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Estate of John Harth Papers, 1846-1847

Three manuscripts, 1846-1847, relate to the estate of John Harth (d. 1836), who owned a timber plantation on the North Edisto River and a lumber business at 1 Gibbes Wharf in Charleston. The records are citizens' copies of Charleston equity court proceedings in the case of Catherine Nathans et al. v. William Harth et al. (equity bills, 1847, no. 21). John Harth had been a resident of Orangeburg District, but the plaintiffs filed suit at the Charleston county courthouse, where the records escaped destruction by Sherman.

The disputed inheritance consisted of Hollow Creek plantation, a tract of timber located in the forks of the Edisto. The property, marked on Robert Mills's 1825 atlas of South Carolina, was in the section of Orangeburg District that is now the southeastern corner of Aiken County. Harth's will had divided the revenues between the children of his business partner William Harth and the children of his brother Barnard Harth. Barnard's children were residents of London, England.

The British heirs viewed Hollow Creek as an unpromising investment, and in 1846 they filed suit to force a sale of the property. Its liquidation and distribution, they argued, would benefit everyone involved. An investigation by the master in equity supported their contention: he reported that Hollow Creek was "a sandy tract in Orangeburgh District, a pine land place for cutting timber. The timber is nearly cut off, leaving not a sufficiency to support the place. The lands are much worn, & the crop very trifling, the average crop being about 147 loads of corn, 68 loads of fodder & some other inconsiderable articles." The land was barely able to support the slaves who worked it.

Chancellor Job Johnston's decree, 29 June 1846, ordering the sale, and Master in Equity James W. Gray's statement, 15 January 1847, listing the names of slaves sold and itemizing the plantation utensils, summarize the outcome of the case and make up the substance of the newly acquired papers. These plaintiff's copies are duplicates of the copies of record that still exist in public custody as part of the court proceedings.

But the cover document transmitting the plaintiff's copies is a genuine rarity. It is a legal form, signed in the governor's name by Robert Q. Pinckney as secretary of state, certifying the authenticity of James W. Gray's signature as master in equity for Charleston District. Because the copies were being sent into Queen Victoria's dominions, Pinckney's signature was attested by Charles D. Wake, Her Britannic Majesty's Consul in Charleston. The document is a rare example of a South Carolina legal paper issued since the American Revolution with the embossed small seal of the state appearing immediately above an embossed seal of the British Crown. In addition, the paper bears a fine engraving of the state seal with supporters and crest.

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