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Collection Number: 02245

Collection Title: John Houston Bills Papers, 1843-1871

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 FAQ 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.

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Size 2.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 35 items)
Abstract John Houston Bills was a Tennessee planter who was active in the Democratic Party, the Freemasons, a temperance society, and was a friend of President James K. Polk (1795-1849). The collection includse a diary of Bills, 1843-1871, and a few letters and miscellaneous accounts. Diary entries describe daily life on Bills's plantations near Bolivar in Hardeman County, Tenn. The largely terse entries include information on slavery; the Civil War, especially the Battle of Shiloh; agricultural production; weather conditions; religious services; and descriptions of Bills's travels in the eastern United States, Canada, and Europe.
Creator Bills, John Houston, 1800-1871.
Language English
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Restrictions to Access
Manuscript materials, or their reproductions, from this collection may not be published in print without permission from the director of the Southern Historical Collection.
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 John Houston Bills Papers #2245, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alternate Form of Material
All or part of this collection is available on microfilm.
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. George H. Hillman, June 1940, and Leonidas Polk, July 1940, and purchased from W. H. Lowdermilk & Co., May 1966, and George E. Webb, February 1986.
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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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Biographical Information

John Houston Bills (1800-1871), Tennessee planter, merchant, and friend of president James Knox Polk (1795-1849), was born in Iredell County, North Carolina, and migrated to Tennessee in 1818. He was active in the Democratic Party, the Freemasons, the temperance movement, and the religious life of his community.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Scope and Content

The collection consists primarily of Bills's diary, which contains entries dated 1843-1871. There are also a few letters and miscellaneous accounts, 1841-1878. Typed transcriptions of the diary are located in Series 3 of the collection. The transcriptions contain a few minor errors.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Correspondence and miscellaneous accounts, 1841-1878.

10 items.

Correspondence and miscellaneous accounts relating to Bills and his family.

Folder 1

Correspondence and miscellaneous accounts #02245, Series: "1. Correspondence and miscellaneous accounts, 1841-1878." Folder 1

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Diary.

Diary kept by Bills with almost daily entries between 1841 and 1871. Typical entries are 10-25 words in length and include information on weather conditions (usually with temperature), agricultural activities and production (cotton, corn, hogs, etc.), and a very brief account of Bills's activities for that day. Bills was also careful to note prices paid and received for goods and services. Other subjects include slaves--their work, treatment, and prices; problems with overseers; relationships with freedmen after emancipation; land values; religious activities (Bills attended a variety of denominational services); and descriptions of Bills's travels.

The Civil War prompted Bills to abandon his terse style occasionally. Longer entries reveal that he was a Douglas Democrat and a Unionist until Lincoln's call for troops. Although Bills then threw his lot in with the Confederates, entries show that he remained pessimistic about the war's effect on the nation. His hometown of Bolivar was occupied by Federal troops from 5 June 1862 until 9 June 1863, and, from July 1863 until October 1864, the town was subjected to raids and occupations by both sides. Bills included a lengthy description of his attempt to locate his wounded son at the battlefield of Shiloh in April 1862.

Besides wartime events, activities covered in greater detail in the diary include:

1844:Bills's trip to Pennsylvania and New York.

1845: Bills's trip through Virginia, Washington, D.C. (where he visited President Polk), New England, New York, Niagra Falls, and Montreal.

1851:Bills's travels with his friend Mr. P. Miller to England, Scotland, France, Belgium, and Germany.

Most of the longer descriptions are located at the back of the original yearly volume. In the transcriptions, however, they are integrated chronologically.

Folder 2

1843 (95 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 2

Folder 3

1844 (129 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 3

Folder 4

1845 (143 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 4

Folder 5

1846 (122 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 5

Folder 6

1847 (82 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 6

Folder 7

1848 (74 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 7

Folder 8

1849 (122 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 8

Folder 9

1851 (1850 missing) (74 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 9

Folder 10

1853 (1852 missing) (93 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 10

Folder 11

1854-1855 (most of 1855 missing) (124 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 11

Folder 12

1856 (115 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 12

Folder 13

1857 (224 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 13

Folder 14

1858 (234 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 14

Folder 15

1859 (114 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 15

Folder 16

1860 (111 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 16

Folder 17

1861 (105 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 17

Folder 18

1862 (135 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 18

Folder 19

1863 (116 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 19

Folder 20

1864 (109 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 20

Folder 21

1865 (144 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 21

Folder 22

1866 (119 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 22

Folder 23

1867 (120 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 23

Folder 24

1868 (115 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 24

Folder 25

1869 (133 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 25

Folder 26

1870 (112 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 26

Folder 27

1871 (90 pp.) #02245, Series: "2. Diary." Folder 27

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 3. Typed Transcriptions of the Diary.

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Processing Information

Processed by: Scott Philyaw, June 1991

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.

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