Collection Number: 03373-z

Collection Title: J.B. Killebrew's Recollections of My Life, circa 1898

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 processed with support from the Randleigh Foundation Trust.

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Size 2 volumes (798 pages)
Abstract Autobiography of Joseph Buckner Killebrew consisting of the personal, social, professional, and political memoirs of his early life and schooling in Montgomery County, Tenn.; education at the University of North Carolina, 1854-1856; antebellum life as a young lawyer and planter at Clarksville, Tenn.; the Civil War, during which he remained at home managing his farms, and Reconstruction; and his public career, 1870s through 1890s, as editor of an agricultural newspaper, state superintendent of public instruction, state commissioner of agriculture, author of a book on the agricultural and industrial resources of Tennessee, and investor in Mexican mines. The autobiography describes in detail Killebrew's activities, opinions, and social milieu. Also included is a history of the Whitfield, Bryan, Ligon, Sims, and Wimberly families.
Creator Killebrew, J. B. (Joseph Buckner), 1831-1906.
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 J.B. Killebrew's Recollections of My Life #3373-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alternate Form of Material
Typed transcript copy available.
Acquisitions Information
Received from Joseph B. Killebrew of Chattanooga, Tenn., in August 1958
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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Two typewritten and bound volumes, about 350 pages each, entitle Recollections of my Life by Joseph B. Killebrew. These volumes contain an account of the ancestry and life of Joseph B. Killebrew (1831-1906), one of the outstanding Tennesseans of his time. Killebrew served Tennessee as Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Agriculture, and special expert for the Tenth Census. He also held other state government posts.

Killebrew attended the University of North Carolina, entering as a sophomore in 1854 and graduating in 1856. He received an honorary Ph.D., the first awarded by the University of North Carolina, in 1878.

Volume 1, Chapter 1, contains a detailed genealogy and description of the lives of members of the Whitfield and Killebrew families of Tennessee (mostly in Montgomery County) and the Ligon family of Halifax County, Va., who emigrated to Tennessee in 1814. Joseph B. Killebrew was the son of Bryan Whitfield and Elizabeth Smith Ligon Killebrew.

Killebrew began the narrative of his life with his earliest memories, and described his youth, schooling, hard work on the farm, family, and friends. Among the many aspects of Tennessee life described were the spinning, weaving, and other domestic activities of the women, treatment of diseases, the presidential campaigns of 1840 and 1844, fashions in dress, camp meetings at Antioch, a year at Franklin College, two years studying languages, and teaching mathematics at Mr. Tyler's school in Clarksville, Montgomery County, Tenn.

In 1853, Killebrew was unexpectedly offered the opportunity to attend college. He selected the University of North Carolina and left for Chapel Hill in January 1854. He described his 204-hour journey from Clarksville to Chapel Hill, his entrance examinations, and the various faculty members who examined him. He was admitted as an advanced sophomore. Killebrew was an ambitious student and achieved highest honors in his work. He was a student leader and a prominent member of the Philanthropic Literary Society. Between semesters, he visited his cousins in Edgecombe County, the Whitfields and Wimberlys. The narrative of his two and a half years at Chapel Hill includes descriptions of the several faculty members, Killebrew's relations with them, and his evaluations of their personalities and abilities.

After his graduation in June 1856, Killebrew returned to Clarksville, Tenn., to read law. He led an active social life, which he described in depth. He also gave an account of the leading families in the area, mentioning social, religious, and political happenings.

In 1858, Killebrew married Kate, the daughter of George Sterling Wimberly, lived near Clarksville, and assumed the management of the farm and finances of his late father-in-law. He wrote of their life on the farm and, at great length and detail, on political issues and politicians, including the election of Lincoln and the outbreak of the Civil War, the war fever in Tennessee, his reasons for not joining the Confederate Army; the fall of Fort Donelson, forty miles from Clarksville; roving bands of Federal soldiers; hiring freed blacks and selling his crops; the end of the war; and the assassination of Lincoln. Killebrew also gave an account of Reconstruction policies in Tennessee under Governor Brownlow and of incidents in Montgomery County following the war.

Killebrew entered public life in 1871 with is appointment as Superintendent of Public Instruction. He wrote of his duties, travels, and political involvements in this post and in other public offices that he later held, including that of Commissioner of Agriculture and special expert for the Tenth Census. His investigation of the oil potential of Tennessee led him into various speculative ventures, including mining in Mexico.

Volume 1 also contains an appendix on the Whitfield, Bryan, Ligon, Sims, and Wimberly family history. Volume 2 is the narrative of his personal financial ventures; the Mexican mining venture is described in some detail. Also included are copies of his letters to his wife, written while on his extensive travels. Much space devoted to family events and history.

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Processing Information

Processed by: Suzanne Ruffing, August 1996

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

Revised by: Dawne Howard Lucas, July 2021

This collection was processed with support from the Randleigh Foundation Trust.

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