Clark-Spragins Family Papers

1766-1898, undated
Manuscript Collection #440
Spragins family; Clark family
Physical description
8 Cubic Feet, 17 archival boxes, consisting of correspondence, financial records, legal papers, bills of sale, and land grants
Preferred Citation
Clark-Spragins Family Papers (#440), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Papers (1766-1898, undated) of the Clark and Spragins families of Halifax County, Virginia, including correspondence, financial records, legal papers, political reference, and miscellaneous.

Scope and arrangement

The collection consists of the papers (1766-1898) of the Clark and Spragins families of Halifax County, Virginia. The material may be divided into two major groups. The first section contains Spragins papers from 1766 to 1859 and the second primarily consists of Clark papers from 1860 to 1897.

The first section contains the papers of Thomas and Mel Spragins, Brooks Baker, and Beverly West. The bulk of material consists of financial papers, farm accounts, bills of sale, and legal documents reflecting life in Virginia between 1766 and 1860. A letter (Nov. 18, 1844) authorizes Thomas West to transport slaves to New Orleans for sale. Other items of interest include bills of sale for Negro slaves (1790-1844), a reward notice for a runaway slave (1859), and a contract (Aug. 3, 1799) made by Mel Spragins to the overseer of his plantation. This contract lists the arrangements made by the two men as to the disposition of the crops. A somewhat unusual item is a small account book (1778) that apparently pertains to militia musters, giving the names of persons involved and the amount paid to each one. Also included in the first section are land grants for Halifax County, Virginia; authorization for Brooks Baker to build a mill dam on Spring Creek in Charlotte County, Virginia; prices of food, whiskey, tobacco, lumber, and wheat for the early nineteenth century; and a topographic analysis for North Carolina (1815) compiled by Thomas Ward, listing counties, boundaries, rivers, towns, white population, and black population.

The second section (1860-1898) contains the papers of Eliza Clark, her brother L. D. Spragins, and her son Thomas B. Clark. Though there is little material concerningthe Civil War, there is mention (Oct. 28, 1862) of a person exempted from military duty due to being employed by a widow. However, there are several items concerning post-war Virginia. One letter (Nov. 28, 1867) informed Eliza Clark of the extreme difficulty of borrowing money and collecting debts in Richmond. There are numerous other references to the economic conditions of post-war Virginia. A letter dated February 13, 1868, informed Mrs. Clark that tobacco was selling well in Richmond, and other letters (1867-1869) list grain prices on the Lynchburg market. Another item of interest (Nov., 1869) consists of a contract made between Eliza Clark and William Parker making Parker the overseer of her lands.

The bulk of the second section consists of correspondence for the 1870s between Thomas B. Clark and his mother Eliza while he was a student at Virginia Military Institute. In these letters Clark reflects on life at V.M.I. (1870-1873), including descriptions of course study, regulations, and social life. Anti-northern and anti-Negro sentiment is reflected in a description of the hazing of a student from New York who had stated that in a few years the Negroes would be equal in every respect to the white population. Also, Clark includes a first-hand account of the funeral of Robert E. Lee (Oct. 15, 1870), which took place in Lexington, Virginia.

Commentary concerning economic conditions in Virginia and Maryland is also included in the 1870-1879 correspondence. Letters relate the difficulty in collecting rents from tenant farmers (May 26, 1870), the low tobacco sales in Richmond (Dec. 2, 1875), and wheat prices on Virginia markets. On March 31, 1874, Thomas Clark comments on the poor business conditions in Baltimore. By April 17, 1877, however, he reports that business has stabilized due to events in Europe. Clark, who has become a commission merchant in Baltimore, expresses hope that Europe would erupt into war as an aid to American industry.

Economic conditions in New Orleans are reflected in a letter (Aug. 2, 1878) from Clark's father-in-law Adam Thompson. Thompson reports that the sugar market is declining due to an outbreak of yellow fever but that the rice market is quiet. On June 1, 1879, he comments on the resources and economic advantages of Louisiana, while citing the lack of capital and an energetic population as being disadvantageous to the state's growth.

Reference is also made to the potential in Western lands (Mar. 16, 1876). Thomas Clark expresses an opinion that the South cannot hope to compete with the West due to the fertility of soil and the number of railroads serving the area. Western land prices are also given (Mar. 29, 1879).

Other items of an economic nature refer to the declining work force in Baltimore (Jan. 7, 1874); the activities (1877-79) of the Clark and Coover Company, commissionmerchants of Baltimore; and the slowness of business in Charleston, South Carolina (Nov. 1, 1877).

There are also several references to politics in the 1870s. L. D. Spragins expresses hope that President Grant will be defeated in his reelection attempt (May 17, 1872) and that the Democrats would nominate Horace Greeley the Liberal Republican candidate, rather than a candidate of their own. Also, Thomas Clark comments on a visit to Baltimore by Governor Manning of South Carolina to protest against excessive taxation (April 6, 1874) and in a personal letter (Mar. 2, 1877) reflects upon the 1876 Presidential election and the Louisiana Returning Board which was confined in jail for contempt of court for refusing to answer questions asked by a House investigating committee.

Relations with the Negro population are discussed in the correspondence of the 1870s. A letter (April 5, 1872) states that the Negroes in Halifax County, Virginia, are leaving for the Deep South and the West and abandoning their crops. A May 22, 1872, letter reports that a Negro was taken by force from jail in Carthage and shot, and reference is made (Sept. 15, 1877) to a white girl who was kidnapped by a Negro.

Other correspondence for the 1870s pertains to Reconstruction policy regarding loyalty to the Union (May, 1875); tenant farming and the crop lien system of agriculture; a flood in Halifax County, Va., which destroyed tobacco and corn crops (Oct., 1870); fertilizer prices of the Pacific Guano Company (Aug., 1872); hospitality of the citizens of Baltimore (Jan., 1874); outbreaks of smallpox and yellow fever in New Orleans (May, 1877 and Sept., 1878); and the Mardi Gras (Feb., 1879) in New Orleans.

The material for the period from 1880-1898 is mainly of a personal nature, but items of interest refer to the buying of the Lynchburg and Danville Railroad by the Norfolk and Western (Feb.-Mar., 1892); describe Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (Aug. 22, 1894); and comment on the use of morphine for easing the pain of rheumatism (Jan. 4, 1896).

This collection is also found in Mf. #7.

Administrative information
Custodial History

November 21, 1971, 8 cu.ft.; Papers (1766-1898, undated) of Halifax County, Virginia, family, including correspondence, financial records, legal papers, etc. Loaned for copying by Mr. Edwin Sonpayrac, South Boston, Virginia. Originals were later accessioned.

Source of acquisition

Loaned by Mr. Edwin Sonpayrac

Processing information

Processed by R. Weaver, May 1971

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Key terms
Family Names
Clark family
Spragins family
Corporate Names
Virginia Military Institute--Students
Farm tenancy--Virginia
Land grants--Virginia--Halifax County
Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877)--Virginia
North Carolina--History--1775-1865
Virginia--Race relations
Virginia--Social life and customs

Container list
Box 1 Folder a Correspondence, 1797-1869
Box 1 Folder b Correspondence, 1870-1871
Box 1 Folder c Correspondence, Jan.-Oct., 1872
Box 1 Folder d Correspondence, Nov, 1872-1876
Box 2 Folder a Correspondence, 1877
Box 2 Folder b Correspondence, 1878-Mar. 1879
Box 2 Folder c Correspondence, Apr. 1879-Oct. 1879
Box 2 Folder d Correspondence, 1880-1902
Box 3 Folder a Correspondence, Feb.-July 1904
Box 3 Folder b Correspondence, Aug. 1904-Dec. 1908
Box 3 Folder c Correspondence, 1909-1950
Box 3 Folder d Correspondence, undated
Box 4 Folder a Correspondence, undated
Box 4 Folder b Miscellaneous
Box 4 Folder c Miscellaneous
Box 4 Folder d Invitations
Box 5 Folder a Financial Papers, 1766-1839
Box 5 Folder b Financial Papers, 1840-1872
Box 5 Folder c Financial Papers, 1873-1911
Box 5 Folder d Financial Papers, undated
Box 6 Folder a Legal Papers
Box 6 Folder b Newspaper Clippings
Box 6 Folder c Miscellaneous
Box 7a Folder a Published Materials: Programs, Illustrations, Postcard, Advertisements
Box 7a Folder b Advertising for Ordering Famous Pictures and Instructive Cards
Box 7a Folder c Drawings and Watercolors
Box 7b Folder a Photographs of Buildings P-440/6 - P-440/33
Box 7b Folder b Photographs of Outdoor Scenary P-440/34 - P-440/56
Box 7b Folder c Photographs - Portraits P-440/57 - P-440/81
Box 7b Folder d Photographs - Portraits P-440/82 - P-440/97b
Box 7b Folder e Photographs - Snapshots & Miscellaneous Shots P-440/1 - P-440/5; P440/98 - P-440/143
Box 7b Folder f Negatives for P-440/10 - P-440/15
Box 8 Folder a Writings, Plays, Etc
Box 8 Folder b Idle Thoughts by Mrs. Sidney Tupper Penn (Plays)
Box 8 Folder c Correspondence Student Reports
Box 9 Books
Box 10 Diaries
Box 11 Miscellaneous books
Box 12 Miscellaneous books and notebooks; ledgers, 1778, 1805-1809, 1819, 1830, 1849-1850, 1855, 1868, 1870-1873, 1874, 1879-1886, 1878, 1903, 1910
Box 13 Clipping scrapbook
Box 14 Ledger, 1904-1906
Box 15 Ledger, 1910-1911
Box 16 Clipping Scrapbook
Box os1 Ledger, 1822; topographical analysis of N.C., 1812; Mardi Gras certificate, 1874; map of Turkey, pre-World War I; miscellaneous