Letter from William Ellison to Henry Ellison regarding accounts with family cotton gin business, 26 March 1857

Printable PDF Version

Additional Flash Versions

Document Description:

Freedman William Ellison’s cotton gin shop in Stateburg proved to be a lucrative enterprise for him and his family.  In this letter dated March 26, 1857, Ellison wrote to his son Henry, who was clearly involved in handling the accounts of the ginning business.  By the time of this letter, William Ellison and his family were a part of an elite group of free African Americans based largely in Charleston.  Ellison maintained his wealth and financial security by purchasing land and slaves.  By 1860, Ellison owned over 900 acres of land, as well as 63 slaves.  According to the census of 1860, Ellison was one of 171 black slaveholders in South Carolina.  His home in Stateburg, which had previously belonged to former governor, Stephen Miller, still stands today.

The above letter comes from the Ellison Family Papers, which consist of letters, notices, receipts, and accounts for William Ellison.  These papers are unique, since they are perhaps the only sustained collection of papers between members of a family of free African Americans during the mid-nineteenth century (ranging in time from 1848 to 1864).  Selected Ellison Family Papers have been published in Michael P. Johnson and James L. Roark, ed., No Chariot Let Down: Charleston’s Free People of Color on the Eve of the Civil War.  (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).


William Ellison to Henry Ellison, 26 March 1857.  Ellison Family Papers, 1845-1870. Manuscripts Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.


Stateburg, March 26th 1857

Dear Henry,

Your letter of 23rd instant was duly received and I perceived by it that you had not received mine of the 22d.  John went over the river yesterday.  He saw Mr. Ledinham.  He said that he had not sold but half of his crop of cotton and had not the money but when he got the money and was working on this side of the river that he would send his son with it and rake up his account.  He also saw Mr. Van Buren and he was ready to pay but before he did so he wished his overseer to certify to it but John could not find him and as it became late he had to leave for home but left the account with Mrs. Mitchel, his wife.  You will find enclosed Mrs. Mathew Singleton’s account.  She will be found at No. 4 Akins range.  Mr. Turner said that it was his fault that the account was not paid before.  He thinks that she will get another gin.  There is one of the saws in the new gin that is worn half in two.  He says that he will send the gin over to be repair[ed] and also another old gin providing Mrs. Singleton don’t get a new gin.  As you did not get my letter in due time and for fear that you may not [have] as yet received it, I will mention a few items of importance that I

[Page 2]

wish attended to at one if you have not done so.  Leave three hundred dollars in Messrs. Adams and Frost hands subject to my order.  And also the money that I have borrowed from William.  Mr. Benbow wrote to me and I sent you a copy in the letter that I wrote you.  Mr. E. Murray’s account and order was presented to him last Friday and he was to send his note when he sent to the post office but he failed to do so.  I want you to get me a half doz. weeding hoes.  No. 2 get two hand saws from Mr. Adger for the shop.  I want you to get me 8 bags of guano.  The above articles and instruction was states in the other letter.  I mention the same incase you should not have received my other letter.  We are all well as usual.  Give my respect to all my friends.

Your father,

William Ellison

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction, and South Carolina’s role in these events.

Indicator 3-4.1 Compare the conditions of daily life for various classes of people in South Carolina, including the elite, the middle class, the lower class, the independent farmers, and the free and enslaved African Americans.  (H, E)

Indicator 3-4.2 Summarize state leaders’ defense of the institution of slavery prior to the Civil War, including reference to conditions in South Carolina, the invention of the cotton gin, subsequent expansion of slavery, and economic dependence on slavery.  (H, E, P)

Indicator 3-4.7 Summarize the effects of Reconstruction in South Carolina, including the development of public education, racial advancements and tensions, and economic changes.  (H, E, P)

Standard 4-6: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the Civil War and its impact on America.

Indicator 4-6.1 Compare characteristics of the regions of the North and South prior to the Civil War, including agrarian versus industrialist economies, geographic differences and boundaries, and ways of life. (G, E, H)

Standard 7-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of political, social, and economic upheavals that occurred throughout the world during the age of revolution, from 1770 through 1848.

Indicator 7-3.5    Explain the impact of the new technology that emerged during the Industrial Revolution, including changes that promoted the industrialization of textile production in England and the impact of interchangeable parts and mass production.  (E, H)

Standard 8-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Revolution—the beginnings of the new American nation and South Carolina’s part in the development of that nation.
Indicator 8-2.4
Explain the economic and political tensions between the people of the Upcountry and Lowcountry, including economic struggles of both groups following the American Revolution, their disagreement over representation in the General Assembly and the location of the new capital city, and the transformation of the state’s economy that was caused by the production of cotton and convinced Lowcountry men to share power with Upcountry men.  (H, G, P, E)

Standard 8-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Civil War—its causes and effects and the major events that occurred during that time.
Indicator 8-3.1 Explain the importance of agriculture in antebellum South Carolina including plantation life, slavery, and the impact of the cotton gin. (H, G, E)

Standard USHC-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the westward movement and the resulting regional conflicts that took place in America in the nineteenth century.

Indicator USHC-3.3 Compare economic development in different regions of the country during the early 19th century, including agriculture in the South, industry and finance in the North, and the development of new resources in the West. (E, H)


Additional Flash Versions:

William Ellison to Henry Ellison, page 1.
Page One
William Ellison to Henry Ellison, page 2.
Page Two


Related Documents:

"Improved Cotton Gins" ad by William Ellison, 1848


Statement on reproduction and use