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Cox and Chesnut families papers

Identifier: SCL-MS-9929


  • 1792 - 1858


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

All rights reside with creator. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact The South Caroliniana Library.


214 items


The Cox and Chesnut family papers, dating to 1792, 1796-1815, 1833, 1841, and 1858, discuss political, economic, and social aspects of life in the United States during Early National and antebellum periods.

The majority of these letters were written ca. 1792-1815 to Mary Cox Chesnut (1775-1864) of Camden, S.C., by her mother Esther Bowes Cox (1740-1814) of Philadelphia, Penn. This Mary Chesnut was the wife of James Chesnut (1773-1866), owner of Mulberry Plantation, near Camden (Kershaw County, S.C.) and the mother-in-law of famed Civil War diarist Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut (1823-1886). The letters mainly send news about Mary's sisters and other family members, and contain details of domestic concern – household matters, illnesses, medical treatments and child mortality, as well as social practices associated with courtship, engagement, and marriage. There are occasional references to political and community events.

While the collection consists almost entirely of letters written to Mary Cox Chesnut, much light is shed upon her life in Camden, S.C., through comments upon and responses to her letters. Mrs. Cox apparently acted as executrix of her husband's estate and writes regularly of financial matters. Descriptions of medical and health-care practices are common and of interest and frequently conveyed in some detail. Romance is the second main theme of the letters and provides valuable insights into the courting mores of the times. Mrs. Cox was careful to keep her daughter up to date on all the interesting affairs of family and friends.

A sister of Mary Cox Chesnut, Rachel Cox Stevens (b. 1761), was the wife of John Stevens (1749-1838), a developer of the city of Hoboken, N.J. Stevens engineered a steam engine and boat, with collaborators Nicholas I. Roosevelt and Robert R. Livingston. Many letters in the collection discuss the progress of their inventions, and frustrations of competition with Robert Fulton.

Mary's other sisters were Catherine (Kitty), b. 1764, married to Samuel Stockton and Rev. Nathaniel Harris; Esther (Hetty), b. 1767, wife of Matthias Barton; Sarah (Sally), b. 1779, married to physician and educator John Redmon Coxe (1773-1864); and Elizabeth (Betsy), b. 1783, wife of Horace Binney (1780-1875), lawyer and director of the first Bank of the United States.

Other correspondents include Mary's husband James Chesnut, her father Col. John Cox (1732-1793), her cousin Theodosia Sayre Coxe, and friend Jane Kennedy. Mrs Cox died in 1814 and letters of March - July 1814 concern the division of her estate among her family.

Abbreviations / Legend

ADS = autographed document signed

ALS = autographed letter signed

ALS(T) = typed copy of autographed letter signed

DS = document signed

LS = letter signed

MP = printed manuscript

MS = manuscript

n.d. = undated


University South Caroliniana Society Program, 1985, pp. 3-5


Also includes accession number 9942.

Repository Details

Part of the South Caroliniana Library Repository

910 Sumter St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA
(803) 777-5747 (Fax)

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