Wyche and Otey Family Papers, 1824-1936

Creator: Wyche family. Otey family
Collection number: 1608
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Abstract: The Otey family of Meridianville, Ala., and Yazoo County, Miss., included William Madison Otey (1818-1865), merchant and cotton planter; his wife, Octavia Wyche Otey (fl. 1841-1891); and their children, Imogene Otey Fields, Mollie Otey Hampton; William Walter Otey; Lucille Otey Walker; Matt Otey, and Elliese Otey. The collection includes family and business correspondence, financial and legal papers and volumes, and personal items. Family correspondence is with members of the Wyche, Horton, Kirkland, Pruit, Landidge, and Robinson families in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, and Tennessee. A few letters from Confederate soldiers in the field appear as do some letters relating to difficulties on the homefront. There is also a letter dated 27 February 1863 from a slave in Mount Shell, Tenn., to his master about building a stockade. Business papers pertain mostly to William Madison Otey’s merchant activities in Meridianville, Ala., especially with Chickasaw Indians in the 1830s, and to the Oteys’ cotton plantations in Madison County, Ala., and Yazoo County, Miss. Others concern the financial affairs of the Wyche, Horton, and Kirkland families. Included are accounts with cotton factors and merchants, estate papers, deeds, loan notes, summonses, receipts, agreements for hiring out slaves, and work contracts with freedmen. Volumes include account books, plantation daybooks, a receipt book, and a diary of Octavia Wyche Otey that covers the years 1849-1888. The diary and other papers offer detailed descriptions of women’s lives, especially in nineteenth-century Alabama.

Repository: Southern Historical Collection

Collection Highlights: Letters from Rebecca Wyche in 1835 and Rodah Horton in 1832, as well as other family members throughout the 1820s and 1830s,  discuss buying and selling enslaved individuals (Folder 1).

Correspondence from William Otey to his wife in the 1850s and 1860s discuss the management of their property in Yazoo County, as well as the welfare of enslaved people on the property (Folders 4-17).  There is also a letter dated 27 February 1863 from an enslaved man named Thomas, in Mount Shell, Tenn., to his master, J. M. Oaty, asking him to get a substitute for him in the building of a stockade (Folder 17).

Financial and legal papers in Series 2 contain several references to enslaved persons. William Wyche’s 1829 papers concern hiring out slaves to the firm Otey Kinkle (Folder 30). There is also an order issued in 1838 for the delivery of a enslaved woman named Eliza, who had belonged to Dr. A. A. Wyche, deceased, to Joseph Leeman. Also included is a receipt for Eliza signed by Leeman in 1838. There is also agreement dated 1849 for the hire of an enslaved woman and three children belonging to the estate of Jackston Lightfoot, which John Wyche was executor of (Folder 31).

Octavia Wyche’s antebellum diary (Folders 39-42) contains frequent mentions of managing and punishing enslaved people on her property, as well as instances of illnesses.

After the Civil War, Octavia wrote in a large volume about interacting with free people of color on her plantation, as well as copies of contracts in 1866 for Maria, Nina, and Anderson, former slaves at Green Lawn plantation. (Folder 38 also contains a contract Octavia Otey signed in 1866 with Maria, who worked as a laundress and cook). Of particular note in the diary are descriptions, dated 29 November and 6 December 1868 and 19 January and 1 February 1869, of visits to Green Lawn by the Ku Klux Klan.Also included is an entry for 22 November describing wedding preparations for the daughter of a former slave, Maria, and another for 12 January 1880, in which Octavia complains that local blacks “will not work for white people if they can help it.” (Folders 43-63).

A merchant’s account book of William Madison Otey contains an account from at least one customer, Sally Shochoty, is listed as a Negro; the spelling of her name as Shock.ho.ty at one point suggests that she may have intermarried with the Chickasaws (Folder 64).

The daybook from 1857 in Series 4.2 contains records of cotton picked by enslaved individuals on Otey’s plantation, listed by name (Folder 65). Folders 67 & 68 also contain daybooks from the Civil War era.

Folder 74 contains an 1849 clipping related to the enslaved African American musician “Blind Tom” at Camp Davis. Tom Wiggins was born in Columbus, Ga., and was an extremely talented musician who composed a number of songs and could play music by ear. He was an autistic savant and was unfortunately exploited throughout his lifetime for his musical abilities. Click here to link to a website dedicated to preserving Blind Tom’s legacy.

After the war, Octavia Otey’s correspondence received from family in the late 1860s and mid 1870s discusses relations with free people of color (Folders 18 – 23).