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Collection Number: 00678

Collection Title: William Ruffin Smith Papers, 1772-1959

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 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 1.0 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 110 items)
Abstract William Ruffin Smith lived in Halifax County, N.C. His father was William Ruffin Smith (1779-1846); his father-in-law, Peter Evans (1781-1852); and his granddaughter, Lena Smith. The collection is chiefly business papers pertaining to debts and estates, especially the estate of Charles Shields, which included a plantation in Lowndes County, Miss., that was managed by William Ruffin Smith through an overseer. Account books deal with miscellaneous accounts of members of the Smith family relating to their property and various estate settlements. There are also estate materials relating to the Spruill and other families with which the Ruffins were connected. There are also materials relating to William Ruffin Smith's business affairs, including a list of birthdates of his slaves from 1775 to 1849, and the accounts of Vine Hill Academy, for which Smith served as treasurer. Also included are newspaper articles written by Lena Smith about Halifax County and family history; items about the construction and destruction of the Confederate ironclad ship "Albemarle"; an 1868 marriage certificate for two freedmen; and two brief essays by Claiborne Smith (1893- ), one about freedmen and the other about his grandmother, Adelaide Maria Evans Smith (1819-1909), who lived in Halifax County.
Creator Smith, William Ruffin, 1803-1872.
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 Ruffin Smith Papers #678, 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 Burton H. Smith of Charlotte, N.C., before 1939, except for volumes 1 and 4, which were received from Lena Smith in 1940; volumes 5 and 6, which were received from Claiborne T. Smith, Jr., of Philadelphia, Pa., in 1960; and other items received from Claiborne T. Smith, Jr., in 1977.
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

William Ruffin Smith (1803-1872) resided at a plantation bordering the Roanoke River at Scotland Neck, Halifax County, N. C. Through his father, William Ruffin Smith (1779-1845), he was descended from Nicholas Smith (fl. 1728) of Halifax County, and Arthur Smith, founder of Smithfield, Va. His mother was Sarah Norfleet Smith.

After graduation from the University of North Carolina in 1824, William Ruffin Smith married, around 1828, Susan Evans (fl. 1828-1893), daughter of Peter Evans (1781-1852) and Ann Johnston Evans (1789-1866), and sister of Adelaide Maria Evans Smith 1819-1909) and Peter Gustavus Evans (1822-1863). Together, they had at least six children: Peter Evans (1829-1905); William Henry (1830-1895); Benjamin Gordon (1837-1901); A. L.; Walter J.; and Charles S.

Peter Evans Smith built the Confederate ironclad ship Albemarle on or near the riparian border of his father's plantation. After graduation from the University of North Carolina in 1851, he married Rebecca Norfleet Hill in 1852. Together, they had at least one child, Lena. William Henry Smith earned an A.B. degree from the University of North Carolina in 1852; he later became a captain in the Confederate Army, and operated a store in Halifax County from at least August 1865 to March 1866. William Ruffin Smith's brother-in-law, Peter Gustavus Evans, also attended the University of North Carolina. During the Civil War, he served as captain in the 3rd North Carolina Cavalry, 1861-1862, and as colonel of the 5th North Carolina Cavalry (known also as the 63rd North Carolina Regiment), from 1 October 1862 to his death due to wounds on 24 July 1863. (See Robert K. Krick, Lee's Colonels, 2nd rev. ed., Dayton, Ohio: Press of Morningside Bookshop, 1984, p. 114.)

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Scope and Content

These papers include very little material relating to the personal life of William Ruffin Smith. Most of the papers in Series 1 relate to the Mississippi plantation of Charles Shields, William Ruffin Smith's neighbor in North Carolina. Shields bought a plantation in Mississippi and took an unspecified number of slaves there to operate it under the supervision of an overseer, Howell Adams, but died shortly thereafter. Smith, as executor of the estate, administered the property for Shields's heirs. Other papers are concerned with a debt owed to the elder William Ruffin Smith by James Gordon of Columbus, Miss., and with the estate of Margaret S. Spruill, for which Peter Evans was trustee with one of the Smiths as his agent. In addition, there are typed transcriptions of obituaries for William Edward Smith (d. 1893) and Adelaide Maria Evans Smith (d. 1909).

The papers in Series 2 consist mostly of clippings of undated newspaper articles, many written by Lena Smith, concerning the building and destruction of the Confederate ironclad ship Albemarle; Halifax County, N. C., history; and information regarding members of the Smith and other families and their homes in Halifax County. In addition, there are miscellaneous items relating to members of the Smith family; typed essays by Claiborne T. Smith (b. 1893) about his grandmother, Adelaide Maria Evans Smith (1819-1909), and about late nineteenth and early twentieth century social conditions, especially relating to blacks; and a typed transcription of a 1959 sermon given at a Scotland Neck church by T. J. C. Smith.

The materials in Series 3 consists of six account books, including five kept by William Ruffin Smith or his father between 1799 and 1866 in Halifax County. Volume 5 includes accounts, mostly for the years 1805 to 1835, and a three-page list of slaves owned by both Smiths, giving their names, birthdates (ranging from 1755 to 1849), mothers' names, and, occasionally, dates of death. Volume 6 is an account book, dated 1865-1866, kept by William Henry Smith (1830-1895), for a store he ran in Halifax County.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Correspondence and Loose Legal and Financial Papers, 1722-1909 and undated.

About 70 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Items relating to William Ruffin Smith and others, including those listed below.

There is a receipt, dated September 1772, from John Branch to Arthur Smith for his "leavy in full for the year 1770 & 1771." There is a note, dated 30 December 1838, from James Ellum to Benjamin J. Spruill, concerning the hiring of a slave for extra work.

In a letter, dated 22 December 1839, Peter Evans wrote to William Ruffin Smith at Scotland Neck, N. C., about the estate of Margaret S. Spruill; local and family news; a farm that was for sale on the Tar River in Edgecombe County, N. C.; and his consideration of relocating to Missouri. He also wrote: "My family & self are all well, except a negro man badly bitten by a Dog of one of the neighbors."

In a letter, dated 6 February 1840, James Gordon of Columbus, Miss., wrote to William Ruffin Smith at Scotland Neck about his temporary inability to pay a debt he owed Smith, and his willingness, if absolutely necessary, to sell his slaves in order to pay off the debt. There is a business account, dated 26 February 1839, between Peter Evans, trustee of Margaret S. Spruill, and Richard Hines, attorney for E. P. Ross, covering the previous year.

There is the "Settlement of the Estate of Robert S. Young with R. W. Allison the Guardian, the Interest Calculated to the 1st of Feby 1842," relating to money lent to individuals and the collection of interest for the years 1836 to 1842. The borrowers listed included several prominent men of the region of Mecklenburg, Rowan, and Cabarrus counties, N. C.: David Franklin Caldwell (1814-1898), William Julius Alexander (1797-1857), Thomas S. Polk, James W. Osborne, Daniel Moreau Barringer (1806-1873), and Paul Barringer (1778-1844). The connection of this item with members of the Smith family is unclear.

There is an account, dated 1842, entitled "Treasurer of working society to R. H. Smith," summarizing cash paid and balance due to Smith for work at a church.

W. F. Shields, a captain in the U.S. Navy, wrote at Columbus, Miss., in letters dated 9 June and 7 September 1844, to William Ruffin Smith at Scotland Neck, about the plantation of Charles Shields (recently deceased) in Lowndes County, Miss. There are numerous letters from Howell Adams, overseer in charge of the plantation, to William Ruffin Smith, discussing terms of employment, conditions on the plantation, crop conditions and marketing, efforts to collect debts owed, and related matters. Interspersed with these letters are other items relating to the plantation. In letters dated 29 March and 29 May 1845, Richard Evans wrote about the plantation and financial aspects of the Shields estate. There are scattered accounts of the estate with Labuzan and Olds and later with Robert Desha and Company, both commission merchants of Mobile, Ala., relating primarily to the sale of cotton from the plantation.

In a letter dated 1847, Moses Craft wrote to William Ruffin Smith at Scotland Neck about the Shields plantation. The writer severely criticized Howell Adams's performance as overseer and hinted at his own suitability for the job.

In a letter dated 4 January 1850, W. H. Shields, son of Charles Shields, wrote from Columbus, Miss., to William Ruffin Smith about the Shields plantation, which he was then supervising. There is a letter dated 12 February 1852, from Robert S. Maitland of New York, written on behalf of William Wright, about sales of cotton from the estate. There are accounts, dated 1854 and 1860, of William Ruffin Smith with James Gordon and Company of Norfolk, Va., regarding sales of corn and purchases of plantation supplies.

There is a receipt for a student's tuition, dated 1867, signed by William Bingham. There is a marriage license, dated 1 April 1868, for freedmen Richard Smith and Tracey Laurence, bearing the signature of the clerk of the Halifax County court. There is a commission, dated 16 October 1868, signed by W. W. Holden, governor of North Carolina, and H. J. Memminger, secretary of state of North Carolina, naming William Ruffin Smith as a justice of the peace for Halifax County.

There is a typed transcription of a letter from Susan Evans Smith, circa 1893, to Adelaide Maria Evans Smith, about the death of William Edward Smith and a typed transcription of an obituary for him. There is a typed transcription of an obituary, circa 1909, for Adelaide Maria Evans Smith, which provides information about her and other members of the Smith and related families.

Undated items consist of brief financial accounts of the estates of Margaret A. Spruill and Eliza R. Ross; accounts of Vine Hill Academy, with William Ruffin Smith, treasurer; and a note from overseer Howell Adams about the necessity of hiring out a slave, Anthony, for $125.

Folder 1

1772, 1804, 1838-1845 #00678, Series: "1. Correspondence and Loose Legal and Financial Papers, 1722-1909 and undated." Folder 1

Folder 2

1846-1847 #00678, Series: "1. Correspondence and Loose Legal and Financial Papers, 1722-1909 and undated." Folder 2

Folder 3

1848-1849 #00678, Series: "1. Correspondence and Loose Legal and Financial Papers, 1722-1909 and undated." Folder 3

Folder 4

Correspondence and loose legal and financial papers #00678, Series: "1. Correspondence and Loose Legal and Financial Papers, 1722-1909 and undated." Folder 4

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Other Loose Papers, 1812, 1924 and undated.

28 items.

Newspaper articles about Halifax County and other items as described below.

There are newspaper articles, including one dated 10 July 1924, about the destruction of the Confederate ironclad ship Albemarle. There are several articles by Lena Smith concerning Smith, Evans, and Spruill family history. There is also an article by Reba Shields about Scotland Neck.

Miscellaneous loose papers include a note about the building of the Albemarle; photocopies of Smith family history materials; two essays by Claiborne Smith, one entitled "The Post Emancipation Negro," and the other, "The Things We Remember about 'Grandma'" (Adelaide Maria Evans Smith); and a typed transcription of a 1959 sermon given by T. J. C. Smith.

Folder 5

Clippings #00678, Series: "2. Other Loose Papers, 1812, 1924 and undated." Folder 5

Folder 6

Miscellaneous papers #00678, Series: "2. Other Loose Papers, 1812, 1924 and undated." Folder 6

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated.

14 items.

All of these volumes may be classified as account books; they are listed in approximate chronological order. While most volumes contain financial information only, most pages in Volume 2 are papered over with newspaper clippings, and Volume 5 includes a list of slaves owned by William Ruffin Smith.

Folder 7

Volume 1: 1799-1801 and 1826-1860, 178 pp. #00678, Series: "3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated." Folder 7

General merchandise and miscellaneous accounts kept by William Ruffin Smith.

Folder 7a

Enclosures to Volume 1 #00678, Series: "3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated." Folder 7a

Folder 8

Volume 2: 1803-1819 and 1864-1866, 96 pp. #00678, Series: "3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated." Folder 8

Account book, mostly obscured by 1860s newspaper clippings.

Folder 9

Volume 3: 1836-1846, 18 pp. #00678, Series: "3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated." Folder 9

Account book of William Ruffin Smith relating to the estates of Margaret S. Spruill and Eliza P. Ross, including accounts of Smith as agent and Peter Evans as trustee.

Folder 10

Volume 4: 1852-1857, 43 pp. #00678, Series: "3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated." Folder 10

Account book of William Ruffin Smith relating to the settlement of the estate of Richard Hines by Smith as executor.

Folder 10a

Enclosures to Volume 4 #00678, Series: "3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated." Folder 10a

Folder 11

Volume 5: 1805-1835 and 1849, 117 pp. #00678, Series: "3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated." Folder 11

Account book of William Ruffin Smith relating to persons for whom Smith was guardian and to estates for which he was executor. The last three pages contain a list of slaves belonging William Ruffin Smith, father and son, with vital statistics for each slave.

Folder 11a

Enclosures to Volume 5 #00678, Series: "3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated." Folder 11a

Folder 12

Volume 6: 1865-1866, 336 pp. #00678, Series: "3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated." Folder 12

Account book for a store run by William Henry Smith.

Folder 12a

Enclosures to Volume 6 #00678, Series: "3. Account Books, 1799-1868 and undated." Folder 12a

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Processing Information

Processed by: Carolyn Wallace, 1961; Ellen R. Strong, 1964; Erik D. France, March 1991

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

Updated by: Kathryn Michaelis, December 2009

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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