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Collection Number: 02983

Collection Title: William Letcher Mitchell Papers, 1823-1929

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.


Funding from the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc., supported the encoding of this finding aid and microfilming of this collection.

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Size 0.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 180 items)
Abstract William Letcher Mitchell of Athens, Ga., was a lawyer; chief engineer of the Western & Atlantic Railroad; graduate, trustee, and professor of law at Franklin College (later the University of Georgia); and active Presbyterian and Mason. He was married twice, first to Sarah Caroline Neisler, and upon her death to Lucia Bass. Mitchell had nine children. The collection consists chiefly of correspondence relating to Mitchell and Neisler family affairs, and to William Letcher Mitchell's various business and civic activities, including his law practice; the construction of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, including use of slave and convict labor; affairs of the University of Georgia; and local social and Presbyterian Church affairs. Civil War materials include letters from Confederate soldiers, some serving as chaplains, and family letters, mostly from women, discussing life on the home front and rumors of military actions. There are scattered letters, 1870-1882, from Albert Pike, concerning the Masons. Later papers are those of William's daughter, Frances Letcher Mitchell, mainly relating to her research on and publication of the book, Georgia Land and People (Atlanta, 1893). Also included is her 1875 household affairs and recipe book.
Creator Mitchell, William Letcher, 1805-1882.
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 Letcher Mitchell Papers #2983, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alternate Form of Material
Microfilm copy (filmed 2007) available.
  • Reel 1: entire collection
Acquisitions Information
Purchased from Golden Fleece Book Store in Jacksonville, Fla., in December 1953 (Acc. 2983).
Additional Descriptive Resources
Original finding aid, which includes some item level description, is filed in folder 1.
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 Letcher Mitchell was born 25 August 1805 in Henry County, Va., but from the age of three he lived in Athens, Ga. Mitchell was graduated from the University of Georgia in 1825, then went to Louisville, Ky., where he studied law and was admitted to the bar. In 1827, he taught school at Hillsboro, Ga. The following year he returned to Athens and married his cousin Sarah Caroline Neisler. From 1830 to 1834, Mitchell was a tutor of mathematics at the University of Georgia. Some time after that, he began practicing law. In the late 1840s, perhaps 1847, he became chief engineer in charge of construction of the Western & Atlantic Railroad. It is said that Mitchell, though not trained in engineering, studied engineering and took the position because he objected to a plan to employ an engineer from the North. During the period Mitchell worked with the railroad, the tunnel was cut through the Little Blue Ridge and the road was completed to its terminus in Chattanooga, Tenn. In 1867, Mitchell returned to the University of Georgia as professor of law and head of the law school. Mitchell served on the board of trustees at the University of Georgia for 16 years, both as secretary and as treasurer. He was active in the Presbyterian Church and served on the Supreme Council of the Masons in the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States.

Sarah Caroline Neisler Mitchell's sister, Frances Neisler, married Robert Iverson. Both the Iversons died before their children were grown. William Letcher Mitchell was the administrator of their estate, and one of the children, James H. Iverson, lived with him in Athens. James served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Sarah also had a brother, Hugh Neisler, and sisters Anne Neisler, who married a Mr. Jolly, and Susan Neisler, who married Daniel W. Miller. Correspondence in the collection also makes reference to sisters Eliza, Martha, and Julia, and to brothers Tom and William.

William Letcher Mitchell and Sarah Caroline Neisler Mitchell had eight children together: Hugh N. Mitchell, Anne Elizabeth Mitchell, Frances Letcher Mitchell ("Fanny"), Susan Augusta Mitchell, John F. Mitchell, Julia Mitchell, Walter H. Mitchell, and William Mitchell. Anne Elizabeth married S. N. Dawson ("Shem") and Julia married a Mr. Collins. In late 1854, following Sarah's death sometime between 1851 and 1854, William married Lucia Bass of Milledgeville, Ga., and with her had at least one child, Henry B. Mitchell.

William Letcher Mitchell died in 1882.

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The collection consists chiefly of correspondence relating to family affairs and to the various business and civic activities of William Letcher Mitchell. Papers, 1823-1860, include family letters and scattered materials concerning Mitchell's law practice. Letters of Mitchell's first wife's family, the Neislers of Georgia, discuss politics, court cases, deaths, marriages, women's clothing, Athens property, and local manners and prices in Murray County, Ga. Mitchell's letters to his wife, sent while working on the Western & Atlantic Railroad, are wide-ranging and discuss slave and convict labor hired for railroad work, problems with the Macon & Western Railroad, the opening of the tunnel to Chattanooga, the purchase of railroad iron in Savannah, the difficulties of living away from home and suffering abusive newspaper coverage, as well as family news, their children's education, Democratic party politics, hog slaughter, a carpet purchase, the inability of the overseer to manage the slaves, soprano Teresa Parodi, and a sermon by itinerant evangelist Reverend Mr. Stiles. There are a few letters from Hugh N. Mitchell to his mother while he worked with his father on the railroad. These letters comment on travel, railroad work, and family affairs.

During the 1850s, Mitchell's correspondence concerns administration of the estates of Mitchell's sister-in-law Frances N. Iverson and her husband Robert Iverson, the Athens Presbyterian Church, and Democratic Party politics. There are occasional letters from Neisler family members and Mitchell's grown children, including his son Hugh, who wrote of his medical practice, farming, and his father's new wife, Lucia Bass.

Civil War letters, 1861-1864, came from family and friends on the homefront and serving in the war. Hugh N. Mitchell wrote of the challenge of raising a company in a county that had Unionist leanings in the previous election. James H. Iverson wrote with requests for more money, rumors of both smallpox and the Federal fleet at Fortress Monroe, and complaints of rheumatism. Susan Mitchell wrote with news of the Dawson family in Upson County, Ga., and discussions of food and women's life of the time. Anne Elizabeth Mitchell Dawson also wrote with news of crops, clothing, and school examinations. William's sister, C. O. Mitchell, sent money from a factory, apparently near Milledgeville, which distributed its cash on hand among its stockholders.

William Letcher Mitchell also received letters from Presbyterian ministers who were serving as chaplains with the Confederate Army. They wrote of religious affairs in the army, driving Sherman out of Georgia, military affairs, morale around Charleston, the comforts and discomforts of military life, and in praise of the attitude of women.

Postwar papers, 1866-1882, include scattered letters and other items relating to family and business affairs. Included are a letter from John Letcher of Lexington, Va., discussing family, economic conditions, and a murder trial for which he was serving as counsel; a letter from W. C. Mytchell to Hugh N. Mitchell discussing where to open a medical practice, his failure to recover the value of his wife's slaves, and remedies for syphilis and typhoid; and several letters from Albert Pike pertaining to Masonic affairs. Other topics mentioned include land speculation, the Blue Ridge Railway, the University of Georgia, and William Letcher Mitchell's death in 1882.

Papers, 1886-1929, chiefly relate to Frances Letcher Mitchell. A few letters, some written in French, are from friends living abroad, but most concern Mitchell's efforts to collect information for her book, Georgia Land and People (Atlanta 1893), and its subsequent publication. Two letters dated 1929 concern the acquisition of part of the papers of William Letcher Mitchell for the University of Georgia.

The collection also includes clippings marking the deaths of William Letcher Mitchell and Fanny Mitchell, and Frances Letcher Mitchell's 1875 household and recipe book, "A Manual of Domestic Housewifery," containing recipes for food, remedies, and cleaning preparations, with literary quotations about food and wine.

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Contents list

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Papers, 1823-1929.

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Processing Information

Processed by: SHC Staff, 1954

Encoded by: Nancy Kaiser, July 2005

Funding from the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc., supported the encoding of this finding aid and microfilming of this collection.

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