For a detailed Mills family history see the genealogy section of this collection.
Pre-Civil War correspondence primarily consists of letters describing conditions in Concord, Salisbury, and Lincolnton, N.C. There are references to Methodist revivals and camp meetings in Cabarrus, Rowan, and Iredell counties. Letters from Salisbury describe the construction of the Western North Carolina Railroad, the poor condition of the plank road to Granite Hill, tearing down the old courthouse, and a rash of fires. Other correspondence suggests treatments for breast cancer and the cough and mentions the abundance of counterfeit money in Burke County.
Antebellum correspondence also includes instructions from Charles Frederick Fisher, president of the North Carolina Railroad, to Richard W. Mills, his personal secretary. The letters primarily deal with railroad financial matters, but they also mention a slave woman for sale or hire (1859) and Fisher's opinion of several members of the N.C.R.R. executive committee, including Jonathan Worth who is described as a "miserable rascal."
Civil War correspondence is voluminous. Letters (1861) from a volunteer in the Iredell Blues describe the difficulties of adjusting to military discipline at Camp Hill near Garysburg, and life in the camp of the 4th N.C. Infantry Regiment near Manassas Junction after the Battle of First Manassas. He mentions the rigorous drills conducted by Colonel (later Brigadier General) George Burgwyn Anderson, sickness in camp, skirmishes along the Potomac, and movements of Confederate troops in the area. The 4th N.C. was unattached, serving as the bodyguard regiment of General P. G. T. Beauregard, whose appearance is described in a letter. Other correspondence of 1861 concerns the movements of enemy steamers along the North Carolina coast near Carolina City and Swansboro, the fall of Forts Hatteras and Clark, and prices of food and goods in South Carolina.
Correspondence (1862) contains descriptions of the battles of Malvern Hill and Fredericksburg, the latter by soldiers of the 46th N.C. Regiment and the 2nd N.C. Cavalry. A letter written by a doctor in Richmond a few days after the Seven Days Battle mentions the terrible number of casualties, the awful conditions in the hospitals, and the numerous deserters and prisoners in the city. Other correspondence relating to the Virginia theatre mentions fighting near Yorktown, the fear of many for the safety of Richmond, the rumor that President Jefferson Davis was removing his family and belongings, and the pursuit of Burnsides' army by portions of the 4th N.C. Cavalry after Fredericksburg.
There are several letters from Charles F. Mills, who was posted at Camp Graham near Newport prior to the fall of New Bern. He mentions the approach of General Ambrose E. Burnsides' fleet, enemy steamers running aground near Cedar Point, skirmishes near Newport, and the confidence of the Confederate defenders on the eve of battle. Mills bewails the loss of Fort Donaldson and the lack of real women in the Newport area, where only "sandhill girls" are to be found.
Correspondence (1863) tracks the movements of Lee's army, and includes a description of the battle of Gettysburg by a soldier in the 32nd N.C. Regiment of General Junius Daniels' brigade. Several letters are from a disgruntled soldier in Stonewall Jackson's corps requesting a transfer. He mentions a humorous sermon by a South Carolina preacher concerning Jackson's "foot cavalry," the shooting of deserters in the Stonewall Brigade, evasion of the conscript act by paying $130 for a substitute, enemy balloons along the Rappahannock, picket duty on quarter rations, and trading Confederate tobacco for Union coffee across the lines. There are also letters from two Mills brothers in the same Richmond hospital, one describing the poor hospital fare, bounties and monthly wages, and selling his one-eyed horse to the army, while the other mentions camp rumors of Lee resigning from the dispirited army following Gettysburg and Richmond speculators paying $7 Confederate for $1 greenback. Correspondence concerning North Carolina includes a letter from a soldier of the 32nd N.C. Regiment on picket duty between Greenville and Washington, and an offer of the use of a man's slaves without charge, the only requirement being to feed them.
Correspondence (1864) includes an account of the skirmishing around Harpers' Ferry during General Jubal Early's advance on Washington and of the battle of Winchester. Letters also mention the order granting a thirty-day furlough to any Confederate soldier who brought in a recruit, the reaction of a rebel private to Grant's arrival in Virginia, and skirmishes around Orange Courthouse. Correspondence concerning the western North Carolina homefront relates to impressment of corn by Confederate artillery men and the fear of the citizens of marauding cavalrymen. A letter (1865) by Henry M. Mills mentions his duties as collector of the tax-in-kind and the excitement generated in western North Carolina by the approach of Sherman's army.
Post-war correspondence reflects the economic hard times that existed in North Carolina and the resulting migration of people from the state. Letters from Henry Mills and friends in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Florida describe the opportunities in these states and urge those at home to come and join them. A letter (1870) from Orlando, Florida, relates the rapid settlement taking place, the cheapness of land under the Homestead Act, and the products of the tropical environment.
After the war, Henry M. Mills re-established his mercantile business in Catawba County, and the correspondence reflects his efforts to obtain supplies and credit and provides information on prices of dry goods and foodstuffs. A letter (1867) describes his trip to New York City where he found business dull but his pre-war creditors still in operation, and where he heard a sermon by Henry Ward Beecher. Other correspondence noting post-war financial conditions mention land available in eastern North Carolina for a dollar per acre, freight rates on the North Carolina Railroad, prices on houses for rent, dry goods, crops, building materials, an Iredell County school teacher's contract, and prices of cotton yarn and sheeting at Concord textile mills.
There are several letters (1874-1879) from James L. Mills, who migrated to Hillsboro, Illinois, after the war. He was initially impressed with the beauty of the country, the bounteousness of the soil, the abundance of work available, and the prompt payment of debts by the surprisingly friendly "Abolitionists." Soon, however, hard times set in as money became scarce and crop prices fell. His correspondence describes the coldest winter in thirty-five years (1875), revivals and camp meetings, a lecture on creation and the Bible by a Deist (1879), troubles at the free schools attended by both races (1878), the anger of Illinois Democrats over the outcome of the disputed presidential election of 1876, and the lengthy sessions of the county court. Conditions temporarily improved in 1877; but continuing scarcity of money caused the closure of a Hillsboro bank; and Mills decided to pull up stakes and return to North Carolina, settling his debts by barter and work.
Correspondence from Tom Mills reflects his travels in Virginia, N.C., S.C., and Georgia as an employee of the Southern Express Company. His correspondence (1876-1882) mentions the lively cotton market in Charlotte (1876); his dissatisfaction with the editor of the Statesville
Landmark (1879); the beautiful scenery of Lynchburg; the confidence of Danville Democrats of winning the 1877 gubernatorial election; the sociable people of Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C.; and a trip to Chick Springs, a sulphur springs near Greenville, S.C.
Other correspondence concerns an incident (1868) in Newton, N.C., in which an unreconstructed rebel was arrested by Federal troops for lowering the U.S. flag from the courthouse; the 1870 Davidson College commencement, which featured an address by Zebulon B. Vance; a conservative trend in Davidson County politics (1870); appearances in western N.C. by Bishop Thomas Atkinson (1870); the financial difficulties of a Statesville bootlegger who was harassed by revenue agents (1877); business dealings of Mecklenburg Iron Works (1877); and speculation by a minister that Statesville preaching services would not generate sufficient offertory for expenses (1879).
Correspondence for the 1880s and early 1890s reflects the travels of family members in Texas, Florida, and Asheville, N.C., where they moved after the family brick-making business failed to provide sufficient income. Letters from North Carolinians in Oregon (1888-1891) and Texas (1889) discuss employment conditions and economic possibilities not only in Texas and Oregon but the Arizona Territory and Spokane Falls, Washington (1887) as well.
Correspondence between Ann Mills and her family expresses an intimate portrait of women in the late nineteenth century. They reflect the role of the rural wife and mother, social life and customs, food canning and preserving, courtship and marriage, health and medicine, clothing styles, household expenses, and home industries which provided money for daily expenses of running a home. The correspondence of Nannie Mills (1891-1896) includes a description of college life for women (1896) and life for an unmarried working woman (1891, 1895). Included here is a debate with her brother, Forney, over the intelligence and dignity of the female sex (1898) and some thoughts on marriage from a young woman about to be married (1894).
As the Mills family was active in church affairs there is correspondence concerning the hiring of new ministers (1882-1886), the balance of pay due a former minister, costs incurred by a minister moving to and establishing himself in Washington, D.C. (1886), several successful camp meetings (1890), and controversy concerning the activities of a Yankee Baptist minister who was not recognized as a minister (1889).
The Mills family, particularly J. Forney, was active in local politics; and North Carolina and Statesville politics are often subjects of correspondence. Topics of discussion include the local national guard, "The Iredell Blues" (1891); political contests; William Jennings Bryan's appearance in Hickory in 1896; and the free silver issue. Also of interest is the observation by Hugh Harrison Mills, then eighteen years old, that the Republican Party was becoming the white man's party in the South (1896). Comments on President McKinley are also included in several letters.
In 1894 Hugh Harrison Mills, then sixteen years old, left Statesville for a position with the Florida Central & Peninsular Railroad. He worked first in Port Tampa and later moved to Ocala. His letters (1894-1899) contain descriptions of the area, social customs, living costs, other North Carolinians in Florida, state legislative elections and business opportunities. He also described an incident (1897) of violence on the docks perpetrated by "red hat members." In April 1899 he described a bill he drafted for the Florida state legislature to protect the oyster beds and create a board of fisheries.
The Mills family was involved in a variety of business ventures. Following several years in dry goods the family began a brick-making business which ended in 1893 with the sale of their equipment. The family had been consistently involved in agriculture and much of the correspondence is concerned with prices offered or received for agricultural products and livestock. Ann Mills was a school teacher who continued to work after her marriage. In addition to the sons employed by Southern Express and the railroads, J. Forney Mills became involved in the growing of exotic flowers for sale in New York (1896). In May, 1898, he joined the volunteers to fight in the Spanish-American War and in June a similar company of blacks was formed in Statesville. The correspondence of this period describes camp life and conditions in Camp Cuba Libre, Florida, impressions of General Fitzhugh Lee, effects of the war on transportation and the Plant Hotel system's domination of Florida's economy and land development. J. Forney at this time served as the correspondent for the Statesville
Landmark and his descriptions tend to be very literary. In December, 1898, the N.C. volunteers were sent to Cuba as part of the army of occupation. While in Cuba J. F. Mills was court-martialed and an account he wrote and published of the event appears in his correspondence (1899).
In 1896, Tom Mills moved his family to New York City. Correspondence reflects visits by daughters with him in Richmond and New York, and a trip to the Chicago World's Fair (1893) and the Atlanta Exposition (1895). Letters from Hugh Harrison Mills and J. Forney Mills recount their work for the railroad in Texas and describe a tour J. Forney Mills made of Texas and Mexico, including San Antonio, the Alamo, and Monterey and Juarez, Mexico. While in Juarez he attended the theatre and described in detail the social behavior of the Mexicans. A letter of 1908 discusses the effects of the Panic of 1907 on the railroads. The economic slowdown coupled with floods in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Louisiana had all but stopped oil production and shipping.
The majority of correspondence (1912-1918) is written by or about Quincy Mills, the son of Tom Mills. Quincy was a political reporter for the
New York Evening Sun and while his letters tend to be personal and apolitical he was an advocate of preparedness for World War I. An incident is recorded (1914) of the ship on which he was a passenger returning to New York from Florida, the SS
COMUS, being stopped but not boarded by a British warship. In August 1918 Quincy Mills was reported missing and then confirmed dead in France, In 1931 his mother traveled to Europe at government expense as a "Gold Star Mother" to visit grave sites with other Gold Star mothers and wives. In 1926, Tom Mills wrote of having to retire from American Railway Express due to a mandatory retirement program at age seventy resulting from federal legislation. From 1930 to 1932 he wrote of New York City politics, social conditions in the city, and the effects of the Depression.
The final series of correspondence (1968) is written by Lt. Hugh Mills, Jr., serving as signal and security officer at Qui Nhon, Vietnam. Lt. Mills' letters reflect the boredom and lack of reality of the Vietnam conflict.
Financial records of the Mills family include subscription lists for teachers and ministers, dry goods business accounts from a buying trip to New York City (April 1860) as well as attempts to collect on these debts by the New York firms after the war (1868). In addition there are lists of delegates to the Prat Convention in Charlotte (1860), promissory notes, tax records, tobacco prices reflected in credit slips (1860-1861), partnership agreements, land tenant agreements, bankruptcy proceedings records, insurance records, land deeds, chattel mortgages, pay slips, and a ground and front elevation for a house. Included in the business records are assorted price lists and advertisements and a collection of pocket ledgers, including the 1862 post office ledger from Granite Hill, N.C., personal expenses (1854-1871, intermittent), a membership book (1881) for the International Order of Good Templars, and a general store ledger book (1841-1842) from Mount Ulla in Rowan County, N.C., possibly for J. Cowan & Co.
The oversize folder contains newspapers from Charlotte (1885), Statesville (1869, 1880s, 1890s, early 1900s), Raleigh (1869-1870), and Catawba Co., (1905), N.C.; Philadelphia (1871); New York City (1869, 1870s), and Columbia, S.C. (1882).