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Special Collections: Manuscripts

What is a manuscript?

Manuscripts are typically handwritten documents in their original format, meaning they have not been edited and published.  Letters, diaries, business ledgers, marriage licenses, and photographs are all examples of manuscript material.  They are the closest to an author's original intent and provide a way to study themes and subjects across time.  Manuscripts are often referred to as "primary sources."  These manuscripts are an archive of permanently valuable records that document past events and allow us to interpret and understand history.

In our online catalog, searches for manuscript material can be filtered from a list of results by selecting the format "manuscript."  

Louisa Wells Diary

Louisa Wells' travel diary is a recollection of a trip Wells made from Charleston, S.C. to London, via New York in 1778.  Written from memory ca. 1800, she relates tales of ship life, military maneuvers, friendships she makes, scenery and social life, and details about people she meets during the journey.  She and her fellow passengers were largely Loyalists fleeing the colonies for England. Her ship was captured by the British off the coast of North Carolina. It was taken as a prize to British-occupied New York where she and her fellow travelers spent the next three months waiting for their journey to continue.  She recollects the 1778 fire that decimated Charleston (and the Library's collection) in January of that year, and she writes that the sale of her family's items that could be salvaged allowed her to purchase casks of indigo which she brought aboard ship, hoping to sell for profit in England.  The manuscript was purchased with a generous donation by Library member Kathy Salmanowitz.

Thomas Elfe Business Records

Thomas Elfe was a Colonial Charleston furniture maker.  His account book provides a glimpse into the tastes of an elite group of Charlestonians, and his work was influenced by his contemporary Thomas Chippendale. Included in his account book is information describing over 1500 furniture pieces, along with prices, customers, and wood purchases. Today, Elfe's work may be seen at the Nathaniel Russell House, the South Carolina Governor's Mansion, the Charleston Museum, the Winterthur Museum, and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.   This account book was transcribed and published in installments in the South Carolina Historical Magazine from 1934-1941.

John Locke's Fundamental Constitutions

Dating to 1669, this is one of four extant manuscript copies of the founding political document of South Carolina.  Written by philosopher, author, and physician John Locke (who was serving as Lord Proprietor Anthony Ashley Cooper's personal physician),  this historic document was intended to establish a structure for governing the colony to prevent it from falling into the political chaos of a "too numerous democracy."   Through it was revised several times, its tenets were never accepted by the people and the Lords Proprietors were overthrown in 1719.

Francis Marion Correspondence

Francis Marion's correspondence is comprised of seven letters dating from 1780 to 1789.  Marion waged guerrilla warfare against the British during the Revolutionary War and earned the nickname "Swamp Fox" because of his elusiveness and military cunning.  Included in these letters are instructions to alert "Any particulars you can learn of the enemy's moving up towards us you will let me know by express."  Many of the movements mentioned took place in familiar Lowcountry places like Bacons Bridge, Moncks Corner, and Fort Johnson.  Correspondents include Albert A. Muller, John Palmer, Peter Taylor, and Lemuel Benton.  We obtained several of these letters after we placed a "Call for Collections" to our members in 1833.

George Washington Letters

The Library has 12 letters in George Washington's hand.  Washington was an honorary member of the Library and visited Charleston in 1791.  Among his letters are several to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, statesman, son of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, signer of the American Constitution, and later, President of the Library Society. Washington wrote to Pinckney urging him to accept nomination to first one post and then another: Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Secretary of War, Secretary of State, and finally Plenipotentiary (Ambassador) to France.   Pinckney accepted this last position and the Library also has his certificate of appointment, signed by President Washington. 

Earthquake Scrapbooks

Four scrapbooks were given to the Library in 1906 by Mayor William Ashmead Courtenay.  They provide a rich record of the destruction suffered by the city of Charleston during the 1886 earthquake.  They contain delicate materials such as newspaper clippings, photographs, radio-telegrams, and other unique items.  Letters of good wishes came in from leaders all over the world after the category 7 earthquake hit, resulting in 60 deaths and damages to 2,000 structures.