Slavery in the South[Slavery]. Wederstrandt Family Archive of Correspondence, Documents, and Plantation Ledgers Regarding Their Ownership of Three Plantations in Louisiana. Well over 200 letters and documents, along with 6 ledgers that chronicles the rise of the Wederstrandt family as members of the elite Southern Planter Society during the first half of the nineteenth century. There are documents that are dated as early as 1790, but the majority covers the 1820s through the end of the Civil War. The ledgers and correspondence focus primarily on the Harlem plantation (one of three plantations the family owned in Louisiana), and provide narrative and the quotidian details of that most "peculiar institution" on which the South founded its economy. The correspondence and ledgers together make a substantial body of material that chart a family tree not just for the slave owner family, but for the individuals enslaved. The ledgers list dozens of slaves, more than half of them with surnames (different than the slave owners). Ledger entries include birth and death dates as well as food and clothing allotments, allowances paid, illnesses, and the interactions between overseer, plantation owner, and slave. The family letters reveal further intimacies, expectations, and misperceptions.
The archive is centered on the business dealings of three brothers: John C. Wederstrandt, a successful Baltimore merchant who split his time between Baltimore and Louisiana; and his brothers Robert and Philemon.
The earliest of the ledgers is kept by John during the years 1820-1827 and records transactions concerning plantations he owned both in Maryland and Louisiana. The ledger contains approximately 71 pages, with marbled boards and measures 7.75" x 12.5". This ledger informs us that he owned Carlton Plantation (located near Baltimore), and that in 1812 he purchased a plantation in Louisiana from several individuals. The ledger shows he traveled to Southern Louisiana in 1820 to help run that plantation which he named Blakeford Plantation. In late December 1823 he sold Blakeford to Joseph N. Chambers, but remained active in managing the accounts until April 1824. An entry that begins on page 34 and continues on page 35 dated December 22 and 31, 1823 respectively, lists the sale of Blakeford Plantation to Joseph N. Chambers. The entry reads:
"Joseph N. Chambers to Sundries
For amount of the Sale made to him of Blakeford Plantation cont. 9 560 arpents of land lying on Thompson Creek in the Parish of Feliciana & State of Louisiana - and 44 slaves & the stock and utensils belonging to said plantation as & Bill of sale & mortgage, executed and recorded in the office of Carlisle Pollock Not. Pub. At New Orleans on the 27th Instant." The entry lists all 44 slaves by name adding their age and itemized value.
On February 22, 1826, John purchased a plantation from Francois-Gabriel "Valcour" Aime (1798-1867). Aime was reputed to be the wealthiest person in the South at the time. John named this plantation Hermitage, and we learn from his entries that in advance of buying the plantation, he purchased 24 slaves for a total of $12,900 on January 9, 1826. Three weeks later, on February 11, he hires an overseer named Joseph Lartique and pays him an advance. He then lists his payment for the plantation on February 22, $33,100. As part of his plans to renovate, he purchases a slave named George who is a carpenter by trade for the sum of $830.
There are multiple transactions regarding Harlem Plantation throughout this account book, but only regarding tax payments for the property. John was a careful businessman, and his detailed entries provide a framework that describe the day to day running of a plantation.
A small sampling his entries are listed here:
On February 3, 1820, passage for slaves in November 1819 from point of purchase to Louisiana (mostly on ships).
On April 10, 1821, a payment of $120.00 to Dr. Williams for medical care given to slaves the previous year.
On May 22, 1821 he records net proceeds of $1313.30 for cotton sold.
On October 31, 1821, a cost of $52.00 for 43 pairs of shoes for slaves $52.00.
On December 29, 1821, a payment to a carpenter for constructing a cotton gin.
An April 1, 1824 entry lists 20 slaves as his "Personal Property". The evaluation lists their names and assigns each a value in dollars; and included is mention of "1 man Christopher freed by my will" and "1 mulatto woman, Mary & her female infant, freed by my will."
On December 8, 1824, he purchases seven slaves, including four children, in Wheeling, Virginia.
On January 25, 1825 he records a payment from his brother Philemon for the hiring of six slaves for use on the Magnolia Plantation.
The archive also contains nine letters from John written during the years 1819 through 1923. Seven of these letters are to his brother Philemon, and have great content regarding the management of the various plantations owned by the brothers. The letters reveal how tightly woven the finances of all three brothers are. In the earliest letter dated May 10, 1819, John shares that his wife Helen is irritated by their business dealings; specifically that John has agreed to help Philemon meet his interest payments on Magnolia Grove. He fears that perhaps Philemon was helping John too much at Blakeford Plantation, which affected the profitability of his own plantation. All of the letters focus on business, and a February 28, 1820 letter (this letter is three pages and appears to be incomplete) discussing a loan to brother Robert, reveals just how interdependent the family finances are.
Also present is John's copy letter book of business letters written during the years 1828-1830; a total of 16 folio pages. Content is primarily financial in nature to various bankers and merchants in Baltimore and Louisiana.
The papers and correspondence of Philemon C. Wederstrandt and his wife Helen comprise a good portion of this archive. Philemon was a well-respected United States naval officer. He served as a midshipman on board the USS Constellation from 1797 until retiring in 1810. In 1813, he married Helen Smith, the daughter of Judge Joseph "Job" Smith of Popular Grove outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Their firstborn was a daughter named Margaretta.
In 1818, Philemon purchased Magnolia Grove, a sugar plantation, in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. (Tulane has a contemporary copy of this transaction.) The archive contains several revealing (although incomplete) retained letter copies by Philemon that reveal how he comes to own Magnolia plantation. In a circa 1825 letter, he writes:
"...In the early part of the year 1818 I arrived in N. Orleans from Amsterdam where I met Mr. D. A. Smith who induced me as I possessed a number of acclimated and Creole slaves and had had some experience in cultivation and the management of a large concern to join him in the purchase of the M. [Magnolia] Grove estate. From the representation he made to me of his facilities in raising money annually for the payments and current [?] until it should be placed in a situation to render it productive I was persuaded to assume the whole responsibility and to mortgage my slaves as security for the two first payments to the vender. The titles were not made more than two days when I learned that he had purchased another sugar estate from Mr. Joseph Lane and had placed the negroes intended for M. Grove upon it. As I began to be alarmed at the magnitude of his operations I sailed immediately for Baltimore with an intention, if possible, of receding from the [arrangement]. On my arrival I found his affairs totally deranged and he without the means of making the next payment. A sale of one third was then effected to save the estate from seizure and my slaves from forfeiture to Henry Thompson."
Another partial retained letter relates the escape of one of a female slave:
"My dear madam, I think it my duty to inform you that to my utter surprise, Regina Woods escaped this morning whilst we were at breakfast, and has not since been heard of, altho [a] diligent search has been made for her. For some time she had been so entirely [?] as to elude all suspicion that she intended or wished to escape! She has frequently transgressed all bounds of decency by writing notes out of the hand, he a young man she made an acquaintance with, who had been dismissed from our service for loose conduct. I fortunately intercepted one of these notes, and enclose it as a specimen of her persistence in her attempts to get onto the city. The mortification she suffered from her detection has induced good [?] since and I had resolved to ask you for a transfer of her indenture when she suddenly took advantage of a very melancholy event, in the family (which caused us such anxiety) and escaped. I would advise you (my dear madam) to get her admission into the convent to preserve her from vice at least as long as you have control over her. Every effort that experience and energy combined I have used to reclaim her, and in the precise manner I shall proceed with one of my own daughters, if they were to ever, as she has done..."
By 1825, he was still struggling and sought help from James McLanahan. Once again Philemon was taken advantage of and he signed a contract in McLanahan's favor. (LSU has a contemporary copy of this transaction.) His wife, Helen, is infuriated by his poor business decisions, and her letters to her husband are filled with scorn. The archive includes more than fifty letters from Helen to various family members. Her letters to brother-in-law John serve only to alienate him, who had been helping the floundering Philemon.
By the 1830's both the Hermitage and Magnolia Grove all but disappear from mention in the archive. The brothers concentrate their efforts on the of running Harlem Plantation, which lies approximately 35 miles south of New Orleans on the Mississippi River. There are relatively few documents from this decade, save for one 1834 document mentioning an increase on Harlem's mortgage.
In 1843, the archive picks up again and from that time forward, until the end of the Civil War, it chronicles an almost a daily record of Harlem's everyday operations. There are a total of 5 ledgers that cover the years 1853 through 1864 and are labeled 1 through 5.
Book number 1 covers January 1, 1843 through February 15, 1852 and contains approximately 170 pages (8" x 12.5". The front pastedown lists "Davidson" as the overseer. In addition to the entries related to the plantation and slaves, the ledger also notes entries regarding the Wederstrandt family. On September 19, 1843, a total of 84 slaves are listed including which of the brothers was the owner. What is unusual about this listing is that more than of the slaves has a surname. When births are recorded, the baby is given the name of the father; and so it becomes possible to establish various family trees within this slave population. The inclusion of surnames is repeated in all five ledgers.
Book number 2 is a pre-printed plantation account book (9" x 14.25"), containing approximately 120 pages of entries. This ledger contains entries for the period October 21, 1855 through January 2, 1857.
Book number 3 is of the identical type as number 2 and contains records for the complete year 1858, and lists a second overseer in addition to Davidson, named Roberts. An entry ledger records Roberts' brutality, and its being reported: "[May 20, 1858]: To town to carry a letter to Dr. Wederstrandt in relation to Plantation matters. The negroes being determined not to submit to the new style of punishment viz, of being beaten over the head with a stick. Caleb is laid up in the hospital. [May 21] ...Tom Rhodes took to the woods feeling his head was softer than Robert's club." Roberts is dismissed as overseer. Sometime in September, M.B. Shepard is hired as an overseer, but is dismissed a few weeks later: "[October 14, 1858] Discharged our overseer for having stabbed the boy Borin very badly. Gave him an order upon Mr. Cazenave for $43.84 for (32) days services..."
Book number 4 is in the same style as 2 and 3, and records all activity on Harlem plantation for the year 1859/ "W.W. Vaughan" is listed as the overseer.
Book number 5 is a larger format ledger pre-printed for use by a plantation; 144 pages of entries, and measuring 10.5" x 15.5". This ledger covers more than 2 years of the Civil War, and records some news of the war: "[April 22, 1862] Sent 4 boys to the City to work out a boat by order of Genl. Love... [April 23, 1862] Heavy cannonading was heard for 8 o'clock last evening until 10. This morning. Black and White were on the qui vie all night. The windows rattled and the house trembled at every report. We haven't learn whether the fort was taken or not..." Starting on Thursday, April 24th, the author begins mismatching the date with the actual date of the week. "[April 24, 1862] Memorable day. The forts surrendered at 10 o'clock and 12 mortar boats passed Harlem at half past four... [April 26, 1862] Sent John Griffin to the depot with a load of disbanded or rather runaway soldiers... [April 27, 1862] Sent John Griffin to the city with a relay of mail for Mrs. Smith & children. Dr. Egans reaches here at 5...bringing letters and papers from Mrs. Smith, The city though taken has not surrendered..."
The war brings instability to the plantation, and entries recording slaves running away become frequent. In fact, the Union army gets involved in helping to quell the unrest on Harlem: "[September 20, 1862] ...Genl. [George F.] Shepley [U. S. Military Governor of Louisiana at this time] sent us two officers. Messrs. Batchelder and Reed to quell our negroes and to arrest the boy August for violent and incendious [sic] conduct... [September 22, 1862] ...the two United States officers left for the city after rendering us great service in quitting the minds of the negroes... [September 24, 1862] ...none of the runaways have come back... [October 4, 1862] ...rode to the Court House and gave a list of my family to Cap. Small-the U. S. Provost Marshall... [October 8, 1862) ...rode up as far as Robinson and learned...that Lesser had promised to pay his negro men $10 per month and the women $7 deducting $3 per month for their expenses. Most of the planters I learn will do the same." A few weeks later in November, we see evidence of this plan. At the top of page is the heading: "Pay roll of Negroes Nov. 1862." The three pages that follow are filled with the names of the slaves listing the wages, and each making their mark acknowledging that they have received it.
Notably, on October 9, 1862 is recorded: "The President's proclamation makes all the negroes in the rebel states free after the 1st of January 1863..."
All five ledgers contain a wealth of information, and we are not able to list it all.
In the mid-1840's, John Charles Perry Wederstrandt becomes the designated "owner" of Harlem during a family meeting in 1850. It is decided that he would manage the estate on behalf of the family, with each of them having an equal share. A letter by John C.P. dated January 2, 1856 lists the details of this arrangement. John C. P. was a well-respected physician at Charity Hospital and had been instrumental in helping subdue several epidemics that plagued the city including an outbreak of cholera. He was nationally known after publishing his observations during a particularly devastating outbreak of cholera. His real life work skills made him the perfect choice for managing the plantation and its slave.
Margaretta has a different agenda. She wants to secure that her then minor son Alexander Porter Morse (Margaretta was married to Isaac E. Morse) to be formally included in the arrangement. John C. Wederstrandt's March 2, 1849 letter mentions that Alexander Porter Morse is considered a one sixth owner of Harlem, and she endeavors to make this legally binding.
There are numerous documents in the archive detailing the transfer of power as it shifted from Philemon, who died in 1857, to his son. These documents include a notary public document from 1846 in which Philemon transfers his slaves to John C. P.'s control and an 1857 copy of Philemon's will in which both John C. P., Margaretta's husband Isaac E. Morse, and John D. Johnson (who married Helen and was the brother of Bradish Johnson and owner of the last slave trader the Wanderer) are named co-executors of his estate.
Margaretta married Isaac Edward Morse (1809-1866). He was educated at the Norwich Military Academy and Harvard University and upon graduation was immediately admitted to the bar. He practiced law in New Orleans and St. Martinville. He represented Louisiana in the United States congress from 1841-1851 and then became the state's attorney general from 1854-1856. In 1856, he was appointed by President Franklin Pierce as special commissioner to New Granada. His duties were to negotiate safe passage of American citizens across the Isthmus of Panama. He had many powerful friends including the influential Alexander Porter (1785-1844) who he named his son after.
Like Morse, Alexander Porter was an attorney and politician. He was a true son of Louisiana, first settling in the Territory of Orleans in 1807 and afterwards became a judge in the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1821-1833. There are nine letters from Porter in this archive, mostly written from his plantation named Oak Lawn. His letters show a close bound between the men and in them he writes in a very frank and open manner to both Isaac and his wife. Their content mostly concerns his political career, as well as his travels while also referring to building Oak Lawn.
When Margaretta gave birth to a baby boy in 1842 they named him Alexander Porter Morse after Isaac's longtime friend. Isaac and his wife did not become involved in running Harlem Plantation, but they were actively committed in seeking a share of Harlem's production proceeds for their son. Tensions reach a new height after John C. P. sells Harlem to family friend and Industrialist Bradish Johnson in 1865 for fraction of its worth. There are several drafts of legal documents, in the hand of Isaac, directly related to a proposed civil suit. It is not known whether the suit was ever brought against John C. P., since Isaac died soon after these documents are drafted. We believe that this archive remains intact as a direct result of these legal efforts.
This is the only instance where there is tension in the family, otherwise the Wederstrandt women lived a carefree life. They traveled extensively between 1848 and 1853. There are nine letters from that time written by Mora and Theodora. In vivid a colorful details they described their travels to Washington, New York and Islip, New York. In 1849, they were in Washington to attend Zachary Taylor's inauguration. They attended a party at the White House thrown by Mrs. Polk and they mention that the White House was lighted for the first time by gas fixtures. These letters provide a revealing glimpse into the lives of the Southern elite and their societal circles as they summered at "Brookside" in Islip, Long Island, New York.
Margaretta was born in 1816 and was older than her sisters, and there are several letters from her in this archive. All of these letters, but one, date between 1847 while in New York to 1864 while living on the war-torn Harlem Plantation. She views events through the eyes of a refined woman. In her early letters she writes from New York City and Washington. Current events such as the Mexican War, the expansion of the American west, a deep love and respect for General Winfield Scott and enthusiasm for old "Rough and Ready" Zachary Taylor dominate these letters. In 1849 she describes her amazement of New York City's large crowds. She was particularly awed by Broadway and the large number of carriages and women on horseback on the avenue. She pens a vivid description of the city landscape, noting that near the Convent for the Sacred Heart was an orphan asylum and an asylum for the deaf and dumb while she was glad to spot another large building used for "the decrepid [sic] and indigent colored persons and poor children" adding wryly "tho' the Northerners talk much of the ills of the colored race [but] they do little to relieve their wants." Her final letter from New York City in 1870 is rather touching as she was with Robert E. Lee's daughter when she received word of her father's death.
This vast archive includes additional family correspondences related to the various properties owned. There are four items related to senior patriarch Theodore Conrad Wederstrandt (father of brothers John, Robert, and Philemon); including two letters to son Philemon, and two 1796 receipts.
Other early documents include:
A 1790 deed in Spanish transferring property dated May 12, 1790. The document records the sale of a plantation to Señor Peter Gautier (possibly a Revolutionary War soldier served 1778).
An 1806 deed dated April 7, 1806 transferring from the estate of Peter Gautier to John Lanthios.
An 1806 deed dated May 23, 1806 conveying land from David Clark (adjoining the north boundary of Peter Gautier's Plantation) to William Johnson and George Bradick [Bradish] (12 leagues below New Orleans).
There are additional land transfer documents, mortgage and slave receipts too numerous to list meaningfully. In total, with the correspondence and ledgers, the total number of written pages is well over a thousand. We list a more extensive inventory at HA.com/6149*49017, but strongly recommend that interested buyers preview the archive in person.
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