Guide to the James Hamilton papers, 1769-1870, bulk 1785-1858
Merchant and plantation owner of Charleston, S.C., later of Philadelphia, Pa. Collection comprises business and family correspondence, accounts, and receipts, including papers related to several of Hamilton's business partnerships (dating mainly from 1785 to 1818) and numerous private transactions, including purchases of slaves (1784-1785, 1801, 1808). There also are papers from voyages of ships in which he had a major interest, including routes to India, the Mediterranean, and the West Indies. The collection concludes with accounts and records related to the settlement of his estate from 1832 to 1870.
- Collection Number
- James Hamilton papers
- Hamilton, James, 1763-1829
- 15 Linear Feet, 16 boxes; 1 oversize folder
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Materials in English
Collection comprises business and family correspondence, accounts, and receipts, including papers related to several of Hamilton's business partnerships (dating mainly from 1785 to 1818) and numerous private transactions, including purchases of slaves (1784-1785, 1801, 1808). There also are papers from voyages of ships in which he had a major interest, including routes to India, the Mediterranean, and the West Indies. The collection concludes with accounts and records related to the settlement of his estate from 1832 to 1870.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], James Hamilton papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Subject headings found in the correspondence were compiled by a researcher in 2005.
Includes cotton and rice, London market, shipping, and one letter from niece in London, 1804.
Includes tobacco, steam engine (1805), cotton, financial, panic, France (1806), and politics.
James Hamilton (1763-1829) was likely born in Scotland, and emigrated to the United States in 1784. He established a business in Charleston, South Carolina, as a shipping merchant associated with Edward Mortimer & Co. of Charleston, David McCredie of Charleston and Savannah, and Henry Bethune & Co. of London. In 1800 he established a cotton plantation on St. Simons Island, Ga., with about 300 slaves, and later jointly owned (with John Couper) a second plantation property, a rice plantation with 450 slaves, Hopeton, on the Altamaha River near Darien, Georgia. He also acquired two substantial town homes, No.13 Broad Street in Charleston, and No. 260 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. His wife was Nancy Isabella Steedman (1780-c.1818) of London. They had two children, Agnes Rebecca, and George (b.1806).
At his death in April 1829 in Philadelphia, Hamilton owned four coastal Georgia plantations, and a total of 662 slaves, and was a very rich man. He devised his entire estate in trust to his grandchildren, of whom only one, Isabella Hamilton Corbin (b.1827), was alive in 1829. The other two legatees were Elizabeth T. Corbin (b.1831), and Richard Washington Corbin (1837-1922). Each heir was to receive a full one-third share upon reaching the age of 21 years. After his death the executors invested heavily in 5% bonds of the State of Pennsylvania, and during and after the Civil War in U.S. Treasury bonds. After the 1827 marriage of Agnes Rebecca Hamilton to Francis Porteus Corbin (1801-1876), a lawyer from Virginia, the Corbins lived in France. The other child, George, never married and later lived in Liverpool. Collateral relations included his wife's niece Isabella Bethune (1804), his wife's cousin Margerat (Mrs. Daniel) Kennedy (1805), his nephew Robert Wilson and grand-nephew James Hamilton Wilson, both of Liverpool, and his niece Janet Wilson of Philadelphia and Scotland.
In 1848, after two decades of the administration of Hamilton's estate, principally the Georgia slave plantations and the Pennsylvania state bonds and other financial investments, the estate was valuated at over $1 million, including 764 slaves.
As directed, from 1848-1858 the estate was successively divided among the three heirs, with Francis P. Corbin as trustee for the shares of Isabella H. (1848) and Elizabeth T. (1852), and with annuities funded principally by Pennsylvania and U.S. bonds exempted from the estate division, continuing to Agnes Corbin and George Hamilton through at least 1867.
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Charleston (S.C.) -- Commerce -- History
- Merchant ships -- Records
- Merchants -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- Merchants -- South Carolina -- Charleston
- Plantation owners -- Southern States
- Slaveholders -- Georgia
- Slaveholders -- South Carolina
- Slavery -- Economic aspects
- Slaves -- Southern States -- Economic conditions
The James Hamilton papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in May 1976.
Processed by Rubenstein Library Staff/Ruth E. Bryan, May 2005.
Encoded by Meghan Lyon, December 2010.
Collection overview, biography, and subject headings revised from researcher input by Paula Jeannet, June 2018.
Accession from May 28, 1976 is described in this finding aid.