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|Size||6.0 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 2640 items)|
|Abstract||John Steele of Rowan County, N.C., was a merchant; planter; banker; influential Federalist; U.S. representative, 1790-1792; state and federal Indian commissioner; U.S. comptroller of the currency, 1796-1802; major general of the militia; and member of the N.C.-S.C. boundary commission. He married Mary Nessfield of Fayetteville, N.C., and they had three daughters: Ann Nessfield Steele (died 1804), Margaret Steele Ferrand (died 1830), and Eliza Steele Macnamara (died 1836). Mary managed family business interests after her husband's death and cared for her granddaughters after their mother Margaret's death. Included is considerable correspondence pertaining to politics and to the various North Carolina and national offices Steele held, including letters from William Blount, William Polk, William R. Davie, John Haywood, Wade Hampton, and Nathaniel Macon. Also well documented are soured relations between the U.S. and Great Britain leading to the War of 1812; Steele's resignation as comptroller of the currency under Jefferson and problems within the Treasury Department; social life in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C.; the N.C.-S.C. boundary survey; and horse breeding and racing. There are also papers pertaining to Steele's activities as Salisbury, N.C., agent of the Bank of Cape Fear and to the building of his home there, books of accounts as Indian commissioner, and papers relating to merchandising. Prior to 1785, there are deeds, letters, business papers, and account books of Steele's parents. After Steele's death, there are family and business papers of his wife, children, and other relations, including members of the Ferrand and Macnamara families of Columbia, S.C. These relate primarily to female family members, and letters and school work of Steele's daughters and granddaughters illuminate female education over two generations. There is also an 1835 letter written to Mary Steele by a family slave.|
|Creator||Steele, John, 1764-1815.|
|Curatorial Unit||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.|
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John Steele (1764-1815), son of William (died 1773) and Elizabeth Maxwell Gillespie Steele (died 1790), was born in Salisbury, N.C., where his parents operated a tavern. John Steele received his education in Salisbury and engaged in an early career as a local merchant. By 1783, Steele had extended his business connections to link himself with the mercantile concern of Robert Cochran in Fayetteville. He solidified the partnership when he married Cochran's daughter-in-law, Mary Nessfield. They had three daughters who lived to adulthood: Ann Nessfield Steele (died 1804), Margaret Steele Ferrand (died 1830), and Eliza Steele Macnamara (died 1836).
John Steele demonstrated an early interest in politics, and his burgeoning career in public service followed the course of the new nation. He began on the local level, in 1784, as assessor of the town of Salisbury. He became a town commissioner in 1787, and, in that same year, he was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons, where he served two terms. During that time, the legislature appointed him to negotiate a treaty with the Cherokees and Chickasaws. In 1789, he was a delegate to the Fayetteville convention which finally brought North Carolina into the Union. Steele was immediately elected to the House of Representatives of the first Congress, serving two terms. His campaign for a Senate seat failed in 1792. Returning to North Carolina, Steele again became a member of the House of Commons, serving from 1794 to 1795.
Although he was a plantation owner, Steele was never enchanted with farming. On 15 December 1796, he wrote his wife that his plantations "...have been to me hitherto a plague, without either gain, or satisfaction." Thus, in 1796, he eagerly accepted when George Washington appointed him comptroller of the Treasury, serving in that office until 1802, when he resigned. Following his retirement from politics, Steele devoted much time to diverse business interests, including his cotton plantations in Rowan County, mercantile interests in Salisbury, horse breeding and racing. From 1807 to 1811, he was the agent in Salisbury for the Bank of Cape Fear. Steele was once again elected to the state House of Commons in 1815, but died before taking his seat.
Mary Nessfield Steele managed family business interests after her husband's death. When her daughter, Margaret Steele Ferrand died in 1830, Mary raised her two orphaned granddaughters, Mary Steele Ferrand and Ann Nessfield Steele Ferrand.Back to Top
Correspondence, financial and legal materials, and other items of John Steele and the Steele family. Before Steele's death in 1815, papers relate chiefly to his political career, family life, and business activities. After 1815, the collection relates primarily to female family members, especially to Mary Nessfield Steele, her daughters Margaret and Eliza, and her granddaughters Mary Steele Ferrand and Ann Nessfield Steele Ferrand.
The collection is significant for its noteworthy political correspondents, especially from North Carolina, and for its documentation of early national politics. John Steele received regular and substantive communications from such powerful North Carolina leaders as William Blount, William Polk, William R. Davie, John Haywood, and Nathaniel Macon. Also well documented in letters and financial papers is the construction of the Steele family house in Salisbury during the last decade of the eighteenth century.
Letters and surviving school work of Steele's daughters and granddaughters document female education over two generations of Steele family women. Family correspondence is also full of information about social life and customs in Philadelphia and New York during the time each city served as national capitol and in the new city of Washington. The Steeles also corresponded with friends and family in Fayetteville, N.C., and Columbia, S.C.Back to Top
There are two fundamental groups of correspondence: letters from 1785 to 1815 relate chiefly to the concerns and activities of John Steele; correspondence from 1816 to 1846 is primarily of women, including Mary Nessfield Steele, her daughters Margaret and Eliza, and her granddaughters Mary Steele Ferrand and Ann Nessfield Steele Ferrand.
John Steele's correspondence is especially significant for its noteworthy political correspondents, especially from North Carolina, and for its documentation of early national politics. He received regular and substantive communications from such powerful North Carolina leaders as William Blount, William Polk, William R. Davie, John Haywood, and Nathaniel Macon. Steele family women also wrote substantive letters about education, household management, travel, and a wide variety of interests.
Letters of William and Eliza Steele and from John Steele's days as a young merchant. Correspondence begins soon after the marriage of William (died 1773) and Elizabeth Maxwell Steele (died 1790). Letters from this period reveal little about the relationship between William and Elizabeth however. Instead they represent two separate streams of correspondence. Letters before 1773 relate chiefly to business matters of William. Letters after 1773 are chiefly from Elizabeth to her brother Ephraim in Charlestown. (Note that many of Elizabeth's letters included in this collection are photocopies of original material in the Steele Papers at the North Carolina Department of Archives and History.)
These letters document a family connection with Samuel McCorkle, Elizabeth's son-in-law, who helped manage family business after William's death. In addition to family news and her closeness to her brother, Elizabeth expressed her opinions about the Revolutionary War, as did McCorkle, who wrote to Ephraim on 30 July 1778, about the success of American forces: "Our Tories tremble, about a dozen are in Salisbury." Elizabeth generally supported the American cause, but hoped "the war will not long continue." She recorded events of the war along the coast from Charleston to Florida, but her letters contain scant information about local conditions in wartime Salisbury.
After 1785, John Steele became a significant recipient of correspondence. In a letter dated 18 March 1786, Sam McCorkle described him to Ephraim as "a husband--parent--and merchant." John married Mary Nessfield, daughter-in-law of Robert Cochran, a wealthy merchant of Fayetteville, N.C., and business partner of John Steele, in February 1783. After Cochran's death in 1786, Steele "conducted the business alone with tolerable success," according to a letter dated 24 April 1787. John Steele's correspondence from this early period mainly concerns his mercantile interests.
Correspondence related to John's government service. Beginning in 1789, copies of letters he wrote as a state commissioner document his treaty negotiations with the Creeks and Cherokees. Steele received several long letters from William Blount, who offered advice based on his own experience negotiating with the Indians. Correspondence also documents his election to the first Congress as a member of the House of Representatives in 1789. Few letters relate to his tenure, 1794-1796, as a member of the North Carolina House of Commons. His appointment as Comptroller of the Currency in the United States Treasury Department, however, produced much family correspondence.
Copies of Steele's letters to prominent North Carolina politicos express his concerns about the powers Congress was giving George Washington and the implications of other congressional action for North Carolina. Political letters from this period also contain significant information about an emerging national foreign policy (e.g., Steele's letter to Alexander Hamilton of 30 April 1793 in which he discussed his uneasiness about political connections with France, commerce with Great Britain, and the Genet mission).
The service as Comptroller is well documented during this period. John's letters to his wife from New York, 1790-1791; Philadelphia, 1791-1793 and 1796-1799; and from Washington, 1800-1802, are typically long and substantive, full of his feelings toward his family, his reliance on Mary's management skills, detailed instructions about plantation work, and race horse matters. In addition, he often wrote about his own work routines and the expense of living in Philadelphia. Many of his letters contain interesting comments about women's fashion in the city and his concern that his family should compare favorably when they visited him.
Also, from about 1792 through 1801, while John was absorbed with his government duties, the Steele's were building a new house in Salisbury--a project which Mary was obliged to superintend, but in which John took a great interest. His letters document his particular vision not only for the house, but for overall development of the grounds. A Salisbury neighbor assured John in a letter dated 17 March 1801 that "Mrs. Steele is indefatigable in carrying on the improvements." There are few letters from Mary to her husband. John Steele resigned as Comptroller in 1802, and returned to Salisbury, where he would remain until his death in 1815.
Of particular interest during this period are the letters of John Steele's daughter, Ann Nessfield Steele, who wrote several letters from boarding school in Bethlehem, Pa. When she accompanied her father to Washington, 1801-1802, they boarded in Georgetown, and she wrote long letters home about social life in the city. There is also scattered correspondence from the Steele's extended family, especially the Cochrans and Mary's sister Ann Nessfield in Fayetteville.
Although he was back in Salisbury and ostensibly retired from public office, Steele received much correspondence during this period about state and national politics. Many long and substantive letters from John Haywood, Nathaniel Macon, and William R. Davie discuss a wide variety of state and national issues, and show that Steele bridged the political gap between Federalist and Anti-Federalist. These letters record impressions and experiences related to many of the major political events during this period--tensions between Britain and the United States leading up to the War of 1812, the death of Alexander Hamilton, the election of James Madison, and many issues concerning political leaders in North Carolina.
Letters show that John Steele reestablished his business connections to the Cochran family of Fayetteville. From 1807 to 1811, correspondence, including scattered copies of letters by John Steele, documents his tenure as agent of the Bank of Cape Fear in Salisbury. Also documented is Steele's involvement in settling a boundary dispute between North and South Carolina. His correspondence with Wade Hampton and others contains much information about his avid interest in horse racing. Correspondence indicates that John Steele owned plantations in Rowan County near Salisbury and sold cotton to Petersburg commission merchants.
Steele's business interests were diverse. He was not a large slaveholder, and his correspondence contains only limited information about family slaves or plantation operations.
Of particular interest during this period are letters of John Steele's daughters. Ann received scattered letters from friends in Washington describing social life in the new capitol. For example, in a letter dated 20 February 1803, one friend discussed visits to Congress by ladies. Letters Ann wrote to her family document her marriage to Jesse Pearson. In September 1804, Ann wrote to her Aunt Ann Nessfield that she had "been confined to my bed." Two months later she was dead. Occasional letters from Jesse Pearson, including those from Washington while he was a congressman, 1810-1812, show that he maintained a relationship with the Steele family after his wife's death and earnestly sought the counsel of his politically experienced father-in-law.
In 1807, Margaret Steele visited the Brown family of Bladen County, near Wilmington, N.C., and wrote diary-like letters describing her activities. Mary Brown and Margaret Steele continued to correspond after this visit. Eliza Steele wrote a few letters as a schoolgirl, but much correspondence relates to her marriage to South Carolina merchant Robert Macnamara. She moved with her new husband and accompanied by her sister Margaret to Columbia, S.C., in 1814. The sisters wrote substantive letters to their parents about setting up housekeeping and social life in that town. They became increasingly disenchanted with the place and, within a year, they were making plans to return to Salisbury. In September 1815, Mary Steele informed the Petersburg cotton factors that the "sudden death of my husband [has] left me sole manager of his Estate."
Letters of Mary Steele and her daughters. In a series of letters with commission merchants in Petersburg, Va., Mary Steele made it clear that she was managing business in her husband's stead. In November 1815, she wrote, "I hope soon to receive an account of sales, and have no doubt, you have taken advantage, of the high price of cotton, about the time of its arrival in your market." Previously, she made known her concerns that a load of cotton had not been accurately weighed and that too much had been deducted for damage. Correspondence documents more business activity than personal family information, since Mary's daughters had moved back to Salisbury about the time of John Steele's death. Occasional separations, such as a trip to the Catawba Springs in 1818 produced scattered family correspondence during this period.
The first correspondence relating to the Ferrand family appears in 1819, soon after the marriage of Stephen Lee Ferrand to Margaret Steele. The Ferrands had two daughters before both parents died in 1830.
Correspondence of Mary Steele and Ann Nessfield Steele Ferrand, granddaughters of Mary Steele. The girls wrote their grandmother from various schools in Hillsboro, Pittsboro, and Raleigh, N.C. Their letters are often accompanied by grade reports and contain information about the subjects they studied and their relationships with other students. In 1835, the girls were separated when Mary travelled to Philadelphia and Washington with the Polk family, while Ann stayed at school in Salisbury. Mary's letters home contain much information about her activities, such as her description, dated 20 December 1835, of a fire on Wall Street, which is "more particular than you will get from the papers." During this period Robert Cochran assisted Mary Steele in business matters.
By 1837, Mary Steele Ferrand was a chief recipient of correspondence, receiving letters from her friend Zelda Polk in Tennessee, the Cochrans and the Nessfields of Fayetteville, her uncle William P. Ferrand at Swansboro, N.C., and friends in South Carolina. Correspondence documents Ann Ferrand's marriage to John B. Lord in 1838. Mary subsequently moved to Columbia, S.C., to help her sister set up housekeeping. Before returning to Salisbury in 1839, Mary visited her uncle, William P. Ferrand. He wrote to her grandmother on 25 May 1839 to inform her that she had raised the girls to his "entire satisfaction and further to add my pleasant reflections at giving the children to you as I am well satisfied you have brought them up better than I could have done." By August, Mary Ferrand was engaged to Archibald Henderson, whom she eventually married. There is little documentation of the Henderson marriage.
Also among the correspondents are Eliza Steele Macnamara and her children, who lived at Poplar Grove near Salisbury. In 1836, Eliza died, and her daughters Mary and Eliza wrote their grandmother. There are several letters about their school work at Salem Academy and their feelings about their mother's death. Scattered letters throughout the period offer a glimpse of this Macnamara branch of the Steele family.
Two letters contain interesting information about family slaves. On 2 September 1835, Mary Steele was informed that Cressa, a slave hired to a man in Yorkville, S.C., was being returned because of her "misconduct" with the agent who hired her. On 17 November 1835, there is a letter written to Mary Steele by a family slave, Alfred Steele, containing his request to "live in Raleigh so that I can be clost [sic] to my wife."
Also of note are two travel letters. A long, journal-like letter, dated 29 March 1837, from a friend describes her steamboat trip down the Congaree River from Columbia to Charleston. The woman "saw alligators on the banks of the river" and her first rice plantation, which she found "quite a curiosity." A-29 November 1837 letter from a woman who had settled nine miles from Columbus, Miss., describes her month long trip from North Carolina to Mississippi.
Papers and account books relating to William and Elizabeth Steele, John and Mary Steele, and the Ferrand family.
Bills, receipts, work agreements, tax lists, deeds, and a variety of other papers documenting Steele family business interests, household expenses, and production.
Papers relating to William and Elizabeth Steele and others. The earliest papers relate to land in Johnston, Granville, and Rowan counties, N.C., accumulated chiefly by Robert Gillespie, first husband of Elizabeth Maxwell Gillespie Steele. Papers relating to William Steele document his property holdings, business interests, and leadership role in Salisbury and include deeds, indentures, rent receipts, slave bills of sale, store accounts, tax receipts, and receipts for household expenses. Papers show that Elizabeth Steele managed her husband's estate after his death in 1773.
Chiefly papers related to John Steele's mercantile interests. Accounts show that John Steele bought a town lot in Fayetteville after his marriage to Mary Nessfield and established a business relationship with her former father-in-law Robert Cochran. Estate papers, circa 1786, of Robert Cochran include a series of store inventories that are especially informative. Bills of sale show that Steele invested some of his store earnings in race horses--a life long interest well-documented in the following subseries. Sometime around 1788, John Steele redirected his professional energies. Drafts of an Indian Affairs Treaty and accounts documenting the expenses of the negotiating team led by John Steele in 1788 signal this shift toward an extended involvement in politics at a state and national level.
Papers documenting John Steele's political career and government service. Accounts relate primarily to Steele's personal expenses while living in New York and Philadelphia, first as a congressman and later as Comptroller of the Treasury. Included are bills and receipts for boarding, groceries, tailoring, washing, and luxury items such as a saddle "with scarlet cloth" and "plated nails," 10 February 1791.
Papers for this period also show that Steele continued to develop business interests in Salisbury. In January 1791, he bought 213 acres on the Yadkin River in Rowan County. Although accounts show that he bought and sold land and slaves, there is little documentation of large scale plantation agriculture. In fact, several leases show that Steele rented out much of his property in Rowan County, including his plantation house and distillery, while he was Comptroller of the Treasury. Papers also show that horse breeding became a significant business interest during this period, and that John Steele was actively developing racing stock of his own.
Of particular interest are many bills, work agreements, specifications, and detailed memoranda relating to the construction of John Steele's house in Salisbury. In March 1800, Steele concluded an agreement with a Philadelphia "house carpenter," "to do the inside work [in his new frame house] in a genteel and decent manner." While living in Philadelphia, Steele also took the opportunity to buy furniture for his new home.
Also included are tuition bills and expenses of Ann Steele, who attended school in Bethlehem, Pa., 1799-1800. In 1802, John Steele resigned as Comptroller and moved back to Salisbury.
Papers during this period document some plantation production and development and, in addition, suggest that Steele engaged in a legal practice after his retirement from government service. Lists of taxable property in 1806 and 1814 provide particularly informative summaries of Steele's wealth, which consisted of town lots in Fayetteville, Charlotte, and Salisbury, several plantations, and at least 16 slaves. The 1814 tax list includes descriptions of his property detailing buildings and other improvements and lists slaves by age and gender. Receipts show that Steele was selling cotton to Petersburg merchants in 1813. Steele displayed an avid interest in horse racing throughout this period.
Between 1807 and 1811, John Steele served as an agent in Salisbury for the Bank of Cape Fear. His weekly reports of bank transactions comprise the bulk of financial and legal materials for those years. Also of interest are documents related to Steele's work to resolve a boundary dispute between North and South Carolina. An August 1815 bill for making his coffin documents the death of John Steele.
Financial and legal papers show that Mary Steele managed the plantation, with the help of an overseer, after her husband's death. Receipts with cotton factors in Petersburg document farm production. Bills for goods like groceries, farm implements, jewelry, and services of doctors, carpenters, and painters provide much information about household expenses. Scattered papers after 1820 relate to the Ferrand family.
Undated financial and legal papers of John Steele and others.
Daybooks, ledgers, bank books, and miscellaneous other volumes documenting mercantile interests of William Steele and various business interests of his son John. These volumes contain the clearest evidence of John Steele's legal practice in various county courts of Piedmont North Carolina.
1772-1773; 1777-1780. "Memorandum for Salisbury Supr. Co." Contains notes about business conducted at courts in Hillsborough, Halifax County, and Chatham County, N.C. Also contains a variety of receipts, accounts, and notes about business matters apparently related to Steele's mercantile interests and an "Account of Cash Expended at Congress." 20 pages. #00689, Subseries: "2.2.2. John Steele" Folder 154
|Oversize Volume SV-689/1||
1768-1788 (Volume S-1). Daybook for Steele's store in Salisbury. Entries show names of customers and goods and services exchanged. This volume also contains a holograph dictionary with definitions of legal terms such as "abatement," "appeal," and "bailment." 214 pages. #00689, Subseries: "2.2.2. John Steele" SV-689/1
1789-1790. Fee book documenting Steele's tenure as Clerk and Master in Equity in Rowan County Court. Entries show expenses for each case for such services as sheriff's fees, legal fees, charges for injunctions and affidavits. This book shows that Steele resigned before all the recorded cases were settled. 67 pages. #00689, Subseries: "2.2.2. John Steele" Folder 157
|Oversize Volume SV-689/2||
1785-1797 (Volume S-2). "Ledger A." Accounts with individuals in Salisbury showing purchases of merchandise and charges for services such as horse breeding and legal fees. Steele recorded notes about some accounts (e.g., on page 15 there is a debt listed as uncollectable because the man "runaway to Kentucky & poor"). 142 pages. #00689, Subseries: "2.2.2. John Steele" SV-689/2
1794-1797. "A memorandum of debts due to John Steele, and left in the hands of Maxwell Chambers Esqr. to be collected." Entries show the names of debtors and amounts owed. Also contains information about litigation of disputed debts involving John Steele. A variety of other entries include accounts of travel expenses and inventories of livestock, farming utensils, furniture, and household items. Much of the latter information seems related to rental property owned by Steele. 68 pages. #00689, Subseries: "2.2.2. John Steele" Folder 159
1800. Plantation and household account possibly kept by Mary Steele. Entries show income and expenses for household products such as chickens, corn, cattle; services for hauling lumber and hay. Chiefly documents small scale production within a local market. 13 pages. #00689, Subseries: "2.2.2. John Steele" Folder 162
Autograph album of Mary Steele Ferrand, 1837-1838; 1894. The autograph album, a blank book interspersed with engravings of American landscapes such as the Catskill Mountains, was given to Mary Ferrand by her grandmother. Entries, 1837-1838, consist chiefly of signed poetry composed by friends of Mary Ferrand in Columbia, S.C., and Salisbury. In 1894, Ferrand pencilled in her memories of these people--one poem was written by "a suitor of my beautiful sister," another by "one of my classmates--a sad fate, she became deranged." #00689, Series: "3. Other Items" Folder 165
|Oversize Paper Folder OPF-689/1|
Processed by: Lisa Tolbert with the assistance of David Stickney and Doug Stenberg, August 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