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Patterson Family papers

Identifier: MS0341


Papers of the Patterson family of northern Mecklenburg County, mainly concerning their business activities, real estate purchases, wills, and family correspondence. Also includes papers from several related families, especially their Cumming, Hodges, Potts, and Sloan connections.


  • 1761 - 1999


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Biographical / Historical

Though this collection contains the papers of many different families in the Hopewell, North Carolina area, the majority of papers are from the Patterson family, William Patterson, in particular. The Pattersons owned and lived on a large plantation near Hopewell, and the papers that were generated provide a significant amount of information on the lives of a wealthy, antebellum, slave-owning family. John Patterson, the primogenitor of this family, immigrated from Antrim, in northern Ireland, in 1789 at the age of 21. His journey to the New World took him to Charleston, S.C., then eventually to the Providence area, south of Charlotte, North Carolina. He was of Scotch-Irish ethnicity, and was Presbyterian in faith. At the time of his arrival to America, he brought with him sufficient funds to purchase land and later began buying slaves—two important status symbols in the region at that time. In 1794, he married Margaret Houston, whose family had already been in the Carolinas for at least two generations. Some of her ancestors had participated in the Revolutionary War, on the patriots' side. John and Margaret had nine children. In his last will and testament (dated July 6, 1831) John Patterson listed his property, including many acres of plantation land, the house, agricultural equipment, furnishings, and slaves (Jacob, Congo, Nan, Lucy, Jane, Adeline, Jeb, Abram). William Patterson, the fourth of John and Margaret’s nine children, was born in 1806 and died in 1886. He married Elizabeth McEwen Potts in 1828 and settled on a parcel of land a few miles west of present day Davidson, NC (much of this property is now under water, as the result of the construction of a hydro-electric dam in the 1960s). William and his wife had ten children; however, only four of those ten survived to marry (one of their children lived only one day, and another, Margaret Lamira Patterson, lived to be eighty-six years old, but never married). These are Mary Adeline Patterson Houston, Lydia Lenore Patterson Wilson, John Newell Williamson Patterson, and Josephine Augusta Banna Patterson Alexander. In 1839 he, along with other planters in the area, signed a contract with a local teacher, to provide for their children’s education. In addition, his papers show that he sent at least two of his daughters on to “female colleges.” Mary attended the Salem Female Academy and Josephine Banna attended the Edgeworth Female Seminary. The only evidence that William sent any of his sons to college exists in the form of two receipts for tuition at Catawba College in 1853 and 1854 for John N. W. Patterson. William served as the executor (or administrator) for the estates of many of the people who died in the Hopewell/Davidson/Huntersville area; and some of the papers in this collection are papers that he generated in the course of settling these estates. In addition to his estate work, he also was a planter, who owned many slaves and had significant business investments and dealings. His business activities are documented by the many receipts in his papers, from such commodities as cotton, sugar, molasses, rice, salt and tea. In addition, he lived during a significant period of American history, as the debate between northern and southern political interests raged on. Unfortunately, we do not know exactly what his opinions were of the major issues of the day, and can only speculate, based on his property, his position in society and a few fragmentary pieces of evidence. William subscribed to the Western Democrat and the North Carolina Presbyterian. It was William who presided over the family estate during the Civil War, and who was forced to part with a significant amount of personal wealth—the human property of slaves. One of the more significant documents in this collection is a letter detailing the way in which the slaves were informed of their emancipation on November 10, 1865:

"We the Undersigned freedmen and women Certify that as soon as our former Master found out that the coloured people was set free come to the field whare we ware at work and told us all 21 in number that he saw it in the papers that we ware free…". (box 1, folder 42)

The scribe for the Freedmen's Bureau who wrote out this testimony wanted to make sure that it was known that Master Patterson informed his negroes (as they were called at the time) that they had been emancipated as soon as he himself was aware of the new law. The letter went on to state that Patterson would pay his former slaves only if they agreed to remain on the plantation until the harvest had been brought in. Those that left at that time would not be paid at all. Patterson kept the copies of the receipts he issued to those who remained through the harvest. Along with other former slave-owners, he established a new working relationship with his former slaves, in the form of share-cropping. In spite of all of the tumult, the Pattersons still held on to their land. Another telling document held in this collection is a legal complaint, filed by Patterson, against Thomas M. Alexander on September 24, 1849, for an offense that took place on Sept. 17, because he “did profanely swear & curse to the number of twenty-two oaths, whereby he forfeited the sum of twenty-five cents for each & cursing oath or curse in all amounting to five 50/100 cts. dollars.” John Newell Williamson Patterson, mentioned earlier (one of William’s sons), married Margaret Lenora Sloan, in 1861. Except for the birth of his children, there is little evidence to reveal the details of his life. He and Margaret had ten children, but this collection only contains the papers of two of them: Ona Elizabeth Josephine Patterson Cumming, and Harriet Emma Patterson Bonney Hodges. Four years after the death of his wife Margaret, John sold the family land (203 acres for one dollar) to his children and their spouses, possibly as a way to avoid inheritance taxes. The daughter who is most significant to this collection is Ona, who married Dr. Calvin Knox Cumming. Her obituary (found in file 5) provides a bank of information about her life. Ona E. J. P. Cumming was born in Hopewell, NC in 1865. She was educated at what was then known as the Charlotte Female Institute, later known as Queens University. A devout Christian, she entered Christian missionary work in Japan under the auspices of the Southern Presbyterian Church. It was there that she met and married Dr. Cumming, who administered the Presbyterian mission in Nagoya. They produced three sons, one of which died in Nagoya. The Cumming family returned to the US in 1925 and settled in Davidson, NC. Dr. Cumming died in 1935, and Ona died in 1955. One their sons was William Patterson Cumming, who earned a Ph.D. in English and became a distinguished member of the Davidson College faculty, writing several books and earning an excellent reputation in his field. It was one of his children, Robert Patterson Cumming, who donated this collection to the UNC Charlotte Library in 2004. This collection also contains a small subseries of papers of Harriet Emma Patterson Hodges, sister of Ona. Emma was able to establish a genealogical descent through Elizabeth McCuen Potts (wife of John Newell Williamson Patterson) to William Potts. According to her DAR application, Potts was a captain of militia in North Carolina. According to Emma’s correspondence, she was admitted to the Daughters of the American Revolution right around the time that the US entered World War II. The substance of the collection begins to decline after 1866, though there are a few items, including a few property deeds and correspondence, most of it dealing with genealogy.


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The first series in this collection pertains to names—of families and in some cases, individuals. The more prominent families whose papers are contained herein (in addition to the Patterson family) are the Cumming, Hodges, Potts, Price and Sloan families. Individuals are listed singly if there are significance items in this collection. William Patterson served as the executor for the estates of several deceased people, and a file for each of them is found under his name. Some names appear repeatedly in this collection. For example, Edwin Potts wrote out his will in 1851 and William Patterson served as his agent. In 1854, Potts died, and Patterson settled the debts of his estate. So there are three files for Edwin Potts: one for his will; and two under the name of Patterson, who served first as his agent and later as the executor of his estate.

The second series pertaining to a wide variety of subject matter follows the Family Papers series. This series is divergent enough in its content that it is simply identified as Non-Family Papers, and includes a few records from the two Presbyterian churches in the Davidson area, newspaper clippings and a number of miscellaneous items.

Seventeen items and an assortment of newspaper clipping are too large to be stored in legal size file folders. These oversize items have been transferred to an oversize flat box, and an oversize inventory itemizing each one is located at the end of the Container list.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Robert P. Cumming, January 2004.

Available Online

A portion of the Patterson Family papers have been digitized and can be found online: http://digitalcollections.uncc.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16033coll12

Separated Materials

The Patterson family papers, spanning from 1761 to 1999, contains information concerning the plantation class of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The scope of this collection is broad in both chronology and family lineage, spanning over 200 years and including the names of people from over twenty families. In addition, these families, many of whom owned slaves, increases the scope of this collection. The importance of this collection is found in the documents of legal bearing: wills, estate probation and debt settlement, land grants, property deeds and surveys, and papers concerning slaves (buying, selling, inheriting and emancipating), as well as the evidential value derived in such things as sales receipts for consumer goods, or letters describing nineteenth century college life. Many of the wills contained within this collection were transcribed either in hand, or typed or both. Apparently, a descendant of the Patterson and related families copied many of the wills found in this collection from county court records. Many of the documents in this collection are “indentures,” a frequently used legal term, usually used to denote property deeds. Most of the papers in this collection are either wills (which itemize personal estates), real estate indentures, receipts for the purchase of consumer goods and commodities, genealogical records, or correspondence. Also included in this collection are such things as tax receipts (including receipts for taxes paid in-kind during the Civil War), receipts for the purchase of slaves, as well as receipts for medical services, performed by local doctors, not only on white patients, but also on slaves. There is also a small amount of documentation concerning contracts made with newly liberated freedmen, and a contract for a share cropping arrangement.

There are at least a dozen deeds or indentures in the Patterson papers for the sale of acreage, and two land surveys. The earliest real estate indenture was issued in the name of King George III in 1761, for 150 acres to Robert Price, who later sold that parcel of land to the Pattersons. In addition to the Pattersons, this collection also includes people from more than twenty other families, many of which had married into (or out of) the Patterson family. John Patterson (1786-1831), and his wife, Margaret Houston Patterson, had eight children, and many grand children. William Patterson (the predominant personality in this collection) and his wife, Elizabeth McEwen Potts Patterson, had ten children (two boys and eight girls), including John Newell Williamson Patterson who, with his wife, Margaret L. Sloan Patterson, also had ten children. One of their children, Ona Elizabeth Josephine Patterson, married Calvin Knox Cumming, and had at least two children, including a son named William Patterson Cumming. William P. Cumming had a son named Robert Cumming. It was Robert who inherited these papers, and donated them to the Library of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. With this many generations and daughters who married into other families, the arrangement of family names in this collection is extensive—enough to necessitate the inclusion of a genealogical chart in this guide. There is a considerable amount of genealogical notes, charts and information for most of the families in this collection. Not only is there a significant amount of evidential information found in the papers of this collection (marriage licenses and wills, listing offspring), but the genealogical notes provide a wealth of information on these families. The geographic scope of this collection is mostly the Hopewell/Davidson/Huntersville area of northern Mecklenburg County. In this collection is a contract entitled “Articles of a school.” This was a contract with Nancy D. Ewart, a school teacher, “to teach a school for the term of six months including Reading, writing & Arithmatic as far as she is capable of doing at four dollars per scholar…” Miss Ewart’s contract with six employers, was signed the 12th of Dec. 1839. Unfortunately, it does not list the names of the pupils (see file 24). Other similar items are two receipts from the Salem Female Academy for the academic year 1847-48. These receipts itemize the expenses that Miss Mary A. Patterson accrued during her time in school, for room, board, tuition and related supplies (see file 32). Also, Julia Sloan wrote to her relatives while attending the Statesville Concord Female College, describing her curriculum and work routine, in 1860 (see file 65). A letter written to William Patterson in 1842 by T. H. Ross, tells of “a great deal of sickness in our family this summer espetialy among the negroes.” According to Ross, “they have had Typhhus fever among them.” His letter (found in file 43) elaborates on a number of other concerns, typical of plantation life during the antebellum years. In addition to the Patterson and related families, this collection also contains a wealth of information about the institution of slavery. The Patterson family (and other families mentioned herein) were slave-owning families, and the names of their slaves are recorded in their wills, probate records, and sale receipts. The names of these slaves is so significant and informative that an appendix of their names appears in this guide. Gender has been specified in the few instances when the name did not clearly indicate it. This directory also indicates the type of document where the name appears. Many were listed in sales receipts or estate settlement records. As the date span for the Patterson Papers ranges from the 1760s to the late twentieth century, there are papers in this collection that include the years of the Civil War, such as a “Tax- in-Kind” that shows how taxpayers without cash funded their government and its army during the war. In addition, there is an appeal for foodstuffs, issued by Major R. J. Nichols, quartermaster, in an effort to provide Confederate troops with sustenance. This broadside has been transferred to the Atkins Library Rare Books Collection. As the greatest and most significant papers in this collection date from 1761 to 1866, there are only a few more recent legal documents: one will (1938), and one real estate indenture (1908). Most of the post-Civil War papers are correspondence and newspaper clippings concerning historical issues of the region, or of the families related to this collection.

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Processed by Robert A. McInnes, 2005
Patterson Family papers
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Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collections, J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections and University Archives, UNC Charlotte Repository

Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte
9201 University City Blvd
Charlotte 28223 United Stated