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Major-Marable Family Papers(1703–1929)

  • MS 1989.4
  • Microfilm: M-1818.1–4
  • 1,430 pieces (4.5 cubic feet)

Plantation, business, and personal papers (1703–1929) of the Major and Marable families of Charles City and Sussex Counties (Virginia). The papers document the economic life of planters and merchants in colonial, post-revolutionary, and antebellum Virginia. The papers pertain mostly to Henry Hartwell Marable (d. 1774); John Major (1740–1810) and family; an overseer, Turner Jackson (d. ca. 1782); a shoemaker, Jacob Trappell (d. ca. 1800); Thomas Griffith and family; and George B. Major (b. 1804). Places mentioned include Williamsburg, Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk, and Surry County.

The collection includes accounts and receipts for quitrent and other taxes, blacksmith work, tobacco and corn crops, debt payments, food, and household goods. There are account books for general stores, a tavern (1794), a postmaster (1840s), medical doctors (1830s–1840s), plantations, and general businesses (1750–1866). Also included are letters, requests for payments, bonds, land deeds, promissory notes, bills of sale for slaves, estate papers, judgements, orders, and licenses for stills and carriages. Later material includes Civil War family correspondence and popular music magazines (1890s–1904).

Subjects include plantation management and overseers; estate administration; litigation over delinquent accounts; family medicine; school tuition; tobacco and corn crops; shoe making; management, sale and ownership of slaves; and runaway slaves.

Names mentioned in the collection include Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie, John Tyler (1747–1813), John Tyler (1790–1862), Joseph Royle, William Geddy, Benjamin Harrison, William Eaton, John Colgin, Benjamin Cocke, James L. Diddep, and Jordan C. Christian. Also includes references to members of the Christian, Cocke, Colgin, Harwood, Harrison, Munford, Tyler, Willcox, and several other families.

Scope and Content

The Major-Marable family papers (1703–1829) in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Special Collections document over 200 years of the economic and family life of several planters, merchants, trades people, and tavern owners located near the James River in Charles City County, Virginia and south of the river in Sussex County with some interaction with merchants and others in Williamsburg.

The economic life of colonial, post-revolutionary, and antebellum Virginia is revealed through accounts and receipts for purchases, loans, debt payments, taxes and tobacco or corn crop sales; bills of sale or rental of slave labor; letters concerning the management of plantations, tavern and general store account books; deeds of land; papers concerning the administration of estates; and litigation between planters, merchants and others over delinquent accounts. The papers also reveal 18th and 19th Century domestic life through medical and tuition accounts, licenses for stills and carriages, accounts for household goods, food, and clothing and correspondence between family members.

Represented in this collection are the business and plantation papers (1735–1774) of planter, Henry Hartwell Marable; the family, agricultural, and business papers (1750–1829) of John, Samuel and Martha Major; the plantation and financial papers (1750–1784) of plantation overseer, Turner Jackson; the papers (1783–1802) of shoemaker, Jacob Trappell; the financial, and agricultural papers (1758–1849) of Thomas Griffith, his wife, Amy and their daughters, Amy and Elizabeth; the business papers (1827–1864) of George B. Major and his family; and the medical accounts (1833–1846) of Dr. James L. Diddep and Dr. Jordan C. Christian. Also represented in the collection are papers of several Marable family members, pulp magazines of popular music from the turn of the 19th century, Confederate memorabilia, and souvenir photographic booklets of Richmond and Norfolk (ca 1904–1907).

This finding aid includes a calendar of items with summaries of letters, alphabetical index of names, and a description of various individuals or family papers. Scattered throughout the collection is evidence of interactions of the Major and Marable families with several prominent Virginians. These include Robert Dinwiddie, Richard Taliaferro, John Tyler (1747–1813), John Tyler (1790–1862), Benjamin Harrison, William Geddy, Joseph Royle, Purdie and Dixon, and several members of the Christian, Cocke, Harrison, Harwood, Minge, Munford, Southall, Willcox, and Tyler families. Also present are several successive Charles City County sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, justices of the peace and county clerks who collected taxes, rendered judgements or orders and recorded documents. Also represented are many merchants and their descendants who carried on family business’.

Approximately 1430 items are in the collection. About 300 5 items are dated between 1703–1776; another 300 are dated between 1777–1799+n.d.; 130 are dated between 1800–1830; 600 items are dated between 1830–1865; and 100 items are dated 1866–1929+n.d. The collection is chronologically arranged except for bound volumes (which are placed at the rear of the collection) and undated materials (which are placed at the end of the 1700s and after 1929 and arranged by individual). Oversized items have been separated but are listed chronologically with the rest of the collection. Though the collection is chronologically arranged, the papers of well-documented individuals or families will be summarized separately (i.e. Henry H. Marable papers or Turner Jackson papers), despite overlapping of these individuals’ papers. Several of the signatures of Henry Hartwell Marable, John Major, and George B. Major are cut out of the manuscripts. This appears to have been contemporary protection against forgery.

The papers appear to have originated in the hands of John Major (1740–1810), who apparently saved his wife’s uncle’s papers (Henry Hartwell Marable) and collected other individuals papers as a result of his role in the administration of their estates. These papers were apparently then handed down to George B. Major, John E. Major, Reginald. S. Major, John S. Major Sr. and finally to John, Martha and Virginia Leigh Major who generously donated the papers to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Early Manuscripts

The initial manuscripts (1703–1719, 1743) in the Major-Marable papers consist of deeds of land in Surry County along the Nottoway River between Robert Jones, Henry Hartwell Marable, and others.

Henry Hartwell Marable Papers

The papers (1735–1774+n.d.) of Henry Hartwell Marable (d. 1774) make up a majority of the colonial papers in the collection. These papers document HHM’s life as a landowner, overseer, and planter in Surry and Sussex Counties (Sussex County was formed from a portion of Surry in 1753). Marable also had interest in plantations in Brunswick County and Northampton, N.C. Henry Hartwell Marable’s name is often misspelled as “Marvell” and he is also referred to as “Hartwell Marable.” Henry Hartwell Marable was the son of George Marable Sr.(sheriff of James City in 1695 and a Burgess) and Mary Hartwell Marable (daughter of William Hartwell and niece of Henry Hartwell, captains in Berkeley’s guard during Bacon’s Rebellion). Henry Hartwell Marable had two brothers, George Marable Jr. (d. 1778) and Benjamin Marable. George Marable Jr. had several children including Martha (b. 1756), who married John Major. Henry Hartwell Marable had two nephews named Hartwell Marable: one was the son of George, the other was the son of Benjamin. HHM was married to Mary Marable (d. 1770). They had no children.

The HHM papers include receipts for debts paid and for county and parish levies and quitrent; bills of sale for slaves; bonds; and accounts for goods and services such as blankets, horses, coffee, sugar, rum, and medical services. Also included are scattered materials on tobacco and crops, and litigation usually over disputed claims. Included is an order (1737) by James City Co. Justice of the Peace, Richard Taliaferro, and an account of charges for summoning a jury and witnesses. Other material consists of a sheriff’s order (1748) for the arrest of a runaway slave; an order (1755) for HHM to conduct a “procession” survey of property boundaries in Albemarle Parish; receipts for subscriptions to the Virginia Gazette; overseer agreements and disputes; and a recipe (3/11/1763) for an ear ailment. Correspondence to HHM includes a letter (1756) from Richard Cocke about the possibility of hiring HHM as an overseer; two letters (1761 & 1764) from Benjamin Cocke, Swan Pointe, about litigation, health, and a 1764 observation that the number of ships arriving from England had decreased; a letter concerning overseer’s Arthur Delahay’s payment dispute with HHM; and several letters (ca 1770–1774+n.d.) to HHM from his nephew, William Eaton, Northampton, N.C. who apparently managed a tobacco plantation for HHM and wrote of a burnt barn, a flood and the litigation over the flood. Other names occurring in the HHM papers are Benjamin Harrison, Lewis Parham, Hugh Belsches, Purdie and Dixon, Nicholas Massenburg, Joseph Royle, and George and Samuel Kerr. There is also mention of HHM’s estate in manuscripts from 1788 and 1792.

John Major Family Papers

The Major family papers (1750–1829) consist mostly of the papers of John Major (1740–1810). Also included are John’s wife, Martha Major (b. 1756), Samuel Major (d. ca. 1782), Edward Major (1776–ca. 1818), Barnard Major Sr. (d. ca. 1791) and other family members. John Major (1740–1810) was, apparently, the son of James Major (d. 1779) and the nephew of Barnard Major Sr. Martha Marable Major (b. 1756) was the daughter of George Major and niece of Henry Hartwell Marable. John and Martha Major had several children including Maria Major, who married William Allen; Elizabeth “Betsy” Major, who married Edward Marable; Edward Major (1776–1818); and George B. Major, who married Elnora Griffith Marable. The Major Family papers include accounts for goods, medical services and blacksmiths, receipts, promissory notes, letters, bills, bonds, requests for payments, tax receipts, tax assessments, estate papers, court judgement, accounts for recording documents and other litigation-related material. More specifically the papers include a receipt (5/8/1766) concerning William Geddy stocking a gun; a receipt (10/2/1777) for assistance in capturing a slave; estate matters of Samuel Major, Stephen West, Turner Jackson and others; a receipt (7/26/1786) for dancing lessons; tuition accounts from Azou Gale (1784), Beverly Crump (1807), John B. Christian (1815), H. Robinson (1816–1817) and others; Williamsburg District Court accounts for expenses (1790–1800); Ordinary license account (1/1794); tavern account and “blankes” winnings (6/13/1794); letter concerning a runaway slave (7/18/1798); mention of duty as an overseer of the poor (1798); accounts for recording documents, judgement and other material (1800–1824) re John Major vs Samuel Greenhow, and other Major-Marable family litigation; booklet with amount of shad caught (1803); copy of will (1805) of John Colgin; license certificates (1815–1816) for “gig” carriages; receipts (1816) for duties on distilled spirits; and an apothecary account (1760) with Abra. Bywater.

Also includes Major Family Account Book with accounts (1750–1759) for wood cut, cash, corn, and clothes of Robert Dinwiddie, Barnard Major Sr., Barnard Major Jr., Robert Higginson, Richard Ambler, James and William Wilkenson, and others. Account book also includes John Major’s accounts (1772–1797) for stilled brandy, Samuel Major’s estate and other matters. Also includes birth dates (1740–1806) of Major family members and birth dates (1772–1794, 1826–1866) of slaves. The John Major Tavern Account book (1794) includes accounts for dinner, grog, and lodging of Richard Graves, John Colgin, Samuel and John Tyler (1747–1813), Thomas Willcox, Francis Hardyman, and others.

Names appearing throughout the Major papers include Munford & Gregory, William Willcox, Hardyman & Willcox, Stith Gregory, Pleasant Cocke & Co., William Avrill (?), William Edloe, Henry Southall, Abraham Brown, Edward Marable, Thomas Harwood, Turner Southall, Abraham Marable, Major Willcox, Hamlin Willcox & Co., Samuel Harwood, Littleberry Willcox, Francis Harwood, John Bowry William Graves, Wyatt Walker, Francis Dancy, James Christian and Cary Wilkenson.

Turner Jackson Papers

Turner Jackson (d. ca 1782) was a Charles City County plantation overseer. The Turner Jackson manuscripts (1750–1770, 1782–1784+n.d.) consist of approximately 55 items and document the financial and agricultural matters of a mid-18th century plantation overseer. Included are receipts, accounts, bonds, requests for payments, an agreement to act as overseer for Edward Munford, letters with merchants and others, a court petition, quitrent receipts, instructions to an overseer, and estate material. Subjects include tobacco crops, plantation overseeing, litigation, and the sale of horses. Other names mentioned include Catherine and Thomas Jackson, Massenburg & Harrison, Edward and Benjamin Marable, William Edloe, Samuel Harwood, and Major Willcox. The papers were possibly collected by John Major, administrator of Jackson’s estate.

Jacob Trappell Papers

The papers (1783–1802) of Jacob Trappell (d. ca. 1800) document the business matters of a shoemaker during the last decade of the 18th century. These papers consist of approximately 35 items of Trappell (often spelled Trapwell) and his wife, Martha Trappell (d. ca. 1821). Included are receipts, requests for payments, bonds, accounts for shoe making supplies, letters requesting shoes, a shoe repair customer list, an inventory of JT’s estate, and accounts of Martha Trappell. Also estate matters (1820–1821) of Martha Trappell.

Griffith Family Papers

The Griffith family papers in the Major-Marable Family papers consist of approx. 100 items (1758–1849) half of which are dated prior to 1800 and cover financial, legal, slave ownership, and plantation matters. Represented in the papers are Thomas (d. ca. 1789), his wife, Amy (d. ca. 1820), their children Amy (d. 1840), Elizabeth “Betsy” (d. 1849), William and John Griffith. The Griffith family was related to the Major family. George B. Major handled many financial and estate matters for the family. Many Griffith family matters concern the papers in which William S. and Mary Burt are mentioned. Included in the papers are accounts and receipts for goods and services, tax receipts, bonds, bills of sale for slaves, blacksmith accounts, slave rental payments, judgements and medical accounts. Also included are a 1782 appointment of Thomas Griffith to survey land in Charles City County; educational payments (1790, 1797); an overseer agreement (1797) between Colin Cocke and John Griffith; a legal opinion (10/9/1820) by John Tyler (1790–1862) concerning a widow’s rights in regards to Thomas and William Griffith estates; several letters and bonds (1828–1832) concerning financial arrangements to buy a female slave and her children to enable them to stay with her husband; and a letter (1839) of Thomas W. Griffith concerning life as a blacksmith in Louisiana and family matters. Names mentioned include William Marable, Hamlin Willcox & Bros (1790s); John Colgin & Co. (1787), Munford & Gregory (1769), Benj. Harrison (n.d.) and others.

George B. Major Papers

George Barnard Major (1804–1872) was a Charles City County postmaster, planter, tavern and store owner and fish supplier. He married Elnora Griffith Marable. Their children included Georgianna C. Major, who married Robert S. Furgusson and John E.S. Major, who married Maria E. Marable. George B. Major is first mentioned in receipts (1814–1825) of Martha Major who paid tuition for his education. The papers (1827–1863) of GBM consist of letters, receipts, promissory notes, accounts for goods and services and medical services, accounts with wholesalers in Richmond, Norfolk and Petersburg, dinner lists from GBM’s tavern, memorandum, a postmaster account book, tax accounts, bills of sale for slaves, orders for goods, amount of sturgeon sold, and account books for Marable & Major’s Tree Point and Cambridge stores. The postal, tavern and general store accounts mention several hundred Charles City County names. Also included is a request (1/13/1838) by Camilla A.M. Harrison to jail a slave; orders (1839) for the arrests of three slaves implicated in the alleged murder of James Caradus; account (10/1/1842) for tuition at New Kent Female Academy; letter (2/9/1850) about possibility of a slave having a hand in the death of an old woman; memo (5/7/1857) concerning a runaway slave; scattered estate materials; and receipt (1/1/1847) for rent of Cool Spring Plantation. Names include William S. Burt, Edward Willcox, R.W. Graves, John Marable, W.W. Wooldridge, Benjamin Harrison; George C. Waddill, James M. Willcox, Amos Sledge, William F. Graves, Butler & Brunsford, John J. Fear, Christian & Lathrup, James Williams, Robert Fergusson, and Allyn, Rose & Capps.

Marable Family Papers

Other material in the Major-Marable papers consists of scattered Marable family materials (1790s–1870s) re litigation, division of ownership of slaves (1797); Edward Marable receipts (1837–1850); a letter (9/19/1827) mentioning the female academy in Williamsburg, and the store account books of M & E.W. Marable and Marable & Major.

Diddep and Christian Medical Papers

These papers include the medical account book (1833) of Jordan C. Christian and the medical account book (1838–1846) and papers (1830s–1854) of James L. Diddep.

Civil War Correspondence

Included is the correspondence (1857–1865) of George B. Major’s daughter (?), Georgie Fergusson, and other relatives re family and health matters and the Civil War. Includes letters from Thomas C. and John W. Bowry, Mollie, Fannie, and Pussie from Portsmouth.

John E. Major Papers

The papers (1854–1907) of John E. Major include receipts and letters (1903–1907) concern the Harrison-Harwood Camp of the Grand Camp, Confederate Veterans; photocopies of a booklet (1862–1864) of writings and philosophizing for Maria L. Marable and others while JEM served in the 53rd Virginia Infantry; news clippings (1854–ca.1907) re the Confederacy and other matters; copies of a April 26, 1864 Richmond Whig and Public Advertiser and a Feb. 3, 1895 of The World, New York; several published popular music pulp magazines with advertisements for novelties; picture souvenir booklets of Richmond (1907) and Norfolk (1904); and several memorandum booklets and a penmanship book.