Checklist of documents in the Watts Collection at the Historical Society of Western Virginia, Roanoke, Virginia. To consult these documents, go to http://www.vahistorymuseum.org/ and click on “Visit HMWV's Virtual Collection!” The documents can be found by a keyword search, or by catalog number using “Click and Search”.
The 20 documents in this group all date from 1839 to 1843. The first two, dated 1840, pertain to the estate of James Breckinridge, which has been a recurrent topic. Most of the others are routine items of legal business, many addressed to James Breckinridge Watts, who was practicing law in Roanoke at this time. A few are account statements or receipts for household purchases from local merchants, or sales statements for products like tobacco. Three items stand out as exceptions: two garrulous letters, dated 1839 and 1840, from Edward Watts’s brother-in-law Fleming Saunders, with family news and strong opinions on politics and other matters; and a letter of condolence to Edward Watts following the death of his daughter Elizabeth in 1843, at the age of 20 or 21, less than six months after her marriage to Thomas Lewis Preston.
December 1, 1840
Statement of the account of Cary Breckinridge, executor of the estate of James Breckinridge, with the legatees, who were Cary Breckinridge and John Selden Breckinridge, sons of the deceased; Edward Watts and Henry Winston Bowyer, husbands of Elizabeth Breckinridge and Matilda Breckinridge respectively, daughters of the deceased, and Letitia (Breckinridge) Gamble, daughter of the deceased; the account itemizes the assets, notably the land and slaves, the amounts already paid to each legatee, and the amount still due to them or from them
November 18, 1840
Letter from John Roote Thornton in Paris, Kentucky, to Cary Breckinridge in Fincastle, Virginia, regarding the collection of a note on Robert Trabue, deceased; the debt was owed to James Breckinridge, deceased, of whose estate Cary Breckinridge was executor. He had written to Thomas Towles Thornton, also recently deceased, nephew of John Roote Thornton, seeking to collect the debt. The letter explains that the Trabue heirs are contesting the claim, but the case against them is solid, except that in the delay rats have destroyed some of the documents, which must be sent again
I find among Thos. T. Thornton's papers a record of your qualification regularly done, but he left it in his office untill the case was to come on and owing to his death and other circumstances, it has been exposed and the rats have so injured the paper, that the name of the clerk and date and some material words are obliterated or eat out. You will therefore have to supply it. You ought to enclose to me also ten dollars to defray costs, because some are already due and I shall have to go the security for costs. T. T. Thornton was security but now additional security will be required. Whether you ever left anything with T. T. T. or not I do not know. The heirs of Robert Trabue are good. I hope to hear from you very soon. Yours respectfully, Jno R. Thornton
John Roote Thornton (1786-1873) was born in Caroline County, Virginia, and died in Bourbon County, Kentucky; his nephew Thomas Towles Thornton (1812-1839) was born and died in Bourbon County.
January 5, 1840
Letter from Fleming Saunders at Flat Creek, Campbell County, Virginia, to Edward Watts at Oaklands, Roanoke County, Virginia, hoping to arrange a meeting, but reporting a delay caused by sickness in his brother Samuel's household in Franklin County, Virginia; expressing strong opinions about the death of a woman because of ill treatment, leading him to argue against hiring out unneeded slaves and separating their families; expressing disgust about the upcoming election, especially John Tyler and the Whig party, for whom he will nonetheless vote, and contempt for Congress. There is also a brief note from his wife, Alice (Watts) Saunders, sister of the addressee, asking for a copy of a medical manual
I shall vote the Whig ticket, but the pill is a disagreeable one, particularly as to Tyler, who is too fond of that slang which is destroying all respect for office and law. I cannot bear to hear so much boasting of the freedom of the people, when I know the English to be that the people won't be governed. Look to the freedom of Congress. What must be the contempt felt by foreign nations, and by all orderly and moral people among us, for the members of Congress. The people ought never to elect a [man] who is given to drink, or who has not the feelings, fully of a Gent and of correct manners. Remember me to your family, all & individually. I am yr friend, Fleming Saunders
[in another handwriting] Please send us one volume of Ewel, if you have it to spare. Your affectionate Sister.
Fleming Saunders (1778-1858), a judge and farmer, married Alice Watts (c. 1793-1867), a sister of Edward Watts; they lived at Flat Creek in Campbell County, Virginia, which had been the home of William Watts. Alice wrote the post script to this letter, asking for a copy of James Ewell’s The medical companion, or family physician.
John Tyler (1790-1862) was elected vice president as a Whig in 1840, after having been a Democrat. He succeeded to the presidency in 1841 on William Henry Harrison's death after only a month in office. Tyler served as president from 1841 to 1845. The legitimacy of his administration was questioned, because the Constitution was unclear about the role of the vice president; and he clashed with the great Whig senator Henry Clay over many issues, notably the federal bank and the annexation of Texas. Tyler ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1844 on a third-party ticket.
Account statement of Isaac Hudson with the clerk of Bedford County, Virginia, for 75 cents, for documents relating to the estate of Gabriel Miner
October 4, 1841
Receipt to William Watts for Cheltenham fabric and trimming bought from John Cochran for $10.12, receipt signed by William H. Patterson
August 22, 1841
Letter to James Breckinridge Watts at Salem, Virginia, from N. Taliaferro at Rocky Mount, Virginia, regretting that he cannot come on a visit to Roanoke because the judge in Franklin County, Virginia, has ordered him to attend a court session in Floyd County, Virginia, involving a counterfeiter named Stuart and two attorneys, John Preston Phlegar and Edmundson; also mentions some current news topics
February 10, 1840
Order from the County Court of Roanoke, Virginia, to the Sheriff of Roanoke County, Elijah McClanahan, to summon Marcus D. Blankenship and Pleasant Blankenship to appear as witnesses in a case between the Commonwealth of Virginia, plaintiff, represented by James Breckinridge Watts, and Thomas Golden, defendant
James Breckinridge Watts (1812-1846), a son of Edward Watts, was commonwealth's attorney for Roanoke County from 24 May 1838 to 20 Jan 1845. The witnesses and defendant have not been identified.
August 13, 1839
Letter from Fleming Saunders at Flat Creek, Campbell County, to Edward Watts at Oaklands, Roanoke County, sending news of weather and crops – rain has ended a drought, expected corn, oat and tobacco crops; his health and that of others in the family – he has asthma, his brother Samuel very ill; a lawsuit brought by a would-be overseer; travel plans – friends are en route from Flat Creek to Oaklands, Fleming would like to go but must visit his brother in Franklin County, Virginia, possible hunting trip to Greasy Creek, Floyd County, Virginia, in the fall; comments probably relating to the estate of Mary (Scott) Watts; and general family news
I hear from my Brother, he is quite sick, very feeble and suffers much. I am as anxious to see him, and so soon as I can leave home, I will visit him. I do not know at present whether I can later the usual hunt this fall. Will you go? I want to do so very much. I think [some] of the young people will [go] to Greasy. I have the asthma [every] day, the paroxism not as [violent?] as formerly, I feel some [stronger?] and I have some more flesh upon my bones. I have been sued by a most worthless fellow ...
On Fleming Saunders, see 1998.26.283 above. On the depredation of documents by rodents, see 1998.26.282 above. Fleming’s brother Samuel Saunders (1783-1852) lived in Franklin County, Virginia.
May 18, 1842
Letter from Lewis Rogers, in Richmond, Virginia, to Edward Watts, in Big Lick, Virginia, seeking an arrangement about a property conveyed to Rogers by Temple Gwathmey, upon which Watts has a prior lien, pointing out that the property has no value to either of them unless it can be rented or sold
March 31, 1842
Account statement of Edward Watts with Powell H. and A. E. Huff for purchases of dry goods, including cloth, sewing materials and some clothing, with a total value of $189.90
Account statement of sales of the home crop of tobacco for Edward Watts by Richard Tyree in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Robert Gwathmey in Richmond, Virginia, for $2068.98 after deducting expenses
May 5, 1842
Letter from Thomas H. Ellis, in Richmond, Virginia, to James Breckinridge Watts, in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, regarding a claim of the estate of Charles Ellis, deceased, against Samuel Stoner, and a suit filed by Watts which Ellis approves; also mentions other claims by Stoner, and bonds of Dr Thomas Goode and Dr John B. Lewis, and sends thanks for kindness in the case of Nininger
Dr Sir: Your favor of the 19th ulto., advising me that you had brought suit at common law on our claims vs Samuel Stoner, one of $335.43 and the other of $230, has been recd, and the proceeding, under the circumstances stated by you, meets our entire approbation.
This letter suggests that Samuel Stoner was in financial difficulty some time before his death in 1845; see 1998.26.280.
May 22, 1842
Draft of a letter from Edward Watts, in Roanoke County, Virginia, to Lewis Rogers, in Richmond, Virginia, replying to a letter (1998.26.289) concerning deeds of trust on a property belonging to Temple Gwathmey, stating that Watts has no intention of letting his prior deed serve as a shield to prevent Rogers from collecting a just debt, noting that Gwathmey has other debts to Watts and has given him as security a deed on a bond of his son William Watts Gwathmey, and asking Rogers to decide whether to have Gwathmey pay rent or compel him to sell the property
The debts secured by this deed of trust are not all Mr G. owed me. He assignd to me in December so much of a deed executed by his son Wm W. for his benefit as would pay me $3000, the remainder I inferd from what he said he intended to assign to you. Very respectfully, Your mo[st] ob[edien]t &c, Edwd Watts
Letter to Lewis Rogers corrected a little but substantially the same sent to him
Deeds of trust were used to convey the right to sell property used as collateral. Temple Gwathmey had apparently signed two deeds of trust on the same property, one to his brother-in-law Edward Watts, the other to Lewis Rogers, a prominent New York merchant.
December 9, 1843
Letter from Townsend Sharpless and Sons, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to James Breckinridge Watts, in Roanoke County, Virginia, forwarding a transfer dated February 22, 1843, of a claim by Hunn and Remington against David Fenton Kent of New Bern, Virginia, and asking for collection and payment of the proceeds; Watts noted that he answered the letter on December 20, 1843, but neither the amount nor the nature of the claim is specified
James B. Watts Esqr, Va
Dear Sir, You will please pay the proceeds of our Judgment (when obtained) against D. F. Kent, of Newbern to T. Sharpless & Sons or their order. Yours Resp[ectfull]y, Hunn & Remington
Philadelphia, 22 Feb[ruar]y 1843
Townsend Sharpless (1793-1863) was a prominent Quaker and merchant in Philadelphia. His sons were Samuel Jones Sharpless (1816-1904) and Charles Leeds Sharpless (1821-1882). His daughter, Lydia Jones Sharpless (1818-1911), married in 1836 Ezekiel Hunn (1810-1902), one of the partners in Hunn and Remington. The Hunns were also Quakers, and very active in the abolitionist movement. David Fenton Kent (1807-1850) was a prominent and respected businessman in Pulaski County, Virginia, but this debt proved very difficult to collect, and correspondence about it continued until 1846.
April 4, 1844
Account statement of Edward Watts with J. Bonsack for services provided in production of cloth and clothing, receipted as paid in full for $8.30
November 22, 1843
Account statement of Edward Watts in Big Lick (Roanoke), Roanoke County, Virginia, with Richard Tyree, merchant in Lynchburg, Virginia, for services provided in the sale and shipment of tobacco, including to Robert Gwathmey; for various purchases, including nails, cloth, clothes, and sugar; and for money transfers to others, including a doctor, a saddle maker, a beer seller, and a millstone supplier. Includes a letter explaining the charges, and quoting prices on flour, wheat, tobacco and pork
December 28, 1843
Letter from Bouldin and Yancey in Lynchburg, Virginia, to James Breckinridge Watts in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, informing him that they have collected and deposited to his credit $30.50 from an execution of Tosh and McClanahan against Edwin Matthews, and declining to accept any fee for their services
March 4, 1843
Letter from Thomas Atkinson in Lynchburg, Virginia, to Edward Watts in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, expressing condolences for the death of his daughter Elizabeth (Watts) Preston, and urging him to turn to religion; he remarks on having seen the deceased, and discussed religion with her, and passes along comments by Bishop William Reade, who had also known her
On the morning we left Abingdon, Bishop Meade had a long and interesting conversation with Miss Preston of Montgomery and herself and told me that he hoped soon to see them both professing their faith in Christ their Redeemer. I trust then that she whom you so loved is with a better, a tenderer, even a heavenly Father. And now, my dear sir, will you not think me presumng too much when I take the liberty of entreating you to direct your own thoughts more entirely in future towards God ...
The writer of this letter, Thomas Atkinson (1807-1881), practiced law for several years before becoming a priest. At this date, he was rector of St. Paul's Church in Lynchburg, Virginia; he was elected bishop of North Carolina in 1853. William Meade (1789-1862) became bishop of Virginia in 1841. Elizabeth Watts (1822-1843), a daughter of Edward Watts, married on 13 September 1842 Thomas Lewis Preston (1812-1903) of Abingdon, Virginia; she died unexpectedly less than six months later.
December 19, 1843
Letter from Townsend Sharpless and Sons in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to James Breckinridge Watts in Big Lick (Roanoke), Virginia, asking about a recent letter enclosing a transfer of a claim by Hunn and Remington against David Fenton Kent; the missing letter is 1998.26.294
December 19, 1843
Account statement of John M. Petty with Edward Watts for 1835 to 1843, involving amounts paid and owed by both parties, mainly for beef, bacon and pork, but also other products, including flour, oats, tobacco and hemp; materials, including salt, timber and lime; articles including tilling hoes and equipment for horses; and services, including temporary hires; as well as sums paid to numerous third parties