Furman (John Howard) Papers, 1854-1938; bulk 1867-1882
Copyright: The copyright of these letters is held by Navarro College Archives, Navarro College, 3200 W. 7th Ave., Corsicana, Texas. Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cite As:John Howard Furman Family Papers, 1854-1891, Pearce Civil War Collection, Navarro College, Corsicana, Texas
Forms Part of: Pearce Civil War Collection
Location: 1-E20-d; 1-E20-e; 1-E20-f; 1-E20-g; 1-E20-h
Scanned Copies on File: No
Accession Number: 2001.295; 2004.507
Processed by: Aubrey Carrier, June-July 2003; Updated by Julie Holcomb, December 2004
Reproductions of original materials and transcriptions may be available. Please contact the archivist for further information.
Abstract: Correspondence, financial documents, creative works and ephemera (approximately 188 items) document the daily life and experiences of a South Carolina plantation family from 1848 to 1891 (bulk 1867-1882). Created by Dr. John Howard Furman, his wife Susan, three of their four children, and other individuals, the materials shed light on the family's role in its community both before and after the Civil War. The Furman Family Papers consist primarily of correspondence, but also include financial documents, contracts, ephemera, art and other creative works.
A subsequent acquisition to the collection in 2004 added 15 items to the collection bringing the total extent of the collection to 196 items. This subsequent acquisition includes physician’s artifacts from John Howard and Richard Baker Furman as well as the financial ledgers of Richard Baker Furman. The materials date through 1936.
Dr. John Howard Furman was born March 19, 1824, in St. Luke's Parish, Beaufort District, South Carolina, the fifth of nine children born to Dr. Samuel (1792-1877) and Eliza Ann Scrimzeour (1795-1878) Furman. Furman ancestors crossed over to America from England in 1630 and arrived in South Carolina in the mid-eighteenth century, and the family was well established in the local community by the time John Howard was born. His father, Dr. Samuel, was a professor at Furman Theological Institution. His grandfather Dr. Richard Furman (1755-1825) was a prominent and influential South Carolina Baptist minister who drew attention from British military authorities for his ardent preaching in favor of the American Revolution (General Cornwallis reportedly claimed, "I fear the prayers of that Godly youth more than the armies of Sumter and Marion"). Furman University in Greenville, S.C. was named in his honor. John Howard's uncle, James Clement Furman (1809-1891), participated in South Carolina's Secession Convention in November 1860 and continued to champion the Confederate cause throughout the Civil War.
John Howard received his primary education from his father at the Theological Institute in the High Hills of Santee, S.C. From 1836 to 1838 he accompanied his family to Scotland, where he studied art. After returning to the United States, he attended Charleston Medical College, graduating in 1845. He moved to Milledgeville (then-capitol of Georgia) in the same year and practiced medicine in Baldwin and Wilkinson Counties. He became acquainted with pioneer pineland planter, David Dickson of Hancock Co., Georgia, and studied agriculture with him. John Howard later became the first to introduce Dickson's agricultural methods to the Sumter County region of South Carolina.
In 1845 he married his first wife, Catherine Eliza Carter (1824-1851), in Charleston, S.C. Catherine was the daughter of wealthy slave-owner Farish Carter of Baldwin and Murray Counties, Georgia. The union produced two sons, Farish Carter (July 8, 1846-Sept. 14, 1883) and John Howard "Johnnie" Furman (1848-?).
[Farish Furman made his home on a plantation in Georgia and eventually became a respected planter in his own right. He was a cadet at the Citadel, and enlisted in the Confederate Army along with the rest of his class when the Civil War broke out. He survived the war and in 1869 married Emma Florence LeConte (1847-1932), whose Civil War-era diaries were published in 1957 under the title, When the World Ended. They had at least two children, Catherine Carter and Elizabeth Nisbet Furman. Johnnie eventually married a woman named Annie Hennie. He traveled extensively throughout the country, helped build a railroad in Texas and had mining interests in Mexico.]
The family lived in Georgia until Catherine's death late in 1851. John Howard then returned to South Carolina and in 1854 married his second wife, Susan E. Miller. In 1859 John Howard moved his family to Cornhill Plantation in Privateer, S.C. (about 16 miles southeast of Sumter, S.C.), where he farmed and continued to practice medicine. At the time, Cornhill was a medium-sized plantation with 30 to 50 slaves. After his ambitious plans to develop the pine region of South Carolina were derailed by the advent of the Civil War, he continued to promote the interests of the agricultural and medical professions in his area. John Howard was an involved member of his community. He was President of the first Democrat Club in his neighborhood, and was active with the Grange movement, eventually becoming Master of the Calvary Grange and then Pomona Grange of Clarendon County, S.C. In 1885 he was President of the Sumter County Agricultural Association. He died May 6, 1902.
Susan Emma Miller Furman, born June 14, 1832, was the daughter of John Blount and Mary Elizabeth Murrell Miller of Charleston, S.C. She was educated in Salem, North Carolina, and married John Howard Furman in 1854. Susan helped John Howard raise his two sons from his first marriage, as well as their own four children. Her active life involved teaching the children to read and write, tending her garden, helping with the planting, and handling the budget. In her husband's absence she managed the household herself, including running the plantation and prescribing to his local patients. She died May 7, 1892.
Susan and John Howard had four children together:
Catherine Eliza "Kate" (also called "Sister") Furman, born January 29, 1858. She went away to school (the same Salem, N.C. boarding school where her mother was educated) from about 1870 to 1872 and then returned home to her family; she was still living at Cornhill Plantation in 1882.
Charles McDonald "Donald" Furman, born March 1,1863. He attended Greenville Military Institute in Greenville, S.C. between the years 1880 and 1882. He died in 1904.
Richard Baker Furman, born in 1865 or 1866 at Cornhill Plantation, also attended Greenville Military Institute. He married Katherine Lide in 1905, and died in 1958.
Susan Miller "Sudie" Furman, born January 18, 1868. Like Richard, Sudie was born and raised at Cornhill Plantation. She later married Eugene Dabbs.
* * *
Elizabeth Nisbet "Bessie" Furman, born May 11, 1874, was John Howard's granddaughter, one of the children of Farish Carter and Emma LeConte Furman.
Susannah Landrum was a freedwoman and possibly a former slave of the Furman family. In 1869 she sent her daughter Josephine "Joe" Landrum, then about 12 years old, to work for the Furmans. Joe returned to her family in 1874.
Harrell, Carolyn L. Kith and Kin: A Portrait of a Southern Family, 1630-1934. United States of
America: Mercer University Press, 1984.
Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T. Heidler (Eds.). Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A
Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2000.
LeConte, Emma. When the World Ended: The Diary of Emma LeConte. Earl Schenck Miers,
Editor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1957.
Scope and Content Note
Correspondence, financial documents, creative works and ephemera (188 items) chronicle the daily life and community involvement of a rural South Carolina family from 1848 to 1891 (bulk 1867-1882). The materials are arranged in seven groups based on creator: John Howard, Susan, Kate, Richard, Sudie, Bessie, and Other Creators. With the exception of John Howard's received correspondence, letters have been arranged by author rather than recipient. When a letter has more than one author, as is the case when Susan adds postscripts to the letters sent to Donald by his younger siblings, the letter is arranged by the initial author.
The first group, John Howard Furman (37 items, 1854-1891), is arranged into five series: Correspondence, Speeches, Writings, Contracts, and Financial Documents. Correspondence is divided into Letters Written (further subdivided into Personal, 17 items; and Business, 2 items) and Letters Received. John Howard's correspondence to his wife (15 items, 1854-1868) documents his travels around the South Carolina and Georgia area treating patients and visiting Farish and Johnnie, who lived in Georgia with his parents for part of the time. John is concerned about how his family gets on in his absence and gives Susan advice on running the plantation and managing the farm hands (these were probably slaves prior to the Civil War, and sharecroppers afterward). There is a noticeable gap in correspondence spanning the period of the Civil War. John Howard's December 1, 1860 letter to Susan, written only weeks before South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, alludes only briefly to the stormy political climate. His correspondence to Susan resumes in 1867. Also of note are two letters written to Donald in 1880 (Susan was the parent who usually wrote); John Howard provides fatherly advice, and conveys his wishes that his son will develop a talent for debate and go into the legal profession.
Several letters from 1867 document John Howard's plans to move his family to the British Honduras, where he hoped to find a happier and more prosperous future than the one he believed he faced in the poverty-stricken South. At the time, disillusioned landowners from various Southern states were migrating to South and Central America in order to avoid Reconstruction, rebuild their fortunes and resume their antebellum way of life. John Howard visited Honduras in the fall of 1867 and hoped to relocate the next year. For whatever reason, the move never took place, and the Furman family remained at Cornhill Plantation.
The Letters Received (5 items, 1865-1881) were authored by relatives, business associates, and servants. Of note are the 1868 letter from Alamander Singleton, possibly a sharecropper and former slave at Cornhill Plantation; and the 1881 letter from John Howard's niece Lily Whitaker, apprising him of the death of her father, his brother-in-law. Also of interest is an 1881 notice from the New York Academy of Science announcing the presentation of a paper on the geology of North Texas written by John Howard's son, Johnnie ("Mr. John H. Furman"). This was quite an honor as Johnnie was only 33 at the time.
The second series, Speeches (3 items, ca. 1861, n.d.), consists of three addresses concerning the state of agriculture in South Carolina and elsewhere in the South. Although not directly stated, John Howard's political views are discernable between the lines of these speeches. As a well-to-do plantation owner, he would almost certainly have supported the Confederacy at the time the Civil War began. His circa-1861 address to the Privateer Agricultural Club suggests he was a firm believer in "King Cotton," the flawed Confederate diplomatic strategy that grossly overestimated the significance of Southern cotton in the global economy. In this speech, he argues that civilization itself is dependent upon cotton, which is in turn dependent upon "our peculiar institution" -- "to make cotton they must first make slaves" (emphasis his). The other two items in the series are a near-identical draft of the Privateer Agricultural Club speech and an undated address to "Mr. President," another discourse on agricultural methods.
The Writings series (1 item, 1891) contains the Constitution of the Sumter County Medical Association, a group designed to promote the interests of the medical profession in the area.
The three items in the Contracts series (1867) are year-long freedwomen and freedman contracts of service. An unnamed freedwoman is contracted to work for the family as a cook and general housekeeper, the freedwoman Mary as a general household servant, and the freedman Tom as a carriage driver and general farm hand.
The fifth and final series, Financial Documentation (6 items, 1870-1877), consists of four tax receipts and two promissory notes. The 1877 tax receipt notes that John Howard's plantation comprised six buildings on 1,260 acres, valued at $5,000. Of interest is the 1874 receipt for a bushel of cotton signed by David Dickson, the "pineland planter" John Howard speaks admirably of in his agricultural speeches.
The second group, Susan Miller Furman (97 items, 1848-1882, n.d.), is divided into three series, Correspondence, Writings, and Ephemera. The Correspondence series is further divided into two subseries, Kate (22 items, 1870-1872) and Donald (71 items, 1880-1882) -- Susan's correspondence to her two eldest children, Kate and Donald, while they were away at their respective boarding schools. The letters indicate that she was an involved mother who did her best to provide guidance in her children's lives, despite the distance that separated them. She admonished her children to be attentive to their health, studies, dress, and deportment, often dispensing advice on self-improvement. Her letters consistently close with the phrase, "May God bless and protect you is the prayer of your Mother."
The Writings series (2 items, n.d.) consists of a list of various household goods and supplies to buy on the next shopping trip to Charleston that must have been written when Kate was a young girl (one of the items is "a baby for Katie," presumably a baby doll), and the "By Laws of Cavalry Grange," a list of administrative procedures for Cavalry Grange of Clarendon County, S.C. The Ephemera series (3 items, ca. 1848, n.d.) comprises two envelopes and a ball invitation addressed to Susan Miller.
The third group, Kate Furman (12 items, 1880, 1882, n.d.) is divided into three series: Correspondence, Drawings, and Ephemera. Correspondence (2 items, 1880, 1882) consists of two letters sent to her brother, Donald, while he was attending Greenville Military Institute. The Drawings series is further divided into two subseries, Signed and Attributed. The series comprises four undated pencil drawings signed by Kate and five undated, unsigned pencil and ink drawings attributed to her. The drawings are realist and characterized by stunning use of shading. Her subjects were flowers, people, and places. The final series, Ephemera (1 item, n.d.) consists of a large, empty Christmas card envelope addressed to Kate. Given the envelope's size and sturdiness, she was probably using it to store her drawings.
The fourth group, Richard Baker Furman (19 items, ca. 1872-1881, n.d.), is divided into three series: Correspondence, Creative Works, and Ephemera. Correspondence (6 items, 1880-1881) contains six letters Richard wrote to his brother Donald, who at the time was attending Greenville Military Institute. His mother co-authored two of the letters. Creative Works (12 items, ca. 1872-1873, n.d.), are a series of journals, newspapers, books and drawings that Richard designed and created on scrap paper. The imaginative journal entries are filled with stories, fables, biographies, pictures, and other content of Richard's invention. The Ephemera series (1 item, n.d.) consists of Richard's carte de visite.
The fifth group, Susan "Sudie" Furman (9 items, 1880-1882, n.d.), comprises nine letters Sudie wrote to her brother Donald while he was attending Greenville Military Institute. Much like her mother and siblings, Sudie sent Donald the family news and gossip. Two of her 1882 letters reference a "Mr. Dabbs," possibly the same Eugene Dabbs Sudie would later marry.
The sixth group, Elizabeth "Bessie" Furman (3 items, 1883, n.d.), has one series: Signed and Attributed Drawings contains one signed drawing and two that have been attributed to her based on style. There is another sketch believed to have been drawn by her on the back of an 1883 letter written by John Howard, and is included with his correspondence.
The seventh and final group, the Other Creators Series, is divided into six subseries by creator: Susannah Landrum, Anderson & Freirson, the Moses Family, Mr. T.M. Baker, the Eclipse Corn Planter Company, and Photographic Material.
The Susannah Landrum Correspondence (3 items, 1869-1874) contains three letters: one sent to Susan in 1869 shortly after Joe's arrival at Cornhill Plantation; an 1870 letter addressed to both Joe and Susan that sent Joe news of her family and requested that Susan be strict with Joe; and one from 1874, after Joe returned home, in which Susannah thanked Susan for her kindness to her daughter. Joe was about the same age as Kate Furman and seems to have been friendly with the Furman children.
Additional items in the Other Creators Series include an 1851 obituary for Colonel John B. Miller (Susan's father), cartes de visite for Colonel and Mrs. Moses, Miss Moses, and Mr. T.M. Baker, and an undated advertisement for assorted farm equipment from the Eclipse Corn Planter Company. There is one photograph of an unidentified male, possibly John Howard.
Another series, Subsequent Acquisition, was added in 2004 with the acquisition of materials from John Howard and Richard Baker Furman from another donor. Rather than integrate these materials into the earlier acquisition, the decision was made to create a separate series. The bulk of the items probably came from Richard Baker Furman; however, several items cannot be directly tied to a particular creator. Included in this subsequent acquisition is what appears to be an early autoclave or other physicians’ sterilizing stand. This object includes a metal water canister, an enamel basin, two glass cups one of which has an enamel holder, two metal plates, and a recessed metal bowl. Also included in this acquisition is a small doctor’s bag with the name R.B. Furman embossed on the cover and several vials of medicine inside. A Physicians’ Handbook with John Howard Furman’s name written on the inside, and a Physician’s Memorandum, three journals, and a paperback copy of King Solomon’s Mines are also included in this last grouping of materials. The Physician’s Memorandum and the three journals contain the financial records of Richard Baker Furman’s medical practice.