A Guide to the Surget Family Papers
The Surget family arrived in the Old Southwest in the mid-1780's when Pierre Surget acquired a Spanish land grant of 2500 acres southeast of Natchez, Mississippi. Pierre Surget was born in Rochelle, France and worked as a ship captain in the West Indies, first moving his family to Louisiana and then settling permanently in Mississippi. He and his wife Catherine had eleven children, nine of whom survived into adulthood. Many became prominent citizens and landholders in the Natchez including Francis (Captain Francis or Frank), James and Jane S. White.
The Surgets acquired large tracts of land in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas and were involved in a variety of economic activities. Some land holdings were left undeveloped and held for speculation, while they created extremely profitable cotton plantations that were worked by hundreds of slaves with other pieces of land. They sold their cotton through agents in New Orleans and Liverpool, England. They borrowed from and loaned money to large landowning families in the area, and maintained bank accounts in New Orleans and New York.
Throughout the antebellum period the family grew and intermarried among other well-established families in the region. Various Surgets married into the Hampton-White, Minor, Linton, and Dunbar families. Captain Francis Surget's friends and contemporaries included Stephen Duncan, John Ker, William Minor and Thomas Butler. Their sphere of social activity was not limited to the old Southwest, but included the Northeast and Europe where they frequently traveled.
Captain Francis Surget had three sons: Lenox, Francis Jr. and Eustace. Francis Jr. and Eustace appear to have worked closely together, with Eustace acting as a land manager and eventually as executor of Francis Jr.'s estate when he passed away in 1866. Francis Jr. resided in Natchez during the Civil War; after Natchez was captured by the Union in 1863, his home Clifton became a residence for a Union officer and later was razed to the ground to create space for a Union fortress on the Mississippi. Eustace joined the Confederate Army serving as a colonel and an adjutant general. When he returned to Natchez after the war he sold off or leased the family plantations and consolidated finances. Eustace relocated himself and various in-laws of Francis Jr.'s, the Lintons, to Bordeaux, France. Other branches of the Surget family, most prominently the children of James Surget (James Surget Jr. and Kate S. Minor) remained in the Natchez area.
The Surget Family Papers (four linear feet) represent the business and home life activities of the Surget Family from 1790 to 1869 consisting primarily of written receipts, deeds and correspondence. Francis Jr. and Eustace Surget, the sons of Captain Francis Surget, were the creators of the majority of the papers.
Receipts from the plantation business show purchases of seeds, plants and equipment. The Surgets also employed overseers to manage various plantations. One of the most important items in the collection is a day book kept by various overseers from the Palestine (later renamed Morville) plantation recording the weather and crop conditions from 1854 to 1857. Doctors receipts for visits to the Surget family and the slaves are found as well as receipts from contractors for work on the plantation and for the household.
To run their plantations on such a large scale, the Surgets were slave holders. Numerous receipts are present providing the names and prices paid for slaves as well as tax receipts for slaves owned. Censuses of slaves including some first and second names, as well as their ages and monetary values are found in the plantation series of the archives. Two receipts document that the Surgets were charged by officials for holding slaves that had run away and who were later caught. A military order found in the printed materials series provides outlines for treatment of former slaves after their emancipation at the end of the civil war.
The series on the Surget's household provides a look into the purchases and interests of wealthy plantation owners. The Surgets were well educated and subscribed to several magazines and newspapers with titles such as The Daily Courier and Concordia Intelligencer as documented by subscription receipts. Food stuffs and clothing are common receipts found within the household series. The Surgets also traveled to New York as well as New Orleans. Mrs. Surget bought clothing from New Orleans and France.
The Surgets borrowed and lent large amounts of money to friends and neighbors in the Natchez area. There are numerous ledgers and documents present that the Surgets used to keep track of who owed money and how much. Correspondence before and after the Civil War documents how individuals paid back loans and difficulties with loan arrangements. Frequently goods such as cotton were exchanged against money owed. The complexity of this network of financial dealings is further reflected through the papers involving the estates of members of the family. The Surget family papers record the settling of various estates including the estate of John Linton who died in the mid 1830's, the husband of Anne Marie Linton (mother of Charlotte Linton who married Francis Jr.). Records of land sales and purchases are also common as are letters from individuals offering above market value prices for various tracts of land. There are also numerous plats from surveyors. Receipts from the taxes the Surgets payed on their land as well as on household luxury items such as pianos, watches and carriages are present.
Aside from written material this collection also includes two photographic glass plate negatives, engraved copper plates for business cards, and a leather wallet. Official documents such as deeds are found on paper and vellum, and examples and fragments survive in English, French and Spanish. Eclectic printed material include newspapers, an Emigrant's Guide to Minnesota, portions of a book on horse breeding, and wine lists.
Surget Family Papers, 1790-1869, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Detailed Description of the Collection