Hunter-Wills Family Papers

Manuscript Collection #237
Hunter family; Wills family
Physical description
0.43 Cubic Feet, 210 items , copies and originals, consisting of correspondence, equipment catalogues, and miscellaneous.
Preferred Citation
Hunter-Wills Family Papers (#237), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Papers (1858-1921) consisting of copies and originals, consisting of correspondence, equipment catalogues, and miscellaneous.

Biographical/historical information

The Hunter and Wills families of Halifax and Warren Counties were related through the marriage of James E. Hunter and Lucy Wills in 1869. The Wills family of Brinkleyville played a prominent role in the Methodist Protestant Church from its beginning in 1828 throughout the nineteenth century. William H. Wills was a distinguished clergyman and educator in North Carolina. He participated actively in the North Carolina Annual conferences of the Methodist Protestant Church from 1831 to 1884. In 1855 he and Rev. Jesse Hayes Page opened the Halifax Male Academy at Brinkleyville and shortly thereafter they established the Elba Female Seminary. Wills served as secretary of the North Carolina Conference for several years and was president of the General Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church in 1866. He married Anna Maria Whitaker and they were the parents of three sons and six daughters. The eldest son, Rev. Richard Henry Wills, was also a minister of the Methodist Protestant Church. The second son, George, served as a lieutenant in the Confederate army and was killed in battle. Of the daughters Lula and Lucy figure prominently in the correspondence, as Lucy became the wife of James E. Hunter.

Scope and arrangement

The bulk of the collection is family-centered correspondence written during the Civil War, Reconstruction, and post-Reconstruction periods.

The Civil War correspondence relates primarily to family matters but it also contains significant material pertaining to religious, social, economic, and military aspects of the South during the war. The religious material is found primarily in the correspondence of R. H. Wills and his sister Lula. R. H. wrote frequently of his various congregations, life as a minister, and his personal religious beliefs. During the winter and summer of 1862, he wrote from the Plymouth/Mackey's Ferry area where he witnessed Union troop movements, Negroes joining the Union cause, and southerners taking "the oath" with the North.

Included in the Civil War correspondence are numerous letters that discuss the military situation and camp life matters. These include correspondence describing camp life at Norfolk, Butler's ultimatum, and duty while stationed at Lewell's Point (July 1, 1861); camp life at Yorktown, work details, war rumors, high moral of troops, and the possibility of General Hill moving his regiment to Richmond (July 17, 1861); the Confederate retreat from New Bern and the problems of Confederate supplies (March 18, 1862); an eyewitness account of the Monitor-Merrimac Battle and the expectation for the return of the Merrimac (April 12, 1862); and the war news and the overcrowded conditions at hospitals in Richmond (June 6, 1862). There are also several letters from the Hunter brothers while stationed at Fort Fisher and Fort Caswell (1864). These describe the election of officers, the practice of obtaining substitutes, blockade running, long rolls, the method and possibilities of visiting Fort Fisher, and camp life. Also of importance are several letters written from Florida that describe home life in Florida; battles in East Florida, in which the Union used Negro troops (February, 1864); the Confederate call for horses (1864); and the practice of caring for Union and Confederate soldiers. Other letters late in the war describe camp life on the Rapidan (1864), dissatisfaction with people at home, duty near Kinston, N.C., under General Robert F. Hoke (February, 1864), feelings of patriotism, and the future prospects of the war. Finally of importance are several letters written to a Confederate prisoner in the Union prison at Elmira, New York.

Reconstruction correspondence contains significant material relating to religious, social, economic and medical aspects. Religious material is found predominantly in the correspondence of William H. Wills to his daughter (Lula) and R. H. Wills to his sister (Lula). These two describe their ideas as Methodist Protestant ministers, attendance at state and national church conferences, the morality of the period, and their personal religious beliefs. Social aspects are expanded on in nearly every letter. Both families wrote often of family matters, travels, social activities, and work habits.

Economic activities of the two families also receive considerable attention. The correspondence describes family gardens, dressmaking, quilting, etc. It also makes reference to the condition of farms in the area, including cotton picking, crop shortages due to drought, the hiring of labor, and the crops grown. Of importance was a trip by J. E. Hunter to Philadelphia and Baltimore (1876) in which he describes buying on the market, selling goods, the high price of goods, and the Philadelphia Exhibition.

The correspondence of the late nineteenth century is of particular economic interest. One group of letters is from various northern equipment manufacturers. Many of these contain price lists, circulars, and advertisements of their equipment. Also included in the correspondence are references to an earthquake (October, 1886) and its effect on the general public, the canning of fruit, raising of chickens and turkeys, the effect of the "early frost of 1886," "triffling" tenants, labor problems, and garden work.

Of particular note are letters describing a trip to Washington and attendance at a Temperance Meeting (January, 1876); telling of life at A & M College (N.C. State University) and giving a detailed description of a visit to Occoneechee Farm owned by Julian S. Carr (May, 1895); recounting a visit to a naval parade, the TEXAS, and seeing Peason Hobson (October, 1898); and describing college life and reporting on a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and Mount Vernon (1903).

Miscellaneous material includes a wide variety of mostly unrelated items including a list of books read by J. E. Hunter, a classbook for the Union Methodist Protestant Church (1852), family poems, a typed description of Dalkeith, a sketchbook of R. H. Wills (1857-1865), a court record for Brinkleyville (1898-1909), a Tax-in-kind form (1869), and numerous equipment catalogues (1870s and 1880s).

Administrative information
Custodial History

August 8, 1973, ca. 200 items; Copies and originals,papers (1858-1908) of a Warren and Halifax County family including correspondence, equipment catalogues, and miscellaneous. Loaned for copying by Mrs. C. E. Skillman, Warrenton, N.C.

Source of acquisition

Loaned by Mrs. C. E. Skillman

Processing information

Processed by C. Joyner, December 1973

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
Personal Names
Hunter, J. E. (James E.)
Family Names
Hunter family
Wills family
Corporate Names
Confederate States of America. Army--Military life
Merrimack (Frigate)
Monitor (Ironclad)
United States. Army--Military life
Agriculture--North Carolina--Halifax County--History--19th century
Charleston Earthquake, S.C., 1886
Hampton Roads, Battle of, Va., 1862
Methodist Church--History--19th century
Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877)
Confederate States of America--History
Florida--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
Halifax County (N.C.)--History--19th century
New Bern (N.C.)--History, Military--19th century
North Carolina--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
Southern States--Social life and customs--19th century
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives

Container list
Box 1 Correspondence 1858-1899
Box 2 Correspondence (1902-1921, undated), Miscellaneous