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Collection Number: 01554

Collection Title: Silas McDowell Papers, 1827-1968

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.


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Size 0.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 280 items)
Abstract Silas McDowell was a scientific farmer and writer of Franklin, Macon County, N.C. The collection includes papers of and about McDowell. Correspondence relates to his interests in mineralogy, geology, botany, zoology, and the history of western North Carolina. Correspondents include Moses Ashley Curtis, Lyman Draper, Asa Gray, David Lowry Swain, and Jarvis Van Buren. Some family papers, 1827-1895, also are included as are copies and drafts of articles and clippings and Gary S. Dunbar's research materials on McDowell.
Creator McDowell, Silas, 1795-1879.
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 Silas McDowell Papers #1554, 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 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 Edith Corbin Skaggs (Silas McDowell's granddaughter) of Portland, Ore., 1948-1961; and from Professor Gary S. Dunbar of the Department of Geography at the University of California at Los Angeles, 1973-1979.
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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Silas McDowell (1795-1879) was a tailor, farmer, writer, and scientific observer of Franklin, N.C. He was born in York District, S.C., in 1795, but was raised by his maternal grandfather in Rutherford County, N.C. From 1816 to 1846, McDowell worked as a tailor, first in Morganton and later in Macon County, N.C., where he also served a clerk of the superior court for nearly sixteen years. On his farm near Franklin, he raised and sold apples, fruit tree grafts, and rhododendrons. In addition, he served as a guide to John Lyon, Moses Ashley Curtis, and several other botanists touring and collecting specimens in western North Carolina.

McDowell was largely a self-taught scientist. He wrote extensively on a wide variety of scientific and literary subjects, including botany, horticulture, mineralogy, geology, zoology, and local and state history. He was particularly interested in the phenomenon of "thermal belts" in western North Carolina.

McDowell died on his farm near Franklin in July 1879.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Scope and Content

Chiefly personal correspondence and published and unpublished writings, 1828-1895, of Silas McDowell, with some family papers and correspondence.

Series 1 consists chiefly of correspondence of McDowell, primarily with his friends and scientific contemporaries. Letters concern a variety of McDowell's scientific and literary interests, including botany, horticulture, mineralogy, geology, zoology, and the history of western North Carolina. Correspondents include Moses Ashley Curtis, Lyman Copeland Draper, Asa Gray, David Lowry Swain, Jarvis Van Buren, and Joseph Wilcox. Many of the letters were transcribed by Gary S. Dunbar of the Department of Geography at the University of California at Los Angeles in the course of his study of McDowell; these transcriptions are filed after the originals to which they correspond.

Series 2 consists chiefly of published and unpublished writings of Silas McDowell, 1827 to late 19th century. Included are historical and autobiographical sketches, scientific articles, romances, and poems. McDowell wrote extensively on the phenomenon of "thermal belts" or "no frost zones" in western North Carolina. Many of the manuscripts are undated, and McDowell sometimes signed his articles "The Sage of Cullasaja" or simply "Cullasaja," a town and river in Macon County, N.C. Also included in this series are several letters to newspaper and magazine editors; newspaper clippings about Silas McDowell and his contemporaries in the fields of botany, zoology, and geology; and Gary S. Dunbar's typed transcriptions of some of the manuscripts.

Series 3 consists chiefly of Gary S. Dunbar's research notes and correspondence relating to his study of McDowell. Dunbar's work on McDowell resulted in two articles: "Silas McDowell and the Early Botanical Explorations of North Carolina," North Carolina Historical Review 41 (Autumn 1964), and "Thermal Belts in North Carolina," Geographical Review (1966). Correspondence is largely with McDowell's granddaughters, Edith Skaggs of Portland, Ore., and Mary Louise Siler of Weaverville, N.C., and various archivists, historians, geographers, and residents of Franklin, N.C. There are also two 20th-century maps of the "thermal belts" around Tryon, N.C., and typewritten research material on note cards. Included in folder 16 are seven photocopies of letters from McDowell, 1839-1877, the originals of which are housed in the North Carolina Department of Archives and History, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and other manuscript collections in the Southern Historical Collection.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Correspondence of Silas McDowell, 1828-1895 and undated.

About 135 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Chiefly personal correspondence, 1828-1895, of Silas McDowell with his friends and contemporaries in the scientific fields. The letters concern a variety of McDowell's scientific and literary interests, including botany, mineralogy, geology, zoology, and the history of western North Carolina. Correspondents include Moses Ashley Curtis, Thomas Clingman, Lyman C. Draper, Asa Gray, David L. Swain, Jarvis Van Buren, and Joseph Wilcox. Interfiled within the series are Gary S. Dunbar's typewritten transcriptions of many of the letters.

Folder 1

1828-1845 #01554, Series: "1. Correspondence of Silas McDowell, 1828-1895 and undated." Folder 1

Folder 2

1849-1856 #01554, Series: "1. Correspondence of Silas McDowell, 1828-1895 and undated." Folder 2

Folder 3

1858-1860 #01554, Series: "1. Correspondence of Silas McDowell, 1828-1895 and undated." Folder 3

Folder 4

1864-1870 #01554, Series: "1. Correspondence of Silas McDowell, 1828-1895 and undated." Folder 4

Folder 5

1871-1873 #01554, Series: "1. Correspondence of Silas McDowell, 1828-1895 and undated." Folder 5

Folder 6

1874-1876 #01554, Series: "1. Correspondence of Silas McDowell, 1828-1895 and undated." Folder 6

Folder 7

1877-1879 #01554, Series: "1. Correspondence of Silas McDowell, 1828-1895 and undated." Folder 7

Folder 8

1885-1895; undated #01554, Series: "1. Correspondence of Silas McDowell, 1828-1895 and undated." Folder 8

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Writings by and about Silas McDowell, 1827-1961.

About 80 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Chiefly published and unpublished writings of Silas McDowell, 1827 to late 19th century, including historical and autobiographical sketches, scientific articles, romances, and poems. Several letters to newspaper and magazine editors are also included in this series. McDowell's interests ranged widely on subjects such as botany, horticulture, mineralogy, geology, zoology, and the history of western North Carolina. He wrote extensively on the phenomenon of "thermal belts" or "no frost zones" in western North Carolina. Included are copies of his manuscripts of "Above the Clouds," "Repentant Magdalene," "A Controversy with Woman," "A Spectre Cavalry Fight," and numerous others. Many manuscripts are undated. McDowell sometimes signed his articles "The Sage of Cullasaja" or simply "Cullasaja." Interfiled within this series are Gary S. Dunbar's typewritten transcriptions of some of the manuscripts. Also included are newspaper clippings about Silas McDowell and his contemporaries in the fields of botany, zoology, and geology.

Folder 9

1827-1861 #01554, Series: "2. Writings by and about Silas McDowell, 1827-1961." Folder 9

Folder 10

1873-1879 #01554, Series: "2. Writings by and about Silas McDowell, 1827-1961." Folder 10

Folder 11-12

Folder 11

Folder 12

Undated #01554, Series: "2. Writings by and about Silas McDowell, 1827-1961." Folder 11-12

Folder 13

Clippings #01554, Series: "2. Writings by and about Silas McDowell, 1827-1961." Folder 13

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 3. Gary S. Dunbar's Research Notes on Silas McDowell, 1833-1877; 1959-1968.

About 140 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Chiefly research notes and correspondence, 1959-1968, geographer Gary S. Dunbar of the University of California at Los Angeles produced in the course of his study of McDowell. This study resulted in two articles: "Silas McDowell and the Early Botanical Explorations of North Carolina," North Carolina Historical Review 41 (Autumn 1964) and "Thermal Belts in North Carolina," Geographical Review (1966). Correspondence is largely with McDowell's granddaughters, Edith Skaggs of Portland, Ore., and Mary Louis Siler of Weaverville, N.C., and archivists, historians, geographers, and residents of Franklin, N.C. There are also two 20th-century maps of the "thermal belt" around Tryon, N.C., and typewritten research material on note cards. Included in folder 16 are seven photocopies of McDowell's letters, 1839-1877, the originals of which are housed in the North Carolina Department of Archives and History, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and other manuscript collections in the Southern Historical Collection.

Folder 14

1959-1960 #01554, Series: "3. Gary S. Dunbar's Research Notes on Silas McDowell, 1833-1877; 1959-1968. " Folder 14

Folder 15

1961-1968 #01554, Series: "3. Gary S. Dunbar's Research Notes on Silas McDowell, 1833-1877; 1959-1968. " Folder 15

Folder 16

Photocopies and maps #01554, Series: "3. Gary S. Dunbar's Research Notes on Silas McDowell, 1833-1877; 1959-1968. " Folder 16

Folder 17-18

Folder 17

Folder 18

Research notes #01554, Series: "3. Gary S. Dunbar's Research Notes on Silas McDowell, 1833-1877; 1959-1968. " Folder 17-18

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Processing Information

Processed by: Patrick J. Huber, November 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.

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