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Z 2122.000 S
DOWNS AND ALLIED FAMILY PAPERS

ca. 1723-1944

Biography/History:

Downs Family

Henry Douglas Downs settled with his wife, Mary Napier Downs, on a plantation belonging to his father, William Downs, in Claiborne and Warren counties in Mississippi in 1798. Their son, Alfred Claiborne Downs, was born on May 16, 1802.

Alfred Claiborne Downs was an original member of the congregation of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Bovina, Warren County, Mississippi. With his wife, Mary Jane (Robinson) Downs, he had at least two sons: Henry Augustus (Gus) Downs and James (Jimmy) Robinson Downs. Alfred Claiborne Downs had several plantations, including Beech Grove, near Vicksburg, Warren County; Linlithgow, near Arcola, Washington County; and Deer Creek, also in Washington County, where he planted cotton and other crops. Mary Robinson Downs died in Warren County at the home of her sister, Mrs. James M. Brabston.

Henry Augustus Downs attended Oakland College in Claiborne County, Mississippi, from 1845 to 1848, and he then attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) from 1848 to 1852. After graduation, Henry Augustus Downs and a brother apparently spent the summer traveling with their aunt and uncle, Sallie and John Robinson, to New York, Ohio, and Kentucky before they returned to work on their father’s Deer Creek plantation.

James Robinson Downs was born in Warren County, Mississippi, on September 1, 1832, and he attended Oakland College from 1846 to 1848. After attending the College of New Jersey from 1848 to 1852, he married Mary (Mollie) K. Thomas in the spring of 1855. By November of that year, they were living at Belvin, his father-in-law’s plantation near Clinton, Hinds County, Mississippi. Shortly before Christmas, Mary Thomas Downs bore a daughter named Pinky. The Downses were living on the Deer Creek plantation in November of 1856. Both Mary Thomas and Pinky Downs died in 1858.

On July 14, 1859, James Robinson Downs married Letitia (Lettie) Vick, the daughter of John Wesley Vick (1806-1888) and Letitia Frances (Booker) Vick of Vicksburg, and the granddaughter of Newitt Vick, the founder of Vicksburg. The Downses spent over three months on a wedding trip to Europe, touring England, France, and Italy, among other places. After they returned to Beech Grove in November of 1859, Letitia Vick Downs visited her parents’ home in Vicksburg where she bore her first son, Alfred Claiborne Downs II, on May 21, 1860. John Wesley Vick married Catherine Barbour after the death of Letitia Frances Booker Vick.

Except for occasional travels to other states, James Robinson and Letitia Vick Downs continued to live at Beech Grove where they planted cotton. Their second son, James (Jippy) Robinson Downs, Jr., was born in Vicksburg on July 16, 1861. James Robinson Downs, Sr., died on March 29, 1862, and he was buried at Beech Grove. Letitia Vick Downs later married Colonel John Cowan of Danville, Kentucky, and she died in April of 1880.

Alfred Claiborne Downs II graduated from Central University at Danville, Kentucky, in 1880, and he received a bachelor of laws degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1883. On November 6, 1883, he married Clara Muir Buckingham, who was born near Fort Valley, Georgia, on December 27, 1864. She was the daughter of Franklin Buckingham (1827-1871) and Lama Clarissa Ann Muir Buckingham (1832-1898). The Downses had two children: Letitia Vick Downs (1885-1964) and Alfred Buckingham Downs (1887-1967), and they lived on a plantation in Washington County. Alfred Claiborne Downs II also practiced law. After his death on February 19, 1906, Clara Muir Buckingham Downs married Dr. Thomas Friend Willson (d. 1933) in 1914. She died on January 5, 1944.

Allied Families

James Muir lived at times near Annapolis, Maryland, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, but he traveled extensively during the 1780s and 1790s. He married Sarah Nevett on March 27, 1749, and they had at least five children: Adam, Jane, John (Jacky), Robert, and Sarah (Sally). Jane Muir later married Samuel Hepburn. John Muir lived for a time in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania.

Harriet Maria Buckingham Champlin was the daughter of Alanson and Sarah Akin Buckingham of Fredonia, New York. Her aunt and uncle, Selena and Lewis Buckingham, also lived in New York. Harriet Buckingham married Joseph Walker Champlin of Fredonia in 1843, and shortly thereafter, they moved to New Orleans where Champlin established the cotton brokerage, J. W. Champlin and Company. They had at least five children: Charlie, Frank, Grace, Henry, and Kate. The Champlins were living in Yazoo City, Yazoo County, Mississippi, by 1875.

Scope and Content:

This collection contains correspondence; speeches; publications; photographs; deeds; petitions; maps; surveyor’s records; and a genealogical chart pertaining to the Downs, Muir, and Champlin families.

Although most of the correspondence consists of original letters, there are only photocopies of some letters. The Downs family correspondence represents the largest group of photocopied letters, as many of the original letters are in the possession of an unspecified sister. The Downs family correspondence includes a partial index based on the complete index found in a publication entitled The Downs Letters, Group I, 1814-1862. Many of the letters are also annotated in pencil with explanatory notes about the relationships of the correspondents.

The majority of the Downs family correspondents are Alfred Claiborne Downs, Henry Augustus Downs, James Robinson Downs, Sr., Letitia Vick Downs, and Mary Jane Robinson Downs. More occasional correspondents include Henry Douglas Downs, John Robinson, Catherine Barbour Vick, and John Wesley Vick.

Most of the Downs family letters were written by James Robinson Downs, Sr., to his parents, wife, and brother. He wrote his parents while on a visit to Kentucky and from Oakland College during the 1840s. Downs wrote his parents from the College of New Jersey, beginning in 1848, and later during his trips to the Deer Creek plantation and to New Orleans. A November 25, 1854, letter of Downs mentions specific aspects of farming, including the number of bales of cotton and hay and the number of hogs produced. After his marriage to Letitia Vick Downs, he wrote a number of letters during their wedding trip to Egypt and Europe, describing England; Paris, France; and Geneva, Switzerland, in particular.

Other items of interest include an October 1814 letter from S. H. Downs to an unnamed brother about the destruction of Fort Mims and recent troop movements during the War of 1812. A September 19, 1859, letter from James Robinson Downs, Sr., to his mother, discusses Napoleon’s politics and suggests that his mother sell a slave named Henry Frank because of an unspecified offense. A December 1, 1861, letter from James Robinson Downs, Sr., to his brother, Henry Augustus Downs, mentions difficulties in caring for livestock during Civil War. A May 7, 1862, letter from John Wesley Vick, Anguilla, Sharkey County, Mississippi, to his daughter, Letitia Vick Downs, discusses the possible fall of Vicksburg and other war-related problems.

James and John Muir and Samuel Hepburn are the principal Muir family correspondents. The Muirs wrote from Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, and from unspecified locations abroad, and Samuel Hepburn wrote from Upper Marlborough, [Prince Georges County, Maryland]. Most of the letters concern the health of the correspondents and their families; the deaths of several people, including John Brown and Henry Steele; and agricultural conditions.

Most of the Champlin family letters were written by Harriet Buckingham Champlin of New Orleans, Louisiana, to her parents, Alan and Sarah Akin Buckingham, who were living in Fredonia, New York. She discusses conditions in the New Orleans vicinity during the Civil War, speaking strongly her political support for the Confederacy and of the determination of the South to win the war. In a July 30, 1863, letter, Champlin tells her parents about visiting the Confederate prisoners who were captured after the fall of Port Hudson. A November 20, 1865, letter describes the sinking of the Mississippi River steamboat upon which Champlin was traveling. She also wrote about escalating racial problems and the formation of local white defense companies in the Yazoo City area in September of 1875.

The miscellaneous correspondence includes an 1860 letter from Mary Lathrop to her aunt. There is also an August 1910 letter from Charles P. Jones, a black minister from Jackson, Hinds County, Mississippi, who wrote Judge Harris Dickson of Vicksburg in appreciation of Dickson’s recent article on the Southern gentleman.

There are two speeches by James Robinson Downs, Sr., to classmates and alumni of the College of New Jersey; one is dated October 19, 1853, and the other is undated.

A publication entitled The Downs Letters, Group I, 1814-1862, edited by Alfred Buckingham Downs, Jr., in 1977, is a transcription of the Downs family letters in this collection. An undated publication entitled Our Downs Lineage, Chapter III, edited by James Robinson Downs, contains genealogical and historical information on the family of James Robinson Downs, Sr. A publication entitled Autobiography of a Southern Lady, written by Clara Muir Buckingham Downs Willson and edited by Alfred Buckingham Downs, Jr., in 1975, covers the years 1864 to 1944.

A publication entitled Letters of Harriet Maria (Buckingham) Champlin, from New Orleans, 1861-1875, compiled by Alfred Buckingham Downs, Jr., in 1976, provides a transcription of all of the Champlin correspondence in the collection. Another publication is entitled General Orders from Headquarters, Department of the Gulf, Issued by Major-General B. F. Butler, from May 1st, 1862, to the Present Time. The general orders were issued during Harriet Champlin’s residence in New Orleans in 1862.

The photographs are all black-and-white in format, and there are negatives for the majority of them. A partial index provides annotations for the majority of the photographs. Typical subjects are members of the Downs, Muir, and Buckingham families, Linlithgow plantation and some of its tenants, the April 1927 flood at Linlithgow, and some of that plantation’s china and furniture.

There is a ca. 1723 petition from John Kirk of Dorchester County, Maryland, to Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore, proprietor of the province of Maryland, which concerns Indian lands. There is also a May 25, 1727, deed of sale signed by a number of people from Dorchester County. By an 1871 deed, John Wesley Vick transferred property in Vicksburg, Warren County, Mississippi, to Letitia Vick Downs.

A 1785 surveyor’s record plots the boundaries of Muir’s Town, Dorchester County, Maryland, and an undated surveyor’s record delineates a number of land boundaries, including those of Adam Muir. There is also an undated map of Muir’s Town. Downs family lands on Deer Creek in Washington County are reflected on a December 1909 map. There are several undated, annotated maps of Downs family lands and other properties of unspecified ownership.

There is one undated genealogical chart entitled "Partial Family Tree with Descendants of Clara Muir Buckingham."

Series Identification:

  1. Correspondence (Downs Family). 1814-1862; n.d. 2 folders.

    Box 1

  2. Correspondence (Muir Family). 1781-1786; n.d. 2 folders.

    Box 1, folder 3 (1781-1786)
    Box 3, folder 1 (1783)

  3. Correspondence (Champlin Family). 1861-1875; n.d. 1 folder.

    Box 1

  4. Correspondence (Miscellaneous). 1829-1910; n.d. 1 folder.

    Box 1

  5. Speeches (Downs Family). 1853; n.d. 1 folder.

    Box 1

  6. Publications. 1814-1944; n.d. 7 folders.

    Box 1

  7. Photographs. 1879-1944; n.d. 6 folders.

    Box 2

  8. Deeds and Petitions. ca. 1723-1871. 1 folder.

    Box 1

  9. Maps and Surveyor’s Records. 1795; 1909; n.d. 3 folders.

    Box 1, folder 15 (1795; n.d.)
    Box 3, folders 2-3 (1909; n.d.)

  10. Genealogical Chart. n.d. 1 folder.

    Box 1

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