David Franklin Thorpe papers, 1854-1944 (bulk 1854-1870).

Creator: Thorpe, David Franklin, 1836-1909.
Collection number: 4262
View finding aid.

Abstract: David Franklin Thorpe was plantation superintendent on Saint Helena Island, 1861-1869, and later Rhode Island businessman and state representative. Correspondence, legal and financial material, subject files, diaries, and account books relating principally to cotton production and trade, to affairs in the Sea Islands and in the North, and to family matters. Most of the papers are letters to David Thorpe from William G. Weld, his Boston business partner, from friends and relatives in the North, and from plantation superintendents, military officials, and other Sea Island residents. Correspondence between Weld and Thorpe concerns management of plantations they jointly owned and leased. Topics discussed include cultivation, preparation for shipping, and marketing of cotton; gold prices; labor; land sales; and the general store Thorpe ran. Letters from family and northern friends, many of whom were abolitionists, concern political, intellectual, and social life, particularly in Rhode Island and Boston during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Twentieth-century correspondence consists of letters from Penn School Principal Rossa B. Cooley and other Saint Helena residents to Thorpe’s son and daughter-in-law. There are volumes of Thorpe’s diaries, 1861-1869, noting his daily activities and data on planting and African American laborers; two other diary volumes, 1865-1866, probably of Thorpe’s sister, Mary Thorpe; Saint Helena Island plantation account books, 1854-1868, that include records of payments to free blacks and freedmen; a record book each for the Planters Association, 1866-1867, and the Rifle and Sporting Club, 1866-1868, both of Saint Helena Island; a booklet of slave songs, presumably from the 1860s; magistrates’ records of Beaufort County, S.C., 1868-1869; and other volumes.

Repository: Southern Historical Collection

Collection Highlights: Diaries discuss plantation affairs and slave and free labor (1861- 1869), while correspondence mentions religious practices of freedmen. Included in the collection are several letters from northern friends and family members who were abolitionists and a booklet of slave songs of the Sea Islands (folder 24).

20th century correspondence in Folder 13 contains letters from Rossa Cooley, president of the Penn School.

One account book, Volume 9, was begun by William M. Murray in 1854 as a record of slaves on his Edisto and Fenwick Island plantations and was later used to list what appear to be names, occupations, and other details of freedmen (Folder 31). Folder 32 contains an account book showing payments  to free people of color. See also Folders 37 and 38.