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Papers of the Kerr and Crooks Families

F This collection of one thousand, four hundred thirty-eight manuscripts contains correspondence, bills and receipts, legal documents, and other papers relating to the business and family activities of Daniel H. Kerr, of Buckhead P.O., Fairfield District, and Thomas Harrison Crooks (1823-1897) and his wife, Annie Elizabeth Green Crooks (1831-1910). The bulk of the collection consists of legal documents and bills and receipts for the purchase of plantation and household supplies, sales of cotton, medical treatment of family members and slaves, and other incidental expenses, 1801-1923. Family and business correspondence is comprised of two hundred sixty-seven letters, 1809-1923.

Daniel Kerr apparently got his start in life as a clerk for the wealthy and successful Yorkville merchant Robert Latta. A document dated 4 April 1809 attests that Kerr worked in his store "for between four and five years and I believe him to be an honest sober Young Man." Although the collection yields little information about Kerr's life during this period, there are receipts from the 1830s for trips to Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Kerr may have carried with him on one of these trips a printed schedule, April 1834, "Pecks & Wellford's Old Southwestern or Middle Route Line of United States Mail Post Coaches." Another item indicates that there may have been connections between Kerr and the Mobley family. Dated 8 January 1830, the document lists the valuation of the property of the late W[illia]m Mobley. Kerr apparently was responsible for the custody and care of his nephew Robert Green. Two receipts, 11 January 1838, denote payment of Robert's tuition and books and board and washing at "Fairfield Classical M.L. School." Sarah T. Griffith, wife of the school's headmaster, informed Kerr in a letter of 17 July 1838 that she was acting in the place of her ill husband in informing Kerr of the tuition due.

Among Kerr's family correspondents the most interesting letters are those of Macon, Miss., residents John C. and Martha Boyle. In a letter written around 1840, John Boyle explains the indebtedness that he incurred through operation of his store and seeks relief from the interest that he owed his uncle Daniel from whom he purchased his inventory. John Boyle always seemed to be in some difficulty as a business man. His letter of 12 April 1848 relates a tentative business proposition from James R. and David Aiken, gives news of crops, and notes that "Wiley W. Coleman is living in Winston and they say he is indited for taken cotton from negroes..." Boyle discusses his candidacy "for the office of circuit clerk of this county" in a letter of 17 October 1849. Boyle was still in the mercantile business in 1857 when he wrote Kerr about his purchases of goods on a trip to the North. Boyle was pleased with the brisk sales of the goods and also commented on the incidence of disease among family and slaves and the cotton market. Boyle requested that Kerr find him a "young likely negro woman cook," but his failure to receive the money from a sale of land made such an acquisition impossible (12 January 1859). A year later, 10 January 1860, Martha Boyle related the family's precarious financial condition to which her husband's experiences in the mercantile business had contributed and requested a loan from Kerr so that her husband could "buy land & go to farming." In February, John Boyle was in Charleston where he had been successful in purchasing goods. Boyle noted that he was favorably impressed with the prices, the variety, and the quality of goods that were available—"I...find all the leading articles in Dry goods, Hardware, Saddlery, Boots & shoes as low and on the same terms as they are in New York." The country's worsening political crisis was addressed in a letter of 24 November 1860 in which Boyle discussed the likelihood of secession—"No doubt now but Mississippi will seceed about the time that So Carolina does, the Blue Cockade is worn here by young & old." Boyle also related that he was traveling "as agent for our factory in Choctaw County and selling goods of my own."

In addition to bills and receipts for supplies and other expenses necessary to the operation of a plantation, the collection contains correspondence of Kerr's agents for the sale of his cotton. There are ten letters, 15 October 1841 - 24 May 1856, of James Martin who apparently operated from Columbia until 1849, when he may have relocated to Charleston. By the fall of 1856 sales of Kerr's cotton were being handled in Charleston by H.K. Aiken & Co., represented here by twenty-five letters, 7 November 1856 - 20 September 1859.

The bulk of the collection's Civil War material is in the form of bills and receipts. Two interesting documents are a list of subscribers "for the purpose of presenting a drum and fife to the Buckhead Guards" (26 December 1860) and a "Medical Notice" announcing the copartnership of William Hatton and J.I. Hatton—"For those who are absent from home, as volunteers, either in the defence of So. Ca., or the Conf. States, they will, if called upon, during their absence, practice for their white families gratuitously, and for their negroes at one dollar and fifty cts. per visit, including mileage, prescription, and medicine" (14 May 1861).

The relationship between Daniel H. Kerr and Thomas Harrison Crooks is not clearly documented in the collection. Whereas Daniel H. Kerr is the principal individual around whom the collection revolves before the Civil War, Thomas H. Crooks and his family are the most prominent after the Civil War. The geography of the collection also shifts from Fairfield County to Newberry County. The period before radical reconstruction is highlighted in a letter, 28 July 1866, from G.H. Zeigler to Joseph Heller, authorizing the latter to organize a company "for the purpose of arresting Such Freedmen as are idling around the Country without any visible means of Support, Search for Stolen property wherever there may be good reasons to Suppose that it may be concealed and arrest all Suspicious Characters and Such others as may be known to have committed depredations." Crooks' activities as a planter are documented through a number of labor contracts. There are eight contracts between 1868 and 1880. Crooks was also an inventor of agricultural implements, as evidenced by correspondence and other documents dated 1885 and 1886. One such document outlines specifications for his "new and improved combination frame for plows, cotton seed sower[,] corn planter and grain drill, also Harrow." The plates that originally accompanied the specifications are not present. Another document offers an explanation of "What this Machine will do." Letters, 1886, from the North American Patent Co. mention plans for marketing Crooks' invention.

But, like many farmers and planters who attempted to make a living from agriculture during the postwar period, Thomas Harrison Crooks experienced financial difficulties. In 1875 trial justice James F. Kilgore issued a summons to Crooks concerning the latter's indebtedness to the Wando Mining and Manufacturing Co. And a letter of 23 July 1879 from nephew J.S.J. Suber called upon the latter to reach a settlement with his sister in order to avoid a suit after her death.

The collection also contains a number of interesting printed items, including Centenary Questions and Answers for the Use of the Woman's Missionary Society of the South Carolina Conference M.E. Church South (1884) and an undated circular advertising "A New Discovery in Wash-Boilers" marketed by the Automatic Wash-Boiler Co., Pittsburgh, Pa.

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