James Buchanan Duke papers, 1777-1999 and undated, bulk 1890s-1930s

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Duke, James Buchanan, 1856-1925
James B. Duke (1856-1925) was a tobacco manufacturer, industrialist, and philanthropist of Durham, North Carolina, and New York City and the youngest son of Washington Duke. He was also father to Doris Duke, who inherited a considerable portion of her father's estate at an early age and became known as "the richest girl in the world." James B. Duke's major business concerns included W. Duke, Sons and Company; American Tobacco Company; British American Tobacco Company; and Southern Power Company. His philanthropic activities included endowments of Trinity College (later renamed Duke University) and Lincoln Hospital of Durham, North Carolina. In December 1924, Duke established the Duke Endowment, a permanent trust fund whose beneficiaries include Duke University and three other institutions of higher education, rural churches, non-profit hospitals, and child care institutions throughout North and South Carolina. The collection was compiled from various sources and includes: correspondence; business, legal, and financial papers; estate and inheritance records; printed materials; miscellaneous materials; architectural drawings and blueprints; and pictures chiefly relating to the businesses, enterprises and philanthropy of James Buchanan Duke in North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, and Québec, Canada. About one-half of the collection documents the administration of his estate. Subject areas represented include: American Tobacco Company; British American Tobacco Company; Southern Power Company; business; finance; aspects of the tobacco industry, including automation, marketing and taxation; hydroelectric power; textile mills; charitable works; architectural planning and interior decoration; genealogy of branches of the Duke family; inheritance and succession; estate taxation; and legal procedure for wills, inheritance and business.
33 Linear Feet
circa 24,000 Items
Materials in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The papers of James Buchanan Duke have been collected from various sources over time and span the years 1777 to 1999, although the bulk of the material dates from the 1890s to the mid-1930s. The collection is divided into 7 series: Correspondence, Business Papers, Legal Papers, Financial Papers, Estate Papers, Miscellaneous, and Pictures. About one half of the collection documents the administration of the Estate of James B. Duke, Deceased, including legal proceedings stemming from claims made against the estate. The remainder of the collection deals largely with businesses and financial investments, mainly through the Business Papers, Financial Papers, and Estate Papers Series. To a lesser extent, aspects of Duke's philanthropy are documented through the Financial Papers, Correspondence, and Legal Papers, while personal topics are concentrated in the Picture Series, Miscellaneous Series, and Correspondence Series. Subject areas represented in the collection include: the tobacco and hydroelectric power industries; business and finance; philanthropy; genealogy on branches of the Duke family; inheritance; legal procedure; architecture and interior decoration; and, to a lesser degree, family life.

Since brother Benjamin Newton Duke participated in many of the same businesses and enterprises as James B. Duke, items of his business correspondence and documents related to his investments and domestic expenditures are also found throughout the collection.

Biographical / historical:
Date Event
1856, Dec. 23
Born, Orange County, N.C.
Attended Eastman Business College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Full partner in newly incorporated W. Duke, Sons and Company
ca. 1883
President, W. Duke, Sons and Company
Moved to New York, N.Y.
Negotiated contract with Bonsack Machine Company for use of cigarette manufacturing machine
Organized The American Tobacco Company
1902, Sept. 27
Signed agreement with British tobacco manufacturers to form British-American Tobacco Company
1904, Sept.
Married Lillian McCreedy (divorced 1906)
Established Southern Power Company with Benjamin N. Duke and George W. Watts
1907, July 23
Married Nanaline Holt Inman
1911, May
Dissolution of the American Tobacco Company ordered by the United States Supreme Court
1912, Nov. 22
Daughter, Doris Duke, born
ca. 1915
Purchased hydroelectric power resources on Saguenay River, Quebec, Canada
Began plans for a philanthropic trust to serve educational and other institutions in North Carolina and South Carolina
Duke Farms Company, Somerville, N.J., incorporated
ca. 1923
Duke-Price Power Company established
1924, Dec. 11
Signed indentures establishing The Duke Endowment and The Doris Duke Trust
1925, Oct. 10
Died, New York, N.Y.
1928, May 21
Final determination by State of New Jersey Court in the Matter of the Estate of James B. Duke, Deceased
Remains removed to the Memorial Chapel of Duke University Chapel
1934, June 18
Estate of James B. Duke liquidated
Widow, Nanaline H. Duke, died
Acquisition information:
The James Buchanan Duke Papers were transferred to the Special Collections Department from various sources beginning in 1957 and continuing through 1990. Funds from The Duke Endowment supported the reprocessing of this collection from 1991 to 1992. Additional material received as a gift from Darryl Copeland in 2021.
Processing information:

Processed by Donna Longo DiMichele

Completed April 2, 1992

To allow for improved housing and preservation, negatives in Pictures Series were separated and re-housed by Elizabeth Terry, and finding aid adjusted, June 2007.

Reprocessed by Mary Mellon, July 2014.

Updated by Leah Tams, December 2021.

Information about 1991-1992 processing

The current arrangement of the papers of James Buchanan Duke is the result of reprocessing, including reorganization and consolidation, of the materials in 1991 and 1992. This was undertaken to improve access for research and upgrade housing for the materials. The materials are now fully integrated into the collection under appropriate series and subseries. Throughout the collection, wherever attachments to correspondence appeared to have been displaced, attempts were made to re-establish these links. Check books were disbound and the check stubs filed in folders. Duplicate materials were removed.

Materials generated during the settlement of the Estate of James B. Duke, Deceased, and the determination of heirs under his will are all filed in the Estate Series in three sections, Correspondence, Legal Papers, and Financial Papers Subseries. The materials that were formerly filed as Research Records of Charles Caldwell are now primarily filed in the Estate Series,especially the Legal Papers Subseries. The majority of Caldwell's papers are filed in folders labeled Discovery or Claims; Caldwell'snotes are filed in chronological order and some correspondence is interfiled with the notes. Where there were no dates, the materials were kept in the order in which they were previously filed although some reconstruction of order was possible by comparing dated and undated manuscripts. Caldwell's reports to the executors and census and other records that he collected are filed separately from his notes. The provenance of the typed lists of names and relationships filed in the front of the Estate Series, Legal Papers Subseries,Claims folders is unclear. These lists may have been created and added to the collection when it was previously arranged. Most of the genealogical materials are filed in the Legal Papers Subseriesunder Claims. Evidence previously filed under correspondence is now in the subseries under Evidence with the index created by the lawyers.

Some of the correspondence between James B. Duke and D. B. Strouse and P. A. Krise of the Bonsack Machinery Company was attached to the pages of a set of three letterbooks. To comply with preservation needs, the letterbooks were dismantled and the correspondence removed to three folders and filed in the Business Papers Series. The number of the letterbook page from which the leaf was removed was copied to the letter and the folders were arranged according to the arrangement of the original letter books. There is an index to the correspondence from each letter book.

Business, legal, and financial records pertaining specifically to the administration of James B. Duke's estate are filed in the Estate Series. Similar records, not pertaining to the settlement of the estate, are filed in the Business Papers, Legal Papers, and Financial Papers Series regardless of their dates.

As of 2014, tthe collection was reprocessed and many of these arrangement decisions were altered and are no longer valid. See updated scope and content and arrangement note.


The collection is organized into the following series: Correspondence, Business Papers, Legal Papers, Financial Papers, Estate Papers, Miscellaneous, and Pictures.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Collection is open for research.

Access note. Some fragile letterbooks and other volumes require consultation with staff regarding safe handling.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in the papers of James Buchanan Duke have not been transferred to Duke University. For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the Special Collections Department.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], James Buchanan Duke Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University