Prior to the Civil War, the Sills family was a wealthy, slaveholding family. An inventory of property dated 1833 indicated that David Sills, Jr., owned 133 slaves. There are also bills of sale for slaves (1792), references to the death of slaves (1852), and a list of slaves emancipated by the Federal government in 1865.
Antebellum correspondence covers a wide range of topics, much of it related to activities of the Sills, Jelks, and Boddie families. Letters (1818-1866) from Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi comment on life and activities in these states, particularly in reference to crops, prices, smallpox, and emigration of families from North Carolina into these and other western states.
Throughout the collection there are numerous references to schools and educational developments. The school at Belford, which was intended to educate the family and neighboring children, is mentioned and tuition at this school is recorded (1850, 1868). Other letters are written from schools in Warrenton (1822), La Grange Female Academy (1852), Warrenton Female Seminary (1857), and at Louisburg and Greensboro. Also included are announcements (1852) on Franklin Institute (Franklin County) and Castalia Female Institute (Nash County) and a cipher book containing mathematical problems. Letters, diary entries, and advertisement reflect the operation of these schools and tell of life while attending them. Also of interest are letters from two of the Sills boys who attended medical schools in Philadelphia and Baltimore. A letter (1857) comments on life at the University of Pennsylvania, Christmas Day spent at school, and experiences while walking around Philadelphia.
Other correspondence comments on a Democratic Party rally at Franklinton (1852), baseball as a sport (1866), church meetings (1868), and life in Key West, Florida (1833).
A diary (1858-1866) reflects the hardships and emotions felt by the Sills family during the Civil War era. The writer expresses strong anti-Union sentiment prior to secession and reflects the view of women left at home, illnesses of soldiers, and thoughts of the war. Passing references are made to the battles at Roanoke Island and Fort Donelson, the repulse of Union troops by Hoke's Division near Wilmington, the Confederate invasion of the North and the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate hospitals in N.C., and service by Nash County troops.
Other material pertains to a distant relative of the Sills through the Boddie family who was involved in the Cuban Civil War of the 1890s. Ramon Alpuente, a Spaniard living in Cuba, had been married to Mary Boddie, but she had died. A daughter was sent to live in Spain while Ramon became involved with the Cuban Underground Movement. Outlawed, he fled to England with a small fortune, and then tried to enter Spain to see his daughter. He was captured, tried, and imprisoned by the military and eventually died of maltreatment. Letters to N. W. Boddie tell of his exploits and seek Boddie's aid in looking after the daughter.
The bulk of the collection is family oriented, with considerable genealogical material on the Sills, Arrington, Battle, Jelks, Nicholson, and Dameron families. Of significance are the investigations conducted by Louise Jelks Sills into her family's past. There are letters from the DAR and other sources which provide genealogical information.