The Walter Lee Sutton Papers span the period 1811 to 1947 with the bulk dating from 1883 to 1939. Three generations of the interrelated Anderson, Danforth, Sutton, and Wynn families are represented in the collection. While the collection primarily focuses on Sutton, many of the earlier papers relate to his wife's family, the Wynns and Danforths, her paternal and maternal relatives respectively.
The majority of the collection consists of courtship letters between Walter Sutton and Harriet (Hattie) L. Wynn (1883-1886), and ledgers and daybooks of the general merchandising businesses Heard and Sutton and W. L. Sutton. Therefore, the major strengths of the collection include its delineation of courtship customs in the 1880s and its depiction over a thirty-five period of a small general merchandising firm. While the correspondence spans the period 1811 to 1936, there are very few letters that date between 1814 and 1830, thereby leaving several years virtually uncovered in the collection.
The general merchandising businesses of Heard and Sutton and W. L. Sutton sold a variety of items including farm implements, wagons, buggies, hardware, groceries, dynamite, oil, gas, clothing, and dry goods. Because of the time period covered by these accounting records, one can readily see the transition from “horse and buggy days” to the increasing influence of the automobile. Besides business records, the account books also contain a few domestic accounting records for the Sutton family. Regular customers include members of the Anderson, Sutton, and Heard families. In some there are details about employees, including the number of days they have worked or days missed. Other volumes include an estimate of the amount of lumber sold, the amount of hay cut, or which fields were used for cotton picking.
Sutton's cashbook, 1907-1909, not only delineates the cash received and paid out, but also identifies several products Sutton sold. Some of these entries also include names of companies or persons from whom he received products. While there are separate account books for ice (1909 June-1910 Oct.) and cotton ginning (1908 Oct.-Feb. 1912), ice and cotton ginning accounts are also included in some of the other W. L. Sutton Company ledger and daybooks for other years.
The daybooks commonly itemize lists of goods received. Volume 17 includes a list of bank deposits for the years 1922 to 1927, while in later years 1932 to 1939, bank deposits are typically recorded in the daybooks for the period covered by the daybooks. Also in volume 17, for the years 1923 and 1924, deposits are listed for merchandisers' accounts.
In one instance, the ledger for the W. L. Sutton Company had been used earlier for another purpose. Volume 34 contains a list of debts and credits for merchandisers' accounts for the period January 1, 1936 to March 31, 1937, while at the front of the volume there are records for the Danburg Baptist Church Women's Missionary Society, 1910 to 1921.
Volume 37, “Cotton Accounting Book” (1920-1927) includes Sutton's accounting records for his work as a cotton merchant. The accounting records indicate that Sutton shipped cotton to various companies including: Barnett and Company, Athens, Ga.; Georgia Cotton Growers Co-op Association; Rowland Company, Athens, Ga.; Washington Warehouse Company, Washington, Ga.; and George W. Wright, Augusta, Ga.
Loose materials, chiefly business receipts, were laid into several accounting books. Included are receipts from merchandisers who provided goods to the W. L. Sutton Company and from various warehouses and companies where cotton was shipped. There is also a contract for ice between W. L. Sutton and Pope Manufacturing Company indicating that Pope will sell ice to the W. L. Sutton Company.
Other Sutton accounting records indicate that he sold lumber, kept accounts for the Dansburg School District Board of Education, maintained records for the buying and use of livestock, and kept a record of personal expenses.
Additional financial records include a blacksmith account book kept by Samuel Danforth (1836-1838) and one for a boarding house in Washington, Ga. maintained by Harriet Brown Danforth (1857-1860). Promissory notes and a statement of receipts and disbursements for the estates of Samuel K. Wynn (Hattie's father) and Walter L. Sutton are among the other financial papers.
Among the earliest letters is a series that begins during the War of 1812 and continues to 1814 between George Reab in New York and others concerning his military service. (Reab married Almira S. Brown in 1816 and is a great aunt of Hattie Wynn.) Letters concern whether Reab could be asked to bear arms against the British again since he had been held as a prisoner of war by them and had later been released on parole. Reab stated that he should not be asked to bear arms, invoking the French parole d'honneur as the reason, which is a pledge or oath under which a prisoner of war is released with the understanding that he will not again bear arms until exchanged. It is unclear from the correspondence whether Reab was successful. By April 1813 he had been appointed 3rd lieutenant in the United States 13th Infantry Regiment and by 1816 he had retired from military service. The collection contains a list of officers, including George Reab, Jr. in the 13th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army, which is dated July 31, 1812.
Correspondence from Almira B. Reab during the 1840s to family and friends in New York and Vermont describe how she adjusted to life in the south. Originally from New York, she lived with her sister Harriet B. Danforth and her family in Danburg, Ga. at the time these letters were written.
The collection contains three diaries, one kept by Harriet Brown Danforth and her daughter Emma. Harriet's entries (1858, Jan. 3-1859, Nov. 30) primarily denote when she attended church and in some instances the Biblical scriptures which were read, while Emma's entries (1860? Aug. 26-Dec. 13) concern teaching school. The other two diaries were kept by Walter (1885, Aug. 15-Dec. 23). Several entries relate to Hattie Sutton, while others concern the “liquor issue.” Miscellaneous financial information is found in them as well.
Other items in the collection include minutes and bylaws of debating societies, 1853-1855, including the Pine Grove Polemic Society, Philomathian Society, and the Sandtown (Sandtown was formerly known as Hyde) Polemic Society; an undated handwritten arithmetic book; miscellaneous poetry (1816, 1846 and undated); school notes; minutes of the Willis A. Sutton P.T.A. in Danburg, Ga.; Walter Sutton's Sunday School superintendent record book for 1891; obituaries for various Sutton and Wynn family members; several printed graduation exercise programs from Danburg High School; other miscellaneous writings; and a few photographs.
Papers in the collection indicate that Walter Sutton was having financial difficulties in the late 1890s and early 1900s. In 1897 and later in the 1920s, he was reminded by his creditors that he had outstanding debts. Legal papers from the 1930s also indicate he was suffering from monetary adversities. A petition filed by the American Agricultural Chemical Society for non-payment of debts (1934, Jan. 12) was apparently paid off later that year by selling some of Sutton's land. The agricultural depression during this period was probably a factor in his economic downturn.