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Whitfield Family Papers

Identifier: MSS-1628

Scope and Contents

This collection contains letters and papers of the Whitfield family, a Marengo County, Alabama, plantation family. The collection includes correspondence, financial papers and business receipts, as well as land grant documents and Nathan Bryan Whitfield's presidential pardon.


  • 1820-1920


Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use


Biographical / Historical

The two primary persons in this collection are cousins and brothers-in-law, General Nathan Bryan Whitfield and Gaines Gaius Whitfield. Nathan's father, Bryan Whitfield, and Gaius' father, Needham Whitfield, were brothers, and Nathan Bryan married Gaius' half-sister, Betsey.

General Nathan Bryan Whitfield was born on 19 September 1799, in Lenoir County, North Carolina, the son of General Bryan Whitfield (1754-1817) and Winifred Bryan Whitfield. His father fought in the American Revolutions and was appointed major general of the North Carolina militia after the war. General Bryan Whitfield was the owner of a large plantation known as Pleasant Plains in Lenoir County, North Carolina. In 1789, he was one of the founders of the University of North Carolina and one of its first Trustees.

Nathan Bryan Whitfield graduated from the University of North Carolina at age 17 and at 19 was seated in the North Carolina Senate. In 1819, he married his cousin, Elizabeth Watkins Whitfield (1801-1846). The couple had twelve children: Sarah Watkins (1819-1822); Winnifred (1821-1822); Nathan (1824-1832); Mary Elizabeth (1825-1859), married William Wiltshire Whitfield; Bryan Watkins (1828-1908), in 1855 married Mary Alice Foscue (1838-1889); Needham George (1830-1884); Edith Winnifred (1832-1842); Nathan Bryan (1835-1913); James Bryan (1837-1842); Sarah Elizabeth (1839-1842); Edith James (1842-1904); and Betsey Winifred (1843-1929), married Francis Eugene Whitfield. After Elizabeth's death in 1846, Nathan Bryan wed Bettie Whitfield (1825-1875), (daughter of John and Mary Slade Whitfield) and had one more daughter, Nathalie Ashe (1859-1956), married Norman Griffin Winn (1858-1938). In 1835, Nathan Bryan moved his growing family and slaves from North Carolina, to Marengo County Alabama, where his cousin and brother-in-law, Gaines Gaius Whitfield had settled earlier and likewise, prospered immensely.

Gen. Nathan Bryan Whitfield purchased the home and plantation of his great friend, Col. George Strother Gaines, the Choctaw factor, and spent the next twenty years turning the primitive but solid two-story log dog-trot house into the Greek Revival style mansion seen at Gaineswood today.

Gen. Nathan Bryan Whitfield died on 27 December 1868 in Demopolis, Alabama.

Gaines Gaius Whitfield was born on 15 November 1804 in Wayne County, North Carolina, the son of Needham Whitfield and his fourth wife, Penelope Bush. He and his younger brother, Boaz, were educated in Tennessee for $2.50 per month, under the guardianship of their older brother, Needham. When Gaius and Boaz came of age they had to reimburse Needham because the court guardianship considered the tuition exorbitant and would not pay for it out of their late father’s estate.

Gaius’s half-sister, Mary Bush Bryan and her husband, James Reynolds Bryan, lived in Jefferson, Marengo County, Alabama, and encouraged him to move to Alabama. In 1825, Gaius began applying for land patents for properties in Mississippi and Alabama, and in 1828, he purchased his first property in Marengo County. Gaius’s half-brothers had migrated to Columbus, Mississippi in 1826, and had also encouraged him to move there.

On 15 July 1834, Gaius married Mary Ann Whitfield (1817-1883), Gen. Nathan Bryan Whitfield’s sister, and moved into a primitive log cabin in Marengo County. They had six sons, all of whom would serve in the Confederate Army: Gaius Jr. (1837-1909), Charles Boaz (1838-1906), Needham Bryan (1840-1911), James Bryan (1842-1914), Bryan (1844-1862), and George Nathan (1848-1871). Bryan died of camp fever in 1862; the other five brothers survived the war.

Gaius Sr. was a successful planter, eventually owning 30,000 acres in Alabama and Mississippi. Gaius loved both places, and traveled up and down the Tombigbee River to his two homes.

During the Civil War, Gaius Sr. learned of the Union Army’s impending approach. Fearing looters, he buried six hundred $20 gold pieces in a secret place on his plantation, Shady Grove. Rumors of a treasure map to the location of the gold circulated until 1926, when his grandson Gaius Whitfield III found the map.

Gaius Whitfield Sr. died on 12 November 1879 in Marengo County, Alabama.


1 Linear Feet (letters and documents)

Language of Materials



Papers of this Marengo County, Alabama, plantation family including correspondence, financial papers and business receipts, land sale documents, and Nathan Bryan Whitfield's presidential pardon.


Gift of Winston Smith, 2002; additional gift of Gaston Joel Lipscomb III, 2012

Processed by

Rachel Rumstay, 2008: rev. by Martha Bace, 2012
Guide to the Whitfield Family Papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266