Guide to the Henry Watson Papers, 1765-1938


Planter and lawyer of Greensboro, Ala. Collection includes letters, diaries, business correspondence, and papers (chiefly 1828-1869) relating to Watson's career in law, his planting activities, his accumulation of property, establishment of the Planter's Insurance Company, slavery, farming conditions in ante-bellum Alabama, politics in Alabama before the Civil War, activities of the Watson family, the migration of Watson's family and relatives to various places in the West, secession in Alabama, Watson's removal to Germany during the Civil War, his return to the U.S. after the war, and his postwar career in Connecticut and Alabama. Also includes correspondence with his partner, John Erwin, a Whig leader; land grants to Edwin Peck signed by Martin Van Buren; letters from Confederate soldiers imprisoned at Johnson's Island, Ohio; letters from Henry Bernard; and early letters from Elisha Stanley describing Pittsburgh, Pa., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Kentucky, the mercantile business during the War of 1812, the martial spirit and activities of the Kentuckians during the War of 1812, and the disastrous effects of peace on mercantile pursuits. Also in the collection are letters and papers of John Watson (d. 1824), including fragments, complete literary manuscripts, and papers relating to the settlement of his estate; and letters and diaries of Henry Watson's brother, Sereno.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Henry Watson papers
Watson, Henry, 1810-1891
5 Linear Feet, 5,641 Items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Material in English

Collection Overview

Collection contains personal and business correspondence and papers of Henry Watson, Jr. (1810-1888), lawyer and planter. Early papers relate to John Watson (d. 1824), a frequent contributor to Joel Barlow's American Mercury, and include fragments and several complete literary manuscripts; papers relating to the settlement of John Watson's estate; and several letters to Henry Watson, Sr., from Elisha Stanley. This Stanley-Watson correspondence describes Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Kentucky; mercantile business and the activities of Kentuckians during the War of 1812; and the disastrous effects of peace on mercantile pursuits.

The papers centering on Henry Watson, Jr., concern his education at Hartford, Connecticut, and at Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts; a visit to Greensboro, Alabama, in 1831; return to his home in East Windsor, Connecticut, for the study of law with Henry Barnard; his return to Greensboro in 1834 to begin the practice of law; the establishment of a lucrative practice; the accumulation of property including a plantation and slaves; the establishment of the Planter's Insurance Company; his marriage to Sophia Peck; his efforts to dispose of two shares in the Ohio Land Company; his residence in Europe during the Civil War; and the settlement of his father's estate.

Correspondence describes college life at Harvard College; life in Alabama, with accounts of the soil, settlement, and agriculture; politics in Alabama, 1834-1844; volunteers from Alabama for service in the Mexican War; westward migration; activities of Northern abolitionists in Alabama in 1836; panics of 1837 and 1857; Whig politics in the 1850s; fear in Greensboro of a slave insurrection, 1860; the presidential campaign of 1860; secession; the sale of cotton before and after the Civil War; mail service between the North and the South during the war; mobilization and preparation for war; the management of his plantation and the impressment of slaves, tools, and livestock during the war; the difficulties of Southerners in Europe during the war; inflation; railroad building in Alabama; the Union Pacific Railroad; and Reconstruction.

Also included is correspondence with John Erwin, Whig leader in Alabama; two land grants to Edwin Peck signed by Martin Van Buren; letters from Sophia Peck, her brother, William Peck, and her sister, Mary Eliza Peck, while in schools in Hartford, Connecticut, and New York, New York; letters from the brothers and sisters of Henry Watson, Jr., in Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio; letters from William P. Eaton, head of the Female Department of the Cahaba (Alabama) Male and Female Academy; letter of Henry Watson to an editor on the subject of fertilizers; several letters from Confederate soldiers imprisoned at Johnson's Island, Ohio; contracts of Watson with freedmen; a bulletin of the Irving Institute, Tarrytown, New York; tax lists for Greene County, Alabama; printed extracts from the diary of William Watson; bulletin of the Berlin American Female Institute; catalogs of the Cumberland University Law School, Lebanon, Tennessee, 1851-1852, and of the Greensboro (Alabama) Female Academy, 1858; letters, biographical sketch, and list of the writings of Asa Gray; biographical sketch, certificates of membership in various learned societies, and three articles of Sereno Watson (b. 1826), brother of Henry Watson, Jr., botanist, and associate editor of the Journal of Education; and letters of Henry Barnard [partially published: Bayrd Still (ed.), "Observations of Henry Barnard on the West and South of the 1840's," Journal of Southern History, VIII (May, 1942), 247-258]. A large portion of the papers are bills, receipts, and prices current. Volumes include plantation and household accounts, 1834-1866, record of Negroes, 1843-1866, bill book of the Planters' Insurance Company, 1854-1863, summaries of magazine articles and account book, 1832-1848, and diaries, 1830-1833 and 1850-1854, of Henry Watson, Jr.; and diaries, 1849-1863, and genealogical notes and records of Sereno Watson.

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], Henry Watson Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Contents of the Collection

1. Henry Watson Papers, 1765-1938

14 boxes, 18 volumes
Correspondence, 1765-1831
Box 1
Correspondence, 1832-1835
Box 2
Correspondence, 1836-1843
Box 3
Correspondence, 1844-1848
Box 4
Correspondence, 1849-1857
Box 5
Correspondence, 1858-1864
Box 6
Correspondence, 1865-1874
Box 7
Correspondence, 1875-1938 and undated
Box 8
Correspondence, 1901-1938 and undated
Box 9
Bills, Receipts, and Indentures (1770s-1830s)
Box 9
Financial Papers, 1844-1857
Box 10
Financial Papers, 1858-1869
Box 11
Financial Papers, 1870-1889 and undated
Box 12
Addresses and Writings, 1782-1831 and U.S.
Box 12
Genealogy; Miscellany 1803-1904; Clippings
Box 13
Writings and Volumes
Box 14
Volume, 1854-1863
Volume F:2261
Volume L:5745
Volume M:5746
Volume M:5752
Volume M:5753
Volume M:5754
Volume M:5755
Volume S:5747
Volume S:5749
Volume S:5750
Volume S:5751

Historical Note

Planter and lawyer of Greensboro, Ala.

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The Henry Watson Papers were acquired by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library from 1933 to 1950.

Processing Information

Processed by Rubenstein Library Staff

Encoded by Noah Huffman, February 2010