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) which 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 concerning the 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 wasselling 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, commission merchants 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 included 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 andthe West and abandoning their crops. A May 22, 1872, letter reports that a Negro was taken forcibly 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 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).
Originals are found in Collection #440.