When not discarded out of hand, personal papers and organizational records can sometimes—-through a series of bequeathals, purchases, and other transfers-—make their way into the most unexpected places. And no matter how detailed the guide to a manuscript collection may be, sometimes these items can go unnoticed by researchers. Such seems to be the case with the collection I’m going to tell you about today: the Hammet Family Papers, which made their way into the papers of Virginia Governor J. Hoge Tyler and have remained there in relative obscurity despite being every bit as interesting as anything in Tyler’s own papers.

Long-time residents of the New River Valley and in-laws to Governor Tyler, the Hammets became owners of Mississippi’s Lammermoor cotton plantation through William Henry Hammet (1799-1865), Edward’s brother. After graduating from the University of Virginia, William moved to Mississippi and established a medical practice in Vicksburg. In 1837, he married Evalina Metcalfe, and property laws of the era gave Hammet ownership of Lammermoor, which had passed to Evalina following the death of her first husband. Whether the plantation later passed to his brother following William’s death or had been purchased earlier is unclear. Among the papers, however, is Edward’s written offer to purchase Lammermoor and its slaves for $300,000, an enormous amount of money at the time.

Some weeks after Mississippi seceded from the Union--and some weeks before Virginia would take the same step--Edward Hammet offered his brother $300,000 for Lammermoor and its slaves, plus another $50,000 for another plantation in a neighboring county.
Some weeks after Mississippi seceded from the Union–and some weeks before Virginia would take the same step–Edward Hammet offered his brother $300,000 for Lammermoor and its slaves, plus another $50,000 for another plantation in a neighboring county.

The Hammet Family Papers contain a treasure trove of records detailing the plantation’s operations, chronicling both antebellum and post-war cotton sales, as well as accounts with freedmen employed by the plantation. Also within the collection is Hammet’s medical ledger. With entries beginning in Vicksburg in 1836, then moving to Lammermoor after his 1837 marriage and continuing through 1851, Hammet lists the names of his debtors and briefly notes medicines dispensed and services performed. He seems to have been often called upon to treat injured and ailing slaves on neighboring plantations.

A sample page from William Hammet's medical practice account book. The first entry, from March 10, 1837, reads, "Col. Pursey To seting [sic] fractured leg for negro + 3 subsequent visits for [ditto] [$]50--." The larger handwriting at bottom left is that of Governor Tyler, who used this and other account books of the Hammets to record his own business transactions some decades later.
A sample page from William Hammet’s medical practice account book. The first entry, from March 10, 1837, reads, “Col. Pursey To seting [sic] fractured leg for negro + 3 subsequent visits for [ditto] [$]50–.” The larger handwriting at bottom left is that of Governor Tyler, who used this and other account books of the Hammets to record his own business transactions some decades later.
Also included in the collection are the papers of James P. Hammet (1832-1879), son of Edward Hammet and a graduate of the University of Virginia medical school. Following the death of his uncle William, James Hammet lived in Mississippi for a time, managing affairs at Lammermoor. Among Hammet’s papers are various records describing the work of freedmen, presumably at Lammermoor. The records include lists of workers’ names, days worked, rations issued, goods provided, and pay vouchers. Elsewhere, Hammet details infractions by workers, together with the fines he imposed on them for damages and as punishment.

Many of the journal entries made by James P. Hammet while managing operations of Lammermoor relate to fines he imposed on freedmen working at Lammermoor. The entry for March 30, 1866 reads: "Isaiah Green Wm Rayford overturned a wagon, Bale of Hay in water...  By [cause?] - Carelessness - Refused to pick it up - laid over night. Damages $10-." Elsewhere Hammet says of the workers, "A more triffling [sic] set never were congregated together."
Many of the journal entries made by James P. Hammet while managing operations of Lammermoor relate to fines he imposed on freedmen working at Lammermoor. The entry for March 30, 1866 reads: “Isaiah Green Wm Rayford overturned a wagon, Bale of Hay in water… By [cause?] – Carelessness – Refused to pick it up – laid over night. Damages $10-.” Elsewhere Hammet says of the workers, “A more triffling [sic] set never were congregated together.”
 A tally of days worked by hands on Lammermoor Plantation, 1866. The number of hands listed (50) hints at the size of the plantation.

A tally of days worked by hands on Lammermoor Plantation, 1866. The number of hands listed (50) hints at the size of the plantation.
Voucher for wages due Charlotte Miller, freedwoman, by Lammermoor Plantation in 1866. Miller acknowledged receipt, by making her mark, on the reverse side of the slip.
Voucher for wages due Charlotte Miller, freedwoman, by Lammermoor Plantation in 1866. Miller acknowledged receipt, by making her mark, on the reverse side of the slip.
Among the business records of Lammermoor Plantation is what appears to be the account book of the plantation's store. This page details tobacco sold by the store. Many--perhaps all--of the purchasers were freedmen employed by the plantation.
Among the business records of Lammermoor Plantation is what appears to be the account book of the plantation’s store. This page details tobacco sold by the store. Many–perhaps all–of the purchasers were freedmen employed by the plantation.

In addition to the Mississippi records, Hammet’s papers contain his Virginia financial records, including those of his medical practice. A ledger maintained by Hammet includes detailed descriptions of a number of cases—among them the delivery of several babies—apparently while he studied medicine in Philadelphia. Hammet’s papers contain general account documents and a daybook (1873-1878) for his Christiansburg medical practice. The doctor lists patients’ names, services rendered, and fees. Elsewhere are a number of invoices from Hammet for services rendered to various patients, among them a number of African Americans.

A page from the Reconstruction-era daybook of James P. Hammet's medical practice in Christiansburg. Hammet records patient name, an abbreviated description of services rendered ("v" for "visit," "pres" for "prescription"?), and his fee. The first entry is for services rendered to Eliza Wood but charged to the county's overseer of the poor.
A page from the Reconstruction-era daybook of James P. Hammet’s medical practice in Christiansburg. Hammet records patient name, an abbreviated description of services rendered (“v” for “visit,” “pres” for “prescription”?), and his fee. The first entry is for services rendered to Eliza Wood but charged to the county’s overseer of the poor.

Though they’re “buried” in our collections, the Hammet papers are well worth the dig and would be a valuable resource for researchers interested in Southern plantations, race relations during Reconstruction, 19th century medicine, or southwestern Virginia history. Further information on the Hammet Family Papers, comprising Series XI of the J. Hoge Tyler Family Papers, may be found in the collection’s finding aid.

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