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Colleton County (S.C.) Records and Papers of R.A. Willis, 1803-1837, 1871-1888
R. A. Willis, who served as Clerk of Court and Register of Mesne Conveyance in Colleton County in the 1880s, may have been responsible for saving this collection of records. The four hundred manuscripts and twenty-five manuscript volumes span the period from 1803 to 1837 and from 1871 to 1888 and fall into three distinct groupings. Perhaps the most important and significant records are twenty-four volumes of court dockets for Colleton District. The court generally met in April and November. The sessions represented are: November 1803, April 1804, April and November 1809, November 1813, April 1814, April 1816 (2 books), November 1817 (two books), April 1819 (two books), 1822 (two books), November 1822, April and October 1823, November 1824, April and November 1825, April 1826, April 1827, April 1830, and 1834-1836. These volumes contain records of the attorneys who practiced in the court in Colleton District, the nature of the civil and criminal cases, the names of individuals involved in legal actions, and the civil and criminal offenses with which the court dealt.

The second group of papers, eighty-three manuscripts, 1803, 1815-1837, consists of correspondence and legal papers, including interrogatories concerning the case of Eliza S. Garner vs. Ann M. Garner, executrix of Henry Garner, and Ann Pitt vs. Charles Brown, administrator of Charles Butler. One document concerns the recently completed court house in Beaufort District. The clerk of court A. Corrie wrote James L. Petigru concerning the numerous deficiencies in the building, not the least of which were the absence of a desk for the clerk and shelves for the records. He also noted "that the Sashes of the Windows of ye Court Hall were so much Swollen by a rain that fell during the Sitting of the Court last week, that they could not be fastened." A letter (16 August 1822) of James L. Petigru to Colleton clerk of court Thomas Raysor requests the clerk to discharge William Wiggins "If [he] will give security for his appearance at next court to receive the sentence of the law." A number of the documents are statements of individuals who could not fulfill their responsibility to serve as jurors. Two of the requests for being excused were from postmasters who were "Exempt by the Constitution." A letter, 15 September 1826, from Keat[in]g Simons, to Malica Ford, Walterboro, concerns the estate of Mrs. Ann Waring. Simons explained the delay in James Poyas' qualifying as administrator and stated his desire to avoid becoming involved-"I am too old, & do not wish to be dragged out of retirement, to be engaged in legal contests with those who may think they have a claim." Mrs. Waring's plantations were being managed by Elias Scott.

There are four documents in 1836 and 1837 concerning the militia and patrols. Returns of the Colleton Rifle Corps and of a battalion review identify defaulters. Failure to perform patrol duty was a serious offense. O'B.S. Price was summoned to a court martial in Walterboro to explain his failure to serve and "to shew cause for the non execution of certain warrants as corporal." A letter from Price offered an explanation of both charges.

Papers for the postwar period include tax returns and receipts (1875) for payment of delinquent taxes for lands and buildings in Verdier township. The bulk of the papers in the 1880s consists of personal and business correspondence of R.A. Willis who, in addition to his official duties, performed other services for citizens around the county. A letter (13 July 1885) from T.J. Sydney, Adam's Run, enclosed for the Colleton Press an account of a young black woman who was fatally burned after igniting wood soaked with kerosene. Sydney remarked-"Will these people ever learn not to trifle with Kerosene? The negro is the most careless creature under the sun." In a letter of 17 May 1886, M. Proctor, a resident of St. George, referred to a notice in the Colleton Press and inquired about the availability of forms for those who had been injured, presumably in the Civil War, and "incapacitated for making a livelyhood." He wanted a form for himself and his brother. Another veteran, G.F. Fralix of Reevesville, explained in a letter of 31 March 1886 that his "right arm [was] broken by a Minnie Ball...[and] I think I should receive any benefits the Law give to me." T.M. Hollingsworth, 4 February 1887, Clarksville, Tenn., inquired of Willis if A.J. Stokes had been sentenced to prison in Colleton County. Accusations had been brought against Stokes by other ministers-"he is our Preacher and we have brought sute against them....This A.J. Stokes is a collard man." A letter (24 May 1887) from Sydney Legare thanked Willis for his assistance and complained that he had been ignored by the solicitor-"There seems to be a determination to get me into trouble somehow for shooting a negro in self-defense." J.F. Warren, a resident of 10 Mile Hill, wrote Willis, 28 February 1888, to inquire if the latter could identify "a good honest and industr[io]us young white man without a family to manage a farm for one half of all the net proceeds...derived after his taking charge."

Another service that Willis performed was to assist those who required financial help. C.H. Flynn, of Columbia, was scheduled to appear in court to testify against Julius Williams for assault and battery but needed some help from Willis as "I have not the means to pay my fare" (31 May 1887). H.C. Stoll, a former Charleston merchant living in Orangeburg, contacted Willis concerning an indebtedness of Willis' mother "for Dry Goods when I was in Charleston." Stoll explained-"I am a poor man and if she can pay anything I will be glad" (11 August 1887).

No collection of papers of an elected official would be complete without some political correspondence. Willis was a candidate in 1888, and D.B. Platts assured him-"I don't think they is a man from Rantowles to the Edisto River that will vote against you" (20 April 1888). Louis F. LeBleux, who lived near Summerville, assured Willis that "you are strong out this side. The survivors of that Grand Old Army that went down to Glory will rally around you" (26 April 1888). Another Summerville supporter, Richard Cook, thought that Willis' prospects were favorable but suggested that "it would be to your advantage to come down & see the boys before the campaign openes." On another political matter, Cook predicted that "the time is not very far distant when this same farmers movement will burst it [the Democratic party] into smitherines. The movement is too formidable to be made light of & will make it's self felt in the next genl assembly (i.e.) by electing a majority from the bone & sinew" (24 May 1888).

Other documents in the collection include the 1880 manuscript census of Givhan township in Orangeburg County, and a letter (10 December 1887) of Joseph Parker, Charleston, enclosing a petition for chartering The Greenwood Lumber Cutting Association of Dover Township and listing the officers-Joseph Parker, president; Hercules Wynn, vice-president; Thomas Wynn, secretary and treasurer; and Moses Wynn, director.

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