The material in this collection from the nineteenth century pertains mainly to Hardison's shingle business, his work as a public official, and his private life.
Most of the twentieth century material concerns the James W. Watts, Sr., family of Williamston in Martin County, N.C. Mr. Watts ran two movie theaters, the Watts Theater and the Marco Theater, in the 1940s in Williamston. His elder son, James W. Watts, Jr., attended N.C. State College at Raleigh, N.C., and then entered the Army Air Corps in 1943. He died early in 1945 while serving with the 15th Air Force, 724 Bomb Squadron as a mechanic-gunner and sergeant stationed in South Italy. Mr. Watt's younger son, John P. Watts, attended Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Va., during 1948 and 1949. He then attended UNC at Chapel Hill from 1949 until 1953. The majority of the twentieth century correspondence is from James W. Watts, Jr., while in training and when stationed on duty with the U.S. Army Air Corps. There are also letters from John P. Watts while at school and from various family friends.
Correspondence makes up the greater part of this collection. The 1860s letters mainly originate from commission merchants in Norfolk, Va., and Baltimore, Md., and concern shingles being sold by and items ordered by William J. Hardison & Co. of Williamston. Other references of interest include a description of a murder near Chapel Hill (Jan. 26, 1860) and a remedy for eye problems (March 18, 1860). The 1880s lettersare primarily from relatives of William J. Hardison with one notable exception. J. B. Stickney, the uncle of the boy who was riding with General Bryan Grimes when he was shot, wrote to Hardison on June 8, 1881, concerning the upcoming trial in Martin County for the suspects in the murder. The 1890s letters reflect Hardison's work as sheriff of Martin County in collecting overdue accounts and his campaign for reelection.
The largest block of correspondence covers the years 1942-1944 and originates mainly from James W. Watts, Jr. In 1942 he writes home to his parents and brother from N.C. State College in Raleigh, N.C., concerning his courses, book costs, and roommate. His letters of 1943 originate from Keesler Field, Mississippi, at the Air Corps Technical School. He discusses training and its effectiveness. Letters written from Loredo Army Air Field, Laredo, Texas (Dec. 1943-Feb. 1944), discuss his processing period, daily routine, classes and lectures, flight checks and work at the infirmary. Other letters describe tests to determine acceptable flying altitude and night vision checks. Letters written by Watt's father (January 1944) provide details of a trip from Raleigh, N.C., to Laredo, his visit there, and a brief border visit to Mexico. Watts also gives details of firing tests and discusses assignment to the Student Disciplinary Squadron ("Sad Sacks Division") for seven days. Also included is a poem written by a wounded soldier on the African battleground entitled "What Did You Do Today?" ; it chastised American people for their unwillingness to sacrifice while he and other soldiers are dying for them.
Other stateside duty stations for young Watts included Salt Lake City, Utah (March 1944), Lincoln, Nebraska (April-May), and El Paso, Texas (May-August). Letters during this period reflect his train trip from Washington, D.C., to Utah, the weather and location of the base, and his accommodations there. Letters from Nebraska describe the travel routine between bases, procedures of the Squadron Mail Room, and work done by the Red Cross. Watt's letters from El Paso describe the climate and location of Biggs Field, his routine, opinions of El Paso as compared to Laredo, and his first trips in a B-24. A letter from his father written in June describes a Bond Premier at the Marco Theater in Williamston for the 5th War Loan Drive. He also discusses the management and operation of his two theaters. Watts, Sr., visited his son in El Paso during early July and subsequent letters discuss the visit and problems with plane reservations.
From September 1944 until his death, James W. Watts, Jr., was stationed in Southern Italy about twenty miles south of Foggia. In a particularly interesting letter of September 10, Watts describes his accommodations, weekly rations of candy, gum, beer, cigarettes, and soap; shortages; lack of light bulbs; BBC reception; and the cheap cost of Italian laundry, shaves, and haircuts. Other letters discuss air missions, engineering duty on the squadron cargo ship, and the difference between "sortie" and "mission." Of interest is a detailed description of a day's work from four hours before take-off through the mission and return interrogation and an account of an aborted mission. His final letters discuss lack of electricity, the problem of mailed food molding, and disruption of theplane's hydraulic system by flak. One letter mentions a polio ban being lifted in Williamston so that people could attend the theater again.
The remaining correspondence primarily from friends of the family, includes many sympathy notes concerning James W. Watts, Jr.'s death. Several letters are from John P. Watts and concern boy scout camp (1944) and attendance at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Va. He discusses studies, grades, demerits, money problems, and red tape. Other correspondence reflects a tour of Europe (1950) with visits to Lucerne, Geneva, and Montreux in Switzerland and Florence and Rome, Italy; and social life, sports, and studies at UNC-Chapel Hill (1949-1952). Miscellaneous letters of interest from this era contain a comparison of people in Dallas, Texas, to the people of Washington, D.C. (1946); a visit to San Francisco and Los Angeles, California (1946); and poems and sermonettes from Ernest C. Durham, manager of the "House By the Side of the Road" office of the Christian Service Club of Raleigh, N.C. (1947).
Undated correspondence written to William J. Hardison contains references to sailing costs and storms (ca. 1884) and boarding costs at Nags Head (ca. 1883). One Civil War letter discusses the conflict between the C.S.A. central government and the state governments over appointments, such as that of surgeon at the regimental level.
Financial records concerning mainly the Hardisons around Williamston, N.C., over the years 1845-1857, 1873, 1891, 1915, 1927 and include summonses, receipts, promissory notes, indemnity bonds, tax receipts, bills of lading, account sales, and an indenture. William J. Hardison & Co. account sales are for shingles (1867) and Martin County, N.C., tax receipts are for the 1850s and 1860. Promissory notes (1850s) and an 1860 list of receipts are signed by William J. Hardison as constable and former Deputy Sheriff.
Land records contain deeds and a plat and pertain mainly to Martin County, N.C. Included are transactions between John Warbutton, Jesse Cherry, and Jonathan Cherry (1752-1782); William and Mary Crawford and Wallis Andrews (1797); Robert West and James and John Stewart (1826); and T. C. and Bettie Cook, J. W. Watts, and G. W. Hardison (1917).
Miscellaneous items of interest are a photocopy of a 1792 declaration by Bishop Francis Asbury of John Watts as a deacon of the Methodist Episcopal Church; July 22, 1892, issue of
The Special Informer published by the North Carolina Farmers' State Alliance, a nineteenth century (?) newspaper obituary of John A. Arthur taken from the
Christian Advocate; and a circular (undated) announcing the candidacy of Henry D. Roberson for sheriff of Martin County, N.C., opposing Sheriff W. J. Hardison.
The oversized folder contains a land transaction between Colonel Robert West and James Crafford of Chowan (?) County (1758), an 1803 N.C. grant to Jesse Cherry in Martin County, N.C., and a survey (undated) of lands belonging to Jesse and Jonathan Cherry, John Warbutton, and Thomas Wittey.