Massie family papers, 1766-1920s

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Massie family
The William Massie family owned several plantations in Virginia in the 18th and 19th centuries, and owned several hundred enslaved people during this time. This collection contains the papers and records of several members and generations of the Massie family, based at the Pharsalia plantation in Nelson County, Virginia. Family members represented include Thomas Massie; his children, including Thomas Massie Jr. and William Massie; William Massie's widow, Maria Massie, who inherited Pharsalia; as well as several grandchildren, including Martha, Hope, Florence, and Bland Massie. The bulk of the material in the collection dates from William Massie's ownership and management of Pharsalia, including the purchases and labor of dozens of enslaved men, women, and children in the mid-1800s. The collection also includes detailed agricultural and financial accounts, weather logs, land surveys and plots, a plantation ledger, and family and business correspondence.
3.0 Linear Feet (3 boxes and 1 oversize folder.)
Materials in English.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

This collection contains correspondence, plantation records, deeds, inventory, surveyor's plats, architectural drawings, weather memoranda, crop memoranda, and other papers, received or created by the Massie family. The bulk of the material dates from William Massie's ownership of Pharsalia plantation, and his plantation volumes document the production and agricultural trade of crops and products such as wheat, hemp, flour, bacon, oats, corn, tobacco, rye, apples, whiskey, and wool. These volumes are thorough, with near-daily entries about the weather, different stages of planting and reaping, and the production or yields of different crops, including his orchards, pigs, and horses. Many papers in the collection consist of business letters and financial logs about prices, crop yields, and local commerce. There are also occasional family and personal correspondence, with ongoing conversations about estate planning and divisions (particularly between William and Thomas Massie) as well as health news and reports on different childrens' education. Scattered throughout the collection are records documenting the Massie's reliance on slave labor, including many bills of sale for enslaved men, women, and children, as well as transactional correspondence about the hiring and use of enslaved laborers for field work, harvesting, couriering, quarry work, canal work, wagon driving, weaving, and other skilled trades. Also included in the collection is a commonplace book belonging to Thomas Massie, Sr., with notes about his crops as well as different copies of contracts and agreements he made for management of his plantation. There is an inventory and appraisal of the household and estate held by William Massie at his death in 1862. There are some drawings and maps of different lands, including plans for farming, as well as some architectural drawings of additions to Pharsalia from the mid-1800s. The collection contains some Civil War era materials, including documents relating to Maria Massie's management of the plantation following William's death, and the impressment of different horses, goods, and enslaved people into laboring on Confederate fortifications during the war. There is a deposition by Thomas Massie detailing his Continental Army service (1833); letters surrounding the Massie's hiring of a female teacher for their children in the 1840s; business correspondence between Massie and agents or contacts in Richmond, Staunton, and Lynchburg over different prices and quality of products; postwar correspondence about servant wages; and a detailed description of the Chicago fire (1871).

Biographical / historical:

Thomas Massie (1747-1834) was a Revolutionary War veteran who established his family in Nelson County, Virginia, in the early nineteenth century, and owned a plantation called Level Green. Thomas Massie and his wife, Sarah, had three surviving children - Thomas Jr. (1782-1864), Henry (1784-1841), and William Massie (1795-1862). Thomas Massie, Jr., was a surgeon during the War of 1812 and eventually built another house, Blue Rock, on the Level Green property, where he lived with his first wife Lucy Waller (1791-1822) and second wife Sarah Cabell (1795-1831). Thomas had seven children.

The land for the Pharsalia plantation was initially a wedding gift of 1400 acres from Thomas Massie to his youngest son, William Massie, and William's bride Sarah Steptoe (1796-1828). The couple married in 1814 and the house was expanded several times in the decades following. William Massie owned and managed the plantation for the remainder of his life, and records indicate Pharsalia, combined with Massie's other lands (including Massies Mills, Tyro, and Level Green), produced wheat, oats, hemp, tobacco, bacon, whiskey, wool, apples, and many other crops. Following Sarah Steptoe's death, William married an additional three times - his wives were Martha Wiatt (1812-1832), Sarah Clark (1802-1833), and Maria Catherine Effinger (1814-1889). William had at least seven children, including Thomas James, Ellen, Martha, Chiswell, Camilla, Hope William, and Bland.

Maria C. Massie inherited the Pharsalia plantation following William's death in 1862, and managed it until her death. At that point, the property was divided and sold outside the family. Massie descendants purchased it back in 1952.

Over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Massie family owned hundreds of enslaved people, and the records relating to Pharsalia indicate that enslaved laborers constructed the buildings and houses on the property. The Massie family frequently bought and sold enslaved men, women, and children; some of that activity is documented in this collection. An inventory completed at William Massie's death indicates that he owned 154 enslaved people in 1862. (Source: Jobie Hill, "Pharsalia Plantation", [Massies Mill, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012-, Last accessed: September 9, 2021.)

Acquisition information:
The Massie Family Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library in 1933, with additions in 1950s. Originally cataloged as William Massie Papers.
Processing information:

Processed by Manuscript Department Staff, 1933. Additions processed 1953 and 1957; original description recorded in the RL main entry card catalog. Collection reprocessed and description enhanced by M. Lyon, September 2021.

Accessions described in this collection guide: unknown numbers.


The collection's papers are arranged chronologically. Volumes are described by title.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Preferred citation:

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