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Shirley Plantation Research Collection(1650–1989)

  • DMS 1991.1
  • Transcript: TR 96 (selected)
  • 93 vols., 16,000 items, 1,800 photographs, and 1,000 books

Plantation and family papers (1650–1989) of the Carter family of Shirley plantation on the James River in Charles City County, VA. Included are papers (1650–1790) relating to Shirley land matters and a letter (1782) from George Washington; personal and medical school papers (1794–1805) of Dr. Robert Carter (1774–1805) which include mention of slavery, wigs, agriculture, and family matters; will of Charles Carter (1732–1806); and letter (1799) of Bishop James Madison.

The rest of the collection consists mostly of the plantation journals, accounts, receipts, and personal papers (1816–1875) of Hill Carter (1796–1875); his wife, Mary B. Carter (1800–1864); his son, Robert R. Carter (1825–1888); daughter-in-law, Louise H. Carter (1832–1906); grandchildren, Alice Carter Bransford (1852–1926) and Marion Carter Oliver (1859–1953); and James H. Oliver (1857–1928). The Carters’ dealings with merchants and tradesmen in Richmond and Petersburg are documented through accounts and receipts collected over one hundred years (1816–1920). Included are receipts for tuition, subscriptions, medical visits, and taxes. Also includes papers on the Randolph estate at Norwood and the construction of Upper Shirley, another Carter family plantation.

Letters (1850s) of artist, Frederic E. Church; Hector Humphreys, president of St. John’s College, Annapolis; Mary Stone, daughter of author Rev. John Seely Stone of Brookline, Mass.; Eliza M. Marcy (1824–1878), Annapolis, to her husband, Samuel Marcy (1820–1862), who was a naval officer stationed in Sardinia and was son of Secretary of State William L. Marcy; and Landonia Randolph on her lawsuit to regain ownership of slaves so she could free them.

Spiritual advice essays and letters (1848–1851) of Rev. N.A. Okeson to Mary B. Carter concern slavery, adultery, and morality. Material related to slavery includes bills of sale, blanket and food lists, medical accounts, list of dead from a 1849 cholera epidemic, and runaway slaves.

Also includes pay journals for freedmen after the Civil War. The collection includes several letters and receipts of Robert E. Lee, Mary Custis Lee, and their family. Civil war papers include orders from Jefferson Davis and others, a 1905 memoir of Shirley during the war, and letters from Union officers including Benjamin Butler and George McClellan.

The collection also documents the naval careers of Hill Carter on the U.S. sloop Peacock (War of 1812); Robert R. Carter, who served in the Pacific (1840s), the Arctic on a mission (1850–1851) searching for Sir John Franklin, the Orient (1850s), South America (1858–1860), and in the Confederate Navy (1862–1865); and James H. Oliver, who served in the U.S. Navy for over forty years as sailor, commander, instructor at the U.S. Naval War College, and first governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Also includes several personal diaries (1870–1939), journal of a trip to the Northern Neck of Virginia (1886), writings, genealogical information, artwork, letters on the purchase of a Charles Willson Peale portrait of George Washington, and letters from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Theodore Roosevelt. Photographs of family members and friends (1850s–1950s) the Shirley plantation buildings and grounds, the Virgin Islands, Turkey, Greece, Japan, and elsewhere. Collection also includes a library of 16th- to 20th-century books collected by the Hill-Carter and allied families.

The guide includes an item-by-item listing, expanded introduction, and several transcriptions of letters. A complete microfilm copy may be available in 1993 although portions of the collection have been previously filmed and are available on (M-1340.1–10) or (M-1684.1).

Documents of note include:

Guide (PDF)