Harmon Family Papers, 1836-1888
| Manuscripts Gifts 2009 | Front Page 2009 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2009
Sixty-six manuscripts, 18361888, including correspondence, legal papers, receipts, and genealogical materials, document the lives of multiple members of the Harmon family, natives of present-day Cleveland County, North Carolina. | Manuscripts Gifts 2009 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
Much of the correspondence centers on the activities of Methodist minister Alson Higley Harmon (18211861), who, according to supple-mental sources was received into the South Carolina Conference in 1848. He served in multiple locales throughout South Carolina before his death in York County in 1861. These included the Barnwell (1849), Edgefield (1850), Greenville (1851), Williamsburg (1859), and Bennettsville (1860) Circuits and at the Combahee and Ashepoo (18521853), Jocassee (1854), and Catawba (1861) Missions.
The earliest letter written by "Higley" is dated 24 March 1847 and was sent from Yorkville, S.C. to his brother Lewis (18221880) in Cleveland, North Carolina. In it, Harmon, who was still a year away from entering the ministry and apparently pursuing a commercial occupation, notes that he is "Giting so I understand The Theory of Book Keeping," while "still Trying to Serve the Lord."
By 1849 Harmon was serving in the Barnwell Circuit and had evidently written to fellow minister Philip R. Hoyle and asked that he provide "instruction which would be interesting to a young Preacher." Hoyle responded on 20 March 1849, advising Harmon that in addition to regular prayer and frequent Bible study he should "Converse sparingly with the good sisters least you injure your usefulness." In a letter of the same date to his father, Peter Harmon (17921869), A.H. Harmon related his impressions of the early textile mill, Graniteville Manufacturing Company - "there is I suppose Some 2 or 300 hands employed in making... homespun... the house is a very Large Stone building & it Looks to me like there is a hundred Looms - all Going at one time all by Watter power - it is a perfect curiosity to any Cornfield Boy." After traveling the Barnwell Circuit six times, his visits, according to a letter written to his father and mother, Rachel Harmon (17941892), on 19 August 1849, included "people in various conditions in life from the widowes humble cotage to some of as rich of men as lives in South carolina."
Harmon described his activities and rather simple life in greater detail in a letter written to his parents from Edgefield District, S.C., on 29 August 1850: "I travil every 4 weeks about 250 miles endeavour to preach 23 times read my Blessed little Bible as regular as I can & attend to my other Conference studies... all that I have I have it with me my little horse sulky & Books & bearly what Clothing will keep me in Credit and the Love of God in my poor needy soul. And this is all I want."
Once he was assigned to the Combahee and Ashepoo Mission in Colleton District, S.C., his congregation changed, and instead of containing some of the richest South Carolinians it now consisted of individuals owned by the wealthiest men in the state. He wrote home from "Blue House" shortly after his arrival at this post on 13 January 1852 and declared, "I am very well pleased with Combahee and Ashepoo Mission... I hope I shall have a very pleasant year if I am a Negro Preacher." This feeling came about due to his "hearing the little negro children answering the Questions I felt very much affected to hear the young African race learning the way to heaven." Harmon continued, as he noted in a 26 June 1852 letter, "catechising the children & preaching my little short sermons" among slaves in the rice fields in Colleton for the remainder of the year. Though Harmon was pleased preaching to slaves, his father seemed ambivalent about this arrangement when he wrote to his son Samuel Harmon (18241876) on 27 January 1852. In this letter he commented that Higley "preaches this Year away down on the Sea coast near Charleston S.C... he... seemed well pleased although he has to preach to the Negroes."
The collection contains only four letters from Harmon after his departure from Colleton County, S.C., in 1853, including his last, written on 2 October 1860 from Hebron Church, presumably in Marlboro County, S.C., to his sister in North Carolina. In it he expresses a degree of homesickness and declares that his mouth "almost waters now" for "her jar of sour crout."
Letters written to "Higley" from his family often include information on religious activity in the area. One example is a letter of 13 October 1851, written from Cleveland County, North Carolina, to Harmon in Greenville, S.C., in which the writer describes a recent camp meeting during which 108 individuals joined the church. He goes on to comment on disagreements between local Methodists and Baptists brought about by a man "that Calls himself the Wandering Pilgrim." This individual, the writer notes, was a Baptist who claimed "that every boddy that is not Immersed and that by a Baptist Preacher will Go To Hell he says the Methodist are all liars Rogues and Hypocrites." He finishes his comments on the "Wandering Pilgrim" by informing Harmon that "some say he is a Second Christ and Some say he is a kind [kin] to Christ."
While Alson Higley Harmon traveled through South Carolina as a Methodist preacher, Lewis and Samuel ventured west, eventually reaching California. After returning from California, Lewis settled permanently in Lawrence County, Arkansas, and Samuel lived briefly in Pleasant Hill, Illinois, before returning to Cleveland County, North Carolina. Lewis first detailed his plans for the future in a letter written to his parents on 24 March 1850. After describing Arkansas as the "Best poor mans Country that Ever I saw," Lewis explained that "I expect if I live to return from California to come Back to Arkansas and celect me out one of the Best plantations on Straw Berry River. But... I expect to stay there 2 or 3 years and then... Sail round by... Charleston then on up home to see my mamma and then Back to Arkansas."
By 26 June 1851 Lewis Harmon had returned to Arkansas from California and wrote to his father on that date describing his future wife, Livonia Kincheloe, a "natural ponny Built girl as quick as A homming Bird," who was "pretty well educated and A Methodist two." She would write to her new family on 24 September of that year to tell them that she and Lewis were married on 22 July 1851 and planned on living with her mother until the following fall. By 1860 Lewis had accumulated enough land and capital to make it practical to purchase a new threshing machine, and his family had a recent addition as well. Writing to his sister Ruanah (b. 1837) on 6 May, he commented on the birth of a new son five weeks earlier and went on to proudly describe his daughter, who could "wash the dishes sweep the house make Biscuts," and his older son, who could "cut the roes of corn stalks cross a ten acre field in a day." Lewiss last extant letter was written to Ruanah on 28 October 1860 from Ash Flat, Arkansas, and encouraged his younger brother John (18311908) to visit, declaring that if he were "young and foot loose like him," he would think "no more of coming over to Arkansas than I would of going Squirl hunting on a satruday evening."
Also present in the collection are four Civil War letters, including one, 5 September 1863, from W.H. Harmon, Weldon, North Carolina, to his cousin Ruanah, describing among other things a "little bras[s] band" which entertained soldiers in the area. The writer praises the band for its ability to "play tolable well fore the chance hit has" and expects that they will be "a good band when they git well learnt."