David Wyatt Aiken Papers, 1849-1976

South Caroliniana Library

This collection contains a diary, letters and other materials surrounding the life of five-term U.S. congressman David Wyatt Aiken, who biographers have styled “South Carolina’s Militant Agrarian.” Born in 1828 in Winnsboro (Fairfield County, S.C.), Aiken served as a colonel in the Confederate Army and later went on to serve in the S.C. House of Representatives. He was a member of the Agricultural and Mechanical Society of South Carolina and served on the executive committee of the National Grange. From 1877 until 1887, he represented South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives. He died in 1887 at his home in Cokesbury, South Carolina.

The collection consists in large part of letters to his second wife Virginia Carolina Smith Aiken (1831-1900) , as well as a hand-written autobiography and other materials surrounding his life.

A Preface to the David Wyatt Aiken Transcription

The following document is an edited and annotated transcription of the travel diary of David Wyatt Aiken (1828-1887). Born in Winnsboro, Fairfield County, South Carolina, Aiken became a colonel in the Confederate Army and US Congressman (1877-1887). Like many antebellum elite white southerners, Aiken undertook a European tour. In May, 1851, he left the United States and travelled for three months throughout Europe, recording his impressions of England, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy. The diary reveals a great deal about the attitudes and beliefs of the master class generally—with Aiken as reliable proxy—and speaks to a range of matters, including white southern notions of sociability, attitudes towards free and wage labor societies, beliefs about race and slavery, the importance of education and classical learning to elite southerners, and the revolution in transportation, among many others.

Until now, Aiken’s rich, textured, detailed, and insightful travel diary has been available only to researchers who visit the manuscript collections of the University of South Carolina’s famed South Caroliniana Library in Columbia. Thanks to the forty undergraduate students who took HIST 442: The Old South with Professor Mark Smith in the spring of 2013, Aiken’s diary—fully transcribed, edited, and annotated—is now available to researchers worldwide. Kate Boyd and Ashley Knox of the University of South Carolina’s Digital Collections Department and Henry Fulmer, Director of the South Carolinian Library, put a digital copy of the manuscript pages of the diary online in the early spring of 2013 (it may be found here: here:) and, during the course of the spring semester, HIST 442 students transcribed the full diary. This was no small feat. The diary is handwritten and covers roughly ninety pages. Students had to decipher Aiken’s handwriting, make editorial interventions where appropriate, and also offer explanatory notes in an effort to clarify parts of the diary’s content.

The David Wyatt Aiken Travel Diary was edited by the following students:

K. Avis Anderson, Sarah A. Bailey, M. Lane Beveridge, Aubrey C. Blalock, Paul R. Bowers, Jr., Claire C. Brown, Daniel D. Buckner, Mary K. Collins, Jordan A. Cox, Taylor Des Marias, Jerry E. Edge III, Susan M. Edge, Dean M. Edgeworth, M. C. Gladstone, Sandra R. Godbold, Nicole Hallbrick, Julia E. Kates, Samuel L. Key, James N. Kizer, Ashley N. Latta, Lucas E. Lees, Chasity Leviner, Aaron D. Lingler, Michael A. Martin, Ja’nae M. Massey, John T. Metts, L. A. Miller IV, Quentin Nichols, Joshua T. O’Niel, Andrew Reynolds, Katelyn Ruggiero, Hayden J. Snell, Caroline G. Sparr, Courtney R. Todd, W. C. Tolar V, Thomas S. Treiber, Michael C. Waitt, Erin E. Waller, Matthew A. Young.

Julia Whitehead, also a student in HIST 442, volunteered to help merge the forty versions of the diary produced by the students during the fall semester of 2014. Ms. Whitehead devoted much time to help establish the master document and performed exemplary editing of the text.

Media Types