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Townsend Mikell papers

In 1964 the South Caroliniana Library acquired nine volumes of Edisto Island planter Townsend Mikell (1840-1926). The volumes were chiefly records of his agricultural operations for the half century from 1872 through 1925. A gift in 1996 enlarged the Library's holdings on Townsend Mikell by three hundred sixty-nine manuscripts, 1838-1927, and fifteen volumes, 1826-1830 and 1859-1925.

Townsend Mikell's father, I. Jenkins Mikell, enthusiastically supported South Carolina's secession in 1860 and responded to a letter from "Townie," then a student at the University of Virginia—"my deliberate opinion is that every son of Carolina should return to her soil, her hour of Trial is at hand." The elder Mikell had long heard talk of secession and thought many in the North "believe we are cowards and if we are not in earnest this time, I will begin to think so too" (24 November 1860).

Townsend Mikell initially enrolled in the Calhoun Artillery, an Edisto Island unit, but later transferred to Maj. John Jenkins' "Rebel Troops." Mikell and his squad were captured by a Federal shore party on Edisto Island in April 1863. The circumstances of his son's imprisonment greatly concerned his father who wrote Maj. Jenkins from Aiken on 6 June 1863 that his son and other "young men" were being detained as "future hostages for the safety of their [U.S.] officers commanding negro troops." When he wrote John Jenkins on 18 June, Townsend had been transferred to the Vermont. The senior Mikell also communicated with Judge Magrath and Sen. Robert Barnwell who shared his opinion that the prisoners were hostages—"My only hope now is the removal of that Dog [Gen. David] Hunter, & the substitution, I hope, of a better man."

Townsend Mikell eventually was released, for in a letter of 23 December 1864 he requested leave so he could procure a horse to replace one captured by the enemy. Finally, Townsend Mikell received a parole at Orangeburg on 23 May 1865.

There is very little correspondence and other documentation for the two decades after the Civil War, but the collection does include one labor contract, 1 February 1871, "Articles of agreement...between T. Mikell planter & the Freedmen & women," with an estimate of costs for working plots. Mikell's activities as a planter are thoroughly documented through the bound volumes in the earlier accession and by the account books, time books, and cotton books included in this gift which contain information about planting on Sunny Side, Cypress Tree, and California plantations.

In addition to his planting activities, Townsend Mikell served in the Edisto Mounted Rifles. Receipts and other documents, 1886-1894, indicate that social occasions were central to their meetings. In May 1888 the unit purchased uniforms from Jacob Reed's Sons, military tailors and contractors. Later that year, the Office of Adjutant and Inspector General paid $145.86 to the Edisto Mounted Rifles "for 39 uniformed Officers and Men paraded at Annual Inspection." Mikell may have resigned from the unit after the death of his son in 1894 when the Edisto Mounted Rifles passed resolutions commending his services and expressing sympathy. The collection does not include any documents pertaining to the Rifles after this date.

Mikell was a public official on Edisto Island and served as chairman of the Board of School Trustees and as superintendent of the Board of Commissioners. Much of the board's work involved the maintenance and repair of roads and bridges. The collection includes receipts for the purchase of oyster shells, bids for constructing bridges and causeways, and receipts and correspondence for purchasing lumber. Individuals were apparently required to labor on the roads and bridges for which they were paid. In a letter of 23 January 1895, M.M. Seabrook sent Mikell a record of payments to those who worked on the roads and explained that "I have put Ben Hopkins on the poor list....He seems to be badly off." A number of receipts from the 1890s list individuals who had performed work on the public roads and those who were delinquent. Other individuals were appointed as overseers for sections of the road and received payments for their services. As chairman of the Edisto Island Township Board, Mikell wrote Theodore D. Ravenel, Jehossie, 21 April 1898, that the board desired "to have direct communication between this island and the main land" and reported that a survey had determined that the route through Jehossie was preferred. There are several letters related to this matter. Another issue discussed in the correspondence is the Cotton License Act which required that a person be licensed to purchase seed cotton. E. Mikell Whaley informed Townsend in a letter of 24 August 1897 that he intended to purchase a license and "I expect the law to be enforced against those who do not take it out." The township board met that same month to consider electing a detective to enforce the law. A year later, 26 August 1898, E. Clarence Whaley sought appointment to the position, explained that he was competent to carry out the duties, and listed among his qualifications his service as a Confederate soldier "whose duties to his country were faithfully performed...who is now in want and can get no employment."

By the early 1900s, the telephone put Edisto Island in contact with the outside world. In June 1904, Townsend Mikell was informed of his election as a director of the Coast-Line Telephone Co. There is considerable correspondence concerning the new service. Mikell ordered two hundred telephone poles from E.M. Redman, Cottageville, in a letter of 13 September. He also was involved in obtaining rights of way for the company which assured him—"Just as soon as we can get things in proper order over there we desire to commence the construction of the new line and will endeavor to get through with it as quickly as possible."

In the following year, however, Mikell's relationship with the company was contentious. One of the problems apparently was a disagreement over the contracts for right of way. In July 1905 Mikell turned in his resignation as a director—"it is an expense & trouble to me in attending meetings & using my time & labor in looking after this end of the line." He complained that he was embarrassed by the company's abrogation of contracts which he had negotiated although he did have the gratification of knowing that "the Edisto portion of the line, which has always been troublesome, had given less trouble in the past year than ever before."

Some of the planters on Edisto Island, including Townsend Mikell, were considering adopting a new labor system in the early 1900s. Beginning in September 1905, Mikell conducted an extended correspondence with E.J. Watson, the state's commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Immigration. In October Mikell invited Watson to visit him on Edisto Island for the purpose of discussing the importation of European immigrant laborers.

The following month Watson explained what he had accomplished with regard to "the matter of laborers for Edisto Island and advised that he was expecting a number of "excellent farmers" from Southerland County, N.Y.—"There are no better laborers in any county...and I am anxious to locate them where they will be given the very best of treatment." Mikell thanked Watson for his interest in the matter and stated that the labor situation was not resolved "as the negroes have not contracted for next year." Another Edisto planter thanked Mikell, 30 December 1905, for offering to send in his application for white laborers and explained that he was anxious "to get some labor that will be an improvement "on Mr. Nig." In 1906 the state's immigration office in New York sought to sign up additional laborers for Edisto Island planters. An 18 February 1906 letter from Watson advised that "a family with 4 children and three single men" was sailing from New York.

By the spring of 1906, the correspondence between Watson and Mikell indicated that the planters were not satisfied with the new laborers. In a letter of 1 March 1906, Mikell complained about the failure of a family to arrive and sought reimbursement for thirteen laborers. He had discharged an Irishman "willing to work...but physically unable" and retained another worker "though at a loss to me." He advised that the immigrants who had been sent have "given the movement a `black eye.'"

Mikell remained willing "to give the movement" another chance the following year "in the way of `share croppers' provided you can insure & get us the right sort of people." Although Watson assured Mikell that his department had been working tirelessly since the meeting of the legislature "to get the tide of desirable Europeans of agricultural experience resumed in this direction," there is no further correspondence between them after the spring of 1906.

One of the principal institutions on Edisto Island was the Presbybterian church where Townsend Mikell served as ruling elder. Beginning in 1897 and continuing until 1916, the collection contains considerable correspondence relating to Townsend Mikell's effort to have the church compensated for the loss of its organ and other property during the Civil War. He corresponded with Congressmen William Elliott, R.S. Whaley, and George Legare, as well as Senators Benjamin Tillman and E.D. Smith. He also engaged the services of former Union officer Frank A. Butts, who served on Edisto Island and filed claims before the Southern Claims Commission. When Butts died, Washington attorney G.W.Z. Black took over the case in 1914. The final communication regarding the claim is a letter, 22 March 1916, from Congressman R.S. Whaley in which he advised that the claim had been dismissed with others during the previous session of Congress but that "the Mann bill which passed the House at this session...provides for the restoration of these claims to the place on the calendar ."

The collection contains other information on the history of the church, including the celebration in 1911 of its bicentennial and a pamphlet, A Brief History of the Presbyterian Church of Edisto Island (1933).

The marriage and move to Columbia in 1908 of Townsend Mikell's daughter Susalee provided a number of letters detailing family life and activities on Edisto. He counseled the newlyweds in a letter of 18 January 1909 about "home influence on children" and warned against "card parties"—"I look upon them as the worst vice of the age. If the women want amusement, let them do needlework & not give the men encouragement in gambling." Mikell reported that they were enjoying oranges from his tree. He sent them oysters and potatoes along with accounts of his agricultural operations which included truck farming and cotton.

Between seasons of harvesting and planting in 1909, Mikell stated that he expected to increase his acreage "as I find I have not enough work for the labor I have. Not one of the hands who left & promised to work here have been back to strike a lick." The returns for his cotton crop were disappointing, and he expressed relief "to have the agony over."

The death of his wife Sarah in 1910 and overexertion from working in the fields during hot weather caused Mikell to reflect in a letter of 28 May 1911—"I wish sometimes, that it won't be long before the summons comes. Though what ever is my Fathers will, may be mine. He must have something further for me to do & I think he is revealing it & pray that He will give me knowledge & strength to do it, as He wants it done."

Townsend Mikell died on Edisto Island in 1926.

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