In December 2004, the Stetson University Library was given fourteen historical manuscripts: thirteen letters written to U.S. Rep. James B. Reynolds, a 19th-century congressman from Tennessee, and a handwritten draft of a circular Reynolds wrote to his constituents in 1825. The collection was donated to Stetson by Dr. James Surratt, Volusia school superintendent from 1984 to 1991 and father of alumna Joy Surratt Baskin (1992). Surratt, now semi-retired, is an antiques collector who acquired the letters from a North Carolina woman whose husband was descended from Congressman Reynolds.
The original documents are preserved in the Library Special Collections area of the University Archives, but images and the transcriptions and notes are posted on this site for study by historians of the pre-Civil War period.
Congressman James B. Reynolds was born in County Antrim, Ireland, in 1779. After coming to the United States as a young adult, he settled in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1804. He was elected as a Republican to the Fourteenth Congress (March 4, 1815 - March 3, 1817) and the Eighteenth Congress (March 4, 1823 - March 3, 1825). He returned to Clarksville where he again practiced law and maintained an active correspondence with many notables of the day. He died June 10, 1851.
Among Congressman Reynolds' correspondents were Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton; Tennessee Congressman Cave Johnson; Congressman, Senator, and presidential candidate Daniel Webster; and Kentucky Congressman, Senator, and presidential candidate Henry Clay. Letters describe the very bitter political contests between the Whigs and the Democrats in the 1840's, including Cave Johnson's description of "fisticuffs" on the floor of Congress in September 1841.
For brief biographies of the political figures mentioned above and throughout the letters, see Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-Present. In the transcripts bracketed words in italics indicate uncertainty regarding the correct word.