Washington Duke papers, 1764-1987

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Duke, Washington, 1820-1905
Collection contains business and financial papers, chiefly of Washington Duke. Business and financial papers relate to the tobacco and textile industries and include some early financial records of W. Duke, Sons and Company. Other financial records pertain to Duke's generosity to relatives and to educational institutions such as Trinity College (now Duke University). Personal papers consist of correspondence, the Duke family genealogy, photographs, and memorabilia from the dedication of the Duke Homestead.
2.6 Linear Feet
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The bulk of the papers of Washington Duke, a tobacco manufacturer and philanthropist, date from 1890 to 1905, but the papers include items as early as 1764 and as late as 1987. The collection is a created one; materials from several sources have been brought together to form the Washington Duke Papers. The collection relates primarily to the financial and philanthropic interests of Washington Duke after his retirement from W. Duke, Sons and Company in 1880. There are five series: Correspondence, Financial Papers, Genealogical Papers, Legal Papers, and Miscellaneous Papers.

The Correspondence Series begins with two letters (photocopies) written by Washington Duke in 1863, when he was preparing to enter the Confederate Army. After the war Mr. Duke began establishing his tobacco business. This series contains no correspondence for the period 1865-1889. The bulk of the correspondence covers the period 1890-1905, after Mr. Duke had retired from the tobacco business. These letters reveal his financial and philanthropic interests after retirement. Letters come from the following sources:

  • 1. Relatives, seeking aid or sending thanks for gifts.
  • 2. Methodist Episcopal Church, South, members and ministers seeking assistance for church buildings, furnishings, orphans, widows, and missionaries.
  • 3. Schools and colleges asking for aid or expressing appreciation for aid given. Louisburg Female College, Rutherford College, Trinity College and Kittrell College were among those writing about finances. The orphanage at Oxford was supported for a number of years. Many students, both black and white, sought financial assistance from Mr. Duke in the way of scholarships or loans.
  • 4. Business associates or would-be partners seeking financial assistance or employment. These letters are largely concerned with textiles and tobacco. For example there are letters reflecting Mr. Duke's encouragement of black capitalism in the founding of the Coleman Manufacturing Company at Concord, N.C.
  • 5. People who were ill or unlucky, many of them very impoverished.

The letters in the Correspondence Series dated 1975-1976 are concerned with Washington Duke's dealings with the J. W. Scott and Company in Greensboro, N.C. (1871) and the nomination of St. Joseph's A.M.E Church in Durham to the National Register of Historic Places. This series does not include any original letters written by Washington Duke.

The Financial Papers Series consists of records of Washington Duke's business interests and philanthropy. The oldest volume is a ledger (1873-1877), kept at the time Washington Duke and his sons moved their factory from the farm to Durham. Duke tobacco products were being shipped to markets from Maine to California, including locations in frontier Montana. An account book for the Durham Warehouse covers the period 1876-1884 and gives an interesting glimpse of the beginnings of Duke tobacco organization. Records were kept of purchases of tobacco, promotion trips to Europe and Australia (1883-1884), and the entry of George Washington Watts into the firm (1878).

A summary of the personal finances of Washington Duke is noted in financial papers dating from 1893 until the time of his death in 1905. These records include a journal, ledger, cashbook, and check stubs. They are parallel in content and supplement each other; they appear to have been the work of his private secretary, James E. Stagg.

The journal (1893-1905) indicates gifts to family, relatives, and individuals, as well as transactions with institutions such as the White Rock Baptist Church, St. Joseph's AME Church, Louisburg Female College, and the Durham Conservatory of Music. Businesses noted include the American Tobacco Company, the Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company, Cary Lumber Company, together with a number of cotton mills, railroads, and banks.

The cashbook (1893-1905) lists, in more detail, dividends from investments as well as donations to individuals and institutions over a period of a decade or more. Washington Duke was consistently generous to his immediate family and his many nieces and nephews. His tithing to the church covered gifts to the Main Street Methodist Church, ministers, Negro churches, orphanages and schools. With the coming of Trinity College to Durham, he made generous contributions to its finances, including small gifts to the baseball team and to the library for book stacks. The check stubs cover the period 1899 to 1905. The final entry refers to the balance transferred to his sons after Washington Duke's death.

The ledger (1893-1904) contains accounts listing mills, railroads, and other property. Also included are notations concerning rents, personal expenses, tithes and repairs. Many names of Durham citizens appear here.

The Genealogical Papers Series contains the Washington Duke family Bible (1861) as well as family trees and correspondence regarding lineage and descendants of Duke family members. The bulk of the material is photocopies from the James B. Duke Papers, including copies of letters which detail what Washington Duke remembered about his family.

The Legal Papers Series includes copies of court, marriage, and property records pertaining to the Duke family and its settlement in Orange County, in the vicinity of present-day Durham, N.C. Other papers include a copy of Washington Duke's last will and testament (1900) and the indenture establishing the Doris Duke Trust (1925).

The Miscellaneous Papers Series is composed of pictures, clippings, and general materials. The pictures are primarily photographs of homes, people, and tobacco factories. They have no dates and many are copies of originals on permanent loan to the Duke Homestead, a National Historic site. The homes include those of Taylor Duke (presumed) and Washington Duke, as well as interior views of rooms at the Duke Homestead. There are pictures of Washington Duke and of his statue and of three buildings on the Duke Farm used as tobacco factories prior to the move to Durham.

Clippings are family and business related dating from 1890-1987. A Memorial Album of notices on the death of Washington Duke (1905) is arranged alphabetically by city.

General materials relate to the Duke Homestead and include a variety of other printed and manuscript items. Among them are a Tribute to Bishop Marvin, ca. 1877 (photocopy); Resolution of Thanks and Appreciation, St. Joseph's AME to Washington Duke, 1902; a Resolution by the Board of Directors of the Fidelity Bank in memory of Washington Duke (1905); and a manuscript list of persons sending condolences/flowers on the death of Washington Duke, 1905. Photostats of two records in the C.S.A. Archives in the National Archives are concerned with the Civil War career of Washington Duke. One, dated April 4, 1864, is a report for Co. A of the Camp Guard by Captain George B. Baker, Assistant Quartermaster at Camp Holmes, Raleigh. The second item is a list of men who signed up for three years service in the Confederate Navy. Washington Duke's signature appears on both of these documents.

Biographical / historical:
Date Event
1820, Dec. 20
Born eighth of ten children of Taylor and Dicey (Jones) Duke; Little River, Orange Co., N.C.
Married Mary Caroline Clinton
Sidney Taylor Duke born
Brodie Leonidas Duke born
Mary Caroline Clinton died
Settled on 300 acres four miles north of Durham's Depot (Durham)
Married Artelia Roney, Alamance County
Mary Elizabeth Duke born
Benjamin Newton Duke born
James Buchanan Duke born
Sidney Taylor Duke died, typhoid
Artelia Roney Duke died, typhoid
1864, April
Joined Confederate service
1865, April
Taken prisoner, Richmond, Va.
Joined Republican Party
Moved family and business to Durham proper
W. Duke, Sons and Company established
Retired from tobacco business
Offered $85,000 to Trinity College to move from Randolph Co. to Durham, N.C.
Gave Trinity College $100,000 endowment to admit women as students
1905, May 8
Died; buried in the family mausoleum at Maplewood Cemetery, Durham, N.C.
Remains removed to the Memorial Chapel of the Duke University Chapel along with those of sons, James Buchanan Duke and Benjamin Newton Duke
Acquisition information:
The papers of Washington Duke, tobacco manufacturer and philanthropist, were initially assembled in 1951 from the former Trinity College Papers and the papers of his son, Benjamin Newton Duke. Over the years additional transfers were made from the papers of his sons, James Buchanan Duke and Benjamin Newton Duke, as well as from the W. Duke, Sons and Company Records. Gifts to the collection came from Mrs. James H. Semans (Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans) in 1969; Wachovia Bank and Trust Company in 1959; and the Duke Homestead in 1972.
Processing information:

Processed by Madeleine Bagwell Perez

Completed February 14, 1990

Encoded by Alvin Pollock

The Washington Duke Papers were processed with support from The Duke Endowment.

Updated to add missing folder title and adjust collection hierarchy by Tracy M. Jackson, March 2023.

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.

Industries -- North Carolina
Tobacco industry -- North Carolina
Textile industry -- North Carolina
Trinity College (Durham, N.C.)
W. Duke, Sons & Co.
Duke University
Duke Homestead (Durham, N.C.)
Duke family
Duke, Washington, 1820-1905
Durham (N.C.) -- History


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