William Sinkler Manning, the eldest child of Richard Irvine (1817-1861) and Elizabeth Allen Sinkler Manning (1821-1908), was born in 1851. His father owned Holmesly (4,100 acres) and Pineland (1,952 acres) plantations in Clarendon District, S.C., but with his sudden and untimely death in 1861 the responsibility of managing the properties and 151 slaves and caring for four children fell upon his widow.
The lives and careers of this branch of the Manning family mirror South Carolina’s history from 1865 through World War II. The story of the family is documented through sixteen and a quarter linear feet of papers, 1840-1996, and eighty-four bound volumes, 1859-1964.
The earliest volume contains Richard I. Manning’s account with the Charleston firm of Coffin & Pringle and includes estate accounts, but from 1865 to 1868 offers a record of Mrs. Manning’s transactions with Charleston factor James R. Pringle. There are other similar account books that include household and plantation expenses, accounts with tenants, and crop production records.
By the early 1870s, after returning from the University of Virginia which his father also attended, William Sinkler Manning was assisting his mother in the management of the plantations. Accounts with tenants and farm records in the 1870s are recorded in nine volumes. William Sinkler Manning was a meticulous record keeper until his death in 1938. His outgoing correspondence is preserved in eleven letterbooks from 4 February 1875 through 25 March 1918. Known as “Barlow” to University of Virginia classmates, Manning received a letter (27 July 1871), from John B. Adger, Jr., of Pendleton, S.C., inviting him to attend the wedding of a sister and acknowledging that “by the aid of your notes &c &c I now find myself one of Dr. Mallet's graduates.”
The bulk of the correspondence in the 1870s concerns business affairs and plantation operations. Two notable business failures during this time were the bankruptcy of Jas. R. Pringle & Co. in 1875 and the failure of James Adger & Co. in 1879. The disputed election of 1876 interjected politics into the correspondence and its resolution in favor of Wade Hampton and the Democrats brought a sense of relief to Charlestonian Andrew M. Adger: “I hope our troubles are now over” (10 April 1877). He anticipated a celebration when Hampton arrived in Charleston: “It is well that we have been wise & patient during the interval; but the old Governor is to be here tomorrow & everyone seems to feel they can now give vent to the long pent up feelings, & I think the reception will be a royal one” (17 April 1877).
William Sinkler Manning married Margaret C. Adger on 7 February 1877. The young couple remained on the family plantation for several years, but the prospect of William’s younger brother Richard returning home from the University of Virginia may have prompted him to consider other employment. In a letter (27 February 1879) from the University of Virginia, Richard stated his intention to abandon studying law for the present: “My chief reason for this is that I believe it is Mama’s wish that I should be at home....I don’t think that it would injure my prospects of going into politics later in life except that law would probably better fit me for it.” In 1881 William Sinkler Manning accepted a position as cotton buyer with D.E. Converse’s Clifton Manufacturing Company in Spartanburg County, S.C.
The Manning brothers and their mother communicated regularly about crops, labor, and family activities. Mrs. Manning informed William, 13 March 1882, of “a great deal of sickness among the coloured people.” Richard requested his brother to “be frank with me about the interest on what I have of yours...business is business & in these transactions please do with me just as you would have me do with you” and also related news of “a raid yesterday on those negroes about that row I told you of — 5 bound over to keep the peace & for good behavior” (4 July 1882). In addition to correspondence and letterbooks, there are account books documenting plantation operations during the 1880s.
The cotton textile industry in South Carolina expanded significantly in the 1880s. William’s brother-in-law Andrew Adger inquired about D.E. Converse’s role in organizing the Pacolet Manufacturing Company in Spartanburg County, S.C.: “Please look into it for me, & let me know what you think of it” (13 March 1882). He also was interested in Clifton stock for he was convinced that “[t]he boom is decidedly ‘off’ in crude phosphates.”
Later that year, 18 October 1882, Adger related a conversation with Ellison Smyth about the outlook for Pelzer: “[I] cannot but think well of its prospects.” By the mid-1880s, Adger had relocated to Alabama and was employed as secretary and treasurer of the DeBardeleben Coal and Iron Company. A frequent correspondent of William Manning, Adger provide detailed information about economic developments in Alabama and the operations of DeBardeleben Coal and Iron and the Bessemer Land Company.
While the cotton textile industry expanded in the 1880s, there were problems in the agricultural sector. Olney Harleston informed Manning in 1885 about the difficulty of planting rice on Farmfield plantation: “For the past two seasons the Cooper River lands have depreciated fearfully, & I have been unsuccessful from the same causes both seasons” (12 December 1885). John C. Porcher was doubtful that he could sell Manning’s property on the East Cooper River “at any but ridiculously small figures. It really looks as if all that section will be abandoned and in fact, at the present prices of rice, we are all in a bad way” (24 December 1885). Charlestonian Theodore G. Barker declined an offer to purchase Farmfield as he “deem[ed] the outlook of the Rice Interest too discouraging to be tempted with any further ventures” (27 February 1886).
Correspondence between William and his mother, brother, and sisters reveals an intimate portrait of the Manning family. William and his wife lost a son, James Adger, in 1885 and in 1892 Margaret Manning died. Toward the end of each year the Mannings negotiated new contracts with tenant farmers who were always anxious to make arrangements for the next year. Mrs. Manning informed her son in a letter, 2 November 1888, of the excitement surrounding the visit of a circus in the neighborhood: “the children & servants went out to look at the huge creatures and the men made them stand on their hind legs, dance, turn somersaults and perform various tricks to the great amusement of the crowd.” Two bears escaped but were captured.
The gubernatorial election of 1890 sparked a larger than usual interest in politics. Richard commented in a letter of 25 June 1890: “I think the feeling [in Columbia, S.C.] is that they sh[oul]d stand to Bratton first but Earle is the man who is really making the fight & will be the man - but my own feeling is that the hoped for turn of the tide will not come - & that the dear people will have their way this time.” Manning noted that he made an effort to reconcile the two factions: “My position has been this - that the time has come when prejudice and personal feeling must be subordinated to the matter of greatest importance - viz the maintenance of white supremacy” (1 October 1890).
Richard I. Manning was elected to represent Sumter County, S.C., in the House of Representatives in 1892. He wrote his brother from Columbia, S.C., 14 December 1892, to express his regret over the passage of a factory labor bill: “I am sorry it has passed & think the feeling against it was growing but many voted for it thinking that the compromise was satisfactory to the mill men.”
Anticipating the constitutional convention in 1895, Richard Manning was somewhat optimistic “of a better condition in this state” while recognizing the necessity of the factions’ reaching a compromise: “Unless this settlement is made an appeal to the negro will be inevitable - to this I am unalterably opposed - for every reason & one of the least of these is that at this game they can beat us in the long run tho’ we might probably be successful in the contest” (22 February 1895).
Both landowners and tenant farmers experienced setbacks as the agricultural sector of the economy languished in the 1890s. In 1893 (2 November) Richard Manning discussed sickness among the families at Pineland and his intention to provide medicines. The cotton crop was an additional concern: “Crops very short & I am doing worse in a business way than I have ever done.” His outlook had not brightened when he wrote on 19 February 1894, “planting is at a low ebb & profits (as in other pursuits) small & uncertain & with expenses certain I w’d like to get into something that gives a salary.” The tenants at Pineland, Richard observed in 1898, were “low-spirited & discouraged - such low prices makes it very slow in paying rents & it looks as if many will not get far on paying their debts” (14 October 1898). The downturn of cotton prices in the 1890s must have factored in Richard Manning’s decision to move his family from the plantation to the town of Sumter, S.C. The brothers remained actively involved in plantation affairs, but they turned day-to-day operations over to a manager. The death of Mrs. Elizabeth Allen Sinkler Manning in 1908 concluded a chapter but did not bring to a close the family’s association with their ancestral lands.
By 1900 the children of William and Richard were preparing for college. William’s son Andrew Adger entered the University of Virginia in 1901. Daughter Margaret attended Converse College, and son Charles enrolled at Sewanee, the University of the South. In 1902 William Sinkler married Nina Horner. Letters from the sons report on their activities and include frequent requests for funds. Correspondence between William and Richard and other family members concerns daily life, careers, financial matters and investments in textiles and banks, and the crops and labor at Pineland.
Cotton remained the major crop, but cutting timber became another important source of income. William kept detailed records of both activities as well as accounts with laborers, many of whom corresponded with him. A letter from A.J. Geddings of Remini, 13 February 1914, relates to a conversation with Manning “in regards to Gus Johnson... since studying over the matter I must say that somebody is very effichers to allways be taking news to you on me which is absolutely untrue. I try to live straight and up right and honest to my Fellow man and if I had advised this nigro I would certainly say so and am sorry to think it was impressed upon you that I was dirty enough to be guilty of such an act.” E.S. Jenkinson of Remini informed Manning, 20 February 1915, that “the negrows that is living off the place is hauling wood and straw off the place” so that “the tenants on the place can hardly get wood and straw for themselves.” William Manning sent letters in March 1915 to several merchants in which he listed persons renting from him and inquired if the merchants would “make advances to the party this year for fertilizers etc., and if not, if you will carry over the balance due you."
The most immediate threat to landowners and farm laborers during World War I was the boll weevil. Anticipation of the boll weevil’s arrival was a concern of Richard I. Manning who advised his brother in November 1916 that given the prospects “the policy we should adopt is to urge our tenants to make their provisions, and then put in all the cotton possible, and fertilize heavy for the coming year,” for although he did not expect the crop to suffer in 1917, they must be prepared for “the coming of the boll weevil by getting a full crop as well as debts paid.” In February 1919, William Manning’s son-in-law, Edwin Malloy, predicted that unless farmers reduced cotton acreage by twenty-five percent, “I do not see how we can expect anything but prices below the cost of production, unless there is a crop disaster" (13 February 1919). Richard Manning lamented to his brother, 22 August 1922, the devastating impact of the boll weevil on the cotton crop as well as “lack of demand; railroad strike; bad foreign conditions, etc.”
The economic downturn that affected agriculture also extended to the textile industry. Financial statements for a number of mills in which William Manning was an investor document the condition of the industry during this time. While brother Richard was traveling in Europe in 1921 (28 June), William advised that some mills were not paying dividends “while others will pay out of their previous earnin[g]s for nearly all show a loss.” He regarded the outlook in agriculture as equally bleak: “it seems to me bad when boll-weevils eat up the cotton and drought ruins the corn; when seed peas are not to be had in any sufficient quantity.”
The economic situation had not improved appreciably in 1938 when William Manning’s executor, Andrew Adger, advised his sister in a letter of 17 November: “Nearly all mills whose dividends have been declared declared them out of earnings of previous years. Government is taxing them heavily and Labor Board officials are making more trouble for them than the operatives themselves. I have not lost all confidence in the future, but...I do not look for another year like 1937.”
The younger generation of Manning sons served during World War I and the next generation served in World War II. The collection includes correspondence of the sons and their friends. Samuel Phillips Manning (1926-1999) served in World War II and the Korean conflict. Between his two periods of military service he earned an A.B. degree with honors in political science from the University of North Carolina. He later attended law school at the University of South Carolina and was admitted to the bar in 1954.
Sam Manning practiced law in Spartanburg, S.C., and in 1967 was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives where he served until 1982. The collection documents his passionate devotion to the history of his native state. Sam led the movement to protect and preserve the Cowpens National Battlefield and Musgrove’s Mill. He had an equal passion for the environment, and in 1974 he introduced legislation to create the Heritage Trust Program. When the bicentennial of the American Revolution was celebrated in 1976, Manning served as state vice chairman of the South Carolina Bicentennial Commission. He conducted research in the South Caroliniana Library and was a faithful supporter of the University South Caroliniana Society. Following the annual meeting of the organization in 1962, Manning received a letter from R. Beverley Herbert complimenting him on his remarks in response to the address by Avery Craven: “I was a little afraid that someone might speak out publicly in reference to what Dr. Craven said as I think Dr. Craven has, on the whole, been helpful to our Southern traditions.” Craven’s book on Edmund Ruffin, Herbert noted, “changed my thinking. I had become too intolerant of the Southern fire eaters and hot heads but his book convinced me that any reasonable people would have felt their safety lay in leaving the Union rather than staying in it.” Furthermore, “the complete unfairness and intolerance of the North in reference to segregation at the present time confirms my judgment in justifying the course that was taken before the Civil War” (11 May 1962).
The family and business correspondence, plantation and farm records, letterbooks, financial statements of textile companies, and labor contracts that constitute the major units of the William Sinkler Manning archive are a significant resource for anyone studying South Carolina history from 1865 to the post-World War II period.