Collection Number: 01103-z

Collection Title: David Gavin Diary, 1855-1874

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Size 1 volume (260 pages)
Abstract David Gavin was a white lawyer and owner of a plantation that used enslaved labor near St. George, S.C., which was probably in Dorchester County. Gavin's diary includes entries, 1855-1871; personal accounts, 1856-1874; and 150 brief entries giving vital dates and other information about white family members, friends, and acquaintances. Gavin wrote about the daily tasks of enslaved people, their illnesses and the remedies used to treat them, problems with a self-emancipated enslaved person named "Team," free Blacks in Colletin District, and his work as an appraiser of enslaved people in the disposition of estates. Other entries discuss family members and neighbors, Gavin's political views (he apparently was a member of the American Party), election results for Colleton District, S.C., Gavin's legal work, his work as a surveyor, life on his plantation, and other matters. Social and legal experiences of women are also occasionally noted.
Creator Gavin, David, 1811-1874.
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 David Gavin Diary #1103-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alternate Form of Material
Typed transcription available.
Microfilm copy available.
Additional microfilm: All or part of this collection is also 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 Mrs. John R. Fawcett of Savannah, Georgia, in May 1946.
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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David Gavin (b. 1811) was was a white lawyer and owner of a plantation that used enslaved labor. He was the son of John and Ann Gavin. He had three brothers: Charles (b. 1815), who lived in Florida; John (circa 1819-1858); and William (1829-1861).

Gavin lived in the Colleton District of South Carolina, presumably in the area between the present St. George (called George's Station in the diary) in Dorchester County, and Canaday's Crossroads in Colleton County. In his work as a lawyer he made frequent trips to the court in Waterborough (Waterboro).

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This collection consists of the original volume (Volume 1) and a typed transcription of it (Volumes 2 and 3).

The original volume, 260 pages, has three sections: a diary, 1855-1871 (pages 1-197); personal accounts, 1856-1874 (198-247); and brief entries giving vital dates, other information, and, occasionally, Gavin's impressions of about 150 white family members, friends, and acquaintances (248-260).

In the diary, Gavin wrote about enslaved people, affairs of his white and Black neighbors in Colleton District, S.C., members of his family, planting and plantation work, the weather, legal work, current events in the United States and the world, and his own feelings and health. Some entries are quite brief, others extensive.

Gavin wrote about the work of enslaved people and about illness among enslaved people on his plantation and various remedies used to cure them. In the summer and fall of 1857, there was much fever, and Gavin himself was very ill.

From 1855 through 1860, Gavin frequently mentioned Team, an enslaved person, who continually self-emancipated. On 3 December 1855, he mentioned a search for Team. On 20 December 1855, he noted that Team was home again. On 14 March 1856, Gavin wrote that he wanted to sell Team because he had run away twice. Gavin wrote that he originally had sent to Florida and bought Team because he already owned Team's wife, mother, brother, and sister.

Enslaved people are also documented in Gavin's reporting on his frequent trips to the court in Waterborough (Waterboro). He mentioned his own cases and other notable trials that occurred. In entries dated 14 and 20 November 1856 and 4 November 1857, he mentioned a trial of men accused of murdering an enslaved person who was the cattle minder for Colonel Lewis Morris. Gavin believed that the men were guilty, but that they would not be convicted. He noted, on 16 November 1857, that they were acquitted. Gavin frequently attended the sales of enslaved people, usually involving estates, and noted the selling prices. In the entry of 17 October 1859, he mentioned that he had appraised the enslaved people of the estate of W. Wamer and listed their names and prices. On 8 May 1860, he noted that he had appraised the value of the enslaved people as a step in the division of an estate.

Gavin frequently noted in his diary affairs in the lives of his neighbors. A family named Rumph is mentioned. Their daughter married Moses West who, Gavin stated, abused her. On 6 February 1857, he mentioned Mrs. West's difficulties in obtaining a separation--all the law would allow in South Carolina--and custody of the children. He also frequently dined or visited with neighbors and mentioned their visits to him. Gavin mentioned camp meetings, meetings of the Sons of Temperance, and his activities as a Commissioner of the Poor.

Gavin occasionally mentioned free Black families who lived in his district. On 29 December 1855, he noted that William Reeves, a free Black man, was killed by the cars at Branchville. On 26 April 1858, he mentioned a neighbor who associated with free Black men, a practice of which Gavin disapproved. On 9 November 1855 Gavin noted a court action making Peter H. Marchant, Amelia Marchant, and their children, Peter I. Marchant and Angenona Marchant, a family of "free Indians."

Gavin wrote about the management of his plantation and the planting of various crops such as corn, rice, peas, and cotton. He described progress on improvements to his property. He discussed building a road across the swamp on his property, and a cornhouse, which he called the American or Know-Nothing cornhouse. In 1859-1860, he hired two overseers successively, but had difficulties with them and let them go.

Gavin was apparently a member of the American or Know-Nothing Party, and, in an entry, dated 9 November 1855, he criticized the Democratic Party for bribery and corruption. He continued to criticize the government in entries throughout the diary.

Gavin also was against universal suffrage. In an entry, dated 4 November 1856, he mentioned the candidates in the presidential election and stated that, while in South Carolina the legislature elected the electors, in all other states "they are elected by the people alias the mob-oc-ra-cy influenced by the demagogues." In an entry, dated 8 October 1858, he stated his dislike of popular self-government and universal suffrage.

Gavin frequently noted information on local politics. In an entry, dated 31 March 1858, he mentioned the names of the new sheriff and other newly elected officials in Colleton District.

Gavin also did surveying and mentioned, 17 April 1856, surveying and selling a parcel of land.

In October of 1857, Gavin noted that four banks in South Carolina had suspended specie payments and gave their names and the dates they suspended payment. He described his own theories on the reason for the "Panic of 1857."

Gavin mentioned forebodings of the breaking up of the union on several occasions before 1861. During the American Civil War years, he reported progress of the war and its local effects, such as the reorganization of the South Carolina Militia. On 18 June 1863, Gavin wrote that Union soldiers had burned some plantations in the Beaufort District on the Combahee River. In late 1863 and early 1864, he wrote out Confederate tax returns for himself and for some estates. There are only a few scattered entries after August 1864.

Among those mentioned in the diary, Gavin frequently wrote about members of the following families: Aberly (or Averly), Gavin, Hughs (Hughes?), Inabinet, Moorer, Muckenfuss, Murray, Myers, Pye, Rumph, Shuler, Sistrunk, Utsey, and West.

The personal accounts section (pages 198-247) lists "Expenses and money paid out," 1856-1874. Costs are listed for such items as clothes, food, transportation and lodging, household and farm equipment, magazine subscriptions, shipping, horses, and services such as blacksmithing and carpentry.

The final section (pages 248-260) contains entries for about 150 white individuals known by Gavin. The entries, which range from a few words to a paragraph, were typically made at the death of an individual, but occasionally were written when someone was born or married. These events occurred 1855-1872. Entries usually list birth and death dates, and commonly also the cause of death. Gavin often commented on the life or death of an individual, noting extraordinary circumstances or characteristics. Gavin noted, for example, that Eveann Pendaris was a woman "who has now married twice and never changed her name, a circumstance I never knew or heard of before," and that Mary M. Gavin was "murdered Friday evening Nov. the 9th 1866 near her mother's farm ... by two freedmen Caeser and Owen." Gavin frequently lamented sufferings caused by "Yankees." Information is included on Methodist Bishop James Osgood Andrew (1794-1871), Isaac Marion Dwight (circa 1799-1874), and Alfred Huger (1788-1872), as well as on members of the Appleby, Canaday, Firman (Furman?), Gavin, Horn, Huger, Moorer, Murray, Rowe, Sistrunk, Shuler, and other families. A few account and diary entries also are included in this section.

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Contents list

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Processing Information

Processed by: Shonra Newman, July 1990

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

Updated by: Kathryn Michaelis, December 2009

Conscious Editing Work by: Nancy Kaiser, July 2020. Updated abstract, subject headings, biographical note, scope and content note, and container 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

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