unc logo

Collection Number: 03204

Collection Title: Robert Barnwell Rhett Papers, 1835-1880

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.

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Collection Overview

Size 0.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 377 items)
Abstract Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876) was a congressman and senator from South Carolina, 1837-1852, and a member of the Nashville Convention, 1850; the secession convention, 1861; and the Confederate Congress at Montgomery, 1861. The collection consists of papers relating to Robert Barnwell Rhett and his sons Alfred M. Rhett, Edmund Rhett Jr., and Herbert Rhett. Papers, 1835-1853, are of Robert Barnwell Rhett and chiefly concern national and sectional politics, including controversies over the federal tariff; nullification; bank organization; the annexation of Texas; Democratic Party organization, factions, candidates, campaigns, and elections; the political fortunes of Martin Van Buren, John C. Calhoun, and James K. Polk; slavery; secession; and political appointments and favors. Other topics include property matters and Rhett's personal financial arrangements; family activities; the education of some of his children; negotiations and mission to England to recover duties wrongly imposed on rough rice; and a physician's account, 1836-1840, for family and servants at Rhett's Blue House in Colleton County, S.C. Papers, 1853-1863, are of Alfred M. Rhett and Edmund Rhett Jr., and include several items pertaining to duels, others related to the running of the Charleston (S.C.) Mercury, and to Edmund's Confederate service commanding Brook's Guard. Papers of Herbert Rhett, 1868-1870 and 1879-1880, are chiefly family letters. Undated items include many family and personal letters, a manuscript article on the Civil War, invitations to public rallies, bills, and letter fragments.
Creator Rhett, Robert Barnwell, 1800-1876.
Language English
Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Information For Users

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 Robert Barnwell Rhett Papers #3204, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alternate Form of Material
Microfilm copy (filmed March 1969) available.
  • Reel 1: entire collection
Alternate Form of Material
A typed transcription of "Address of Mr. Calhoun to his political friends and supporters" is available.
Acquisitions Information
Purchased from Mrs. Joseph R. T. Ransom of Memphis, Tenn., in February 1956. Addition received from John G. Barnwell Jr. in November 1975.
Additional Descriptive Resources
Original finding aid is filed in folder 1a.
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.
Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subject Headings

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.

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Biographical Information

Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876) was born at Beaufort, S.C., to James and Marianna Smith. He started practicing law there in 1824, was in the legislature in 1826, and was attorney general of South Carolina in 1832. The family name was changed from Smith to Rhett, a colonial ancestor, by an act of the legislature in 1838.

Rhett served as a Democrat in the United States Congress from March 1837 to March 1849, representing Beaufort and Colleton, S.C.; and served in the United States Senate (replacing John C. Calhoun) from 18 December 1850, through 1852. A leading advocate of states rights and an early proponent of secession, Rhett was a member of the Nashville Convention, 1850; delegate to the secession convention, 1861; member of the Confederate Congress at Montgomery in 1861 and also at Richmond; and was chair of the committee on the Confederate constitution.

In 1836, Rhett had made an advantageous purchase of a plantation, and in the 1850s another. He had residences in Walterboro and later in Charleston, and while he was at the capital had a house in Georgetown, D.C. He owned the Charleston Mercury, which regularly published his extreme pro-southern views and those of other "fire-eaters.". His son Robert Barnwell Rhett Jr. became editor of the newspaper in 1857. After the Civil War, Rhett moved to Saint James Parish, La., and out of politics, except for brief service as a delegate to the 1868 Democratic National Convention in New York.

Rhett married Elizabeth Washington Burnet in 1827. She died in 1852, and about a year later he married Katherine Herbert Dent. Rhett had at least four children, including sons Robert Barnwell Rhett Jr., Albert M. Rhett, Edmund Rhett Jr., and Herbert Rhett. Robert Barnwell Rhett died in 1876 in Saint James Parish, La., at the home of his son-in-law Alfred Roman.

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Scope and Content

The collection consists of papers relating to Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876) and his sons Alfred M. Rhett, Edmund Rhett Jr., and Herbert Rhett. Papers, 1835-1852, relate chiefly to Robert Barnwell Rhett. Included are letters concerned with national and sectional politics. Rhett's correspondents included national and sectional statesmen as well as South Carolinians involved in public affairs (index of correspondents filed in folder 1a). Topics discussed include controversies over a federal tariff; nullification; bank organization; annexation of Texas; Democratic party organization, factions, candidates, campaigns, and elections; the political fortunes of Martin Van Buren, John C. Calhoun, and James K. Polk; slavery; secession; and political appointments and favors. Also included are papers relating to property matters and Rhett's personal financial arrangements; family activities; the education of some of his children; negotiations and mission to England to recover duties wrongly imposed on rough rice; and a physician's account, 1836-1840, for family and servants at Rhett's Blue House in Colleton County, S.C.

Papers, 1853-1863, relate chiefly to Alfred M. Rhett and Edmund Rhett Jr. Included are personal and family letters; papers relating to various "affairs of honor" of the brothers with Isaac M. Dwight, Winborn Lawton, John Cunningham, W. R. Taber Jr., John McPherson Creighton, Lewis F. Robertson, and W. R. Calhoun; miscellaneous bills and receipts, some concerning expenses for clubs, horses, servants, uniform, tobacco, and transportation; letters to the editor of the Charleston Mercury, some regarding newspaper policies, including the publication of battle news; and military communications pertaining to Edmund's Confederate service commanding Brook's Guard and a possible court martial related to Alfred's dueling.

Papers, 1868-1880, relate chiefly to Herbert Rhett. Included are family letters from Robert Barnwell Rhett, his mother Katharine Herbert Dent Rhett, cousins, and friends. There are also undated papers, including many family and personal letters, a manuscript article on the Civil War, invitations to public rallies, bills, and letter fragments.

Back to Top

Contents list

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Papers, 1835-1880.

377 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Folder 1a

Original finding aid #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 1a

Includes an index of correspondents

Folder 1b

1835-1840 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 1b

Folder 2

1841 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 2

Folder 3

January-June 1842 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 3

Folder 4

July-December 1842 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 4

Folder 5a

1843 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 5a

Folder 5b

Calhoun's address, 21 December 1843 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 5b

Folder 6

1844 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 6

Folder 7

1845 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 7

Folder 8

1846-1849 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 8

Folder 9

1850-1853 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 9

Folder 10

1855-1859 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 10

Folder 11

1860-May 1861 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 11

Folder 12

1861, June-December #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 12

Folder 13

1862-1869 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 13

Folder 14

1870 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 14

Folder 15

1879 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 15

Folder 16

1880 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 16

Folder 17-18

Folder 17

Folder 18

Undated #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 17-18

Folder 19

Alfred Rhett and Edmund Rhett, undated #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 19

Folder 20

Herbert Rhett, undated #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 20

Folder 21

"Conversation concerning the late war in the United States," undated #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 21

Folder 22

"Hamlet to Hotspur: Letters of Robert Woodward Barnwell to Robert Barnwell Rhett," by John Barnwell, in South Carolina Historical Magazine (October 1976): 236-256 #03204, Series: "Papers, 1835-1880." Folder 22

Back to Top

Processing Information

Processed by: Anna Brooke Allan, June 1961

Encoded by: Nancy Kaiser, October 2005

Updated by: Kathryn Michaelis, November 2009

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

Back to Top