William Porcher Miles papers, 1784-1906.

October 12, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Creator: Miles, William Porcher, 1822-1899.
Collection number: 508
View finding aid.

Abstract: William Porcher Miles (1822-1899) was a South Carolina educator, mayor of Charleston, S.C. (1855-1857), United States Representative (1857-1860), member of the Confederate House of Representatives and chair of its Military Affairs Committee. After the Civil War, he was a planter in Virginia, then president of South Carolina College, then a planter again, this time in Louisiana. Miles married Betty Bierne (d. 1874), the daughter of Oliver Bierne, a wealthy Virginia and Louisiana planter, in 1863. Personal, political, and military correspondence; diaries; and a few business papers and clippings of William Porcher Miles. Correspondence with many leading political, military, and intellectual figures of the day discusses slavery and runaway slaves, Jews in Charleston, secession, foreign relations, patronage appointments, appropriations, financial and military preparations for war, defense of coastal and inland South Carolina, Reconstruction economic and social conditions in Charleston, S.C., and perceived effects of citizenship and wages on freedmen. Also included are materials relating to Miles and Warley family, friends, and social activities; Miles’s work at the College of Charleston; the 1855 yellow fever epidemic in Norfolk, Va.; improvements to the Charleston port, customs house, post office, canals, and statuary; Miles’s management of Oak Grove Plantation, Nelson County, Va., and Houmas Plantation, Ascension Parish, La.; his involvement in state and local Democratic Party politics in Louisiana, especially with regard to the lottery, sugar tariff, and sugar bounty; and flood control and levees in the lower Mississippi. The diaries, 1867-1897, contain brief but regular entries and give a general picture of Miles’s way of life, indebtedness, political and religious beliefs, and personal relations while running the Oak Grove and Houmas plantations and as college president at Columbia, S.C. Also documented is the 1874 death of Betty Bierne Miles in childbirth.

Repository: Southern Historical Collection

Collection Highlights: Correspondence include the dismissal of a teacher at Wilmington Academy, South Carolina, who advocated an immediate abolition of slavery in 1834 (Folder 1b); slavery in the South and Cuba in January 1858 (Folder 12); the climate toward slavery in California in an 3 April 1858 letter, as well as letters in March and February that claim that territory, not slavery, was the main issue in the secession crisis in 1858 (Folders 13,14, and 15).

Also included in the correspondence is a 22 February 1859 letter discussing the illegal importation and subsequent return of 305 Africans from Charleston (Folder 19). A 5 March letter mentions a “poor colored boy” who is under suspicion of being a runaway. (Folder 20)

Other letter talk about the murder of William J. Keitt by his slaves in 1860 (Folder 18). A letter from 17 February 1860 mentions  changing British opinions on the South and slavery and compares the situation of the enslaved population  in Haiti and the West Indies and Freedom settlements (Folder 26).

Correspondence continues with Miles dealing with runaway slaves in June 1861 (Folder 42). A letter dated 23 February 1862 cites the case of Rachel Johnson, a free black of Native American descent, who was involved with a number of Charleston men. Two letters (Feb 24) encourage Miles to help her pass through Confederate lines to New York. (Folder48).

Also included is 24 September 1867 letter from J.J. Pringle Smith containing a statement that the “gift” of citizenship and wages did not “change” African Americans (Folder 54). There is also correspondence from 21 April 1892 about the raising of money to pay for freedmen’s votes in the anti-lottery election (Folder 85). The collection also includes a copy of “Slavery and the Remedy” (1857).

There is a letter on 3 November 1864 from Miles to Gen. Robert E. Lee, replying to Lee’s mention about using African American troops. (Folder 52).

Another letter addresses this topic A letter from 14 January 1865 from Miles to Gen. G.T. Beauregard, discusses among other topics the question of whether or not to use enslaved men as soldiers in the Confederate Army (Folder 53).

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