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(Mss 390)


Contents of Inventory


Biographical/Historical Note

Scope and Content Note

List of Series and Subseries

Series Descriptions

Index Terms

Container List


Size. 7.5 linear feet

Geographic locations. Louisiana; Mississippi, especially Natchez; Kentucky; Virginia; Tennessee.

Inclusive dates. 1802-1960.

Bulk dates. 1843-1897.

Languages. English.

Summary. Personal, political, financial, and plantation management correspondence and papers; original historical, literary, legal, and political manuscripts; and printed items of three generations of the Shields family of Natchez, Mississippi. The collection indicates political sentiment and social and economic conditions in ante-bellum and post-bellum Natchez. The papers specifically indicate the family's involvement in Mississippi politics, the Civil War, plantation owning, and civic service, as well as its literary endeavors.

Source. Purchased, 1936.

Copyright. Physical rights are retained by the LSU Libraries. Copyright of the original materials is retained by the creators, or their descendants, of the materials in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Citation. Joseph D. Shields Papers, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Stack location. T:37-T:44; 99:S; Vault; O.S.: S

Biographical/Historical Note

Joseph Dunbar Shields (1820-1886) of Natchez, Mississippi, lawyer, judge, legislator, planter, and author, was born in Jefferson County, Mississippi, at his family's home, Rokeby. His parents were William Bayard Shields (b. 1788) and Victoire Benoist (b. 1791). William Bayard Shields, first justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court and a participant in the state's territorial politics, died when Joseph was young. Joseph's maternal great uncle, Joseph Dunbar, a wealthy planter, and his wife, Olivia Magruder, informally adopted him. When Joseph was seven years old, his mother engaged Seargent Smith Prentiss, a well-known Mississippi orator, to tutor him. At the age of sixteen, Joseph entered the University of Virginia, graduating in moral philosophy in 1838, and law in 1840. In 1840, he returned to Natchez and worked in the law office of McMurran and Quitman.

While attending the University of Virginia, Joseph met and became engaged to Elizabeth Fitzhugh Conway (d. 1883) of Charlottesville, Virginia. They were married in 1841 and made their home at the Hermitage in Adams County, Mississippi. There, the couple's first child, Joseph Dunbar Shields, Jr., "Dunbar" (1842-1864) was born. They moved to The Ridges in Jefferson County and there, four more children were born: Mary Conway, Edwin Conway, Bayard Fitzhugh, Nannie Hay. In 1852, the family moved to Natchez, making their home at The Birds Nest on North Union Street. Two additional children were born in Natchez, Abijah Hunt and Laurence "Dade." Edwin and Nannie did not survive infancy.

From 1852 to 1861, the family prospered as Joseph advanced in his profession. He was also active in civic organizations such as the Masons, literary societies, and his church. Devoted Episcopalians, the family worshiped at Trinity Church where Joseph served as vestryman, warden, and lay reader. He also supported the public schools and Fisk Library. In 1860, as civil war threatened, Joseph, a Whig, was elected to the state legislature. Though a slave holder, he did not engage in slave trafficking, and he worked for a peaceful solution to the sectional conflict until Mississippi seceded. Joseph attended the legislature in Jackson until 1863, while his family remained in Natchez. In 1863, however, the family removed to their plantation, Pecano, in Waterproof, Tensas Parish, Louisiana, after Elizabeth was ordered to leave by the Federal occupying forces for insulting the United States flag. While they were away, the Birds Nest was destroyed. In 1864, Dunbar, who had enlisted as a private in the Adams Troop of Natchez and served in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia, was killed at Culpepper, Virginia.

After the war, Joseph returned to Natchez to re-establish his law practice. In the meantime, his wife and children continued to live at Pecano and also stayed with relatives in Kentucky. They eventually returned to Natchez, and the Birds Nest was rebuilt on its original site. In 1866, Joseph went into partnership with James Carson and was also elected to a judgeship in probate court. Nevertheless, the war had brought financial difficulty for the Shields, and Joseph was in danger of losing his Louisiana plantation. In the years after the war, he began writing for newspapers and periodicals. In 1883, the same year Elizabeth died, his biography of his former tutor, The Life and Times of Seargent Smith Prentiss, was published. He wrote under several pen names, including Shortfellow, Penumbra, Jew's Harp, and Jo Fairchild.

Mary Conway married William Forman Dunbar, owner of Wakefield Plantation, Adams County, Mississippi, in the late 1860s. They had four children: William Forman Dunbar, Jr., Elizabeth Conway, Joseph Shields, and Mary Shields. Bayard Fitzhugh Shields attended Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, and Dade Shields attended school in St. Joseph, Louisiana. Mary's daughter Elizabeth married a member of the Murray family. A drama teacher, she was active in staging historical pageants and pilgrimages in Natchez. She also was instrumental in the posthumous publishing of Joseph Dunbar Shields' Natchez, It's Early History. An author herself, Murray wrote plays and Early Romances of Historic Natchez.


Scope and Content Note

Personal, political, financial and plantation management correspondence and papers; original historical, literary, legal, and political manuscripts; and printed items of three generations of the Shields family. The collection reflects political sentiment and social and economic conditions in Natchez. Correspondence forms one of the largest series of the collection. Early correspondence of William Bayard Shields reflects Mississippi politics during its territorial period. Subsequent correspondence consists primarily of personal letters between Joseph D. Shields, his wife Elizabeth Conway, and children. These include letters written and received by Shields while attending the University of Virginia, between Shields and Elizabeth Conway before their marriage; family letters to Elizabeth from relatives in Kentucky and Virginia; the Civil War letters of Dunbar Shields; and Joseph Shields' correspondence with his family while serving in the state legislature. In addition to family letters, post-bellum correspondence includes letters from the overseer of Pecano Plantation and with commission firms, creditors of the plantation. Communications with the publishers and sources consulted for The Life and Times of Sergeant Smith Prentiss are also present. Financial papers relate to plantation management (e.g.-- the sale of cotton and purchase of slaves, contracts with freedmen and claims for captured cotton) and household expenses. Another large series in the collection is composed of the political, legal, and literary and historical writings of Joseph Dunbar Shields and the literary writings of Elizabeth Dunbar Murray. Genealogical materials consist of biographical sketches of William Bayard Shields and Joseph D. Shields, Sr., and transcriptions of records and letters relating to Gen. John Willis. Printed items include newspaper clippings regarding Natchez history, homes, deaths and family accomplishments; periodicals; speeches; military orders; and programs. Miscellaneous materials include a list of slaves furnished by Natchez area planters to work on Vicksburg fortifications, notice of impressment of cotton, vestry minutes, written military orders, and Shields' oath of allegiance. Photographic materials depict family members and Natchez historical parades and pageants. Manuscript volumes include a ledger for Wakefield plantation, daily packet book, law notebook (which includes a list of slaves owned by Shields in 1850), and a scrapbook of Shields' writings published in newspapers.

List of Series

I. Correspondence, 1807-1949 (boxes 1-4)

II. Financial papers, 1802-1909 (box 5)

III. Genealogical materials, 1868, 1937, n.d. (box 5)

IV. Miscellaneous, 1836-1925 (box 5)

V. Photographic materials, 1935, n.d. (box 6)

VI. Writings, 1833-1950 (boxes 7-18)

Subseries 1. Political

Subseries 2. Legal

Subseries 3. Speeches and Addresses

Subseries 4. Poetry

Subseries 5. Prose

Subseries 6. Historical

Subseries 7. Theatrical

VII. Printed items, 1808-1961 (boxes 19-21,)

VIII. Manuscript volumes, 1840-1876 (boxes 22-23)


Series Descriptions

I. Correspondence, 1807-1949

Early correspondence of William Bayard Shields reflects Mississippi politics during its territorial period. Letters document dissatisfaction with Governor Robert Williams, his proroguing the territorial legislature, and opinions on the nature of the relationship between the federal government and its territories. Several letters to and from George Poindexter, delegate, representative, senator, and attorney-general of Mississippi, are present.

Subsequent correspondence consists primarily of personal letters between Joseph D. Shields, his wife Elizabeth, and their children. Financial, plantation management, and professional correspondence is also present. Letters written by Shields while he attended the University of Virginia discuss his studies, the poor relationship between the faculty and students, and his courtship of and engagement to Elizabeth Conway. Letters between Shields and Conway relate social activities, news of family and friends, his travels, and their feelings for each other. Letters Elizabeth received after her marriage from relatives in Virginia and Kentucky detail social life, church-related activities (Episcopal), and family news.

The Civil War letters of Joseph D. Shields, Jr. record his service in the Confederate Army in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia. He relates the soldiers' unfavorable reception at Memphis, his dislike of army life and his officers, camp life, provisions, news of local boys, his illness, skirmishes at Langley, Va., and forays into Pennsylvania. Other letters of the same period detail Joseph Shields, Sr.'s activities as a state legislator in Jackson and his family's sojourn at Pecano Plantation and with relatives in Kentucky. He discusses bills he sponsored, appropriations issues, his church attendance, and acquaintances. Post-bellum letters consist of correspondence with the overseer of Pecano Plantation regarding crops, laborers, and supplies, and with publishers and sources for Shields' The Life and Times of Sergeant Smith Prentiss. Other letters relate family news, economic conditions, and social and Episcopal church activities in Natchez. A letter book (1866-1867) contains correspondence with a New Orleans commission firm, reflecting Shields' efforts to save Pecano financially. Of special note in the correspondence of this period is an autograph letter from Henry Wordsworth Longfellow to Shields in which Longfellow comments on Shields' poetry and a series of letters between Shields and James Biddle, the military commander at Natchez, discussing the authority of civil over military law and Shields' refusal to obey an order because of his beliefs.

The letters of Mary Shields Dunbar discuss her family and life at Wakefield Plantation and reflect her efforts to memorialize her father. Those of Elizabeth Dunbar Murray include congratulations for the success of her theatrical productions.


II. Financial papers, 1802-1909

Financial papers include receipts, contracts, accounts, and drafts which relate to plantation management, household expenses, and costs incurred in publishing Shields' book. Items document the sale of cotton, the purchase of slaves, labor contracts with freedmen at Pecano and leesees at Wakefield, and claims for cotton taken from Wakefield during the Civil War.


III. Genealogical materials, 1868, 1937, n.d.

Genealogical materials consist of biographical sketches of William Bayard Shields and Joseph D. Shields, Sr., and transcriptions of records and letters relating to General John Willis.

IV. Miscellaneous, 1836-1925

Included in this series is a list of slaves furnished by Natchez area planters to work on fortifications at Vicksburg, notice of impressment of cotton, vestry minutes, orders, Shields' oath of allegiance before taking office, and a plat showing the land on which the Birds Nest was built.


V. Photographic materials, 1935, n.d.

Photographic materials consist of a photograph of an oil painting portrait of Joseph Shields that hung in the Mississippi state capitol, unidentified portraits, and photographs of historical parades and pageants staged by Elizabeth Dunbar Murray.

VI. Writings, 1833-1950.

Subseries 1. Political, 1833-1861, n.d. Shields addressed issues such as the relationship between states and the federal government, the slave trade, the annexation of Texas, the Bank of the United States, and the Whig Party.

Subseries 2. Legal, 1866-1863, n.d. Legal writings contain his rulings and opinions in cases.

Subseries 3. Speeches and Addresses, 1836-1886, n.d. Included in this subseries are addresses to the Jefferson Society, Masons, agricultural organizations and Shields' July 4th orations.

Subseries 4, Poetry, 1877-1880, n.d.

Subseries 5, Prose, 1908, 1933, n.d. Essays and book reports from Shields' college days at the University of Virginia and short stories.

Subseries 6, Historical, 1932, 1959, n.d. Included in this series are historical narratives about the Natchez Indians and Natchez and manuscripts of his works The Life and Times of Sergeant Smith Prentiss, Natchez, Its Early History, and Scytala of a Deserter. Also included here is the manuscript of Elizabeth D. Murray's Early Romances of Historic Natchez.


Subseries 7, Theatrical, 1921-1941, n.d. Includes scripts for historical pageants and parades staged by Elizabeth D. Murray and a manucsript of her play Badly Mixed.

VII. Printed items, 1808-1961

This series contatins newspapers and newspaper clippings, literary periodicals, pamphlets, programs, reports, advertisements, speeches, and ephemera. Clippings of articles about Natchez history and homes and Shields family members. Of special note are a report card of Bayard Shields from Washington College signed by Robert E. Lee and Joseph Shields' oath of allegiance.

VIII. Manuscript volumes, 1840-1886

This series contains a plantation ledger for Wakefield Plantation (1873-1874), daily packet book listing subscribers (1840-1850), legal notebook recording clients and settlements (1841-1884), and a scrapbook containing newspaper clippings of Joseph Shields' letters, poems, and stories published in newspapers (1840-1876).

Index Terms

(Materials relating to the topics listed on the left may be found in the series to the right, which is represented by its number)

Topic: Found in series:

Shields, Joseph Dunbar, Sr. (1820-1886) I-VIII

Shields, Elizabeth Conway (d. 1883) I-IV, VII

Shields, Joseph Dunbar, Jr. (1842-1864) I

Shields, William Bayard (b. 1788) I, III

Dunbar, Mary Conway Shields I

Dunbar, William Forman I-II, VIII

Murray, Elizabeth Dunbar (b. 1871) I, II, IV, VI

Poindexter, George I

Pecano Plantation (La.) I-II, IV

Wakefield Plantation (Miss.) I-II, VIII

University of Virginia I, VII

Mississippi--History--19th century I, II, IV, VI, VII

Mississippi--Politics and government--19th century I, VII

Episcopal Church--Mississippi--Natchez I

African American agricultural laborers I-II

Women--Southern states I

United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865 I-II, IV, VII

Virginia--History--Civil War, 1861-1865 I

Tennessee--History--Civil War, 1861-1865 I

Natchez (Miss.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865 I-II, IV, VII

Natchez (Miss.)--Reconstruction I, IV

Betrothal I

Plantations--Louisiana I, II

Plantations--Mississippi I, II, VIII

Letters I

Correspondence I

Receipts II

Accounts II

Contracts II

Ledgers VIII

Notebooks VIII

Scrapbooks VIII

Photoprints V

Newspapers VII

Manuscripts (for publication) VI

Container List


Location Box Folders Contents

Series I. Correspondence

T:37 1 1-6 1807-1849

T:37 2 7-11 1850-1864

T:37 3 12-15 1866-1874 and letter book

T:38 4 16-22 1880-1949, n.d.

Vault:1 Letter by Longfellow, 1886

Series II. Financial Papers

T:38 5 23-24 1802-1885, 1909, n.d.

Series III. Genealogical materials

T:38 5 25-26 1868, [1912],1937, n.d.

Series IV. Miscellaneous

T:38 5 27-28 1836-1925, n.d.

Series V. Photographic materials

T:38 6 29-33 [1935], n.d.



location Box Folders Contents

Series VI. Writings, subseries 1, Political

T:39 7 35-39 1833-1861, n.d.

Series VI. Writings, subseries 2, Legal

T:39 7 40-41 1866-1868, n.d.

Series VI. Writings, subseries 3, Speeches and Addresses

T:39 8 42-46 1836-1886, n.d.

Series VI. Writings, subseries 4, Poetry

T:39 9 47-52 1877-1880, n.d.

Series VI. Writings, subseries 5, Prose

T:40 10 53-56, 56a 1908, 1933, n.d.

Series VI. Writings, subseries 6, Historical

T:40 10 57-58 n.d.

T:40 11-12 59; 60 The Scytala of a Deserter, n.d.

T:41 13 61 The Scytala of a Deserter, n.d.

T:41 14-15 62-66 Natchez, Its Early History, 1932

T:42 16 67-68 The Life and Times of Sergeant Smith Prentiss, n.d.

T:42 17 69-71 Early Romances of Historic Natchez, [1950]

Series VI. Writings, subseries 7, Theatrical

T:42 18 Composition books ([1935], n.d.)

T:42 18 72-73 Notes, scripts (1921-1941, n.d.)

T:42 18 74 Badly Mixed (1929)

T:42 18 75-76 Miscellaneous

Series VII. Printed Items

T:43 19 77-93 1808-1961, n.d.

T:43 20 94-98 Newspaper clippings, 1861-1928

T:43 21 99-102 Newspaper clippings, 1931-1941, 1960, n.d.

OS: Shields 1 List of Mississippi state legislators, 1861

99: Shields 1 Newspapers

Vault:1 Report card signed by Robert E. Lee, 1866


Series VIII. Manuscript volumes

T:44 22 Plantation Ledger (1873-1874)

Packet Book (1840-1850)

Legal Notebook (1841-1884)

T:44 23 Scrapbook (1840-1876)