Wiliam Henry Wills papers, 1712-1921 (bulk 1803-1882).

Creator: Wills, William Henry, 1809-1889.
Collection number: 792
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Abstract:¬†William H. Wills was a general merchant, Methodist Protestant minister, and cotton planter of Halifax County, N.C. His wife was Anna Wills (1817-1893), and his children included Reverend Richard H. (1836-1891); George Whitaker (1842-1864); Mary (1848-1941); Lucy (b. 1844); and Edward (b. 1846). Other prominent Wills family members were Dr. Cary Whitaker (1782-1858) of Enfield, N.C., and Jackson County, Fla.; Capt. Cary Whitaker (d. 1865); Joseph S. Norman (d. 1864) of Plymouth, N.C.; and Robert Snell (fl. 1816-1841) of Washington County, N.C. The collection includes family, religious, plantation, and business papers, chiefly 1803-1882, of Wills family members in Halifax County and relatives in Washington and Edgecombe counties, N.C. Correspondence documents the life of itinerant ministers and Methodist Protestant and Methodist Episcopal Church affairs, 1840s-1890s, with information on circuit travel, camp meetings, finances, arbitrations, and race relations within the church. Other topics include family life; boarding school life; plantation affairs; slavery; conflicts with Seminole Indians in Florida; camp and home life during the Civil War; and women teachers in the postbellum period. There are letters from students at Chowan Female Institute, Warrenton Female College, and Baltimore Female College, and from teachers in several locations, including the Oxford Orphan Asylum. Civil War letters are from soldiers in the 2nd, 17th, and 43rd North Carolina regiments, and from a slave who travelled with them. Religious papers include reports, trial documents, sermons, essays (most written by a woman), circuit class books, and marriage licenses. Plantation papers include correspondence and legal and financial materials relating to cotton planters in eastern North Carolina and Florida. There are also a few travel diaries documenting journeys in the antebellum South, and a diary commenting on life in Key West, Miami, and Tampa, Fla. The Addition of April 2011 includes three bound travel journals and several hundred pages of undated sermon notes. The journals, covering 1851-1856 and 1866-1882, document Wills’s activities as a Methodist Protestant circuit rider in North Carolina, including date and location of services, a selected biblical passage, and a general topic for the sermon. Locations appearing repeatedly include Bethesda, Harmony, Union, Corinth, Eden, and Marsh Chapel, among others. However, it is unclear whether these are the names of towns or congregations where he visited. Sermon notes, several of which are written on envelopes, include a biblical passage followed by detailed exegesis of the passage with references to related texts and Wills’s own thoughts and interpretation.

Repository: Southern Historical Collection

Collection Highlights: There is also a 26 December 1839 letter discussing an attempt to purchase a young enslaved girl in order to keep her with her family (See Folder 4).

Richard Wills frequently wrote about race relations among the Methodist Protestants and Methodist Episcopalians, and Christian justifications for slavery. George Whitaker Wills also wrote about Washington Wills, or “Wash”, an enslaved man who worked as a cook in his mess hall¬† (See particularly Subseries 1.1.2, Civil War Letters)

Letters from Richard in 1866-1882 often contain detailed discussions of his ministries in various N.C. cities as well as national church affairs, especially the union question. His letters (see particularly 10 May 1870 and 25 July 1873) display fears of racial amalgamation should the churches unite. (See Folders 16 and 17).

Letters in Subseries 1.2 (“Whitaker Family) contain correspondence from George Wills in Charleston describing church conflicts there and the possible split between the Northern and Southern Methodist Episcopal Church over slavery. He also writes about crops, slaves, and overseers in Florida. (See Folders 23-25).

In Folder 30, there is an undated entry from William Wills journal discussing the potentially damaging effects of the slavery question on the Methodist Protestant denomination.

Folder 31 contains interesting letters Wills wrote to various religious affiliated newspapers including three related to the issues of slavery in the Methodist Protestant and Methodist Episcopal churches (see 1 June 1855, 12 December 1856, and 19 April 1858).

Folder 37 contains the Class Book for Albemarle Circuit, Washington County Methodist Protestant Church (1861-1869). This volume contains a list of enslaved members of the church, as well as their owners.

Subseries 2.6 (Religious Correspondence) contains correspondence from Will’s from 1866 to 1877 relating to the union of the Methodist Protestant and Methodist Episcopal churches and the role of race in the decision. (See Folders 40-46).

Folder 55 contains a memo from 1874 concerning land sold to John W. Heptinstall for Bob Wills, a former slave.

Folder 64 contains a letter (circa 1860) discussing the sale of an enslaved girl.