Alexander Sprunt and Son records, 1779-1960

Navigate the Collection

Using These Materials Teaser

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials

Collection is open for research.
More about accessing and using these materials...


Alexander Sprunt & Son (Wilmington, N.C.)
Cotton firm from Wilmington, N.C., that for a short period was probably the largest cotton exporting house in the United States. Collection includes account books, ledgers, journals, cashbooks, purchase and sales journals, inventories, other subsidiary books, and some office files and correspondence. Goods were purchased from the Carolinas, Georgia, Texas, and other states and processed in the firm's compress facilities and sold to Great Britain, France, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe.
6082 items
Materials in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The collection consists of an extensive, but incomplete, set of account books, remnants of the office file and James Sprunt's correspondence (personal as well as business letters and papers), and pictures. Among the account books there are long series of ledgers, journals, cashbooks, purchase books, and stock inventories that document the company's operations between the 1870s and 1950s. The ledgers date between 1889 and 1952, and there are private ledgers for 1907 through 1931. The volume of minutes covers 1919-1930, but there are a few others among the offices files along with financial statements, 1885-1915, important legal documents of the partnership and corporation, and assorted other papers.

Correspondence and other papers of James Sprunt and the company date between 1884 and 1952, but they are numerous only for 1904, 1906, 1909-1910, and 1919-1921. The letters date mostly to 1904-1910, and 1919-1921, and are largely files of James Sprunt, reflecting his activities in business and interests in secular and theological education, the Presbyterian church in the U.S., and North Carolina history. Notable correspondents and subjects are Alexander Sprunt (1815-1884), Alexander Sprunt (1852-1937), Alexander Sprunt (b. 1898), James Sprunt (1847-1924), Kenneth Mackenzie Murchison, Francis Herman Packer, John Miller Wells, John Campbell White, Edward Jenner Wood, The Laymen's Missionary Movement, and the Presbyterian mission at Kiangyin, China. Account books, minutes, and correspondence are available also for a number of domestic and foreign subsidaries and branch offices, but these are often quite fragmentary. More than thirty pictures, mostly photographs, illustrate the firm's staff, workers, physical plant, and employees as well as other scenes.

Also included are some papers representing various domestic and foreign subsidiaries and branch offices, especially Champion Compress and Warehouse Company, the Wilmington Compress and Warehouse Company, Alexander Sprunt & Son (of Delaware, a holding company), and the company's offices in New York City and Le Havre, France.

Information about the company's history can be found in: James Sprunt's letters of Nov. 6, 1908; Apr. 9, 1909; Jun. 7 and Oct. 22, 1919; an article in Wilmington's Morning Star from Feb. 11, 1921; and Dictionary of American Biography.

Biographical / historical:

Alexander Sprunt & Son, Inc., cotton exporters, was established in 1866 by Alexander Sprunt (1815-1884), an immigrant from Scotland. He was associated with and succeeded by his sons, James Sprunt (1847-1924), and William H. Sprunt, the former being the senior partner of the business. During part of the company's history, it was the largest exporter of cotton in the country. It had a significant effect upon the structure of the cotton market and upon the growth of Wilmington as a port. Before 1881 that city was not regarded as a cotton port, but thirty years later it was one of the most important ports in the country. In 1907 alone Sprunt shipped 501,000 bales, operated six compresses, and employed 1000 workers.

The company drew its business chiefly from Georgia and the Carolinas. Before 1875 the movement of the crop depended upon factors, or agents of teh planters at convenient ports, port buyers, and the receivers in the North who sold it to domestic and foreign mills. In 1879 Sprunt pioneered teh practice, later adopted at other Southern ports, of the direct employment of transatlantic steamers which eventually eliminated the middlemen and their commissions. By 1908, more than fifty steamers were being chartered annually by the company which eight years later purchased The City of Wilmington, the first transatlantic steamer owned by an individual or corporation in North Carolina.

Sprunt relied upon the compress operation for his profit, rather than upon a margin in the price of cotton. The farmer received the Liverpool or continental market price, less the cost of transportation only. The compresses were primarily the facilities of the Champion Compress and Warehouse Company and also teh Wilmington Compress and Warehouse Company. The Ship Channel Compress Company of Houston, Texas, was part of the firm's expansion outside of the Southern Atlantic states. Branch offices functioned at various times in New York City, Boston, Savannah, Memphis, Charlotte, and elsewhere. Numerous offices and agencies were maintained in Europe, such as those at Liverpool, Bremen, Le Havre, and Rotterdam. The firm operated in Wilmington until the 1950s when it was moved to Memphis, Tennessee.

There were various changes in the partnership agreements and in the later corporate structure of the business, many of which are recorded in the minutes or in the office files described in this inventory. Sprunt and Hinson was the initial firm. It was dissolved and replaced by Alexander Sprunt and Son in 1875. The partnership gave way to a corporation in 1919 with the chartering of Alexander Sprunt and Son, Inc., which remained its basic form. The Sprunt Corporation, a holding company, was established in 1931 in Delaware for tax purposes; its name was changed in 1937 to Alexander Sprunt and Son, Inc.

For more information, see: Killick, J.R. "The Transformation of Cotton Marketing in the Late Nineteenth Century: Alexander Sprunt and Son of Wilmington, N.C., 1884-1956." The Business History Review Vol. 55, No. 2 (Summer, 1981): 143-169.

Acquisition information:
The Alexander Sprunt and Son Records were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase in 1969.
Processing information:

Processed by: RL Staff.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


Collection is open for research.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Before you visit:
Please consult our up-to-date information for visitors page, as our services and guidelines periodically change.
Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Alexander Sprunt and Son Records, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.