William J. Northen family papers

William J. Northen family papers

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Hargrett Manuscripts
Creator: Northen, William J., (William Jonathan), 1835-1913
Title: William J. Northen family papers
Dates: 1790-1959
Quantity: 8.9 Linear feet (9 document boxes, 4 cartons, 1 oversized box, 1 oversized folder B)
Coll. Number: ms3327

Biographical/Historical Note

Despite William Northen's success and influence as an educator, agricultural reformer, state legislator, and governor, history has largely ignored his life and work. As governor in the early 1890s, he was ahead of his time. Not only did he advocate such progressive reform measures as prohibition and increased educational funding, he also fought stridently against lynching. Northen also held highly his spiritual duties, serving as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for three years and as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention for fourteen years. William Jonathan Northen was born on July 9, 1835, to Louisa Maria and Peter Northen in Jones County. Peter Northen was a successful planter and educator who traced his lineage to John Northen, an Englishman who immigrated to Virginia in the 1630s. In 1840 Peter moved his family to Penfield, in Greene County, to accept a position at Mercer University. William graduated from Mercer at the age of eighteen and soon earned a position as an instructor at the prestigious Mt. Zion Academy in Hancock County, where the renowned Carlisle Beman was headmaster. Northen subsequently became assistant principal and, when Beman's health failed, rose to headmaster.

While struggling to establish himself as a teacher, Northen boarded at the home of the wealthy and influential Thomas Neel. Neel's daughter, Martha, and Northen were married in 1860 and later had two children, Thomas and Annie Belle. When Georgia entered the Civil War (1861-65), Northen joined his father's regiment, the Second Battalion, Georgia State Troops, as a private. An educator's exemption, however, allowed him to opt out of combat duty in 1862. Although no longer required to serve on the battlefield, Northen worked at Confederate hospitals in Atlanta and Milledgeville. After the war, Northen returned to Hancock County to resume his teaching. In 1874, however, too ill to continue teaching, Northen retired to his 800-acre farm in Hancock County and soon established himself as a leading scientific planter. Combining his teaching acumen with his farming success, Northen helped establish the Hancock County Farmer's Club, a group that provided ideas and support to local farmers struggling through postwar economic difficulties.

Northen's leading position in the community earned him election to the Georgia General Assembly in 1877-78 and again in 1880-81. In 1884 he was elected to the state senate, where he made educational and agricultural reforms his priorities. Between 1887 and 1890, Northen served as president of the prestigious State Agricultural Society (SAS). That position propelled him to the forefront of the race to replace John B. Gordon as governor in 1890. After competing with Leonidas Livingston, president of the Georgia Farmers' Alliance, Northen emerged as the only candidate, and his successful campaign was managed by William Y. Atkinson. As governor, Northen pursued progressive legislation by advocating prohibition, railroad reforms, an improved educational system, and reforms in the prison system. He also pushed hard for the passage of antilynching legislation, but it was never achieved. Despite opposition from the influential publisher Thomas E. Watson, who supported the Populist Party's candidate, William Peek, Northen won a second term in 1892. During his tenure as governor, Northen also rose to prominence as a leading Baptist. He had joined the church in 1853 and remained a devout Southern Baptist for the rest of his life, holding leadership positions in nearly every church that he joined. He also served as vice president of both the Southern Baptist and Georgia Baptist conventions during his gubernatorial career, as well as president of the SBC's Home Mission board. In the late 1890s, he was called to the presidency of both the Georgia Baptist and Southern Baptist conventions. Though out of formal politics by 1894, Northen kept himself in public affairs until the early 1910s. In the years surrounding the turn of the century, he traveled the country delivering speeches on the South's status with regard to the economy, racial problems, and the church's role in society.

After the Atlanta race riot of 1906, Northen toured the state under the auspices of the Business Men's Gospel Union, a biracial coalition of influential Christian laymen and clergy, in an effort to establish a network of antilynching leagues that might avert such future disasters as the riot. Northen also contributed to the history of Georgia by compiling a seven-volume collection of biographical essays, published between 1907 and 1912 as Men of Mark in Georgia. In 1911 he replaced Allen D. Candler as the compiler of state records and contributed to the ongoing publication of the Colonial Records of Georgia series. Although Northen continued to involve himself in public life, however, his fatigue was becoming evident. Radical racism was gaining strength as his efforts to foster cooperation between the races stalled. Soon after his appearance in 1911 at the Men and Religion Forward Movement convention in New York, Northen retired from public life with "his skirts clear," believing that he had done his duty for God and for Georgia. He died two years later at the age of seventy-seven and was buried in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery. New Georgia Encyclopedia - William J. Northen (1835-1913) http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org (Retrieved December 8, 2009)

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of genealogy, land documents, correspondence, financial papers, writings, photographs, artifacts, and printed material. The correspondence includes letters to William J. Northen regarding the establishment of the town of Fitzgerald, Georgia; letters regarding an apparent scandal involving the Farmers' Alliance and Leonidas Livingston; William J. Northen's letters home as he traveled around Georgia in 1907 promoting racial harmony; and two Civil War letters from brothers William and John Henry Neel of the 15th Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, Company K. The writings contain a journal by William J. Northen in which he writes of his trip to Tallulah Falls, speeches at Mercer University, his 21st birthday, death of his brother, and a letter to his sister regarding conditions at the end of the Civil War. Farm accounts are also included in the journal.

Also of interest are slave documents and bills of sale; receipts from Mercer University and the Georgia Baptist Convention when Peter Northen was treasurer; Ruth Northen's photo album containing University of Georgia photographs from 1911-1912 and other travel photographs; and an 1801 indenture between the Catawba Indians and Thomas Neel for land in York County, South Carolina. The following items were separated from the collection: walking cane without the handle is housed in Artifacts, and one square back wooden chair with cane seat housed in the Hargrett Library conference room.


Arranged by record type.

Index Terms

Bills of sale.
Catawba Indian Nation--History.
Fitzgerald (Ga.)--History.
Georgia--Politics and government--1865-1950.
Journals (accounts)
Neal family
North family
Northen, William J., (William Jonathan), 1835-1913 -- Correspondence
Northen, William J., (William Jonathan), 1835-1913 -- Family
Northen, William J., (William Jonathan), 1835-1913 -- Finance, Personal
Northen, William J., (William Jonathan), 1835-1913 -- Photographs
Rabun family
Real property--Georgia.
Slave bills of sale--Georgia.
Trailor family
Veazey family

General Notes

Related collections held by the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia: Georgia governors' messages, 1872-1943.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

William J. Northen family papers. MS 3327. Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.

Related Material

Related materials held in the following collections of this repository: William J. Northen letter, 1890; William J. Northen papers.

Series Descriptions and Folder Listing


Series 1: Family Matters

2Genealogy-Neel family
3Genealogy-Northen family
4Genealogy- A short history of the Northen family by Rev. E. E. Northen
5Genealogy-Traylor family
6Genealogy-Walker family
7Estate papers-Charles C. Bailey
8Estate papers-Henry McClellan
9Estate papers-Thomas Neel
10George W. Scott Mfg. Co. vs. J. H. Traylor, 1891-1897
11Land documents-Carroll County, Ga., 1827 1843
12Land documents-Hancock County, Ga., 1864-1869
13Land documents-Troup County, Ga., 1826-1926
14Land documents-South Carolina, 1794-1819
15Lock of hair-William J. Northen, Jr.
16Pension-War of 1812, Thomas Neel
17Petitions-Hancock County, Ga., 1881
18School report book-Martha Traylor, 1879
19Wills, Power of Attorney, 1790-1959

Series 2: Correspondence

211847-1938, undated
2William J. Northen/Annie Belle Northen, 1878?-191?
3William J. Northen/Martha Northen, 189?-1908
4William J. Northen/Thomas Henry Northen, 1880-1896
5William J. Northen-Alliance scandal, 1890-1891
6William J. Northen-Alliance scandal-typescripts of letters, 1890-1891
7William J. Northen-business, 1872-1912
8Annie Belle Northen, 1881-1934
9George T. Northen, 1902-1957 1984
10George T. Northen/ William J. & Martha Northen, 1907-1912
11Thomas Henry Northen/ Martha Traylor Northen, 1884-1933
12Neel family, 1845-1897, undated
13Northen family, 1896-1934
14Traylor family, 1894-1928

Series 3: Writings

2Cookbook-Martha Traylor, 1879
3In Memoriam book-Thomas Henry Northen, 1904
4Journal-William J. Northen
5Scrapbook pages
6Re: University System of Georgia

Series 4: Financial Papers

41Thomas & Nancy Neel, 1826-1844
2Thomas & Nancy Neel, 1845-1880 & nd
3Cotton receipts-Thomas & Nancy Neel
4Slaves-bills of sale-Thomas Neel, 1818-1856
5Northen family/Northen Shivers & Co., 1857-1911
6Account book-Martha Traylor Northen, 1919-1932
7University of Georgia War Memorial Fund Martha Traylor Northen, 1922-1923
8Mercer University-Peter Northen, 1838-1845
Georgia Baptist Convention/Mercer-Peter Northen
17Financial papers-Peter Northen, 1838-1849
18Financial papers-Peter Northen, 1850-1861 &nd
19Financial papers-Traylor family, 1872-1908
20Financial papers-Miscellaneous & fragments

Series 5: Photographs

51Neel, Nancy Veazey
2Northen, Annie Belle
3Northen, Annie Belle
4Northen, George
5Northen, Louisa Maria Davis
6Northen, Martha Moss Neel
7Northen, Martha Moss Neel
8Northen, Peter
61Northen, Ruth
2Northen, Ruth & William Jr.
3Northen, Thomas Henry
4Northen, William Jonathan
5Northen, William Jonathan
6Northen, William Jonathan & grandchildren
7Northen, William Jonathan Jr.
8Stokely, Susan
9Traylor, John Humphrey
10Traylor, Martha
11Traylor, Mary Bailey
12White, John
6Mercer chapel & Northen graves in Penfield, Ga.
7Travel snapshots
8Travel in Washington, DC
9Veazey graves in Hancock County, Ga.
10Various subjects

Series 6: Photograph Albums

81Photograph album
2Photograph album-Ruth Peterson, 1922-1923
3Photograph album-Ruth Northen, 1906-1934

Series 7: Printed Material

91Printed material
2John M. Allen
3Atlanta, Ga.
5Mercer University
6Northen family
9 Tammany Times-Saratoga Convention, 1893
10Traylor family
11Writings by Annie Belle Northen
12Writings by William J. Northen, 1889-1895
13Writings by William J. Northen, 1899-1911, undated

Series 8: Artifacts and Oversize Material

Subseries 8a: Artifacts

10Walking cane handles (Two)
10Small pictures
10Small cloth flag
10Gold pocket watch
10Kitchen cutlery and knife sharpener
10Silver butter knife
10Pocket book of Ephriam Northen

Subseries 8b: Indentures

10York County, South Carolina land-Nation of Catawba Indians to William McMurray and Thomas Neel, 1801
10Troup County, Georgia land-Silas Carter to Charles C. Bailey, 1827

Subseries 8c: Photographs

10Northen, Ruth
10Northen, Martha Neel
10Northen, Martha Neel with grandchildren
10Northen, Thomas Henry or William Jonathan?
10Unidentified man
10School class ?
10Unidentified group of girls

Series 9: Books

11Ball, B. L. Rambles in Eastern Asia. Boston: James French and Company, 1856
Bojesen, E. F. A manual of Grecian and Roman Antiquities. New Your: D. Appleton & Co., 1857
Champlin, J. T. The Oration of Demosthenes on the Crown with Notes. Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1860
Cowper, William. The Works of Cowper and Thomson. Philadelphia: J. Grigg, 1834
Drummond, Henry. The Programme of Christianity. New York: James Pott and Company, 1900
Fenelon, M. Les Aventures de Telemaque. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1860
Hale, Edward Everett. The Man Without a Country. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904
Juvenal. Decimi Junii Juvenalis. Boston: Wilkins, Carter, and Company, 1831
Mell, P. H. A Manual of Parliamentary Practice. Rules for Conducting Business. Macon, Georgia: J. W. Burke & Co., 1888
Rollin, Charles. The Ancient History of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Medes, and Persians, Grecians and Macedonians. New York: S. A. Rollo & Co., volumes I. III. and V, 1859
Scott, W. J. Lectures and Essays. Atlanta, Georgia: Constitution Publishing Company, 1889
Woolsey, Theodore D. The Gorgias of Plato. Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1850
12Knox, Thomas Lowell (ed.). Scenes From Every Land. Springfield, Ohio: Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick, 1893
Leonard, John W. (ed.). Who's Who in America. Chicago: A. N. Marquis & Company, 1899
Liddell, Henry George. A Greek-English Lexicon, based on the German work of Francis Passow. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1849
Maunder, Samuel. The History of the World: comprising a general history, both ancient and modern...New York: Henry Bill, 1854
Stoddard, John L. Portfolio of Photographs of Famous Scenes, Cities and Paintings. Chicago: Educational Publishing Company, nd.
Latin-English Lexicon (first pages missing)
13Angell, James Rowland. Psychology. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1909
Brooks, Charles. Family Prayer Book. Hingham: Press of Farmer and Brown, 1829
Call, Annie Payson. Power Through Repose. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1893
Carlyle, Thomas. Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. New York: John B. Alden, 1892
D'Aubigne, J. H. Merle. History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century. New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1856
Grady, Henry Woodfin. The Speeches of Henry W. Grady With a Short Biographical Sketch of His Life. Atlanta, GA: Chas. P. Byrd, 1895
Lempriere, J. Bibliotheca Classica... New York: W. E. Dean, 1837
Lucas, E. V. A Wanderer in Holland. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1906
Manly, John Matthews (ed.). English Poetry. New York: Ginn & Company, 1907
Pope, Alexander. Homer's Iliad. Volume I. New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1849
Riley, James Whitcomb. Rhymes of Childhood. Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill Co., 1894
The Spectator in eight volumes. Volume VI. Philadelphia: Robert Carr, 1803
Upham, Thomas C. Life and Religious Opinions and Experience of Madame De La Mothe Guyon...New York: Harper & Brothers, 1864
Whelpley, Samuel. A Compend of History from the Earliest Times... Volume I. Boston: American Stationers' Company, 1837
Woodbridge and Willard's Universal Geography. New York: Collins, Keese & Co., 1836
Morning prayer book and two other books with first pages missing
14Andrews, Garnett. Reminiscences of an Old Georgia Lawyer. Atlanta, Ga.: Franklin Steam Printing House, 1870
Anthon, Charles. The Aeneid of Virgil. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1860
Brittain, M. L. Semi-centennial History of the Second Baptist Church. Atlanta?, 1904
Luthers, D. Martin. Das Neue Teftament. Stuttgart, nd.
Notable Men of Atlanta and Georgia. Atlanta, Ga., 1913
Webster, Noah. An American Dictionary of the English Language. Springfield, Massachusetts: George and Charles Merriam, 1860

Series 10: Genealogy charts-Oversized Materials

OS Folder
1BNeel family, Rabun family, Traylor family, and Veazey family genealogical charts, 1700s-1900s