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Collection Number: 00799

Collection Title: Witherspoon and McDowall Family Papers, 1826-1959

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.


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Size 0.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 120 items)
Abstract Witherspoon family was of Hillsboro, N.C., and McDowall family was of Camden, S.C. Principal Witherspoon family members include John Witherspoon (1790-1853), Presbyterian clergyman, teacher, and planter, and his wife Susan Davis Kollock Witherspoon (fl. 1790s-1850s). McDowall family members include the Witherspoons' daugther, Susan Witherspoon McDowall (fl. 1830s-1850s), and her husband, William D. McDowall (fl. 1820s-1850s), partner in the firm of Shannon and McDowall of Charleston, S.C. The McDowalls made their permanent home in Camden, S.C. The collection is chiefly letters from John and Susan Davis Witherspoon to their daughter, Susan Witherspoon McDowall, and her husband, William D. McDowall. Topics relate to family matters, particularly the health of various family members and the precarious financial situation the Witherspoons faced in balancing John's desire for a better position within the Presbyterian Church, his teaching ambitions, and his planting endeavors. Discussions of the latter topic include management of slaves on Tusculum, the family plantation, and the sale of these slaves when the family decided to leave Hillsboro, N.C. Also documented are journeys of John to Greensboro, Ala., and of Susan Witherspoon and her sickly daughter, Mary, to consult with doctors in Philadelphia. On the McDowall side, the chief topics relate to the raising of their young family in Camden, S.C. Also included is a small amount of information about William McDowall's business endeavors, notably with the Charleston firm of Shannon and McDowall, which seems to have handled cotton sales, and a few letters from other of the McDowalls' relatives and friends.
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 Witherspoon and McDowall Family Papers #799, 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 Mrs. C. H. Geradeau in 1939 and from Bessie and Sue Young of Camden, South Carolina, in 1945.
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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Witherspoon family of Hillsboro, N.C., and McDowall family of Camden, S.C. Principal Witherspoon family members include John Witherspoon (1792-1853), Presbyterian clergyman, teacher, and planter, and his wife, Susan Davis Kollock Witherspoon (fl. 1790s-1850s). McDowall family members include the Witherspoon's daughter, Susan Witherspoon McDowall (fl. 1830s-1850s), and her husband, William D. McDowall (fl. 1820s-1850s), partner in the firm of Shannon and McDowall of Charleston, S.C. The McDowalls made their permanent home in Camden, S.C.

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Letters, 1826-1859 and undated, chiefly from John and Susan Davis Kollock Witherspoon, of Hillsboro, North Carolina, to their daughter, Susan Witherspoon McDowall, who lived, for the most part, in Camden, South Carolina. John Witherspoon (1792-1853) was a Presbyterian clergyman of Scottish descent. He married Susan Davis Kollock (fl. 1790s-1850s) in 1813. Their daughter Susan (fl. 1830s-1850s) married William D. McDowall (fl. 1820s-1850s) in 1835.

The Witherspoons seem to have lived relatively unsettled lives. Letters indicate that John Witherspoon had difficulty in deciding whether to preach, teach, or plant. Apparently, he was never entirely successful at any of these professions, although the Witherspoon planting efforts were large enough to include ownership of a few slaves. Letters show that he was often unhappy in his clerical duties and that he made frequent trips in search of new job opportunities both within the Presbyterian Church and in the teaching profession. Throughout the 1840s, he seems to have been searching for suitable conditions under which to open a school, at one point proposing the establishment of a school to compete with William Bingham's famous school in Hillsboro, and, at another, traveling to Greensboro, Alabama, in search of a school site. By the end of the decade, teaching disappears as a topic in his letters. The Witherspoons appear always to have been burdened by considerable debt. Family finances were largely managed by Susan Witherspoon, who reluctantly decided around 1852 that Tusculum, the family plantation near Hillsboro, and most of the family's slaves had to be sold. The family appears not to have left Hillsboro, however, possibly because of John Witherspoon's death in 1853. The actual disposition of their property is not documented in the collection. The Witherspoons were further burdened with a sickly daughter, Mary, who was taken alternatively with spasms and paralysis. Letters show that Susan Witherspoon and Mary made several trips to consult with doctors in Philadelphia in the late 1840s.

The McDowalls, by contrast, seem to have lived largely uneventful lives. William D. McDowall appears to have been a partner with Charles J. Shannon in the firm of McDowall and Shannon of Charleston, South Carolina, which appears to have handled cotton sales. The collection contains a few business letters, chiefly in 1839, from Shannon to McDowall, who was then in New York on business. Shannon surfaces again in 1852 letters as a player in Susan Witherspoon's efforts to settle the sale of her Hillsboro property. Letters to Susan McDowall in 1835 and 1836 find her in either Charleston or Camden. By late 1836, however, she and William appear to have established themselves permanently in Camden and to have started a family. Over the next few years, letters document the birth of several McDowall children and the stabilization of the family's life in Camden.

While most of the letters are from the Witherspoons to their daughter, some of the letters are addressed to William. There are a few letters from siblings and other relatives of Susan and William McDowall, as well as a few letters in 1835, from William's friend James F. Bryant. There is one letter, dated 20 April 1826, from Charles McDowall, William's father, who appears to have been living in England.

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Contents list

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Processing Information

Processed by: Roslyn Holdzkom, July 1990

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

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