July 15, 1859

Transcribed by Carlina Green and annotated by Scott Stegall

Davidson Coll. July 15.

My dear Bess,

I dont know whether any body will tell you about Commencement, at any rate you will want to know how we got along. Thank you for the beautiful bread, it was as light & sweet as bread could be & there when there was so much cooking it was a great help to have the bread all made. We began to have company on Monday, had five gentlemen to dinner & so on from that time, at every meal until this morning. I got along quite comfortably but never got a chance to go over to hear any thing but Dr. Dabney’s sermon.1 I hear Dr. D. gave you five sermons on Sunday. Mrs Sinclair thought they were better than the one he preached here.2


Somehow I think he seemed out of sorts. He staid at Major Hills & I am afraid was’nt as comfortable as one would have made him. You know his wife was Mrs Hill’s cousin so they claimed him.3

We had not so many ladies as usual. The Sinclairs, three Misses Moore4 from Hopewell and Sally Caldwell.5  Miss Verina Moore did not come, nor any body from Wilmington but Mr Grier.6 We entertained the speaker Mr Eaton,7 Mr Grier, Mr Baker,8 Dr Caruthers,9 Mr Burwell,10 Mr Davis (Bank Davis), Mr Brevard Davidson11 – these were all that slept here but to all three meals we had a crowd. I begin quite to enjoy the company & the bustle & seeing so many people in their best clothes & having on their best looks & in their best humour.



Mrs Kerr’s12 illness + Mrs Fishburnes13 death seemed to cast a damper over some of us, but we were en-couraged by hearing that she was better. The Doctor is more encouraged to day than he has been. Dr Whitehead14 leaves here this evening  & Dr Gibbon15 is expected up. They all like the two Doctors exceedingly. I have felt all along that Mrs Kerr would not die, not simply because she had skilful physicians, but because so many prayers have been offered for her recovery and “the prayer of faith will save the sick” Kate16 has nursed her a great deal, but I have never seen her since the first day or so- I am afraid this disease is still in the atmosphere, I understand that one of Mrs Brown’s17 sons was taken sick to day, but they have not sent for a physician.




Our black baby has been right sick, but he is getting well without any Doctor either.18 There seemed a large crowd here on Commence-ment day. The music (the band from Salisbury) was very fine, they did not play as much as they would have done, because it Mrs Kerr. I hear the speaking was all very good. Willie’s I read and thought it would sound well, but Kate said he did not speak as well as on ordinary occasions. There was so much excitement about that time that the boy’s got their minds distracted & did not do as well as usual. Mr Eaton’s speech, your Father thought was first rate.

Sing has gone to Dr Morrisons19 – Dru is at the Caldwells or at Hopewell I don’t know which. Willie is knocking about here. I wish we were all away from here now. Do write soon.  Tell us what you heard of our Commencement.



  1. Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1918) entered Hampden-Sydney College in 1836 and later studied at the University of Virginia and Union Theological Seminary. He married Margaret Lavinia Morrison and the couple had six children. In 1853, Dabney joined the faculty at Union Theological Seminary. During the Civil War, Dabney served as a Confederate chaplain and as Lieutenant General T. J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Chief of Staff. After the war, Dabney was a leader of the Presbyterian Church in the South. During this time, he penned a biography of “Stonewall” Jackson and wrote numerous defenses of the Confederate cause. During the last years of his life, Dabney taught at the Austin School of Theology. For more information, see John Boles, “Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1896),” Encyclopedia Virginia, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Dabney_Robert_Lewis_1820-1898#start_entry (accessed October 31, 2017).
  2. Mary Laura Davidson Sinclair (1837-1902) was born at Rural Hill Plantation in 1837 and studied at Salem Female Academy and the Leaventhrop School. In 1858, she married Alexander Sinclair, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte. The couple had seven children together. For more information, see Charlotte Observer, May 9, 1902, 5.
  3. Daniel Harvey Hill (1821-1889) studied at West Point and fought in the Mexican-American War. In 1849, Hill accepted a position as professor of mathematics at Washington College. He  married Isabella Morrison, daughter of Robert Hall Morrison, the first president of Davidson College. Later, Hill chaired the mathematics department at Davidson College until 1859 when he accepted the superintendency of the Charlotte Military Institute. Hill served with distinction during the Civil War and attained the rank of Lieutenant General. For more information, see John G. Barrett, “Daniel Harvey Hill”  NCPediahttps://www.ncpedia.org/biography/hill-daniel-harvey (accessed October 19, 2017); Dan L. Morrill, “Daniel Harvey Hill,” Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, http://www.cmhpf.org/personalities/dhhill.html (accessed October 19, 2017).
  4. The Moore family was prominent in both Mecklenburg and Iredell counties during the nineteenth century. The Moores founded Mooresville, which is located approximately ten miles north of the college, and several males from the Moore family attended Davidson College. Some of the early Moore family settlers in central North Carolina are buried in the Cashion and Moore Family Cemetery near Davidson. For more information, see Dan L. Morrill, “Survey and Research Report on the Cashion and Moore Family Cemetery,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commissionhttp://www.cmhpf.org/S&Rs%20Alphabetical%20Order/surveys&rcashioncemetery.htm (accessed November 1, 2017).
  5. Sarah “Sally” Caldwell White (1838-1919) was the daughter of planter and Davidson College trustee, David Alexander Caldwell. Sarah attended Edgeworth Seminary in Greensboro and “was a lady of rare brilliance [who] became a noted teacher after the Confederate War,” according to  historian Chalmers G. Davidson. Sarah married Davidson alumnus Dr. William Edward White, who died of disease in a Confederate camp during the Civil War. The Caldwell family owned a plantation called Glenwood that bordered Davidson College. For more information, see “Sarah Caldwell White,” Find a Gravehttps://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=54671997 (accessed November 4, 2017); Chalmers Gaston Davidson, The Plantation World Around Davidson: The Story of North Mecklenburg “Before the War” (Davidson: Davidson Printing Company, 1973), 26-28.
  6. Matthew Blackburne Grier (1820-1899) was born in Pennsylvania and studied at Washington College and Princeton Theological Seminary.  He ministered in Maryland before moving to Wilmington, North Carolina in 1852 where he pastored First Presbyterian Church. In 1861, Grier severed his ties with the church at Wilmington because of his pro-Union sentiments. He later became editor of The Presbytery, a publication based out of Philadelphia. In 1892, Grier came back to Wilmington and delivered the benediction for the 75th anniversary service of the First Presbyterian Church of Wilmington. For more information, see Memorial of the First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, N.C.: Seventy-Fifth Anniversary, 1817-1892 (Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson, 1893).
  7. William Eaton, Jr. (1809-1881) was born in Warrenton County, North Carolina and attended the University of North Carolina. Following his graduation, Eaton practiced law. He was subsequently elected to the North Carolina House of Commons and represented his home county in that body. From 1851-1852, he served as attorney general of the state of North Carolina. For more information, see Claiborne T. Smith, Jr., “William Eaton, Jr.,” NCPediahttps://www.ncpedia.org/biography/eaton-william-jr (accessed November 4, 2017).
  8. Archibald Baker (1812-1878) was born in Marion County, South Carolina and was raised in Robeson County, North Carolina. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1841 and later ministered in Salisbury, North Carolina. Baker was a proponent of education and served on the board of trustees at Union Theological Seminary. At Baker’s request, Maxwell Chambers bequeathed most of his estate (worth over $250,000) to Davidson College. The Davidson trustees placed a history of the college, written by Baker, and a copy of Chamber’s will in the cornerstone of the original Chambers building in 1858. For more information, see Ellen Barrier Neal, “Archibald Baker,” NCPediahttps://www.ncpedia.org/biography/baker-archibald%20 (accessed October 19, 2017).
  9. Eli Washington Caruthers (1793-1865) was born near Salisbury in Rowan County, North Carolina. He was educated at Hampden-Sydney College and the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and served during the War of 1812. Following his studies, Caruthers ministered to several churches in Guilford County, North Carolina. He was involved in education, teaching at, and heading, several schools including the Caldwell Institute, Greensboro High School, and a classical school in Alamance County, North Carolina. Caruthers was a noted historian of the American Revolutionary War, and he penned a scathing critique of slavery late in his life. For more information, see W. Conard Gass, “Eli Washington Caruthers,” NCPedia, https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/caruthers-eli-washington (accessed November 2, 2017).
  10. Robert Armistead Burwell (1802-1895) was born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia and studied at Hampden-Sydney College and Union Theological Seminary. In 1831, he married Virginian Margaret Anna Robertson. In 1835, the couple moved to Hillsborough, North Carolina where Robert pastored the Hillsborough Presbyterian Church while his wife operated a boarding school for women. The Burwell School became a model for future female academies and colleges throughout the South. In 1857, the Burwells moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. There, Robert served as the pastor of Paw Creek Presbyterian Church and presided as principal of the Carolina Female Institute. In 1860, he became a member of the Davidson College Board of Trustees. After the death of his wife, Robert accepted a joint principalship of Peace Institute. In her memoir, Elizabeth Keckley, one of Robert Burwell’s former slaves, described Robert’s brutal and abusive treatment of her. During her time with the Burwells, Keckley was raped by a Hillsborough resident. The assault resulted in the birth of her son, George. Keckley bought her own freedom and became a prominent dress maker in Washington, D.C. for the wives of notable politicians including Varina Davis and Mary Lincoln. For more information, see Mary Claire Engstrom, “Robert Armistead Burwell,” NCPedia, https://www.ncpedia.org/keckly-keckley-elizabeth-hobbs (accessed October 20, 2017); Ansley Wegner, “Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly (Keckley),” NCPedia, https://www.ncpedia.org/keckly-keckley-elizabeth-hobbs (accessed October 20, 2017).
  11. Adam Brevard Davidson (1808-1896) was born at Rural Hill, the plantation home of the Davidson family, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He operated the family’s plantation and supplied the lumber for early buildings of Davidson College in 1836. Davidson married Mary Laura Springs (1813-1872), and the couple had fifteen children together. In 1844, Davidson was appointed to the Board of Trustees at Davidson College. Mary Springs Davidson died in 1872, and Davidson subsequently married Cornelia Elmore (1835-1921). Davidson was regarded as one of the richest planters in western North Carolina, and after the Civil War, he invested heavily in the rail industry. For more information, see Chalmers G. Davidson, “Adam Brevard Davidson,” NCPedia, https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/davidson-adam-brevard (accessed November 2, 2017).
  12. Emma C. Hall Kerr (1829-1887) was born in Davie County, North Carolina. In 1853, she married Davidson College professor and notable geologist, Washington Caruther Kerr (1827-1885). For more information, see “Emma C Hall Kerr,” Find A Gravehttps://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=125862448 (accessed November 2, 2017).
  13. Sarah Wadell Fishburne (1813-1859) was the first wife of Davidson professor Clement Daniel Fishburne (1832-1907). She died on June 14, 1859, a day before this letter was written. For more information, see “Sarah Waddell Fishburne,” Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=134958173 (accessed November 2, 2017).
  14. Marcellus J. Whitehead (1821-1885) was born in Nelson County, Virginia. He moved to Salisbury, North Carolina where he worked as a physician. For more information, see “Dr. Marcellus Whitehead,” Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=168836287 (accessed November 3, 2017).
  15. John Heysham Gibbon (1795-1868) was born in Philadelphia and married Catherine Lardner Gibbon, with whom he had 6 children. He died in Charlotte in 1868. For more information, see “Dr. John Gibbon,” Find a Gravehttps://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=150868223 (accessed November 3, 2017).
  16. Scholars at the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, believe Kate is Mary Catherine Rice, wife of Mary Rice Lacy’s brother, Archibald Rice. For more information, see Letter from J. Horace Lacy to Aunt Kate, September 11, 1852, Drury Lacy Papers #3641, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , http://docsouth.unc.edu/true/mss05-06/mss05-06.html (accessed May 10, 2017).
  17. This probably refers to Ann Brown of Steward’s Hall, the first female employee of the college.
  18. The 1860 slave schedule suggests that either this infant passed away between the time this letter was penned and the time the schedule was taken in 1860, or that the child was living with another family at the time.
  19. Robert Hall Morrison (1798-1889), the first President of Davidson College, lived at his Lincoln County estate, “Cottage Home,” following his retirement in 1849. For more information, see Max R. Williams, “Robert Hall Morrison,” NCPediahttps://www.ncpedia.org/biography/morrison-robert-hall (accessed November 3, 2017)