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Ramsey Family Papers

Identifier: MSS 0004

Scope and Contents

The Ramsey Family Papers date from 1797 to 1891 and consist chiefly of correspondence, along with autobiographical and genealogical notes and a small photograph of Sue Ramsey.

The family owned enslaved people and supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, fighting to maintain the Southern economy based on the labors of enslaved people. The correspondence describes the family’s affairs through the Civil War and Reconstruction. Most of the letters are written from the family living in Tennessee to Sue when she lived in North Carolina. Some correspondence of note includes several letters from Sue's father in 1864, suggesting she remain in Virginia with relatives or attend the Female Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina. There are letters from Sue's brother John, stationed in Virginia, and her fiance and cousin, William Alexander (who was serving with the 37th North Carolina troops) dated 1864 and 1865, describing the demoralization and numerous desertions among the Confederate soldiers, prison conditions and heavy rains.

Letters from Sue's friends and relatives dated 1866 to 1869 describe life in the South under Reconstruction, decisions by many to move to Texas or Mexico, and discouragement with farming on a large scale.

Sue's father's letters provide commentary on political and economic developments at the state and national levels; one letter from Dr. Ramsey, written in 1877, discusses the progress of his lawsuits to obtain remuneration for war time property losses. Her mother's letters address the deaths of her children, the loss of her home, the deprivations of the war years and the economic troubles afterward, and her health problems, as well as her religious faith.


  • 1797 - 1891
  • Other: Majority of material found within 1860 - 1891


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information. Please see our Sensitive Materials Statement.

Biographical or Historical Information

The Ramsey family came to America before the American Revolution, settling first in Delaware, then Pennsylvania. Francis Alexander Ramsey and his wife, Margaret McNitt Alexander, were the first of the family to settle in North Carolina, circa 1789. Francis Ramsey was a surveyor, clerk and sheriff in Washington County. Francis and Margaret later moved to the State of Franklin, which became part of Tennessee, and lived near Knoxville. Their son, James Gettys McCready Ramsey (named in part for a relative, Samuel Gettys, who laid out the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) was born at Swans Pond, Tennessee in 1797, and married Peggy Barton Crozier in 1821.

James Ramsey studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, then returned to Tennessee to set up his practice in Knoxville. He became a trustee of several colleges and an elder of the Presbyterian Church, was chosen by Governor Trousdale to sell bonds for the Hiwassee Railroad, and served as president of the State Bank of Tennessee during the Civil War.

James and Peggy had 10 surviving children, one of whom was Susan Amelia Ramsey (Sue); Sue collected the letters that make up this collection. At the time of the Civil War, Sue lived at the family mansion in Mecklenburg, Tennessee with her mother and her sister, Charlotte. Her sister Henrietta was married to a Dr. Lenoir, and her other sister Margaret Jane was married to Howard Dickson.

Meanwhile, five of Sue's brothers joined the Confederate forces: Francis Alexander served in the Confederate army; John Crozier was taken prisoner at Vicksburg; Arthur was killed at Piedmont; Robert served first in the Confederate Army, was taken prisoner at Piedmont and later served in the Confederate Navy; James McKnitt was dismissed from the army after contracting malaria and later became commander of a Confederate supply steamer. Another brother, William Wilberforce, went overland to California and died there.

Union forces destroyed the family mansion when they invaded the area, and Mrs. Ramsey, Sue and Charlotte were evacuated first to temporary quarters in Knoxville and then to Henrietta's home, nearby. The three women then attempted to travel to Mrs. Ramsey's relatives, the Croziers, in Liberty, Virginia, via a "flag of truce train." However, Sue was detained by Union forces for investigation of "disloyal acts" (according to family reports these included refusing the attentions of federal officers, in addition to what the family deemed a natural indignation toward the army that had destroyed their home). Sue became separated from her mother and Charlotte and took refuge with her sister, Margaret.

However, Sue was again detained by Union forces, this time for not having a passport. The Union forces would not issue a passport to an individual until he or she took the federal loyalty oath, and Sue refused to do so.

Eventually Sue met a carriage driver she knew from home, and she instructed him to speed past the Union guards while she held up two pieces of paper to represent passports. The ruse worked, and Sue was able to rejoin her mother in Virginia. Charlotte died in 1863 as a result of exposure to the cold while aiding Confederate soldiers.

After the war, surviving family members reunited and took refuge with relatives in North Carolina. Eventually they returned to Mecklenburg, Tennessee and built another home. Dr. Ramsey resumed his medical practice and carried on extensive litigation in an attempt to obtain remuneration for property losses during the war. He also helped organize and served as president of the Historical Society of Tennessee. Both he and his wife lived long lives -- he died in 1884, she, circa 1889.

Sue married William Davidson Alexander in October 1867, and they established their home in Alexandriana, North Carolina (near Charlotte). They had seven children, of whom four survived: James, Grace, Willie and Lattamer. Sue died in 1890 at the age of 47. Of Sue's brothers who survived the war, one settled with his family near Sue's home in North Carolina; one eventually moved to Texas; John Crozier died in 1869; the fate of the others is not clear from the letters. The married sisters remained in close contact with the rest of the family.


1.25 Linear Feet (3 boxes)

Language of Materials



The Ramsey family was a prominent family of the slave-owning class with a mansion home in Mecklenburg, Tennessee during the Civil War era.

The Ramsey Family Papers date from 1797 to 1891 and consist chiefly of correspondence, along with autobiographical and genealogical notes and a small photograph of Sue Ramsey.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged chronologically.

Method of Acquisition

Gift of Sue Ramsey Johnston Ferguson, circa 1950s.

Related Materials

More Ramsey family papers at the University of Tennessee.

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Processing Information

Processed by archives staff, Encoded by Jason Alston in June, 2009

Ramsey Family Papers
Processed by archives staff; machine-readable finding aid created by Jason Alston
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Revision Statements

  • April 13, 2021: Scope and Content revised by Stacey Krim
  • April 19, 2021: This finding aid underwent changes in Spring 2021 after a reparative archives review. The following link leads to the legacy version of this finding aid:

Repository Details

Part of the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives Repository

P.O. Box 26170
320 College Ave.
Greensboro NC 27402-6170 US