Guide to the Alexander Sprunt and Son Records, 1779-1960
Cotton firm from Wilmington, N.C., that for a short period was probably the largest cotton exporting house in the United States. Collection includes account books, ledgers, journals, cashbooks, purchase and sales journals, inventories, other subsidiary books, and some office files and correspondence. Goods were purchased from the Carolinas, Georgia, Texas, and other states and processed in the firm's compress facilities and sold to Great Britain, France, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe.
- Collection Number
- Alexander Sprunt and Son records
- Alexander Sprunt & Son (Wilmington, N.C.)
- 6082 items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Materials in English
The collection consists of an extensive, but incomplete, set of account books, remnants of the office file and James Sprunt's correspondence (personal as well as business letters and papers), and pictures. Among the account books there are long series of ledgers, journals, cashbooks, purchase books, and stock inventories that document the company's operations between the 1870s and 1950s. The ledgers date between 1889 and 1952, and there are private ledgers for 1907 through 1931. The volume of minutes covers 1919-1930, but there are a few others among the offices files along with financial statements, 1885-1915, important legal documents of the partnership and corporation, and assorted other papers.
Correspondence and other papers of James Sprunt and the company date between 1884 and 1952, but they are numerous only for 1904, 1906, 1909-1910, and 1919-1921. The letters date mostly to 1904-1910, and 1919-1921, and are largely files of James Sprunt, reflecting his activities in business and interests in secular and theological education, the Presbyterian church in the U.S., and North Carolina history. Notable correspondents and subjects are Alexander Sprunt (1815-1884), Alexander Sprunt (1852-1937), Alexander Sprunt (b. 1898), James Sprunt (1847-1924), Kenneth Mackenzie Murchison, Francis Herman Packer, John Miller Wells, John Campbell White, Edward Jenner Wood, The Laymen's Missionary Movement, and the Presbyterian mission at Kiangyin, China. Account books, minutes, and correspondence are available also for a number of domestic and foreign subsidaries and branch offices, but these are often quite fragmentary. More than thirty pictures, mostly photographs, illustrate the firm's staff, workers, physical plant, and employees as well as other scenes.
Also included are some papers representing various domestic and foreign subsidiaries and branch offices, especially Champion Compress and Warehouse Company, the Wilmington Compress and Warehouse Company, Alexander Sprunt & Son (of Delaware, a holding company), and the company's offices in New York City and Le Havre, France.
Information about the company's history can be found in: James Sprunt's letters of Nov. 6, 1908; Apr. 9, 1909; Jun. 7 and Oct. 22, 1919; an article in Wilmington's Morning Star from Feb. 11, 1921; and Dictionary of American Biography.
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How to Cite
[Identification of item], Alexander Sprunt and Son Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
James Sprunt had very extensive correspondence files, of which only a small portion has survived. A year's letters were subdivided alphabetically and included both the incoming originals and the outgoing copies. The years represented by a sizeable body of papers are 1904, 1906, 1909-1910, and 1919-1921, but they are probably quite incomplete. All of the papers have been arranged chronologically. The series also contains "other papers," which cannot be identified with their original files. Most of the material came from James Sprunt's files.
The series represents a variety of Sprunt's personal and professional interests. Business operations, the cotton market, and domestic and foreign economic conditions are constant concerns. There was frequent communication between Sprunt and his relatives and business associates in Liverpool. His work as vice consul for Great Britain and Germany appears occasionally. Prominent among his activities and charities is the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., the southern body of the Presbyterians. He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church and assisted other congregations in Wilmington and Chapel Hill, where he financed the remodeling of the church as designed by architect Hobart Upjohn. He made substantial contributions to the mission in Kiangyin, China. The interdenominational Laymen's Missionary Movement and its general secretary, John Campbell White, are also prominent in the papers, along with the southern Presbyterian part of of that organization. Sprunt was a principle mover in the arrangements for a statue of George Davis, Confederate attorney general and native son of Wilmington, and there is much correspondence about it, including that with Francis Herman Packer, the sculptor. Sprunt was a trustee of the University of North Carolina and a benefactor of Davidson College, and there are communications between him and the schools' students and officials. Other educational institutions represented include Columbia Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, the antecedents of North Carolina Central University, and other colleges and academies in the South, including several historically black colleges. River and harbor improvements at Wilmington are noted. Scattered political correspondence includes references to state elections, the N.C. Supreme Ct., and the U.S. District Court for Eastern N.C., and the Wilmington riots of 1898. There are several letters about the N.C. Literary and Historical Association and the N.C. Folklore Society, and about other episodes of state history, such as blockade running during the Civil War, President Taft's visit to Wilmington in 1909, Governor Benjamin Smith, and the monument for the Revolutionary battle at Moore's Creek. Correspondence with and about Woodrow Wilson mainly concerned a Carnegie pension for Henry Elliot Shepherd, an educator, but there are a few minor items of a political nature. Sprunt communicated with Senators Lee Slater Overman and Furnifold Simmons about various matters.
Several close relatives of James Sprunt had distinguished careers and are also represented by letters and references: his brother Alexander Sprunt (1852-1937), a Presbyterian clergyman at Charleston, S.C.; Kenneth Mackenzie Murchison, an architect in New York who was a brother-in-law; Edward Jenner Wood, a nephew and physician who was a pioneer in the campaign against pellagra; and Joseph Austin Holmes, another brother-in-law who was a geologist, chief of the technological branch of the U.S. Geological Survey in charge of the investigation of mine accidents, 1904-1907, and the first director of the Bureau of Mines established in 1910.
Includes incomplete assorted files from the operations of Sprunt and Son and its firms, such as Champion Compress and Warehouse Company.
Especially correspondence with Messrs. Laird and Gray of New York. Page 9 documents the purchase by the Sprunts of the Champion Compress and Warehouse Company's entire capital stock.
Trip included France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, and Italy.
The Pictures Series includes both photographs and illustrated pictures and advertisements. The majority of photographs are of the Alexander Sprunt and Son employees and facilities in Wilmington, N.C., and include the main office building on Front and Walnut Streets; office staff, including some photographs of the Sprunts; the Champion Compress and Warehouse facility; the S.S. Winston Salem (1920). The series also includes portraits and photographs of the Sprunt family both in Wilmington and abroad. Other images in the collection are: postcards and advertisements, as well as a set of photos by Cirkut Photos by Coovert in Memphis, Tennessee.
The company's nomenclature for some of the account books was not apparent, and it was necessary to substitute titles that it is hoped are approximately accurate, if not always precise. In addition, there was some difficulty in distinguishing between those volumes that belonged to the main office at Wilmington and those that belonged to other offices and subsidiaries. The company was a complex operation, and its accounting procedures changed over the years. Many volumes did not have labels.
For period 1919-1923. Includes The Wilmington Corporation; the General Summary and Reconcilments; Walter P. Sprunt; William H. Sprunt; and Bremen Partnership.
The ledgers often contained records that are not necessarily part of a general ledger. These ledgers included such things as agent's ledgers, journals, account sales, consignments, claims, city cotton, check registers, cashbooks, trial balanaces, and others; some of which appear at other times as separate subsidiary account books. The inclusiveness of the ledgers is especially apparent during the late 1910s and 1920s.
This stock company was organized in 1878 and was the third cotton compress in Wilmington. It continued to function into the 1950s either as an independent firm or as part of Alexander Sprunt and Son, and it was chartered, rechartered, and dissolved several times. Company documents can be found in the following Office Files: No. 6010, No. 6023, and No. 7306. The purchase by the Sprunts of the firm's entire capital stock was noted in the Private Letterpress Book, 1893 (pg. 9). The surrender of the company's charter in 1946 was noted in the profit and loss account of Ledger of June-Sept. 1946. Operations and physical plant are illustrated in the Pictures Series. A guano warehouse was maintained so that the fertilizer was a significant part of the business in addition to cotton.
This company was owned by Alexander Sprunt and Son and appears as an asset in its financial statement of Aug. 31, 1915 (Office File 6028). The extent, nature, and duration of this ownership is not clear. The stock company was the second cotton compress established in Wilmington (1875), the first having been operated by the Confederate government (1864-1865). This information is found in James Sprunt's Information and Statistics Respecting Wilmington, N.C. (Wilmington, N.C.), pg. 143-144.
This company was organized in 1916 at Charlotte as the Sprunt-Charlotte Warehouse Company in which Walter P. Sprunt held 247 of 250 shares of capital stock ($25000). In 1918, the firm's name was changed to the Dalziel Cotton Warehouse Company which it remained until dissolution in 1927. The capital stock was soon transferred to business associates of the Sprunts. The latter owned the warehouse building and carried an account in their ledger for the same amount as the capital stock of the Dalziel Company.
Including financial statements, ledger of 1916-1917, stockholders' ledger, and register of original and re-issued stock certificates.
Includes Cotton Future Contracts Traded, 1916-1924.
See Office File 6545 for minutes and other papers, 1931-1937.
Includes negotiable receipts, 1916 Nov.-1922 Oct.
Especially Frederick Huth and Co. and German Bank of London.
Especially Frederick Huth and Co. and German Bank of London. See Office File 7323 for profit and loss statement of 1909.
Alexander Sprunt & Son, Inc., cotton exporters, was established in 1866 by Alexander Sprunt (1815-1884), an immigrant from Scotland. He was associated with and succeeded by his sons, James Sprunt (1847-1924), and William H. Sprunt, the former being the senior partner of the business. During part of the company's history, it was the largest exporter of cotton in the country. It had a significant effect upon the structure of the cotton market and upon the growth of Wilmington as a port. Before 1881 that city was not regarded as a cotton port, but thirty years later it was one of the most important ports in the country. In 1907 alone Sprunt shipped 501,000 bales, operated six compresses, and employed 1000 workers.
The company drew its business chiefly from Georgia and the Carolinas. Before 1875 the movement of the crop depended upon factors, or agents of teh planters at convenient ports, port buyers, and the receivers in the North who sold it to domestic and foreign mills. In 1879 Sprunt pioneered teh practice, later adopted at other Southern ports, of the direct employment of transatlantic steamers which eventually eliminated the middlemen and their commissions. By 1908, more than fifty steamers were being chartered annually by the company which eight years later purchased The City of Wilmington, the first transatlantic steamer owned by an individual or corporation in North Carolina.
Sprunt relied upon the compress operation for his profit, rather than upon a margin in the price of cotton. The farmer received the Liverpool or continental market price, less the cost of transportation only. The compresses were primarily the facilities of the Champion Compress and Warehouse Company and also teh Wilmington Compress and Warehouse Company. The Ship Channel Compress Company of Houston, Texas, was part of the firm's expansion outside of the Southern Atlantic states. Branch offices functioned at various times in New York City, Boston, Savannah, Memphis, Charlotte, and elsewhere. Numerous offices and agencies were maintained in Europe, such as those at Liverpool, Bremen, Le Havre, and Rotterdam. The firm operated in Wilmington until the 1950s when it was moved to Memphis, Tennessee.
There were various changes in the partnership agreements and in the later corporate structure of the business, many of which are recorded in the minutes or in the office files described in this inventory. Sprunt and Hinson was the initial firm. It was dissolved and replaced by Alexander Sprunt and Son in 1875. The partnership gave way to a corporation in 1919 with the chartering of Alexander Sprunt and Son, Inc., which remained its basic form. The Sprunt Corporation, a holding company, was established in 1931 in Delaware for tax purposes; its name was changed in 1937 to Alexander Sprunt and Son, Inc.
For more information, see: Killick, J.R. "The Transformation of Cotton Marketing in the Late Nineteenth Century: Alexander Sprunt and Son of Wilmington, N.C., 1884-1956." The Business History Review Vol. 55, No. 2 (Summer, 1981): 143-169.
Several collections were acquired with the Alexander Sprunt and Son Records but were separated for individual cataloging. 1. Great Britain Vice Consulate Papers. Wilmington, N.C. 2. N.C. Board of Commissioners of Navigation and Pilotage for the Cape Fear River and Bar Records. 3. Seamen's Friend Society of Wilmington Records. 4. Universal Oil and Fertilizer Co. Records. 5. Thomas F. Wood, Inc. Records. 6. David Gaston Worth Papers. 7. William E. Worth and Co. Records.
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Alexander Sprunt & Son (Wilmington, N.C.)
- Champion Compress and Warehouse Company (Champion, N.C.)
- Laymen's Missionary Movement (Wilmington, N.C.)
- Murchison, Kenneth Mackenzie
- Presbyterian Church
- Packer, Francis Herman
- Sprunt, Alexander
- Sprunt, Alexander
- Sprunt, James
- Wood, Edward Jenner
- Wilmington Compress and Warehouse Company (Wilmington, N.C.)
- White, John Campbell
- Wells, John Miller
The Alexander Sprunt and Son Records were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in 1969.
Processed by: RL Staff.