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Collection Number: 01113-z

Collection Title: William H. Holcombe Diary and Autobiography, 1855 and 1892

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 section for more information.


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

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Size 2 items
Abstract William Henry Holcombe was a homeopathic physician in Natchez, Miss. The collection contains Holcombe's autobiography and diary. The autobiography, written in 1892, covers Holcombe's ancestry and his childhood in Lynchburg, Va., to 1836. Besides family incidents, topics include slavery, abolition, and religion, particularly Methodism. The diary, 1855, covers daily family life in Natchez, Miss., including thoughts about homeopathic medicine and its practice, incidents concerning slaves and freedmen, and Swedenborgianism. The diary volume also contains essays on various subjects, including slavery, women, cotton, and sectional antagonism. Also available, on microfilm, are notes on the Holcombe family by Mrs. Ada H. Aiken, William H. Holcombe's daughter, and three professional pamphlets by Holcombe, one about the New Orleans yellow fever epidemic of 1867.
Creator Holcombe, William H. (William Henry), 1825-1893.
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 William H. Holcombe Diary and Autobiography #1113-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alternate Form of Material
Typed transcript copies of both volumes available.
Acquisitions Information
Received from and lent for filming by Edith Aiken of New Orleans, La., 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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William Henry Holcombe (1825-1893), homeopathic physician, was born in Lynchburg, Va., son of William James Holcombe, also a physician, and Ann Eliza Clopton Holcombe of Lynchburg. The Holcombes were descendants of a Scotch family that settled in Virginia and the Carolinas. William James Holcombe studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania under Nathaniel Chapman and, after his marriage in 1819, settled in Lynchburg to practice medicine. Later, he became a Methodist preacher in addition to his medical practice and, with strong feelings against the institution of slavery, freed his slaves and helped them settle in Ohio and Liberia. Fearing that his sons--James P., Thomas B., William Henry, John Warwick, Anderson Lawrence, and Samuel Brown--would be affected adversely growing up in a slave-owning community, William James Holcombe moved his family to Indiana, where he purchased a farm in 1842. The boys worked on this farm until they went to William and Mary College and the University of Virginia. After their sons left home, the Holcombes returned to Amelia County, Va.

William Henry Holcombe first practiced medicine in Cincinnati, where he met and married Rebecca Palmer in 1852. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Natchez where Holcombe went into practice with a Dr. Davis. Holcombe encountered an epidemic of yellow fever shortly after his arrival there. He and his wife had four children, only one of whom survived past childhood. Their son Alexander was born 8 February 1855 in Natchez. William Henry Holcombe's younger brothers, Sammy and Johnny, and Johnny's wife Harriet and child, Walker, lived with William and Rebecca in Natchez for awhile. Johnny died 5 April 1855 and his wife and son returned to Indiana. The Holcombes moved to New Orleans soon after. William remained there for the rest of his life, practicing homeopathic medicine and holding office for a time in several homeopathic medical societies.

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The collection contains Holcombe's autobiography and diary. The autobiography, written in 1892, covers Holcombe's ancestry and his childhood in Lynchburg, Va., to 1836. Besides family incidents, topics include slavery, abolition, and religion, particularly Methodism. The diary, 1855, covers daily family life in Natchez, Miss., including thoughts about homeopathic medicine and its practice, incidents concerning slaves and freedmen, and Swedenborgianism. The diary volume also contains essays on various subjects, including slavery, women, cotton, and sectional antagonism. Also available, on microfilm, are notes on the Holcombe family by Mrs. Ada H. Aiken, William H. Holcombe's daughter, and three professional pamphlets by Holcombe, one about the New Orleans yellow fever epidemic of 1867.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Volumes, 1825-1836 and 1855.

2 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Folder 1

Volume 1: 1825-1836, 67 pp. #01113-z, Series: "1. Volumes, 1825-1836 and 1855." Folder 1

Autobiography of William Henry Holcombe, with detailed accounts of the characters and lives of his his family and connections, including his five brothers. Among incidents mentioned in his family history are events in Scotland, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812. He also discussed life in Virginia and emigration to Tennessee, and told an anecdote about General Stonewall Jackson. There is a great deal about slavery and the abolitionist attitude of his father, about the Methodist Church and the effect of religion on his family's daily life, and about the Holcombe's own conviction of the truth and virtue of the "New (Jerusalem) Church," as taught by Emmanuel Swedenborg, of whom he became aware later in life. Holcombe also mentions a meteoric shower in 1833, the celebration of Texas independence, and the Nat Turner insurrection, 1832.

Folder 2

Volume 2: 17 January-29 June 1855, 180 pp. #01113-z, Series: "1. Volumes, 1825-1836 and 1855." Folder 2

Diary of Holcombe in Natchez, Miss., and covering the daily happenings in the Holcombe household, incidents connected with his medical practice, and his thoughts, particularly with regard to homeopathic medicine and Swedenborgianism. He also mentioned slavery, freemen, and his attitude towards both. There are constant references to the Mississippi River, which he crossed frequently on ferry boats and once on a skiff to visit patients on the Louisiana side. Holcombe described a trip, 13 March, to New Orleans and another with his entire family, 18 June, to Indiana. After the diary entries end on 29 June, there are a series of notations or essays on various subjects, including slavery and its abolition, women, cotton, the Dred Scott decision, the territorial question, fugitive slave laws, types of governments, and comparisons between people of the North and South and comments on their antagonism towards each other.

Folder 3a

Typed transcription of Volume 1 #01113-z, Series: "1. Volumes, 1825-1836 and 1855." Folder 3a

Folder 3b

Typed transcription of Volume 2 #01113-z, Series: "1. Volumes, 1825-1836 and 1855." Folder 3b

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Microfilm, 1823-1855 and undated.

2 items.
Reel M-1113/1

Copy of both the autobiography and diary of William Holcombe #01113-z, Series: "2. Microfilm, 1823-1855 and undated. " Reel M-1113/1

Reel M-1113/2

Notes, apparently written by Holcombe's daughter, Ada H. Aiken, and copies of some of the material in the volumes #01113-z, Series: "2. Microfilm, 1823-1855 and undated. " Reel M-1113/2

The notes are primarily related to William Henry Holcombe's parents and brothers. There is also a description of a school in Lynchburg, Va., that the Holcombe boys attended before their move to Indiana. John Cary, who conducted the school, was considered an outstanding scholar, but was so cruel in the punishment of his pupils that one of the brothers defended his younger brother by attacking Cary with a pen knife and wounding him badly. There are also copies of three pamphlets, written by Holcombe: Diphtheria, New Orleans, 1891; Report of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1867, New Orleans, 1869; and Elements of Professional Success, 1874.

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Processing Information

Processed by: Suzanne Ruffing, August 1996

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

Updated by: Kathryn Michaelis, December 2009

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

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