Archives and Library Division
PILGRIMAGE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION COLLECTION:
NUTT FAMILY PAPERS
Haller Nutt, younger son of physician and planter Dr. Rush Nutt and Eliza Ker Nutt, was born at Laurel Hill Plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi, on February 17, 1816. Nutt was educated at the University of Virginia from 1832 to 1835. Upon returning to Mississippi, he assisted his father in plantation management.
Julia Augusta Williams, daughter of Austin and Caroline Routh Williams, was born at Routhlands in Natchez, Mississippi, on August 11, 1822. Much of her youth was spent at Ashburn, also in Natchez. Williams was eighteen at the time of her marriage to Haller Nutt in 1840.
The Nutts had eleven children, some of whom did not survive to adulthood. They were Caroline Routh (b. ca. 1841-1842), Mary Ella (b. 1844), Fanny Smith (b. 1846), Haller, Jr. (b. 1848), John Ker (b. 1850), Austin (b. 1852), Sargeant Prentiss (b. 1855), Julia (b. 1857), Calvin Routh (b. 1858), Lillie (b. 1861), and Rushworth (b. 1863).
Haller Nutt acquired several plantations through inheritance or purchase, including Araby, Evergreen, and Winter Quarters in Louisiana and Cloverdale and Laurel Hill in Mississippi. The cultivation of cotton, sugar cane, and other cash crops on these plantations brought him considerable wealth. Nutt owned nearly 43,000 acres of land and 800 slaves, and he had made a net profit of more than $228,000 from agricultural enterprises in 1860. His fortune prior to the Civil War was estimated at more than three million dollars.
When Haller and Julia Nutt were ready to build Longwood in the late 1850s, they chose Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan. The couple worked closely with Sloan to create plans for the mansion. Sloan designed a multistory octagonal villa in the Oriental Revival style, with a domed cupola, full basement, and more than thirty rooms. Construction on Longwood began in the spring of 1860, and the exterior was virtually complete at the beginning of the Civil War. However, work on the interior was soon halted as Sloanís artisans, fearing for their safety, hastily returned to the North. The basement story was completed by slave labor and was ready for occupancy by 1862. Although Julia Nutt later received bids for the completion of the interior of Longwood in the 1890s, the upper floors were never completed. Longwood is the largest octagonal house in the United States.
Haller Nutt suffered large financial losses during the Civil War from the destruction of cotton and real estate and the expropriation of stores and supplies by the Union and Confederate armies. This situation caused severe cash-flow problems that ultimately led to the foreclosure on the mortgages to Nutt family plantations in Louisiana. During the war, Nutt took steps to document the value of assets lost to the Union army in the hope that reparations would someday be paid. After the war, these records were filed with the federal government to substantiate the reparations claim of the Haller Nutt estate.
The Nutt family continued living at Longwood after the death of Haller Nutt from pneumonia on June 15, 1864, but Julia Nutt was left with the responsibility of rearing and educating several minor children. The remaining plantations, Cloverdale and Lochland, were not always productive, thus creating financial difficulties for the Nutt family. Nevertheless, Julia Nutt managed to support her children and provide them with what educational and social opportunities she could afford. However, without the counsel and support of Julia Nuttís son, Sargeant Prentiss, her task would have been nearly impossible.
Sargeant Prentiss Nutt (later Knut) was educated in Philadelphia and at the University of Virginia. After reading law in Natchez, Knut moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue a legal career. Knut was briefly employed as a tutor to the children of Mrs. John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren, widow of a Union admiral, prior to undertaking the practice of law in Washington. He had a large circle of friends that included politicians and military figures and their families. Although living on relatively modest means, Knutís background provided him with the cachet necessary to enjoy the best that Washington society had to offer.
Knut persistently lobbied for the passage of a bill that would partially compensate the Nutt family for losses due to the Union army. His efforts in promoting the bill for reparations were often thwarted by the indifference and procrastination of the Congress, despite the assistance of those sympathetic to the Nutt family claim, such as L. Q. C. Lamar. Knut corresponded regularly with his mother during the many years he spent in Washington, keeping her apprised of recent developments regarding the reparations claim and advising her on various matters at home.
In December of 1896, Sargeant Prentiss Knut married Lily Barret of Owensboro, Kentucky. She died shortly after her daughter, Lily, was born. After various legal disputes with the Barret family, Knut agreed to assign guardianship of his daughter to a wealthy uncle and aunt of his late wife, Major Theodore K. and Virginia Barret Gibbs of Newport, Rhode Island.
Sargeant Prentiss Knut spent the remainder of his life practicing law in Washington and attempting to recoup what he could of the Nutt family fortune. Knut also continued to supervise matters affecting Longwood, Cloverdale, and Lochland, as well as his daughterís interest in her motherís estate. His spare time was devoted to the continuance of the reparations claim of the Haller Nutt estate against the federal government. The legal fees for pressing the claim were often paid out of his pocket, and Knut was sometimes at odds with his family over its continuance. The total of payments for reparations actually received by the Nutt family probably never amounted to more than $100,000.
Scope and Content:
This collection, spanning four generations of the Haller Nutt family of Natchez, Mississippi, is arranged chronologically in one series of correspondence and related documents. This correspondence is divided into the following subgroups: early Nutt family correspondence; correspondence of Julia Nutt and Sargeant Prentiss Knut; correspondence of Knut and various other Nutt family members; correspondence of Knut and his wife, Lily Barret Nutt, and her family; correspondence of Knut and various friends and acquaintances; and correspondence of Knut and leading political figures of national importance during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Perhaps the most interesting item among the early Nutt family correspondence and related documents is a November 27, 1833, letter from Dr. Rush Nutt to Haller Nutt while his son was attending the University of Virginia. In the letter, Dr. Nutt comments on his recent European trip, the curriculum pursued by Haller Nutt at the university, and the recent harvest at Laurel Hill Plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi.
The correspondence between Julia Nutt and Sargeant Prentiss Knut is the most significant of the collection, as it provides many important details regarding the reparations claim of the Haller Nutt estate against the federal government. Julia Nuttís letters also reveal the difficulties she faced in rearing and educating her children with greatly reduced means. They also provide valuable documentation of life at Longwood and the plantations, Cloverdale and Lochland. There are also many references to people, places, and events in the Natchez and Adams County area.
Sargeant Prentiss Knutís letters to his mother similarly document the economic and political implications of the pending legislation regarding the reparations claim of the Nutt family against the federal government. They also provide a candid account of Washington social and political life during the late nineteenth century. Knutís letters provide much valuable information about Mrs. John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren and her family. Many influential political and military figures are discussed or mentioned in Knutís letters. Among those represented are President Rutherford B. Hayes, Secretary of State William Maxwell Evarts, Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman, Senators L. Q. C. Lamar, John R. Lynch, and Blanche K. Bruce, Generals Denver, Hooker, and Keifer, and many others. Knut was interested in researching the genealogical history of the Nutt, Ker, Routh, and Williams families and often included the results of his research in his letters. He even attached a pen-and-ink drawing of the Nutt family escutcheon to one of the letters written to his mother.
Sargeant Prentiss Knutís correspondence with various other family members covers a multitude of topics. Of interest are those letters documenting the disputes that existed between Knut and his surviving brothers and sisters concerning their respective interests regarding the payment of reparations due the Haller Nutt estate, the settlement of the estate, and the management of Longwood and the surviving plantations, Cloverdale and Lochland. It also contains descriptive information about domestic life and plantation management during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This correspondence also contains genealogical information regarding the Nutt, Ker, Routh, and Williams families.
The correspondence of Sargeant Prentiss Knut and Lily Barret Nutt provides an interesting account of Victorian courtship customs during the late nineteenth century. This correspondence also contains commentary about the election of President William McKinley in 1896. It also reveals Knutís views on a free-silver economy, a major political issue of the 1890s.
Sargeant Prentiss Knutís correspondence with national political figures of his day is a small, but significant portion of the collection. Included are signed and unsigned carbon copies of letters written to these individuals. Few replies to these letters are present in the collection. Some of the letters pertain to the continuance of the reparations claim of the Haller Nutt estate that Knut pursued throughout most of his life. The majority of the letters, however, echo Knutís political sentiments. Those with whom Knut corresponded include Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Senators Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., of Massachusetts, Arthur P. Forman of Maryland, Philander C. Knox of Pennsylvania, LeRoy Percy and Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi, and Representative Henry S. Van Eaton of Mississippi.
An item-level calendar of the correspondence and other documents in this collection is also available at the reference desk.
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