This series explores the life of Dunbar Rowland (1864-1937), first director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He served from 1902 to 1937.
Rowland began work on March 24, 1902, in the two rooms designated for the department in the Old Capitol. Within six months he had sorted through five of fifty boxes of government records. He wrote, “The condition in which I found the official records of Mississippi is the most convincing argument in favor of the establishment of this Department”; describing their condition he said, “Official documents of all kinds from all departments were thrown together in hopeless confusion, and in this neglected condition they were generally regarded as old waste papers of no value.”1
Rowland also started on the task of locating the Confederate war records of Mississippi, one of the original mandates from the board of trustees. A contemporary newspaper article described the event, saying, “The story of these long lost records reads like a romance of danger and of war.” The story is indeed an interesting one:2
In 1863, realizing that Jackson would soon be occupied by Union forces, government officials hid the records at the Masonic Lodge archives in city hall for safekeeping until they returned to the city. After the war, it was deemed best to leave the records in their hiding place as a succession of “military, carpet-bagger and negro State administrations” came into power. By the time it was thought safe to retrieve them, the legislature was indifferent to the matter.
According to Rowland’s First Annual Report, when he began investigating their location in 1902, only one man alive knew where they were located: Colonel E. E. Baldwin (a veteran of Barksdale’s Brigade) of Norrell in Hinds County. Baldwin came to Jackson on July 24, 1902, and together, he, Rowland, and George Power and George Swan of the Masons went to the attic of city hall, where they found the records in three large boxes in the Masonic archives room.
Rowland embarked on several other projects intended to foster public interest in the work of the department. First, he began gathering oil portraits of notable Mississippians for a Hall of Fame. At Rowland’s request, area newspapers had readers vote for their choices. Ten men were chosen, with Jefferson Davis heading the list with 14,452 votes. (See this brochure for a list of all Hall of Fame members.) Second, the department contributed biographical monographs to newspapers and Rowland was able to persuade a number of newspaper editors to donate copies of their papers to the department for permanent preservation.3
In October of 1903, Rowland moved the department offices to the new State Capitol. For sentimental reasons, he was the last government official to move out of the Old Capitol. He wrote, “The old building may be time-worn and weather-stained, old and out of date, yet it should be dearer to the hearts of the people of Mississippi than all other buildings in the Commonwealth.”4 His new offices in the capitol included the room pictured above, located on the east end of the first floor, under the Senate Chamber. Rowland designated it the “Hall of Fame” because it housed the growing portrait collection and, later the “relics and curios” of the department (artifacts that would comprise the future Museum of Mississippi History collection)5 This room is now known as the “Hall of History.” By 1905, the Hall of Fame housed forty-three portraits, hung on the walls and displayed on easels, as well as four glass cabinets displaying manuscripts and artifacts.6
Rowland later acquired the corresponding room on the west end of the first floor under the House of Representatives Chamber. He referred to it as the “Hall of History” because it housed the state archives and research area. The room was “fitted up with filing cases and specially prepared letter files” in 1903 and the next year he added tables, a paper press, and a “complete set of filing cases” to make the collections more accessible to researchers.7
After the move, Rowland compiled and published the first Official and Statistical Register in 1904, as directed by the act creating the department. The act provided that it be published after each general election and include information on all elected officials, state institutions, state and county population statistics, and related information. Rowland went further in the first edition and included a brief history of the state and the capitol buildings, and in the second edition (1908) he included his Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898. In 1948, the Legislature amended the Code to provide that the Secretary of State would compile the Official and Statistical Register. The agency continues to publish the “Blue Book” today.9
Another of Rowland’s major projects was the compilation of Jefferson Davis’s letters and papers into one volume. Rowland officially began gathering Davis’s scattered papers in 1908. The bulk of the papers were donated by Davis’s widow to the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans. Rowland visited in May 1908 to secure permission to make copies of the documents.10 He also solicited donations of copies of privately held letters and papers. The work was published in 1923 as Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers, and Speeches. Rowland’s wife, Eron wrote what could be considered the companion to this work in her book Varina Howell, Wife of Jefferson Davis, published in 1927.
In his quest to document the history of Mississippi, Rowland traveled extensively to visit other archives with holdings related to the state. He traveled to Washington, D.C., numerous times over the years, first to see about Confederate records held there and in later years to organize the transcription of European archives related to America. (The latter work was completed by 1912 and resulted in the publication of the Mississippi Provincial Archives series.) Rowland traveled to cities throughout America to attend the annual meetings of the American Historical Association (AHA).
Rowland also took several international trips for department business. He traveled to Europe in 1906 to survey the holdings related to territorial Mississippi in England, France, and Spain.11 He next visited Europe in the summer of 1910 to serve as one of the AHA delegates to the International Congress of Archivists, which was held in Brussels, Belgium. Along the way, Rowland stopped in London, France, Germany, and The Netherlands to study their archival methods.
While Rowland devoted much of his time to matters concerning the state and the South, he also was involved with causes of national importance, the first being the compilation and publication of all Civil War soldier rosters.12 Next, he joined a group that sought to change the governance of the AHA to a more democratic system in 1914-15. One of the most important national events of which Rowland was a part was the establishment of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in 1934. He was interested in the issue of concentrating government records in one agency at least as early as 1910, when he presented a paper on the subject to the International Congress of Archivists in Belgium. He worked with United States Senator John Sharp Williams from Mississippi and Thomas Owen, director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, in lobbying Congress on the issue. Rowland lived to see this project come to fruition: in 1913 President William Howard Taft authorized the planning of the building, in 1926 Congress approved the construction of an archives building, and in 1935 staff moved in to the building, although it wasn’t fully completed until 1938.13
At this time Rowland also unsuccessfully sought the position of Archivist of the United States (AOTUS) or head of the National Archives, failing perhaps because J. Franklin Jameson was influential in the appointment. It was Jameson whom Rowland had tried to oust from leadership in the AHA in 1915. Robert D. W. Connor, candidate of Jameson and the AHA, was appointed as the first AOTUS in 1934.
Of all these endeavors, Rowland said:
We have lent a helping hand to national and international historical movements, and in doing so have received the greatest possible good in return. In our co-operative work, while we have not lost sight of the local benefit to be derived from such methods, we have always kept in mind that our history is a part of our common country, and that in its preservation, as a part of a great national past, we were doing something in addition for the State besides building up merely local interests.14
After working for ten years Rowland completed the classification of the state archives–his first and most important task. Writing in 1913 for his Twelfth Annual Report, he reminisces about starting that project and the first meeting of the board of trustees in 1902. The board was “beaming with joy” on the establishment of the department while Rowland tried to put on a good front about the enormous task facing him:
I had actually been inhaling dirt and foul odors for six months in my efforts to make a display of the interesting manuscripts which had been rescued from the floors and corners of the attic [of the Old Capitol] … and in the midst of my enthusiastic comments on the rich store of records which lay hidden away in old goods boxes, General Lee remarked that it would be wise for me to increase the insurance on my life, as it was certainly being endangered by my daily occupation. But I have survived in spite of it, and am of the opinion that the archivist, at least, is a confirmation of the old colloquial proverb that every man must eat his peck of dirt.15
In addition to those already mentioned, Rowland published the following volumes during his tenure at MDAH:
Mississippi: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form. 4 vols. Atlanta, GA: Southern Historical Publishing Association, 1907.
History of Mississippi: The Heart of the South. 2 vols. Jackson, Miss.: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925.
Official letter books of W.C.C. Claiborne, 1801-1816. 6 vols. Jackson, Miss.: Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1917.
1 Dunbar Rowland, First Annual Report of the Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Mississippi from March 14, 1902, to October 1st, 1902, 2nd ed. (Jackson, Miss: MDAH, 1911), 17 (MDAH).
2 Information on the discovery of the Confederate records from Rowland, First Annual Report, 64-65.
3 Rowland, First Annual Report, 81-88.
4 Dunbar Rowland, Second Annual Report of the Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Mississippi from October 1, 1902, to October 1, 1903 (Nashville, Tennessee: Press of Brandon Printing Company, 1904), 58 (MDAH).
5 John Ray Skates, Mississippi’s Old Capitol: Biography of a Building (Jackson, Mississippi: Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1990), 141 and Rowland, Second Annual Report, 58.
6 Dunbar Rowland, Third Annual Report of the Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Mississippi from October 1, 1903, to October 1, 1904 (Nashville, Tennessee: Press of Brandon Printing Company, 1905), 21 (MDAH).
7 Rowland, Third Annual Report, 8, 22 and Dunbar Rowland, Fourth Annual Report of the Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Mississippi from October 1, 1904, to October 1, 1905, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tennessee: Press of Brandon Printing Company, 1911), 32-33 (MDAH).
8 Dunbar Rowland, “Eighth Annual Report” in Seventh and Eighth Annual Reports of the Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Mississippi 1908-1909 (Nashville, Tennessee: Press of Brandon Printing Company, 1909), 14 (MDAH).
9 Elbert R. Hilliard, “Blue Book History” in Eric Clark, Secretary of State, Mississippi Official and Statistical Register 2004-2008, “Blue Book” (State of Mississippi, 2005), 42-43.
10 Rowland, “Eighth Annual Report,” 15.
11 Information for this section from Dunbar Rowland, “Ninth Annual Report: November 1, 1909, to October 31, 1910” in Ninth and Tenth Annual Reports of the Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Mississippi (Nashville, Tennessee: Press of Brandon Printing Company, 1912), 14-20 (MDAH).
12 For the story of this event, see Rowland, Second Annual Report, 8-11.
13 Benjamin Guterman, “NARA’s 75 Years,” Prologue Magazine 41, no. 2 (Summer 2009), National Archives Web site. http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2009/summer/dateline/ (accessed January 14, 2011).
14 Dunbar Rowland, “Eleventh Annual Report from November 1, 1911, to October 31, 1912” in Eleventh and Twelfth Annual Reports of the Director of the Department of Archives and History of the State of Mississippi (Nashville, Tennessee: Brandau-Craig-Dickerson Company, 1914), 6.
15 Dunbar Rowland, “Twelfth Annual Report from November 1, 1912, to October 31, 1913,” in Eleventh and Twelfth Annual Reports, 25.