The Resource This collection was placed on deposit in Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University in November 1985 by its legal owners, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society

This collection was placed on deposit in Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University in November 1985 by its legal owners, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society

Inclusive dates
  • Papers, 1771-1937 (bulk 1850-1900), primarily consisting of letters of John T. Harris and family, and letters of Peyton Randolph and family. Also includes a large amount of personal and political documents relevant to the life and career of John T. Harris
  • SERIES 1: LETTERS. SUBSERIES: JOHN T. HARRIS LETTERS, 1845-1899. A major portion of this subseries consists of letters from Harris's constituents requesting personal favors. The letters from 1860 to 1861 primarily address the issue of Virginia seceding from the Union. Echoing the sentiments of many residents of western Virginia, most of the letters express pro-Unionist feelings and encourage Harris to work for a compromise in the Congress to avert violent conflict. Moreover, the contents of these letters, despite the lack of any letters from him, suggest that Harris worked with and was a close friend of Stephen A. Douglas
  • SERIES 1: LETTERS. SUBSERIES: MISCELLANEOUS HARRIS FAMILY LETTERS, 1831-1937, consists consists chiefly of letters among various members of the Harris family. These letters provide little more than descriptions of family life. However, there are several letters to John T. Harris, Jr., himself a prominent lawyer in Rockingham County, from Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt
  • SERIES 1: LETTERS. SUBSERIES: PEYTON RANDOLPH LETTERS, 1846-1884, primarily consisting of letters from several college friends and his immediate family. Of these, those from college friend Henry Force are particularly enlightening. Force was the son of historian Peter Force and acted as surveyor on the Border Commission dispatched to study the newly acquired lands in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. In a series of letters to Peyton from 1850 to 1853, Force describes his encounters with Mexican soldiers and Apache Indians, as well as his duties on the trek from New Orleans to San Diego
  • SERIES 1: LETTERS. SUBSERIES: PEYTON RANDOLPH LETTERS, 1846-1884 (continued) - Also worth noting are the letters to Peyton from his mother, Susan Armistead Randolph, which form the bulk of the Randolph letters. In her weekly four-page letters Mrs. Randolph describes life in Washington, D.C. during the 1850's, including the inauguration of Franklin Pierce and Henry Clay's funeral. Significantly, Susan Randolph was acutely aware of the political climate of her era and took particular interest in the Know-Nothing Party in the 1850's. In several letters she outlines the platform of the Know-Nothings and even urges Peyton to join the party. However, despite her vivid political commentaries and her proximity to the arena of the conflict, she surprisingly never mentions the issue of slavery. In addition to her political and social sketches, she provides detailed accounts of family life, including rather grisly descriptions of the deaths of various family members. Her letters from Richmond during the war describe the changes in life in that city through the course of the war and include detailed examples of the rampant inflation of prices on common goods such as bacon and flour. Of particular interest are Mrs. Randolph's inquiries concerning General Lewis Armistead, who was said to be the first Confederate soldier to cross into Union lines during Pickett's Charge at the battle of Gettysburg. She was, in fact, General Armistead's first cousin
  • SERIES 1: LETTERS. SUBSERIES: MISCELLANEOUS RANDOLPH FAMILY LETTERS, 1837-1928, consist mainly of miscellaneous letters from Susan Randolph to her other children and correspondence among Peyton's sisters, Mollie, Nannie, and Sue
  • SERIES 1: LETTERS. SUBSERIES: PEYTON RANDOLPH MISCELLANEOUS, 1844-1865, consisting of several items including a book of psalms which he carried during the Civil War
  • SERIES 2: JOHN T. HARRIS PERSONAL, 1843-1936. This series encompassing John T. Harris's personal papers includes his law license, a will written in 1861, and his post-Civil War oath of allegiance to the U.S. The certificate in which President Benjamin Harrison appoints Harris as Virginia's representative at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1892 is located in the oversize miscellaneous file. His handwritten autobiography,(photocopy) dated 1898, gives many particulars of his life. For a transcription of the autobiography see, OF MEN AND MEASURES: THE MEMOIRS OF JOHN T. HARRIS OF VIRGINIA, by Dale F. Harter, 1990
  • SERIES 3: JOHN T. HARRIS POLITICAL PAPERS, 1843-1936. This series comprised of John T. Harris's political papers consists primarily of copies of his Congressional speeches as well as several made by other members of Congress. The most notable of these is the resignation speech of Preston B. "Bully" Brookes, who was censured by the Congress for caning Charles Sumner in 1856. In addition, there are election returns from elections in which Harris was a candidate. These include reports from Rockingham County and localities throughout the Shenandoah Valley. A large number of political broadsides and handbills, from both local and national elections, are collected in an oversize file
  • SERIES 4: MISCELLANEOUS, 1771-1936. Consists of three folders of genealogical notes and charts pertaining to the Harris family. These were compiled by members of the Harris family and researchers at the Virginia Historical Society. Among the Civil War documents are requests for exemption from military service, requisition receipts from Confederate military authorities, contracts between individuals and their military substitutes, and requests to John Harris for release from Union prisoner-of-war camps. There is also a typed autobiography (photocopy) by John T. Harris Jr. dated 1936,which includes characterizations of the lawyers he knew. The James Clarkson papers, (1771-1835), are comprised mostly of legal documents from Albemarle County. These documents were preserved by John T. Harris's wife, Virginia Harris, who was a descendant of James Clarkson. Other miscellaneous items include indentures, as well as numerous items pertaining to the Harris family. Among the photographs is a print of Peyton Randolph and his four brothers
Member of
  • Accessioned
  • Described
Biographical or historical data
  • John T. Harris was born on 8 May 1823 in Albemarle County to Nathan and Ann Anderson Harris. In 1845, he was admitted to the bar and married Virginia Maupin Miller in 1855. From 1852 to 1859 he served as commonwealth's attorney for Rockingham County and in 1856 was a Presidential elector for James Buchanan. In 1859, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives and served until the outbreak of the Civil War. Despite his strong Unionist sentiments and his continual efforts to keep Virginia in the Union, Harris remained loyal to Virginia when she seceded in May of 1861. During the war he served two terms in the Virginia General Assembly. Following the war John T. Harris was judge of the 12th judicial circuit, which included Rockingham County. In 1870, he was again elected to Congress and was continuously re-elected until 1880, after which he resumed his law practice in Harrisonburg. John T. Harris returned to politics in 1889 as a rival of Philip W. McKinney for the Democratic nomination for governor. Later he was appointed by Governor McKinney as one of the representatives for Virginia to the World's Columbian Exposition in 1892. He died in Harrisonburg on 14 October 1899.
  • The Randolph family papers came into the Harris family when John T.Harris's son, John T. Harris, Jr. married Peyton Randolph's daughter, Mary Elizabeth Randolph. Born in Washington, D.C. in 1833, Peyton was the son of James Innes Randolph, a congressional clerk, and Susan Armistead Randolph. Prior to the Civil War he attended Columbian College (now George Washington University) and was an engineer on numerous railroad projects in Virginia, Indiana, and Alabama through the 1850's. He enlisted in the army in Mobile, Alabama at the outbreak of war and served as an engineer in Pickett's division, rising to the rank of major by 1865. He married Mary Fisher following the war, returned to the engineering profession, and died 28 November 1888.
Cataloging source
Form designation
Location of originals duplicates
Originals, which are owned by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society, are located in Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.
This collection was placed on deposit in Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University in November 1985 by its legal owners, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society
This collection was placed on deposit in Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University in November 1985 by its legal owners, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society
Base of film
  • The Library of Virginia
Cumulative index finding aids
Reel contents
service copy
Immediate source of acquisition
Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society
Organization method
Organized into the following series and subseries. SERIES 1: Letters (SUBSERIES: John T. Harris Letters, 1845-99, & n.d.; SUBSERIES: Misc. Harris Family Letters, 1831-1937, & n.d.; SUBSERIES: Peyton Randolph Letters, 1846-1884, & n.d.; SUBSERIES: Misc. Randolph Family Letters, 1837-1928, & n.d.; SUBSERIES: Peyton Randolph Misc., 1844-1865); SERIES 2: John T. Harris Personal Papers, 1843-1898; SERIES 3: John T. Harris Political Papers, 1856-1896; SERIES 4: Miscellaneous, 1771-1936; SERIES 5: Oversize.
Positive negative aspect
Reproduction note
Specific material designation
microfilm reel
Terms governing use
For permission to cite collection for publication, contact the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society.
Type of unit

Library Locations

    • Library of VirginiaBorrow it
      800 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA, 23219, US
      37.5415632 -77.4360805
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