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Manuscript Archive of the Eustis Family’s South Carolina Sea Island Cotton Plantation, 1862-1865
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FREDERICK A. EUSTIS. Archive, primarily regarding management of South Carolina Sea Island cotton plantation, 1862-1865; entire archive, 1836-1918.

Inventory #24670       ON HOLD

In 1862, when Harvard-educated Frederick A. Eustis learned that his step-mother’s South Carolina cotton plantations were going to ruin and that the enslaved African Americans there were suffering, he decided to visit to see for himself. His stepmother had died in 1860, and the executors of her estate were committed Confederates. What Eustis saw and heard on the coast of South Carolina led him to stay to protect the family property. General William T. Sherman gave Eustis written permission to hold his stepmother’s plantation on Lady’s Island and two others—the Gibbs Plantation on Lady’s Island and the Fuller Plantation on Wassa Island.

Though he had some antebellum experience in helping to manage his stepmother’s plantation on annual visits, it was a challenging task for Eustis to oversee the production of crops on multiple plantations as the area transitioned from slave to free labor. The notebooks in this archive offer insights into his careful management and distribution of labor and the planning that went into his efforts. In 1863, when the federal government sought to sell this plantation and many others, Eustis paid the back taxes to preserve it as part of his stepmother’s estate rather than purchase the plantation outright at auction for himself.

After the war, his brothers, other heirs, and the executors all questioned Eustis’ motives, and Eustis found himself defending his actions in several letters, most notably a long July 1865 letter to his brother. In November 1865, the prewar executors appealed to General Quincy Adams Gillmore, who commanded the area, for the return of the plantation. Gillmore ordered it returned, but Eustis protested, and the case went to General O. O. Howard, commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Howard admitted he did not understand all of the legal points, but he believed the crops and revenues belonged to Eustis and the African Americans who had worked the plantation and recommended the revocation of Gillmore’s order.

The Judge Advocate General agreed with Howard, and Eustis regained possession until the federal court could determine ownership. In 1868, the U.S. Circuit Court ordered the sale of Eustis Plantation at public auction. Frederick A. Eustis was the successful bidder at $5,000 for the 640-acre plantation plus 200 acres on Port Royal Island. Eustis resumed his work on the plantation until his death.

In 1863, Eustis testified to the Freedman’s Inquiry Commission: “I never knew during forty years of plantation life so little sickness. Formerly every man had a fever of some kind, and now the veriest old cripple, who did nothing under secesh rule, will row a boat three nights in succession to Edisto, or will pick up the corn about the corn-house. There are twenty people whom I know were considered worn out and too old to work under the slave system, who are now working cotton, as well as their two acres of provisions; and their crops look very well. I have an old woman who has taken six tasks (that is, an acre and a half) of cotton, and last year she would do nothing.[1]

Contents and Excerpts:

Frederick A. Eustis Personal Notebook (including copies of several letters)

Mrs. P. W. Eustis died at Charleston S.C. May 21st 1860 intelligence communicated by Telegraph from Wm Izard Bull to Henry L Eustis at Cambridge Mass with notice that he was starting on Steamer for N.Y. with remains of deceased, and wished to be met there by H.L.E. or myself on Thursday, May 24th.” (1)


Will of Patience W. B. Eustis, February 28, 1860 (6-9)

I hereby give & Bequeath unto my step-sons, William Eustis, the Heirs of my Son Horatio; S. Eustis, Alexander B. Eustis, Frederic A. Eustis, and Henry L. Eustis, and their heirs, the sum of $10,000 each, also all Plate, Books, swords, wearing Apparel, Letters, Papers and all other articles of personal property (not including Slaves) which can be recognized as having belonged to their Father.[2] (6-7)

I desire my executors to give to each of my slaves a suit of Black Clothes of serviceable Stuff—also to allow my faithful servants Affy & Tony to chooses their own masters; also giving them $20 each, and the same to little Affy.” (8)


Peter I. Shands to Frederick A. Eustis, January 31, 1861

I...regret to inform you that there is no immediate probability of our being able to pay any of the Legacies under your mother’s will. The only means of our doing so would be thro’ a sale of her property & this is utterly impracticable without a great sacrifice in the present unhappy & distracted state of the country. Should our present troubles have a peaceful termination, a prosperous re-action may soon enable us to dispose of the estate & settle in full. But if any attempt be made to coerce the South a bloody & protracted war will ensue which must greatly prolong and may indeed destroy every prospect of our realizing anything under the will of our lamented relative.” (10-11)

Port Royal was captured by the US Forces Nov 1861. On the 3d Feb’y 1862, after some correspondence with Admiral Davis then on the ‘Wabash’ at Hilton Head, I was thro’ the kindness of Col. Tompkins, furnished with a pass to Port Royal on the St Atlantic.... My object was to see for myself the condition of the destitute negroes. While the Steamer was in port, Gen’l Sherman sent me to Gen’l Stevens with an order to place me upon the Eustis Plantation. I went there and remained 14th, 15th, 16th 17th, was deeply moved by the entreaties of the negroes and promised to return and protect them. ” (11-12)

Flag Officer Samuel DuPont wrote at the time that, “Mr. Eustis of Boston, the heir but not the only one, has taken his mother’s plantation.... He went there; the slaves had all remained, recognized him and are delighted at having ‘master’ and to go to work. He, of course, is going to pay them certain amounts and meliorate their condition in many ways—yet some other heirs are rebels in arms.”

Special agent Edward L. Pierce wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase from Port Royal, South Carolina, in February 1862, “Mr. Eustis is a gentleman of humane and liberal views, and, accepting the present condition of things, desires that the people on these plantations shall not be distinguished from their brethren on others, but equally admitted to their better fortunes.... With great pleasure and confidence, I recommend that this loyal citizen be placed in charge of the plantation on Ladies’ Island, which he is willing to accept—the questions of property and rights under the will being reserved for subsequent determination.”[3]


Frederick A. Eustis to Salmon P. Chase, December 13, 1862

Mrs E’s property consisted mainly of two estates, one a Plantation in Prince Williams Parish, near Pocotaligo, still in the hands of the Executors. The other of 500 acres of Pine Land (Barren) near Beaufort, on Port Royal I’d, and a Plantation of 600 acres on Lady’s Id, both of which by the accident of war are now in the hands of the U.S. Gov’t.” (19)

I submit that the Testatrix was a loyal woman at the time of her death, and that her said Estates, now in possession of the U.S. Gov’t, are so reduced in value by the depreciation of the property, the destruction of the buildings, the foraging among the stock, and last, but not least, by the liberation of the slaves, that they are not of sufficient value to pay the above Legacies, and therefore should not be confiscated to the injury of us the loyal claimants.” (21)

March 26th [1863] Hooper, by order of Gen’l Saxton made over the place to me. The land having been already allotted by Mr Soule for provisions and some work in listing cotton also done, I could only go on as begun, with a guarantee signed by myself, that I would refund at any time whatever had been advanced by the Gov’t agent in preparing for the crops. I remained until the 23d July working over 50 acres of cotton and paying for same with borrowed Capital.” (30-31)

Dec 6th 1863 sailed again for Port Royal. Had a sad winter fighting with small pox, remained till March 4th/64.” (31)

Dec 19th 1864, sailed again in Arago with Mary Eustis & Mary Collins, arrived at the Eustis Plantation Christmas day, 25th Dec. Girls started a school early in Jany, remained till April 7th/65, when we sailed again for New York.” (31)

Mary Rebecca Eustis Wister (1844-1944) was born in Massachusetts, the oldest child of Frederick A. and Mary Channing Eustis. From 1864 to 1866, she taught freedpeople on the coast of South Carolina. In 1868, she married William R. Wister (1827-1911).

Mary Collins had taught freedpeople in Norfolk, Virginia, before coming to South Carolina.

In February 1865, Eustis wrote to a friend in Massachusetts, “I am living in the midst of a great social revolution brought about by the passage of Sherman’s army. Hundreds and thousands of emancipated slaves are driven in upon us, robbed of everything by pitiless soldiers, and the great problem is now confronting us as it never has before: What shall we do to meet the crisis? I know not what policy the Government may have adopted, or whether it has been able to look farther ahead than to provide temporary subsistence.”[4]


Frederick A. Eustis to Alexander B. Eustis, July 20, 1865

My dear Alex- In accordance with my promise, I submit to y’r consideration the following statement. In Jany 1862, while on my way to Washington, tragic stories reached me of the destitution & suffering of the abandoned negroes at Port Royal. The thought of my mother and of her emancipated slaves on Ladies Id gave me no rest. With a feeling almost of personal responsibility, I embarked in a Steamer just then sailing from N.Y. & went to Port Royal to see for myself. I went without preparation and no thought of remaining. By order of Gen’l Sherman I was sent to the plantation with written powers to hold & protect the property. The importunities of the defenceless negroes prevailed against my discretion, and, after solemn deliberation, I consented to remain & to protect them. U.S. Cotton agents were in possession of the Overseer House & yard. They had already bagged & sent away all the good cotton, and were hiring the people to put up the stained. I wrote a letter to the Special Ag’t, Col Reynolds, announcing my intention to remain in charge of the estate, and requesting him to remove his agents from the premises, which he subsequently did, got from him some hoes and set the people to work to list provision ground, and returned (with a promise that I would be back again in the same steamer) to break the intelligence to my family and make arrangements as best I could for the future. When I reached the Dock in New York, to go back to Port Royal, I found, to my surprise, that the Steamer was chartered in behalf of the U.S. Treasury Dep’t to carry down Missionaries to work the Plantations & teach the negroes. To secure my passage, I was obliged to take a commission as a volunteer under the Boston Freedman’s Association. By this change in my programme my relations to the ‘Eustis’ Plantation were affected in this wise.

            “I was not disturbed in my occupancy and in my care of the people; but I was obliged, for the good of the experiment, to give up the Overseer House yard & buildings as a Commissary & Q’rmaster Depot, and besides becoming chief commissary to disburse foods clothing & agricultural tools, also to take charge of 3 other Plantations, & subsequently, became Prov’ Marshall to enforce industry & obedience with 3 mounted orderlies stationed at my yard, also to pay out of Gov’t funds for cotton work done generally without discrimination in favor of the Eustis Plantation. The result of all which was that the place soon found itself on the same footing as the rest.” (39-41)

The Gov’t took what there was in part payment of expenses—my share of the experiment amounted to just this, viz. Abandonment & total loss of all profitable employment at home, with additional expense in getting others to do my own work, my own personal expenses & charities paid out of my own pocket, and no pay for my services but my one daily ration while at Port Royal.” (42)

For reasons satisfactory to itself the Treasury Dep’t transferred the territory to the control of the War Dep’t and Gen’l Saxton was put in charge of the abandoned plantations. The property was all advertised for Taxes, the Eustis plantation among the rest, and preparations duly made to run them or those not bought by private parties, on Gov’t acc’t. As soon as I discovered this fact in disregard of the advice of the Commissioners, who wished me to buy the property instead, I sent forward the money and paid the Tax for the Estate of Mrs P. W. Eustis.... By this act, the U.S. having no farther lien upon the property for debt it was withdrawn from the sale, and once more, by order of Gen’l Saxton, placed in my hands....” (42-43)

The result of this years [1863] work was pecuniarily to me very satisfactory. I paid my debts and had some capital for my next experiment. Under the same necessity as before and with many new regulations in favour of the laborers I was compelled to contract anew or abandon the place. This year (1864) by the use of various levers I contrived to plant nearly twice as much as before; but at more than double the cost. Lucky for me that I did so! The caterpillar took more than half, leaving as a net result not quite so much cotton as before. Fortunately, I forced my cotton early into the market, prepared with extra care, and got a high price for it, still saving capital to work with. Had I planted a small crop, I should not have paid expenses.

This year (1865) I had serious doubts about planting cotton at all, and if I had seen the way to employ the people and to preserve the buildings, should have been only too glad to escape the risk. Sherman’s invasion and the prospect of a speedy end to the war while it unsettled all our stability made the demands of labour more exorbitant.” (44-45)

If now you carefully read what has been written, you will find in it the only answer that can be given to your question, viz. ‘By what tenure’? Ans. Military authority. As Legatee, under civil law, neither you nor I have any right in the premises. The property was abandoned & by capture forfeited to the U.S. and, by military authority, handed over to me. Like Saul, the son of Kish, who went out to seek his father’s asses and found a kingdom I went to save the negro & as unexpectedly to myself find a plantation. This, the Lawyers say, is the sum & substance of the whole matter. My title is good for nothing in itself but, so long as martial law obtains at Pt. Royal, it is good for possession against all others.” (46-47)

Had I foreseen that the war would last so long, and that this simple act of mine (payment of the tax) would have vested a questionable title in me, and involved me, as it yet may, in a suspicion of my honesty I should have taken the advice given me by men, who were perhaps wiser than I. I can only plead that I did what I thought was right.” (49-50)

Alexander B. Eustis (1815-1868) was born in Rhode Island, the fourth of seven sons of General Abraham Eustis (1786-1843) of the U.S. Army and Rebecca Sprague (1787-1820). After Alexander’s mother died, Abraham Eustis remarried in 1823 to Patience Wise Blackett Izard (1786-1860), the daughter of wealthy South Carolina planter Ralph Izard. In her will, Patience Eustis left each of her four surviving stepsons $10,000. Eustis married Aurora G. Grelaud (1820-1892) in 1843, lived in Massachusetts, and became a prosperous farmer and clerk.

said letter, tho’ intended to tell the truth, seems to have given much offence. It was copied and sent to my brother Henry who, for once in his life, seems to have forgotten the respect & affection hitherto uniformly expressed towards me. I hope that, after his long conversation with me, he feels less angry than at first.” (56)

-          Time Book with the names of at least fifty-four slaves and work accomplished in April-May 1862 at the Eustis Plantation, and thirty-four slaves and work accomplished in May 1862 on the Wassa Island plantation. In addition to the equivalent of 26½ prime field hands at Wassa Island, the list includes Sandy, “old & sickly” who was a gardener, Richard the “cattle minder,” Dolly the nurse, Affy the “child-minder,” and James the “cow-boy.” Includes loose-leaf lists and has “F. A. Eustis” written on the cover.

-          Frederick A. Eustis’ leather-bound log with lists of African Americans by household at Eustis Plantation and their “Business,” including nurse, field hand, school, cartman, hunter, carpenter, child, driver, hostler, mechanic, cook, and blacksmith; at Wassa Island Plantation, owned by Dr. Thomas Fuller; and at Ladies Island Plantation, owned by Dr. Arthur F. Gibbs. Also includes table of African American workers with production of different crops and cash paid them; clothing issued to African Americans on Eustis Plantation, including pants, shirts, chemises, shoes, and dresses, as well as scissors, needles, thread, thimbles, aprons, and stockings. Finally, it includes a list of plantations on Ladies Island, with owners, hands, and acreage.


George J. Abbot to Frederick A. Eustis, February 13, 1863

I did not fail, in the receipt of your last letter to communicate with Gov. Boutwell, who informed me that he would write to you on the subject. Lest you may, by chance not have seen this law, I enclose a newspaper containing it.

George J. Abbot (1812-1879) was born in New Hampshire and graduated from Harvard College in 1835 and from Harvard Divinity School in 1839, the same years that Frederick A. Eustis graduated. He served as a Unitarian minister in Washington, D.C., taught a school for boys, and worked as a clerk in the State Department. In 1850, he became private secretary to Daniel Webster and served until Webster’s death in October 1852. Abbot served as chief of the Consular Bureau in the State Department from 1852 to 1864, then as U.S. Consul to Bradford and Sheffield, England from 1864 to 1870.

George S. Boutwell (1818-1905) had been governor of Massachusetts from 1851 to 1853. From July 1862 to March 1863, he served as the first Commissioner of Internal Revenue, before resigning to take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served until 1869. He later served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (1869-1873) and U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1873-1877).


Henry L. Eustis to Frederick A. Eustis, September 15, 1868

William wrote to me some time ago, requesting me to have the proper papers drawn up to settle upon Elizabeth his interest in the Roxbury Estate, in order to secure it against any possible claims of his creditors. As the notes are all sold, I am now enabled to do so by assigning to Elizabeth two of the outstanding notes and mortgages. The estate may now be settled and his share thus set apart, leaving the other three shares still in common on a new account.

Henry L. Eustis (1819-1885) was born in Massachusetts, the youngest of seven sons of General Abraham Eustis (1786-1843) of the U.S. Army and Rebecca Sprague (1787-1820). After Henry’s mother died, Abraham Eustis remarried in 1823 to Patience Wise Blackett Izard (1786-1860), the daughter of wealthy South Carolina planter Ralph Izard. Eustis graduated from Harvard College in 1838 and first in his class from the United States Military Academy in 1842. He taught engineering at the United States Military Academy from 1847 to 1849 and then at Harvard from 1849 to 1862. He was commissioned a colonel in the 10th Massachusetts Infantry in August 1862 and led it through many battles until resigning at the rank of brigadier general in June 1864, due to impaired health, allegedly caused by an addiction to opium. After the war, he returned to teaching engineering at Harvard University.

William Eustis (1810-1889) was the oldest of the seven sons of General Abraham Eustis and Rebecca Sprague Eustis. In 1844, he married Elizabeth Grelaud (b. 1810).


Lucretia Crocker to Frederick A. Eustis, May 28, [1869]

Mrs. Cheney and I reached this point of our homeward journey last evening and have had an interview with Gen. Howard to-day. He did not receive your letter and regrets that you have had no aid from the Bureau in establishing your school. He asked us to tell you to write to him at any time and to apply at once to Maj. Neide at Columbia Supt. of Schools for South Carolina for what you need to make a suitable school building. You can state to Maj: Neide that you are authorized by Gen. Howard to ask for an appropriation to enlarge and refit your school house; and he has power to grant it.”

We think if you have suitable arrangements and good teachers, you can build up as good and well-organized a school as Miss Botume and Mrs Langford have made.

Lucretia Crocker (1829-1886) was a teacher and attended lectures at Harvard by J. L. R. Agassiz, when women could only attend Harvard as guests. She later became a professor of mathematics and astronomy. In 1869, she toured freedmen’s schools in the South.

Ednah Dow Littlehale Cheney (1824-1904) was an American writer, reformer, and philanthropist. She worked actively with the Freedmen’s Aid Society and made several visits to the South immediately after the Civil War.

Horace Neide (1837-1915) was born in Pennsylvania and rose to the rank of major in the 2nd Pennsylvania Reserves, after having been severely wounded in 1862. At the end of the war, he was Acting Assistant Provost Marshal General for Rhode Island, and then became the state superintendent of schools for the Freedmen’s Bureau in South Carolina from October 1868 to July 1869.


Ezra S. Gannett to Frederick A. Eustis, February 14, 1870

Mrs Richardson has written to Miss Grimes, to inform her that two barrels of clothing for the colored people in whom she feels so warm an interest have gone to Savannah; but I also trouble you with this note, to make security in regard to knowledge doubly secure. Miss Grimes in one of her letters spoke of the great want of clothing by the negroes, of every age, and said that even the poorest garments might be useful. Her letter was read to the Sunday School, & the subject was mentioned to three or four ladies; and without any general effort articles were sent to the Vestry, which filled the barrels. We hope they will be found serviceable, though some of the things probably show how much they have been worn. Mr Richardson thought it best to send, according to Miss Grimes’s intentions, and they have therefore been addressed ‘to the care of Richardson, Boward & Co, Savannah, Geo.’ I suppose there is now a regular mode of communication between Savannah & Beaufort, and that your receiving the barrels will not depend, like our passage from B. to S. on the kind offices of some good Capt. Boutelle. If you should hear nothing about them in the course of a few days, will you write to Savannah & learn if they are there? They went, I think, by Express.

Ezra Stiles Gannett (1801-1871) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the steward of Harvard College and the daughter of the president of Yale College. He graduated from Harvard College in 1820 and from Harvard Divinity School. He became the associate of William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), the founder of American Unitarianism, and in 1842, succeeded Channing as pastor of the Federal Street Church in Boston. In this letter, Gannett writes to his protégé’s son-in-law in South Carolina.


William C. Gannett to Mrs. Mary Ruth Channing Eustis, March 9, 1876

I come Southwards to tell you of a plan which I was talking over with your brother last Sunday in Providence. A few months after publishing Father’s ‘Life,’ he kindly said something about a new Life of your Father & his—& would I think of it?

William Channing Gannett (1840-1923) was born in Boston to Ezra Stiles Gannett, and graduated from Harvard College in 1860. After attending Harvard Divinity School, Gannett left the school to work with the New England Freedmen’s Society on the sea islands of South Carolina. He graduated from the Harvard Divinity School in 1868 and became a pastor. He wrote a biography of his father, published in 1875, and here considers a biography of William Ellery Channing.

-          Approximately 120 receipts, invoices, and other financial papers, 1836-1853, reflecting purchases in Boston, Cambridge, Milton, and New York, including:

o   Comparison of the features of two carriages made in New York and Philadelphia, costing $750 and $700 respectively, ca. 1840s;

o   Receipt for $3.25 for opening a tomb on Corps Hill and receiving the body of Mrs. Eustis from Cambridge, November 26, 1844;

o   Receipt for $23 for medical attendance on wife, January 9, 1845;

o   Receipt for $17.50 for two hair mattresses, from the Perkins Institution, and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind, where the blind made mattresses, feather beds, and entry mats, April 19, 1851;

o   Receipt for $3.50 for cleaning and repair of a small French mantle clock, October 5, 1852; and

o   Receipt for $10 for dental surgery, July 6, 1853.

-          Account regarding the estate of John Amory Jefferies, 1897-1898

-          Two telegrams and a letter from or about John Jeffries, 1918

Frederick Augustus Eustis (1816-1871) was born in Rhode Island, the fifth of seven sons of General Abraham Eustis (1786-1843) of the U.S. Army and Rebecca Sprague (1787-1820). After Frederick’s mother died, Abraham Eustis remarried in 1823 to Patience Wise Blackett Izard (1786-1860), the daughter of wealthy South Carolina planter Ralph Izard, and Frederick became close to his step-mother. He graduated from Harvard University in 1835 and from Harvard Divinity School in 1839. He taught school and pastored a private family church in Philadelphia for a few years before marrying Mary Ruth Channing (1818-1891), daughter of the Rev. William Ellery Channing, the leading Unitarian minister of the day, and settling in Massachusetts. During the 1840s, he frequently spent winters on the sea-islands of South Carolina, where he managed the cotton plantations belonging to his step-mother. When Union forces captured Beaufort, South Carolina, and the neighboring sea islands in November 1861, Eustis took charge of the 700-acre Eustis Plantation on Lady’s Island, southeast of Beaufort, with its 138 slaves. Eustis was a leader in the transition from slave labor to free labor and was among the first to begin paying wages to former slaves. He died of malarial fever in Beaufort.


All items are in good condition and clearly legible. There is some toning of the paper and separation of the paper-bound journal.

[2] Abraham Eustis had seven sons by his first wife Rebecca Sprague (1787-1820), but three had died by 1860. Patience W. B. Eustis left $10,000 each to stepsons William (1810-1889), Alexander (1815-1868), Frederick (1816-1871), and Henry (1819-1885), and to the many heirs of stepson Horatio (1811-1858), recently deceased.

[3] Edward L. Pierce, The Freedmen of Port Royal, South-Carolina. Official Reports of Edward L. Pierce (New York: Rebellion Record, 1863), 312-13.

[4] Mary Eustis Wister, “Recollections of Southern Plantation and School,” November 15, 1926, p. 4.

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