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).