Guide to the Robert Anderson papers, 1735-circa 1878, 1908, and undated, bulk 1735-1859


Collection comprises correspondence, documents and print materials belonging to merchant and land owner Robert Anderson of Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia. The materials date from 1735-1908, with the bulk dating from 1735 to 1859, and consist of over eighty letters, both incoming and outgoing, many legal and financial papers, other manuscript documents, and ephemeral print items such as broadsides and circulars. One folder contains military muster lists and fines stemming from Anderson's service as clerk of the 68th regiment of the Virginia militia. Topics in the correspondence include slavery and slave trade, particularly in Virginia, colonization efforts, emancipation, the status of mixed-race individuals, Virginia and U.S. politics, Virginia military history, religion and church affairs, and education. Of particular note are several letters and documents relating to Anderson's children, who he fathered with one or more slaves; one of these children, Haidee, was sent to Eaglewood, a boarding school run by abolitionists Angelina Grimké Weld and Theodore Dwight Weld. Acquired as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Robert Anderson papers
1735-circa 1878, 1908 and undated, bulk 1735-1859
0.5 Linear Feet, 1 box, 1 oversize folder
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Materials in English

Collection Overview

Collection consists of correspondence, documents and ephemera belonging to merchant and land owner Robert Anderson of Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia. The materials date from 1735-1908, with the bulk dating from 1735-1859. The earliest document is a deed of gift of land from Thomas Vine of York County, Virginia, to his grandson.

There are over 100 pieces of incoming and outgoing correspondence dating from 1804 to 1859, with a few letters dated much later. Many of the retained copies and drafts are written on small slips of paper and docketed, which appears to have been Anderson's idiosyncratic method of dealing with his correspondence. Topics include religion and church matters; U.S. and Virginia politics; Virginia history; mercantile transactions; education; and slavery, including prices for slaves in the Richmond market, and Anderson's correspondence referring to purchases and sales of individual slaves. A printed circular letter from 1850 concerns colonization efforts to send freed slaves to Liberia.

Of note are several letters relating to children Anderson fathered with enslaved women, especially his daughter Haidee, who he sent to Eaglewood, the boarding school run by abolitionists Angelina Grimké and Theodore Dwight Weld; one long letter was written by Grimké to Anderson, exhorting him to emancipate Haidee and her mother. Eaglewood was part of the utopian community in Raritan Union Bay, New Jersey.

Stemming from Anderson's work as clerk for the 68th Regiment of the Virginia militia in James City County (Jamestown), there are 39 items, some written by Anderson, some by the Sheriff of Williamsburg, which consist chiefly of detailed muster lists and fines (1806-1858), and two printed lists of individuals receiving military pensions received due to an Act of Congress in 1828. Other documents in the collection refer to Virginia history during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and to the history of the Virginia Norfolk Junior Volunteers, founded in 1802, in which Anderson served.

There are also deeds, wills, and other documents; several dozen financial receipts; and a few printed and partially printed ephemeral items. Family names appearing in the deeds, bonds, and other documents are Bryan, Coke, Moody, Dickeson, Nelson, White, and Chapman. Among the later documents is a list of medical expenses from 1852 that seem to relate to Anderson's slaves or servants, and an 1858 bill for boarding school expenses for Haidee, signed by Theodore Weld. A document from 1855 records citizens protesting a request from the ship "Seabird" to land cargo and passengers, due to an outbreak of yellow fever in the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Acquired as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.

More Biographical / Historical Info


Arranged in four groupings: correspondence, militia records, financial papers, and legal and printed papers.

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], Robert Anderson papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Collection information folder

Folder contains dealer's biographical notes on Robert Anderson and his life and activities. Also includes a set of selected transcriptions from notable pieces of correspondence, also provided by the dealer.

Box 1
Folder 1
Correspondence, 1804-1815
(6 items)

Letters of note include: a broadside announcement from Anderson to the citizens of Williamsburg about his intention to run for State legislature as a Republicand and Federalist, 1806; several descriptive letters, 1807 and 1814, recounting travels in western and central-northern Virginia; and an advertisement for the Williamsburg Ladies Seminary sent in a letter to Anderson, 1815.

Box 1
Folder 2
Correspondence, 1820-1829
(16 items)

Of note is a subscription to the American Colonization Society, 1827; a poem written by Anderson for the Williamsburg Phoenix, for the improvement of the College of William and Mary, 1825; and a series of exchanges between Thomas Jones, Patent Office in Washington, regarding questions about an estate, a Count Philip Barzizza, and Austrian Consul Baron Lederer's efforts to mediate, 1828.

Box 1
Folder 3
Correspondence, 1831-1839
(8 items)

Of note in this series: item addressed to "Dear parents" in Liverpool, England, 1838, to a James M. from a daughter Martha M., who has recently been married and living in Yorktown - she describes her new surroundings and her situation, saying that she went to a "strange man by the name of Anderson" who provided her with guidance and financial support during a time of difficulty.

Box 1
Folder 4
Correspondence, 1840-1849
(24 items)

Items of note: a note in which Anderson lists 1848 election returns; a circular letter raising funds for the family of John Hamden Pleasants, founder of a Whig newspaper in Richmond, killed in a duel by Thomas Ritchie, Jr. (1846); and a letter from historian Henry Howe.

Box 1
Folder 5
Correspondence, 1850-1854
(29 items)

Topics include: slavery in Virginia; a plan before Congress to send former slaves to Liberia (1850); Virginia politics and elections; and education, including a letter from Patriot, Indiana (March 1851) describing the "Universalist School," a utopian school in that area.

Box 1
Folder 6
Correspondence, 1855-1859, [1878?], 1908 and undated
(38 items)

Of note in this series: several letters related to slavery, including a detailed commentary on the sale of slaves in Richmond at "Myers," and Anderson's wishes for a carpenter and plasterer, 1855, and a printed circular on the market prices for slaves in Richmond, April 1858; letter by Anderson detailing purchases and sales of a "wayward" slave, 1857; a letter from Anderson to abolitionist and educator Theodore Weld, introducing his daughter Haidee and her siblings, commenting on the status of slaves in Virginia and elsewhere, and the wisdom of emancipating her, and asking for a place for Haidee at Eaglewood; a letter from Anderson to his daughter Haidee at school, instructing her in comportment and studying, and reporting on her siblings, mother, family, and health, 1857; and a letter from Anderson to his nephew William, on Haidee's health and arrangements to bring her back to Virginia, April 1858. There is also a note from a Stafford G. Cooke of Edgehill, Virginia, giving details of a suicide of Edward Russell, May 8, 1858.

Box 1
Folder 7
Financial papers, 1804-1857 and undated
(20 items)

Folder houses a variety of financial receipts, statements, and contracts. Of note: Williamsburg Lunatic Hospital expenditures, 1839; a list of doctor's visits which seem to include servant or slave names, 1852-1853; and a bill for school expenses for Haidee Griffin, from Theodore Weld at Eaglewood, New Jersey, 1858.

Box 1
Folder 8
Legal papers and printed materials, 1807-1872 and undated
(30 items)

The series contains wills, deeds, bonds, and other legal documents, often featuring individuals whose connection to Anderson is unclear. Family names of York County that appear in these and other documents include Bryan, Coke, Moody, Dickeson, Nelson, White, Vine, and Chapman. The two earliest legal documents are both related to the Vine family of York County, Virginia: the first, dated 1735, grants land from Thomas Vine to a grandson, the second, dated 1739, outlines a financial bond between the Nelson and Vine families. Also included is a copy of Thomas Nelson, Jr.'s will, 1788, and a peace bond drawn up by Robert Anderson as mayor of Williamsburg in 1821.

Other materials include an undated copy of Yorktown lot owners as recorded in the Commissioner's Book in 1798. There are also a few printed items such as a public notice by Anderson of a robbery at his home in 1858, as well as legal notes, quotations, and envelopes where some of Anderson's papers were once stored.

Box 1
Folder 9
Virginia militia records, 1806-1832
(39 items)

Stemming from Anderson's work as clerk for and captain of the 68th Regiment of the Virginia militia in James City County (Jamestown), these 37 items date from 1806 to 1858. Most are receipts and lists written by the Sheriff or his deputies in receipt of Robert Anderson's records of muster fines and delinquencies, but there are also early documents created by Anderson listing names and payments. There are also two printed lists of individuals receiving military pensions received following an Act of Congress in 1828. Series ends with Anderson's resignation letter, 1837.

Box 1
Folder 10

Historical Note

Robert Anderson (1781-1859) was a merchant, insurance company agent, Whig politician, and planter residing in Yorktown and Williamsburg, Virginia. He served as Williamsburg's mayor from 1812 to 1813, 1820 to 1821 and finally 1828 to 1829, and was a militia captain in Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia until 1837.

Anderson was a wealthy businessman with varied interests. He was an insurance agent, merchant, steamship company owner, and administrator and executor of several estates. He owned property in both James City and York counties, Virginia, and resided permanently in Yorktown. He was heavily involved and interested in local and state politics. He owned, bought, and sold slaves; at the same time he also subscribed to colonization efforts of emancipated slaves.

Anderson married Helen Macauley Southall, widow of Peyton Southall, in 1814; they had no children, but Helen had four children from her previous marriage. Anderson fathered four children with one of his slaves: three daughters and one son. One of these daughters, Catherine Haidee Griffin, was sent to Eagleswood School in New Jersey, run by abolitionists and educators Angelina Grimké Weld and Reverend Theodore Weld. She then was educated in Massachusetts for a time, and was emancipated only after Anderson's death, and by his will was named the owner of her mother and two younger sisters. Robert Anderson died in 1859.

Related Material

Robert Anderson papers, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, Special Collections (35 vols, 4,728 items)

Robert Anderson papers, 1790-1858, Firestone Library Manuscripts Division, Princeton University (1.2 linear feet)

Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.


The Robert Anderson papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in 2013 and 2014.

Processing Information

Processed by: Levi Crews and Paula Jeannet, January 2014.

Accessions described in this finding aid: 2013-0057, 2014-0001.