William T. Blackwell Family Papers, 1862-1980

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Blackwell, William Thomas, 1839-1903
William T. Blackwell founded the W. T. Blackwell and Co. Tobacco company in Durham, N.C. in 1870 with James R. Day, later adding Julian Shakespeare Carr. This collection includes materials from the Blackwell family, based in Durham, and their descendants, including the J. D. Pridgen and Chester B. Martin families. It includes early materials from Blackwell and Julian Carr's operations of the W.T. Blackwell and Co. Durham Tobacco company; documentation from the building of the W.T. Blackwell and Co. factory; materials from the Durham Tobacco trademark litigation cases of the 1870s; Blackwell family correspondence and financial papers, many documenting local Durham businesses; volumes and ledgers from the operation and closure of the Bank of Durham, operated by Blackwell between 1883 and 1888; photographs, correspondence, and scrapbooks from the Pridgen and Martin families documenting Durham churches, community events, personalities, and local news in the early 20th century; news clippings and family obituaries; and other assorted materials relating to Durham history.
4 Linear Feet
Collection is in English.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

This collection contains assorted materials from the William T. Blackwell family and descendants, including the J. D. Pridgen family and Chester B. Martin family. Materials have been loosely sorted by format and time period, and are arranged chronologically by contributor, if possible.

The bulk of the Family Papers series dates from the late 19th century, with business correspondence and financial materials from the operation of the W. T. Blackwell Tobacco Company, both in the late 1860s (when operating as Blackwell and Day) and following the arrival of Julian Carr in the 1870s and 1880s. Items document the sales and advertising of tobacco products, ongoing factory construction in Durham, travels of both Blackwell and Carr (along with other agents), and the string of trademark violation lawsuits and other legal challenges pursued by Blackwell to protect the Bull Durham trademark in the 1870s.

Other materials from the Blackwell-era relate to the purchases and daily activities of his family, particularly his wife, Emma; the collection contains receipts, invoices, and other correspondence relating to her management of the household, documenting activities like clothing, groceries, and supply purchases. There are a series of condolence notes following the death of Mary Blackwell, the couple's daughter. Blackwell's correspondence with business associates and friends is also housed in the General Correspondence files for the Blackwells.

W.T. Blackwell's niece, Lavinia Blackwell, married Joseph D. Pridgen, Sr., whose Durham-based shoe company is referenced in printed materials and manuscript items in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Scrapbooks from daughters Mary Blackwell Pridgen and Ethelwold Pridgen offer glimpses of these young women's activities in Durham and Hillsboro, both educational and social, during the 1910s and 1920s. These scrapbooks include photographs, programs and ticket stubs, and other ephemeral items collected and preserved by the Pridgens.

Mary Blackwell Pridgen later married Chester B. Martin, and the Martins operated Durham Dairy Products, Inc., a milk processing and distribution company. Mary Pridgen refers to herself as Mrs. C. B. Martin through the rest of the collection's materials. She continued scrapbooking, with clippings and items saved about the Martins and their children dating from the 1950s through the 1960s. Later mid-20th century materials document her interest in Durham history, particularly the establishment of the Historic Preservation Committee in the 1970s.

The collection's Bank of Durham Volumes Series dates from the Blackwell-era, in the 1880s. W.T. Blackwell's operation of the Bank of Durham and its subsequent failure is documented through account books, ledgers, and other volumes recording payments and loans by the bank.

Biographical / historical:

William T. (Buck) Blackwell (1839-1903), James R. Day, and Julian Carr owned and operated W.T. Blackwell and Co.'s Durham Tobacco between 1870 and 1883, at which point he sold his shares and opened the Bank of Durham. The Bank operated between 1883 and 1888.

Blackwell was the oldest child of Eleanor Fox Buchanan and James Lipscomb Blackwell. He married Emma Exum in 1877. (She died in 1885.) The Blackwells' daughter Mary died at age five; their son W.T. Blackwell Jr. later became a civil engineer in Durham. One of Blackwell's sisters, Lavinia Blackwell (1866-1929), married Joseph Davis (Joe) Pridgen in 1889. Joseph Pridgen operated Pridgen and Jones Shoe Company in Durham, N.C. The Pridgens had several children, including Lavinia Pridgen, Ethelwold May Pridgen, Joseph D. Pridgen, Jr., Wilbur Pridgen, Nellie Pridgen, Emma Lee Pridgen, and Mary Blackwell Pridgen. Mary Blackwell Pridgen married Chester Bartin Martin in 1931. C.B. Martin founded Durham Dairy Products in 1927, which was Durham's first milk delivery company. The Martins had several children, including Chester Barton Martin Jr., Mary Blackwell Martin, Eleanor Jane Martin, Joseph Pridgen Martin, John Charles Martin, and Margaret Eshelman Martin.

Acquisition information:
Collection acquired in stages, with additions dating back to 1937. The bulk of the Family Papers series were received as a gift from the Martin family in April 2019.

This collection is organized into 2 series: Family Papers, and Bank of Durham Volumes.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], William T. Blackwell Family Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.