys and diligent students."
Chiefly correspondence of William R. Smith and his son Peter Evans Smith documenting family agricultural interests, including their unsuccessful attempts to maintain farm business after the Civil War. Letters show that Peter Evans maintained his Egypt plantation despite his disillusionment with agriculture, although discussion of coal mining in a letter dated 5 July 1853 suggests that Evans diversified his business interests. Letters to William from commission merchants in Norfolk document family income and marketing relations.
Slaves are a consistent topic of family and business correspondence. Letters contain information about sales of slaves, describe skills of particular slaves, and discuss related information about former slave renters just after the Civil War. There is little information about renters or farm workers in family correspondence after 1869.
Other subjects include schools and students, particularly male education in North Carolina. Peter Smith's days at the University of North Carolina are documented in letters from 1850 to 1851. Benjamin Gordon Smith wrote about his studies at the University of North Carolina and sought advice about medical school in 1858. Charles Stuart Smith's activities at Bingham School are documented in letters from 1866 to 1867, and his brother Arthur Lillington Smith wrote letters documenting his experience at Bingham School in 1867. Correspondence regarding Vine Hill Academy begins around 1867.
Family support for the Confederacy is documented in letters containing news of family members who served in the army. Although correspondence contains very little information about Peter E. Smith's involvement in the construction of the Confederate ironclad Albemarle, on 14 June 1864 the quartermaster at Weldon instructed Peter E. Smith to "proceed down the River and act as my general agent of transportation" to direct steamer traffic on the Roanoke. Family correspondence documents the economic consequences of the war, not only on the immediate family, but also on relatives in western North Carolina who wrote seeking financial assistance.
Of special interest are a letter, 13 August 1850, to Peter from his cousin, in competition for the affections of Rebecca Norfleet Hill, who married Peter in 1852; a letter, 9 October 1855, containing extended instructions from a physician in Philadelphia about the efficacy of exercise and proper diet, rather than drugs, for a woman to maintain good health; and a 25 August 1867 description of exhibits at the Philadelphia Centennial.
Chiefly correspondence of Peter Evans Smith documenting his various inventions and his work for the railroad. Also included is significant material related to his daughters, especially Lena Smith, who taught at Vine Hill Female Academy and, after 1899, at the Cottage Home School. There are also scattered letters from family members in Pittsboro, Tarrboro, and Chapel Hill, N.C.
Letters about Smith's inventions include those he wrote on business trips, inquiries from potential customers, and letters from Scientific American relating to various patents. On 5 July 1870, Peter wrote home from the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works in York, Pa., where his improved plow was being manufactured. "If our people had the energy and system them people have we would go long ways ahead of them, as our climate and lands are better than theirs." Letters show that he continued this business trip to New York in order to make a "claim for the patents on the machines."
In September 1870, correspondence focuses on the tragic burning of the family home in Scotland Neck. The family lived temporarily in the kitchen while Peter Smith rebuilt the house. Peter had returned to New York by 4 March 1871, when he wrote home that he "went to work this morning have nearly completed the plow. I have to remain by it all the time to superintend its construction." According to references in correspondence Peter Smith advertised his invention in an issue of Southern Cultivator. As a result, he received inquiries about it from potential customers as far away as Australia.
On 2 March 1871, Peter wrote his wife that he expected a railroad charter to be granted; "this is good news for me," he declared. Although it is difficult to determine when he abandoned farming to work full time for the railroad, Peter Smith seems to have worked more or less regularly for various branches of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad after 1871. This work often took him away from Scotland Neck. On 25 March 1886, he wrote from Rocky Mount, "I am having a very easy time at present, as most of my work is in the house making calculations and drawing profiles." A few months later, he was supervising the building of a bridge about two miles from Rocky Mount. On 23 September, he wrote, "This work we are at now is something I have never had to do before and it is very interesting, though it gives me some hard thinking."
It appears that one of his last assignments with the railroad was supervision of construction work at Remini, S.C., in the Pee Dee swamps. Letters include detailed instructions to him from his Atlantic Coast Line Railroad supervisor about construction. Peter wrote home on 15 August 1893 that "I have not seen a single pale faced person since I have been here. I see men every day go down in the swamp and wade above their knees all day and do it every day in the week and still they look healthy. I asked them if they were not afraid, said not in the least, as they had been at it for years, and their people are not raised here but come from the North--that gives me hope." Smith's own health apparently failed; he appears to have retired not long after this.
In addition to information about Peter Smith's work, letters document his close relationship to his daughters. For example, on 5 February 1875, he wrote Lena a poignant letter on her 21st birthday discussing his plans for her when she was born and his sadness that their lives had turned out so differently. "I battled manfully against the tide, but was not able in my frailty to stem it." His letters to her are full of feelings of failure to provide for his family. Peter attached great importance to educating his daughters, and convinced a friend to send his daughter to St. Mary's over the man's objections about the expense.
Lena Smith becomes a significant recipient of correspondence in her own right during this period, especially after she moved to Raleigh to enter St. Mary's School around 1870. In 1889, she left Scotland Neck once again to seek treatment in Baltimore for her deafness. Lena received letters from a variety of family members and from parents of her students. Also documented during this period is the marriage of Rebe Smith to Walter Shields and the birth of their first child in 1889. Nan remained single during this period and, like Lena, worked as a teacher.
Chiefly correspondence of Lena Smith and her sisters, and, after 1903, James H. Durham. W. A. Dunn of Scotland Neck wrote Lena on 18 March 1896, "In the real things which go to make up an education I am highly pleased with the progress of my children and I don't believe any school in North Carolina is more thorough than yours. I have noted your methods carefully and they cannot be excelled. I think you have an able corps of teachers, well-fitted by education and experience for their work." Despite such rave reviews the Board of Trustees of the Vine Hill Female Academy dismissed Lena, on 30 March 1899, because of her "extreme deafness" and hired a male principal. On 19 June 1901, they offered her "entire control of the Art Department," which was suffering from competition with Lena's own Cottage Home School. Lena chose to remain independent.
Continued correspondence to Peter documents his sustained interest in things mechanical. In the last months of his life, he received a letter from the Brown Cotton Gin Co. of New London, Conn., about various parts Peter had ordered for repairs to an old fashioned gin.
1902 letters relate chiefly to celebration of 50th wedding anniversary of Peter and Rebeccirca 1905 letters relate chiefly to Peter's death, many responding to obituary notices, some responding to news through family connections. Letters contain their memories of Peter and news of scattered family members across North Carolina and in New York, Maryland, and South Carolina.
Lena's considerable influence in Scotland Neck is documented by a letter, 6 October 1930, from Theodore Patrick, Jr., who felt compelled to explain his reasons for resigning as rector of Trinity Church directly to her. Letters show that Lena was interested in genealogy, often doing research for people seeking information about their North Carolina relatives. A Virginia genealogist wrote on 29 September 1938, "I have been advised that you are probably more familiar with the history of your section than anyone with whom I could correspond." Another genealogist addressed her letter of 11 December 1940 simply to "Lena Smith, Historian." Letters show that her interests went beyond genealogy. Her niece wrote on 22 May 1941, "[I] think your War History of Halifax Co. [will] be splendid, and most interesting."
Nan Hill Smith married James Henry Durham in 1903, and Durham thereafter became a significant correspondent. Among the correspondence related to him is his letterbook, 1900 1904, containing holograph copies of letters he wrote during his employment at the North Carolina Lumber Company.
Of particular note during this period are letters, 1896-1898, about the Albemarle, chiefly written by an artist commissioned to paint a representation of the sunken vessel. Also, there are informative letters from Rebe Shields's daughter Rebe at St. Mary's containing information about her activities, including attending a Carolina/A&E basketball game, 19 April 1919, and war movies, 18 November 1918. Letters from a female missionary in China in 1941 contain information about her war experience, Japanese occupation of China, Chinese priests, and travel by sedan chair to "Free China." An undated war letter describes New York nightlife from a female perspective--dating soldiers, night clubs, shopping, and taxi cabs.
Includes correspondence from all time periods.
Loose papers include deeds, indentures, bills, receipts, patents, and other items; account books are typically general purpose volumes containing a variety of financial entries.
Deeds, indentures, plats, wills, lists of stocks and bonds, bills, receipts, insurance policies, slave lists, tenant agreements, patents, and a variety of other unbound financial and legal documents. Papers from 1739 to 1854 chiefly concern plantation development of Peter Evans and William R. Smith, Jr. Papers from 1855 to 1869 relate primarily to the agricultural interests of William R. Smith, Jr., and his sons Peter Evans and George Alexander Smith. Papers from 1870 to 1893 chiefly document the mechanical interests and railroad work of Peter Evans Smith, and the household accounts and school business of his daughter Lena. Papers from 1894 to 1936 relate chiefly to household matters and document certain aspects of Lena's school business.
Chiefly papers of Peter Evans and William R. Smith, Jr. Earliest documents relate to land in Halifax and Edgecombe counties, N.C. Papers for 1841 show that William R. Smith, Sr., bought a fishery on the south side of the Roanoke River in Halifax County. Documents for 1844 show that the Smith farming operation produced lard, beans, bacon, wool, corn, and cotton, which they sold in Plymouth and Norfolk.
There is also much slave material including bills of sale, slave lists, accounts for slave hiring, and Peter Evans's deeds of gift, 30 March 1828, transferring slaves to his son-in-law, William R. Smith, Jr., and, 22 April 1833, to his grandson, Peter Evans Smith. Scattered slave lists contain a variety of information including names, ages, and values. Medical bills in 1851 and 1854 show many visits to slaves. A receipt dated 16 January 1830 suggests payment for medical services of a female slave healer--Solomon Slatter, guardian of Martha W. Smith paid $2 "for the attendance of Aggy on Jack when sick the year 1828."
Also included are scattered financial items relating to other Smith family members: school tuition bills, 1832, for Richard H. Smith's daughter, Cornelia; accounts from the 1830s related to Martha W. Smith, ward of Solomon Slatter; estate Papers, 1850, of Maria Smith's estate, William R. Smith, Jr., executor.
Chiefly papers of William R. Smith, Jr., and his sons, George Alexander and Peter Evans Smith, documenting Peter's management of Smith family agricultural interests. Accounts contain information about slaves and, later, tenant farmers; agricultural products of Smith family plantations; and household expenses. Papers for 1858 relate to the Peter Evans estate. Among documents for 1859 is an insurance policy for P. E. Smith's house, kitchen, and furniture. Also included is a detailed account, 20 June 1859, documenting the painting of the Smith's house; it itemizes each section of the house that was painted, including measurements and how many coats of paint were applied. Accounts show that Peter Evans Smith bought a steam saw mill on 20 September 1861.
Information about slaves includes "William R. Smith's Negro Accounts for 1865," showing names and shoes purchased. Tenant farmers are documented by freedmen's labor contracts, 1866-1868. Also included are war-related government claims and lawsuits regarding family debts during the late 1860s.
Papers of Peter Evans Smith documenting his various inventions and his work with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Also included are school and household accounts of Lena Smith. Peter's early inventions were related to agriculture, but patents from the 1880s onward show inventions related to railroad work and other mechanical interests, such as the electric light buoy. On 25 January 1871, Peter received an individual permit for manufacturing patented fertilizer. His own patents show specifications and diagrams for various inventions: cultivator, 1870; improvement in cotton seed planters, 1871; electric light buoy, 1876; and improvement in spark-arresters, 1885. 1893 accounts, chiefly showing timber purchases for construction work on the Manchester and Augusta Railroad.
Miscellaneous household bills, receipts, and other Papers, some related to Lena Smith's school (e.g., book order, 1903), which started after 1899.
Includes a variety of financial and legal documents from all time periods.
Account books from 1823 to 1877 chiefly document Smith family agricultural concerns and include information about slaves and freed contract laborers. Account books from 1887 to 1892 chiefly document Peter Evans Smith's work with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company. Both subseries contain scattered household information.
1872-1873. Pages 32-61 contain "Orders for Cotton Plantes" [sic]; a list of names, possibly people who ordered plants from Peter Evans Smith and who paid and when order was shipped. Pages 11-31 contain printed testimonials aimed at planters in the Norfolk market. #00677, Subseries: "2.2.1. 1823-1877." Folder 68
1887-1892. Expense Account, Scotland Neck Railroad. Entries relate chiefly to food, some show equipment purchased. Also included are "Bills for Trestles & Cattle" related to the A & R railroad, and "Planing Mill" accounts. Page 84 contains an "Academy" account possibly related to construction work at Vine Hill Academy. 142 pages. #00677, Subseries: "2.2.2. 1887-1892." Folder 71
Chiefly research and writings of Lena Smith, who spent much of her later years collecting information about people and events in the Scotland Neck area. She was a founding member of the Scotland Neck chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and papers show that she was invited to become a charter member of the Institute of American Genealogy in 1929.
Chiefly writings about the history of Halifax County, N.C., including such topics as the Roanoke River, Vine Hill Academy, Trinity Church, and the Scotland Neck Cavalry. Also included are writings documenting other historical interests of Lena Smith such as the Confederate Navy and the University of North Carolina.
Information about the Blount, Evans, Hill, Johnston, Smith, and other families. Included is a volume of genealogical notes that also contains a list of names titled "Church League of Baptized," 1907-1910.
A commonplace book of poetry and other quotations collected by Susan Smith; scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, possibly collected by Rebe Shields; and a wide variety of unbound 19th-and 20-century newspaper clippings.
|Oversize Volume SV-677/1|
|Oversize Volume SV-677/2|
Information about various inventions by Peter Evans Smith--the iron drill used to construct the Albemarle, a spark arrestor, cotton press, and electric buoy. There are also specifications for a house to be built in Scotland Neck and miscellaneous drawings and hand-drawn maps, possibly related to his railroad work.
Also included are handwritten minutes of meetings of the Vine Hill Academy board of trustees; commencement programs and grade reports relating to various schools, including St. Mary's and the Cottage Home School; historical reports of the United Daughters of the Confederacy that appear to have been written by Lena Smith as annual reports of the Scotland Neck chapter; a variety of handwritten original and transcribed poems; printed materials, such as a copy of the Carolina Churchman, containing a history of Trinity Church in Scotland Neck on its 100th anniversary in 1932; and a small notebook belonging to Lena Smith that she apparently carried to help her communicate with people.
|Image P- 677/1|
"Edwards Ferry. Taken from the Hill in front of the boat in 1888. Shows location of ways on which the Albemarle was constructed," according to inscription by Benton H. Smith. View shows white man on horse and two black males standing at center--man with shovel and walking stick wearing a coat, and young boy holding unidentified tool. A board building with brick chimney in right foreground, and barn and board out-building at left background. Roanoke River in right background. Negative on file. #00677, Series: "6. Pictures, 1888-1926 and undated." P-677/5
View of unknown construction site, possibly related to Peter Evans Smith's work for Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Shows three workmen operating steam-powered, crane-like machine. Three men in business suits observe work at right. Strip of trees cleared through wooded site. #00677, Series: "6. Pictures, 1888-1926 and undated." P-677/8
Photograph of wisteria-covered porch of two-story white house with bird feeder at center foreground. Inscribed: "When I first came the wisteria was in bloom. I got this snap of the back just before 7 p.m. The bird feeder is a popular place as I place doughnuts and lady fingers there." #00677, Series: "6. Pictures, 1888-1926 and undated." P-677/13
"Interior view of the old...shoe shop. Craddock-Terry Co.'s Exhibit at the Jamestown Exposition. The old colored man, Alfred Leigh, was a slave belonging to Judge Thomas Leigh, of Halifax Co., Va. His wife belonged to Dr. Charles Craddock, the father of Craddock-Terry Co., who are the largest shoe manufacturers in the South, with three large factories at Lynchburg, Va. in which they manufacture the celebrated Longwear Shoes." Postcard format shows Alfred Leigh seated in exhibit working on shoes at cobbler's bench. Exhibit presents romanticized view of the shoemaker's trade. Negative on file. #00677, Series: "6. Pictures, 1888-1926 and undated." P-677/17
|Special Format Image SF-P-677/18|
Unidentified family group. Mother is seated in chair holding infant. Little boy dressed in white is seated on chair arm. Father wearing clerical collar is kneeling beside chair. Taken outside; tree and exterior wall of clapboard house form background. #00677, Series: "6. Pictures, 1888-1926 and undated." P-677/20
Processed by: Lisa Tolbert, June 1992
Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008
Updated by: Nancy Kaiser, February 2021
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