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FROM THE COLLECTIONS
Thomas E. Richardson's "Collection of Collections"
by Terry W. Lipscomb
Richardson's papers include British land records. Illuminated land conveyance, 1765, from Devonshire, UK, includes royal arms of George III.Click on image. A grant-funded effort at the South Caroliniana Library will at last give researchers access to the Thomas E. Richardson collection. Richardson (1847-1933), a Sumter County probate judge, rare book and manuscript dealer, and rival contender for A. S. Salley's job as secretary of the South Carolina Historical Commission, assembled during his lifetime a unique library of books and papers relating to South Carolina. His manuscripts, mostly acquired from the estates of locally prominent judges and attorneys, represent an unused resource for the history of Sumter and its adjacent counties.
In 1934, an unpublicized $3,800 gift from financier Bernard Baruch made it possible for the university to acquire Richardson's library. The manuscript portion became accession number two in the South Caroliniana collection, but for sixty-four years it has remained as a disassembled 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Not only were the documents arranged in no rational order, but broken fragments of the same document were often stored in separate boxes and on different shelves. "...gems like the
Hammond, Spain, and
The arrangement and description of the collection that began earlier this year has yielded some surprising finds. Richardson's hoard comprised collections within collections. Sometimes these included papers of great historical significance belonging to prominent South Carolinians.
British revenue stamp, [detail from 1765 land conveyance pictured above], is a contemporary domestic counterpart to the "stamped paper" that sparked riots in the American colonies. Click on image.
Eighteenth-century land records bearing General Thomas Sumter's name proved to be part of Sumter's own papers--a great-grandson of the general had given Richardson some of his ancestral manuscripts. These land records include documents that have been heretofore unavailable to Sumter's biographers.
Business records of Sumter attorney Franklin J. Moses--afterwards chief justice of South Carolina during Radical Reconstruction--contain detailed builder's contracts and specifications for two houses Moses built during the 1850s.
Richardson acquired some interesting railroad documents, perhaps from the papers of an uncle who was general counsel for the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad. A letter from James Henry Hammond to Martin Witherspoon Gary penned on 12 July 1860 denounced the Blue Ridge Railroad. "[A]lthough for a time, I checked these mad rail road schemes," Hammond complained, "ultimately they wore me out & got the State to aid hundreds of miles of R. Roads that will not pay a dividend until they have been rotted down & been rebuilt half a dozen times if they ever do. . . . I am entirely opposed to the expenditure of another dollar by the State on the Blue R. R. Road at this time."
A letter from Albertus C. Spain, one of the Sumter delegates to the 1860 Secession Convention, was found hidden among a disorganized mass of undated papers. Spain wrote from St. Andrews Hall in Charleston, and references made in the letter date it to 29 December 1860--just three days after Major Robert Anderson occupied Fort Sumter. "[T]he match will be applied," Spain reported, "unless the President does, what no one supposes he will do, to wit, order all United States troops from the territory of So. Ca. . . . Scarcely any thing has engaged our attention but Anderson & Fort Sumter for some hours."
Richardson also sold insurance. Letterhead stationery from one company reminded customers of the potential for disaster when traveling on land or at sea. Click on image.
Both Spain and fellow delegate John Alfred Calhoun (nephew of John C. Calhoun) had been involved in the secession movement as far back as the early 1850s. On 19 September 1851, the younger Calhoun had written Spain from Abbeville to endorse a secession rally held by Sumter residents.
In the Richardson collection, occasional gems like the Hammond, Spain, and Calhoun letters exist alongside interesting mini-collections like the antebellum correspondence files of the Sumter newspaper the Black River Watchman, or extensive office records for Sumter law firms like Fraser, Haynsworth, and Cooper, and Richardson and Moses.
A large concentration of material for the years 1866-1872 makes the collection especially valuable for the Reconstruction era. The papers document famine relief, military rule, corruption, racial tensions, and the legal problems peculiar to the time. "If I understand you they are going to defend the case on the ground that I agreed to take confederate bonds for the note," a dismayed creditor wrote his lawyer in 1868, "I can only say that I did not agree to any such a proposition."
When work on the Richardson collection is completed, the documents will be arranged by date or topic, housed in acid-free folders, and accompanied by appropriate finding aids.
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