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Column: Lyman Draper hits close to home

Posted: July 19, 2018 3:05 p.m.
Updated: July 20, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Last month’s column discussed Lyman Draper and his manuscript collection at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. And as I wrote last month, “thank heavens Draper never came to Camden.” Draper crisscrossed the South from the 1838 until the 1880s “borrowing” original manuscripts and documents from the descendants of Revolutionary War veterans and early settlers, telling their descendants he was going to write their ancestor’s history. Unfortunately, he never got to the writing phase -- he just kept talking about it and convinced many hundreds of families to allow him to take their documents as research for his books. He also never got to the phase of returning those “borrowed” manuscripts. They ended up in what became considered his personal collection.  When he died in 1891, he left the collection in his will to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, where he was the director from 1854 until his death. Families in parts of the South still remember him as “the man who stole all our documents and carried them off to Wisconsin.”

He came as close to Camden as York County. After she read last month’s column, I got a call from Marty Daniels, who maintains the Chesnut family archives here at Mulberry Plantation. Marty’s family has its own Lyman Draper tale. Her ancestor, William Hill (1741-1816), lived in what became York County. Hill, along with business partner Isaac Hayne, owned and operated a very productive ironworks in the colony of South Carolina prior to and during the Revolution. Hill produced household and plantation goods, as well as 2-, 3-, and 4-pound cannon balls and swivel guns. After the British destroyed his iron works and plantation on June 18, 1780, he joined the New Acquisition Militia and fought with the Patriots at Williamson’s Plantation, Rocky Mount, Hanging Rock #2, King’s Mountain, Fishdam Ford, and Blackstock.

Hill kept a journal during the war, and Lyman Draper convinced his grandson, Gen. D. H. Hill, Marty’s great-great- grandfather, to loan it to him. In the front of the diary, the younger Hill inscribed “loaned to Lyman Draper. To be returned.” Marty states that six generations of her family have tried to get the journal back from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. She wrote, “in the 1950s our family prepared to challenge the [State] Historical Society [of Wisconsin] … [the journal] belongs to the people of South Carolina.  My great grandfather Judge Joseph Morrison Hill and my grandmother, Martha Hill Williams of Mulberry Plantation, and my mother, Martha Williams Daniels of Mulberry hired a law firm to try to challenge the Wisconsin Historical Society but the timing was against them. The Historical Society sneered and said, “oh, we’ve saved these priceless documents from neglect and ruin in Southern attics -- why, if we had to give yours back, we’d have to give them all back!”

Marty wrote further, “I understand that the state of Kentucky is considering a lawsuit to reclaim their documents. I am all in favor of a petition to our South Carolina Attorney General to challenge the Wisconsin Historical Society to return our South Carolina history.” But for the foreseeable future, the collection is in Wisconsin. The Draper Papers are a valuable resource.  Draper’s collection is an amazing record of the history of the South and the emerging western territories in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is the unethical manner in which he obtained the collection that overshadows its integrity. The State Historical Society of Wisconsin apparently sensed the collective outrage over these Southern papers residing in a Wisconsin manuscript repository and microfilmed the collection and finding aides so the collection could be accessed remotely. Draper’s place in posterity is described as thus, “… his eventual significance rests in the contribution which he made in preserving the historical record of the South.”

The Camden Archives and Museum has recently purchased the roll of Draper manuscripts labeled “South Carolina in the Revolution Miscellanies.” It is a collection of printed accounts of the Revolution in our state.  These “clippings” range in publication date from 1781 (Scott’s Magazine) to 1885 (the Carolina Spartan). We would be sorely pressed to find these accounts of the war elsewhere in 2018. They present many details of the war that are not generally included in secondary works on the Revolution. In the near future, we will order another roll of Draper microfilm which entitled “South Carolina Papers.” We invite you Revolutionary War and settlement history buffs to come explore these new additions to our research collection.


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