Guide to the James B. Duke and Lillian McCredy Duke Divorce Records, 1904-1906


Lillian McCredy Duke was the first wife of James B. Duke. The two were married in 1904 and divorced in 1906. The papers in this collection are related to the divorce proceedings. The materials in this collection contain correspondence, newspaper clippings, case exhibits, trial transcripts, and envelopes. The material ranges in date from 1904-1906.

Collection Details

Record Group
James B. Duke and Lillian McCredy Duke Divorce records
Duke, Lillian M.
1.5 Linear Feet, 1200 items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Material in English

Collection Overview

The Duke Divorce records span the years 1904 to 1906. The two boxes contain correspondence and media regarding the divorce trial between Lillian and James B. Duke and appear to have been part of the evidence submitted at the divorce trial. The bulk of the correspondence is letters from Lillian to both James and her aunt G. E. Townes. There is one letter addressed to Lillian sent by her aunt. The rest of the material includes clippings, exhibits from the trial, trial transcripts, a detective report, and a bill of sale to Lillian's brother John A. Fletcher. The collection is grouped into the following series: Correspondence, Clippings, Court Case Related, Exhibits, and Publications.

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], James B. Duke and Lillian McCredy Duke Divorce Records, 1904-1906, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

1. Correspondence, 1905-1906

.3 box

The Correspondence series is three folders of letters written by Lillian to James Duke and her aunt. The first folder contains the correspondence of Lillian Duke to her aunt. These letters range in date from March 1905 to April 1906 with two undated. The letters cover subjects of money, visiting, thievery, and family affairs. The early letters refer to casual affairs, mostly regarding when she is going to visit her aunt next or the monthly allowance she sends her aunt. Two of the letters, dated March 1906, reflect a heated exchange with her aunt over a supposed theft. Lillian accused her aunt of stealing a wig out of her dresser drawer and closed by threatening the end of their friendship if she did not return it.

Lillian's husband James is mentioned only briefly in the letters despite their coincidence with her divorce proceedings. However, in her later letters, she refers to her trial and requests the help and council of her aunt.

Folder two contains one letter, written to Lillian by her aunt in response to the accusation of stealing. In it, she takes great offense at the charge brought upon her. Although undated by the author or recipient, this letter can be dated March 1906 based on the accompanying correspondence of Lillian Duke.

The last folder of correspondence is filled with letters written by Lillian to her then husband, James B. Duke. They range in date from July, 1905 to September, 1905 and are of a more personal nature. The bulk refers to the loneliness and hardship felt by Lillian while James was overseas in Europe on business. While James was overseas, events unfolded that precipitated him to bring charges of adultery against Lillian and file for divorce. These letters were later admitted as evidence in the trial.

The last letter is undated, though it was written after she had been served with divorce papers. In this letter, Lillian implores James to hear her side of events and claims that he has only been listening to unreliable sources. She goes on to beg for him to drop the charges of adultery and to take her back.

Lillian Duke to Mrs. G. E. Townes (aunt), March, 1905-April, 1906
Box 1
Lillian to James B. Duke, July, 1905-September, 1905, undated
Box 1
Mrs. G. E. Townes to Lillian Duke, March, 1906
Box 1

2. Clippings

.3 box

The Clippings series contains newspaper clippings taken from various newspapers and were compiled by a clipping service of Ben B. Hampton and Co., New York. The bulk of the clippings are from May 1906. The clippings include excerpts from the trial proceedings and testimony of one of the chief witnesses, Lillian Duke's former servant Miss Sands.

Clippings, Sept., 1905-May, 1906
Box 1
Loose Clippings, Sept., 1905-Feb., 1906
Box 1

3. Court Case Related Material

.3 box

The Court Case Related Material series contains a variety of documents from the divorce. First is a detective report from September 1905 commissioned by James B. Duke. There is a detailed ledger for each day of observing Lillian's house and actions. Also included are trial transcripts of testimony given by witnesses. There is a statement by Julia Schaeffer, the cook for Mr. Duke after the divorce proceedings as well as a note from "a woman" who claims Lillian is a liar and calls her out for ruining her previous husband. Other inclusions are a folder of empty envelopes, and a bill of sale to Lillian's brother, John A. Fletcher. The bill of sale documents Lillian selling all her property that remains at the Duke estate to her brother for the sum of one dollar. Items include a Mercedes automobile, two horses, pillows, jewelry, clothing, and other items.

September 1905 Detective Report
Box 1
Trial Transcriptions, Mar. 30, 1906-Apr. 18, 1906
Box 1
Julia Schaeffer Statement, undated
Box 1
Anonymous Note "A Woman," undated
Box 1
Bill of Sale to John A. Fletcher, brother of Lillian Duke, Oct. 28, 1905
Box 1
Empty Envelopes, June, 1905-February, 1906
Box 1

4. Exhibits

.75 box

The Exhibit series features fifteen folders of documents used as evidence in the courtroom. Listed on each document is the court date, April 27, 1906. The bulk of the exhibits are European issues of the New York Herald newspaper featuring personal ads that were said to be private messages sent between Lillian Duke and correspondent Major Frank Huntoon. These newspapers date from December 8, 1904, to January 29, 1905. James B. Duke is supposedly referred to as "octopus" in these messages.

Exhibit A: Photo of Huntoon, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit B, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit C, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit D, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit E, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit F, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit G, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit H, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit I, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit J, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit K, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit L, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit M, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit N, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2
Exhibit O, Apr. 27, 1906
Box 2

5. Publications

.25 box

The Publications series contains two issues of the New York Inquirer. One is dated January 26, 1906, and the other is from February 4, 1906. Both issues feature short articles regarding the divorce suit between Lillian Duke and James B. Duke.

New York Inquirer, Jan. 26, 1906
Box 2
New York Inquirer, Feb. 4, 1906
Box 2

Historical Note

Lillian Fletcher McCredy Duke was the first wife of James Buchanan Duke. The two were married in 1904, but shortly divorced in 1906. Before marrying James Duke, Lillian had been married to William F. McCredy. That marriage, too, ended in divorce.

Related Material

  • James Buchanan Duke Papers, 1777-1990 and undated (Rare Book Manuscript and Special Collections Library at Duke University)

Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.


The James B. Duke and Lillian McCredy Duke Divorce Records, 1904-1906 were received by the University Archives as a gift in December 2009.

Processing Information

Processed by Matthew Shangler, September 2009

Encoded by Matthew Shangler, March 2010

Accession A2009-038 is described in this finding aid.