With a collection as regional as the one at the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library, it’s not surprising to find some occasional overlap.
When Alice Coleman Meriwether’s brother Bestor married a Wynne girl (Laura), it meant their families — and family papers — were inextricably entangled, for better or worse.
What’s in a Name
While having more information about each family makes relationships easier to figure out, it sometimes also adds to the confusion. Compounding this problems is the tendency of women in the 19th century south to give their maiden names to their children, usually as first names. For example, Bestor Wynne Coleman carries three family names, including one that goes back to his paternal grandmother’s family in Connecticut.
Some women apparently also named their daughters after themselves, much like men might name their sons. When Alice Coleman married John Meriwether, she became Alice Coleman Meriwether, the same name her daughter carried until her own marriage.
Frances Laura Anderson Wynne gave her name to her daughter, although, luckily for us, she called herself simply Laura. (She became Laura Wynne Coleman.) There’s a good bet her daughter, Fannie Coleman, was also a Frances herself. To add to the confusion, there’s also a picture of an infant labeled Fannie Julia Scott — which means Julia Wynne Scott must have named her daughter after her mother (and herself!), too.
Of course, the really interesting thing about the extended Wynne-Coleman-Meriwether family is the breadth of their combined collections. These two sets of papers include letters and other documents that span most of the 19th century, an important period of growth and change in America.
From the Meriwether Collection
From the Meriwether collection, we’ve already highlighted yankee Juliet Bestor’s long journey to Alabama to get married in the 1830s. As Coleman family matriarch, she was deeply mourned at her passing:
In addition to Juliet’s papers, the Meriwether collection mainly consists of letters between Alice Coleman Meriwether and her husband, John, as he served in the Alabama Infantry during the Civil War. Included in the collection is a map of the Battle of Vicksburg which John drew by hand:
The rest of Alice’s correspondence pops up in the Wynne collection, as letters to and from Laura Coleman. Use this link to see those items.
From the Wynne Collection
On the Wynne side, we have pictures of all the siblings:
William was a lawyer. Among several legal documents in the collection (see Wynne/Miscellaneous Documents) is this contract:
Apparently, William approached everything, even a good-natured personal bet, with a legal eye. Did he end up having to pay up? Unless the other two remained bachelors, he would’ve been one of the losers of the bet, as he never married.
Neither did his brother Thomas. Thomas is rarely in family correspondence, but he seems to have had a close relationship with Julia. Read this letter from Julia to Thomas (1867) and this from Thomas to Julia (1869) to get a sense of the relationship between these youngest Wynne siblings. The two oldest Wynne siblings were apparently also close, given the number of letters between them, like these examples from 1852: Martha to William (April) and William to Martha (August).
Like Thomas, William was not a big letter writer, judging from the evidence we have. However, the rest of the Wynne siblings were apparently frequent correspondents, as this assortment shows:
- William to Elizabeth (1862)
- Martha to John (1851)
- Martha to Laura (1854)
- Martha to Elizabeth (1860)
- Martha to Julia (1869)
- John to William (1848)
- John to Laura (1855)
- John to Elizabeth (1861)
- John to Julia (1866)
- Laura to Elizabeth (1858)
- Laura to Julia (1869)
- Elizabeth to John (c. 1855)
- Julia to Thomas (1867)
Much of the Wynne collection, however, originates with Laura Wynne Coleman, especially letters to and from her daughter Fannie and her son B. W., called Wynne. In the finding aid, see Wynne/Correspondence, especially the 1870s and 1880s.
What’s Not in a Name
There’s a lot one can glean from looking at changing names over decades of correspondence. However, some family connections remain a mystery without deeper digging:
- Who is Julia Coleman McLemore? Perhaps a sister or cousin or niece of James Cobb Coleman? She conversed regularly with Laura and Wynne Coleman, as early as the 1840s.
- Who is Mattie T. Wynne? She calls Laura Wynne Coleman “cousin,” so she’s probably not Martha (Mattie) Ann Wynne Sturdivant. And is she the same person as Mattie Webster, who is also “cousin” to Laura?
- Did Thomas O. Wynne work at Webster and Wilson? Is this the same Webster that married his sister Elizabeth?