Archives, Power, and History: Dunbar Rowland, First Archivist of Mississippi (1902-1936)

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Archives, Power, and History: Dunbar Rowland, First Archivist of Mississippi (1902-1936)
Patricia Galloway

School of Information, University of Texas-Austin

The Mississippi Department of Archives and history was created in 1902 by Mississippi State Senate Bill No. 26, Chapter 52, Laws of 1902, which states its objects and purposes as follows: "There shall be for the State of Mississippi a department of archives and history. . .and the objects and purposes of said department are the care and custody of official archives, the collecting of materials bearing upon the history of the state and territory included therein, from the earliest times, the editing of official records and other historical material, the diffusion of knowledge in reference to the history and resources of this state, the preparation and publication of annual reports, the encouragement of historical work and research and the performance of such other acts and requirements as may be enjoined by law." The care and custody of official archives bears specifically upon the work of preserving the records of government, which by that time had been accumulating for 104 years, but the whole tone of the act is clearly antiquarian, and Dunbar Rowland's tenure as the Department’s first director falls under the “Culture and Education” period in Victoria Walch's outline of American archival history.1 The American Historical Association's Public Archives Commission under the leadership of J. Franklin Jameson was encouraging the creation of state archives to preserve the sources of the country's early history, newly recognized as important in the light of the introduction of German historical models and the professionalization of history. The creation of the Mississippi archives was part of this process.

But these abstract national aims were not the only ones that motivated the creators and leaders of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. As Charles Reagan Wilson's research has suggested with respect to many of the other activities of the same men and the same kinds of men across the South, they also labored to create a monument to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.2 In other words, the devotion of early American archival efforts to "Culture and Education" covers a complex set of motivations, and the creation of early state archives was most often motivated by the filiopietistic desire to preserve evidence important to the people who promoted their foundation.3 Just as culture is always being constructed, education always has a purpose, and archives as the basis for both is not exempt from either.4

Neither the Mississippi legislature that created the Department nor Rowland who directed it were interested in the participation of the whole public in the understanding of their history. As a result, the archival foundations laid during Rowland’s tenure focused on some materials and ignored others. To these obvious costs of omission to the historical record were added other costs to the institution and to Rowland personally. The elitist and racist bias that was part of the early success of the institution eventually left the archives and Rowland himself hostage to the evolving political and economic forces in his state and those of his own historical profession when his personal political orientation and his gentlemanly amateurism became outdated and unpopular. Yet if Rowland was committed to an ideology, he was totally absorbed in creating an archival institution that covered every facet of the version of Mississippi history that he supported, and he was determined to apply to that effort the most advanced methods that he could find. His history as archivist of Mississippi, therefore, is a complex case study in the building of an archives, where the dominance of one individual revealed his achievements but also magnified his flaws and their effects on the historical record and on the archives as an institution.

An Attempted Adams “Colony”: Franklin L. Riley and the Birth of the Mississippi Archives

The leader in creating Mississippi's state archives, however, was not Dunbar Rowland, but Franklin L. Riley. Born in 1868 in a home in Simpson County that had been commandeered by Union forces for a headquarters during the Civil War, Riley grew up to become a student of Herbert Baxter Adams at Johns Hopkins, the national leader in the introduction of the German historical method of writing history from original documentary sources, which formed the foundation for the professionalization of history in American academia at the end of the nineteenth century.5 Adams’s students, many of whom were men from the South who were interested in writing a fair and objective southern history, fanned out to teach in colleges across the region, where they campaigned for the collection of original documents and started historical publication series to serve as vehicles for their own and their students’ work.6 The state of documentary collections across the South was terrible. As a student Riley had been unable to write a dissertation on a Mississippi topic for lack of access to adequate documentary evidence for political institutions in Mississippi, so he had settled for writing about New England state senates.7 Riley then returned to Mississippi, first as the president of the Baptist Hillman College for Young Women in Clinton in 1896-97, then as the University of Mississippi's first professor of history in 1897.

Once employed in Mississippi, Riley was well positioned to establish an Adams “colony” in Mississippi from the base of a university professorship and family connections. First he was determined to remedy the lack of an archival institution. He began by reviving the Mississippi Historical Society, started in 1858, whose postwar revival in 1890 had been followed by collapse a few years later.8 He also started a publication series, Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, to distribute the proceedings of the meetings, for the first volume of which Adams contributed an essay that outlined his method.9 In his spare time over seven months, Riley also wrote a history of Mississippi, which was condensed to make a very profitable textbook on the history of Mississippi for use in the schools.10 Using the Society's clout and his own name recognition as the leading academic historian in the state, Riley then persuaded the state legislature to follow Alabama's lead in the establishment of a Historical Commission of leading citizens.11 In its turn, again following Alabama's 1901 lead and even using similar statutory language, the Commission lobbied for the foundation of a Department of Archives and History by the state legislature in 1902. Riley's original desire for a permanent job for himself free of "political" interference from university faculty and alumni influenced the inclusion in the foundational statute of control by a self-perpetuating board.12 Once the Department was founded, however, Riley did not pursue the job of Director, although he served on the Department's first Board of Trustees and remained in that position until 1914, when he left the state for a professorship in history at Washington and Lee.13

The job that Riley had designed for himself was taken instead by Dunbar Rowland. Rowland came from a similar though perhaps more privileged background of English Virginians, born in 1864 in Oakland, in the heart of the Yazoo–Mississippi delta in Yalobusha County, as the youngest of four sons of a physician father from a planter background. Educated in private schools in Memphis, he attended the then "A&M College" (now Mississippi State University) for a BS in 1886 and then attended law school at the University of Mississippi, graduating in 1888. He practiced law in Memphis for four years, then settled in Coffeeville near his brothers to practice law. In Coffeeville he kept up his Memphis connections and contributed frequently to newspapers like the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Atlanta Constitution on historical topics. When Riley rescusitated the Mississippi Historical Society, Rowland was a strong participant, publishing steadily in the Society's annual Publications series.14 But he was not an academic: he was a lawyer and an amateur historian.

Rowland was not, however, the only candidate for the job of the Mississippi archives' first director. Although I have so far been unable to find out why Riley did not apply himself for a job he so carefully crafted to his own tastes, a candidate very like Riley did do so: Charles Hillman Brough. Brough's connections with Riley were not few or coincidental. He had obtained his BA from Mississippi College, like Riley, and had then studied history under Herbert Baxter Adams at Johns Hopkins, obtaining his PhD in 1898 in history with an economic focus (apparently he was a prodigy, since he was only 22 at the time), when he became professor of history at Mississippi College. The following year Riley named him to the Mississippi Historical Society executive, and he contributed to its Publications as did Rowland. As if that were not enough, he completed a Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of Mississippi in 1902.15 In addition, though born in Utah, Brough lived as a boy for many years with his aunt and uncle the Hillmans, who operated the Hillman College for Young Women in Clinton where Riley served as President. In short, Brough was in many ways a younger (by eight years) version of Riley and was indeed well known to him.16

There was, finally, a third candidate, W.F. Hamilton from Carrollton, an amateur historian. In the event, Hamilton withdrew, and Rowland received five votes, Brough four. Given Riley's failure to apply, why was Rowland chosen over Brough? There is next to no documentation of any relations between Riley and Rowland among Rowland’s correspondence, although they must have been acquainted through the Historical Society. A simple letter from General Stephen D. Lee as president of the Society notified Rowland of the meeting of the constituting board. I would suggest that the answer to the Board’s choice lies in the social history of white supremacy in Mississippi after the "Redemption" of 1875, the 1890 constitution, and the success of Jim Crow, all of which altered significantly the meaning of "preservation of the historical record." Rowland was well aware as a lawyer of the implications of documentary evidence, and as a latter-day "Bourbon" of the planter class appeared to be a potentially reliable ally in establishment of the planter elite's version of the history of the Lost Cause. His continued adherence to and elaboration of this ideological position became an object lesson in the dangers of partisanship to archival institutions when populist politics superseded the spirit of the Redeemers.

The Board’s intent had already been outlined in the Historical Commission’s circular sent out to the public to request assistance in surveying the materials that would need to be gathered to make an archives: “Mississippi, in common with the other Southern states, is entering upon a great historical renaissance and the people of the South are beginning to realize as never before that ‘there is nothing wrong with our history, but in the writing of it.’ The purpose of the State Legislature and of the Historical Society in the creation and appointment of this Commission, is to provide the most effective means for the correction of this defect.”17 As Wilson and others have amply shown, this language in fact alluded to the southern elite determination to sieze control of the national discourse about southern slavery, planter culture, and the motivations for entering war and to tell the story in a way that ennobled their practice and motivations on all counts. In this cause they were glad to appropriate the mantle of Adams’s “scientific” history and to cast their arguments in whatever mold would carry the most weight. That the Jim Crow legislature of 1902 considered such a project worthwhile explains the ease of passage of the legislation that created the Department of Archives and History.

Another clue to the Board's intent can be found when we compare the writings of the two serious candidates in the volumes of the Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society that had appeared by 1902. Brough and Rowland had each written three essays, Hamilton none. Two of Brough's essays were the competent, solid institutional histories one would expect from one of Adams's students and the author of a dissertation on irrigation in Utah, sober and relatively plain in language and dependent upon tables and footnoted detail: "History of Taxation in Mississippi"18 and "History of Banking in Mississippi."19 Rowland's essays could not have been more different. They offered fiery indignation in "The Rise and Fall of Negro Rule in Mississippi,"20 which treated Reconstruction; romantic idealization of the nobility of the planter class and the benevolence of slavery in the manner of Thomas Nelson Page's novel Red Rock (the only citation to be found for Reconstruction in Riley's School History) in "Plantation Life in Mississippi before the War";21 and finally canonization of the political heroes of white Mississippi in the fulsome "Political and Parliamentary Orators and Oratory in Mississippi."22 In early 1902, however, before the selection of the Director took place on March 15, both Rowland and Brough presented papers at the Mississippi Historical Society meeting. Rowland’s paper was a somewhat more temperate “Mississippi’s First Constitution and its Makers.”23 Brough, however, broke with his habitually staid written style and subjects and presented a strongly-worded diatribe, later to be printed as “The Clinton Riot,” which treated the race riot that took place in Clinton, Mississippi around the election of 1875, in which the white Democrats of Mississippi determined to replace Republican Radicals and overthrow Reconstruction.24 It was a direct way for Brough to reach the Board of Trustees of the Society, who would choose the winner.

The Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Historical Society—on which Brough as a leading academic had previously served, and whose proclivities he presumably understood—had two very different men to choose between, in spite of Brough’s frank move to court them: Rowland was 38 to Brough's 26, but on the other hand Rowland had had a rural law practice and written mostly for newspapers, while Brough had taken a good degree from the center of the new historical studies, had taught history and been active in what we would now call “outreach” (speeches at women’s clubs and graduation ceremonies) to great popular effect in Jackson and vicinity, and had even taken a Mississippi law degree in his spare time. Brough was certainly not without ambition, since he went on to a professorship at the University of Arkansas in 1904 and was elected to the first of two terms as that state's governor in 1917. But somehow, even if he was quite capable of talking the talk, he was not what most of the executive committee of the Mississippi Historical Society were looking for.25

We do not know which trustees voted for whom, but the list of men on it, who became the Department of Archives and History’s first Board of Trustees as well, is suggestive. Even this early there was rivalry between the University of Mississippi and the agricultural college that would become Mississippi State University, and the nearly every member of the board had some connection to education:

Board Member

Age in 1902


B.T. Kimbrough


judge, lawyer

Stephen D. Lee


planter, CSA general, 1890 Constitutional Convention, MSU president

Robert Burwell Fulton


UM chancellor

Charles Betts Galloway


Methodist bishop, 1890 Constitutional Convention, son of CSA surgeon

Richard Watson Jones


UM professor, CSA major

Franklin L. Riley


UM professor

G.H. Brunson


MC and MSU professor

James Rhea Preston


Leading anti-Radical 1875 politician, owner of Belhaven College

James M. White


MSU professor

Rowland’s Archival Beginnings: Collecting and classifying, 1902-14
Having been elected as founding Director, Dunbar Rowland served as such for more than a third of the history to date of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, from 1902 to his death in 1936, and his influence on the collection and preservaton of materials dating to before 1900 has clearly been far greater than that of any single one of his sucessors, simply because the relative availability of such materials, at least in original form, has changed. It is hard to tell how influential were the preferences of the Board members, or whether Riley had any influence on Rowland’s work. They had certainly developed, in the course of the work of the Historical Commission, a vision of the work of the Department as a sort of institutional troika: a Department of Archives and History as physical repository of objects, images, published materials, and manuscripts; a Director with specific duties; supported by the Mississippi Historical Society with specific duties. The Commission report outlined a list of duties for all of them, but there was a degree of in the legislation, which accorded to the director of the Department some of the activities of the Society, making the list of Rowland's "duties" under the legislation lengthy and multifarious and reflecting an original concept of a historical agency that would deal not only in documents, but in printed publications, images, and physical objects constituent of Mississippi history; and would in addition actually be a creator of written history and an encourager of its creation:
1. The care and custody of the official archives of the State.

2. The collection and preservation of materials bearing upon the history of the State and of the territory included therein from earliest times.

3. The editing and compilation of official records and other historical materials of value.

4. The diffusion of knowledge in reference to the history and resources of Mississippi.

5. The encouragement of historical work and research among the people.

6. The arrangement and classification of valuable primary material, not official.

7. The collection of data in reference to soldiers from Mississippi in the war between the United States and the Confederate States, and to cause the same to be prepared for publication as speedily as possible.

8. The collection of portraits of the great men of Mississippi, pictures of historic scenes, historic houses and homes.

9. The editing and compilation after each general election of an official and statistical register of the State of Mississippi.

10. The direction of the future work of the Mississippi Historical Commission, as its ex-officio chairman.

11. The collection of historical materials of a printed or documentary character bearing upon the history of the State.

12. Keeping a record of the official acts of the Board of Trustees of this Department.26

This heterogeneous list also echoes in many ways just the kinds of materials that Adams had assembled for his students to use in their “seminary” or “laboratory” meetings, so the hand of Riley is clearly present, but it also includes interests of the Board like the Confederate war records and a few elements, wisely chosen from a political point of view, that would make the new Department useful to existing departments of state government. Rowland was not remiss in dealing with any of these instructions, but what he actually did shows that he clearly saw his first duty as the gathering, ordering, and indeed the definition of the state's archival fonds.

In doing this work Rowland had the support of a very consistent Board of Trustees, and under Rowland’s administration the history of this Board developed as an interesting balancing act among universities, religious denominations, and politicians. The scheme of trustee replacement called for only three of them to be replaced (or more often reelected) every two years by the vote of the remaining six, with the candidates to be suggested by the Director and confirmed after election by the legislature. Only very few of them would fail to remain on the board for life. Five of the nine white men on the original Board were either Civil War veterans themselves or the sons of veterans, while eight of the nine had some connection with higher education.27 Of the nine first Trustees, at least two were Confederate veterans, three the sons of veterans, one a legislative participant in the 1875 overthrow of Reconstruction, and two present at the 1890 Constitutional Convention that effectively abolished black suffrage and rolled back remaining remnants of Reconstruction. In 1906 Board membership was changed to sever the relationship with the Mississippi Historical Society, requiring only that three of them be ex-Confederate soldiers, although obviously this requirement would eventually need to be dropped. Rowland observed that the change was made because it "was also considered by the Legislature inadvisable to place a Department of the State government under the auspices of a society over which it could exercise no control."28 This kind of profile would shift somewhat under Rowland's aegis as New South connections with business became important and the number of lawyers drew even with the academics and the divines dropped out, but the white supremacist conviction and the connection with old families would remain constant and was one of his most long-lasting legacies. The "second-generation" board had even more Confederate veterans, and succeeding boards held both 1875 Redeemers and 1890 Constitutional Convention participants.29

Given the architecture of power in the state in 1902, with white supremacy fully established under the 1890 constitution but just at the dawn of the advent of populism, this group was already in hindsight doomed to an eventual diminution of power, but their interests, sympathies, and contacts inevitably had an effect on the preservation of the historical record. The first actions of the Board of Trustees, in fact, were to direct Rowland to obtain the following list of materials, reflecting the findings and broad recommendations of the Historical Commission but making priorities very clear:
1) from the United States Government, copies of the official rosters of Mississippi's Confederate army organizations;

2) from newspaper publishers, all newspapers published in the state;

3) from "owners," manuscripts, portraits of "distinguished Mississippians," and artifacts for museum display.
Although official government records were not included in the Board-recommended list, they were clearly a central priority for Rowland, as from the beginning he evidently had a broader notion of archives and a stronger commitment to the vision laid out in the legislation than did his Board. He sought out in the Old Capitol building fifty record boxes of the "archives of the State not in use," which he found to be in "lamentable confusion," but was glad to say that they had not been "deliberately consigned to flames and water."30 Most of his first annual report was taken up with a history of Mississippi state government records to date and an inventory of the contents of the first five boxes.

He traced the itinerary of the records from the Territorial period beginning in 1789 to 1902: from Concord, the Spanish governor's residence; to Natchez (kept in Washington, at Jefferson College, to 1819); to Columbia until 1822 or so; then to the "old" capitol building in Jackson (now demolished) until the then "new" capitol building (now the Old Capitol Museum) was completed in 1839. In 1863, as Jackson fell in the Civil War, the records—which included active records—were moved to Meridian, then Enterprise, Columbus, and Macon, being apparently returned to Jackson in 1865. Although the history of the Reconstruction period mentions twice (in 1865 and 1868) that the "archives," formally considered to be in the control if not the custody of the governor, were required to be placed in the power of military governors,31 in course of time records not in daily use were shunted to the third floor of the Old Capitol building, where they were simply warehoused in confusion until their weight threatened the Supreme Court chamber below. At that time, in Rowland's words, they were "sentenced and committed to the penitentiary"32—the old penitentiary building in the center of Jackson where the eventual "New Capitol" would stand—from 1896 to 1900, when they were packed in the famous fifty boxes and stacked in the corridors of the Old Capitol pending construction of the New Capitol. There they apparently remained until Rowland claimed them, and he was not to move them into new quarters until October 5, 1903, when he and the archives were the last to leave the old building and be established in the new. The new Department was assigned two rooms originally designated for the Clerk of the House and the House Appropriations Committee.

During the course of the first year of functioning of the Department, Rowland used young women volunteers to help him with his work, but for the second he was authorized to purchase a typewriter and hire a stenographer. In 1913 he would write in a speech to the Board:
Some of you may remember the first meeting of the Board in our temporary quarters in the Old Capitol seven months after the establishment of the Department. General Lee and Bishop Galloway, the two men whose names appear so often in our departmental annals, were beaming with joy and enthusiasm over what had been accomplished. I had actually been inhaling dirt and foul odors for six months in my efforts to make a display of the interesting manuscripts which had been rescued from the floors and corners of the attic. These were spread out for inspection on some improvised tables, and in the midst of my enthusiastic comments on the rich store of records which lay hidden away in old goods boxes, General Lee remarked that it would be wise for me to increase the insurance on my life, as it was certainly being endangered by my daily occupation. But I have survived in spite of it, and am of the opinion that the archivist, at least, is a confirmation of the old colloquial proverb that every man must eat his peck of dirt.33
It is clear, therefore, that in the beginning he must have done a good deal of the work himself, though later he had the assistance of two unmarried women, Alice Chase and Frances Walthall, as well as his wife Eron.34

In his first examination of the official records he had rescued from the Old Capitol, Rowland found the papers of the territorial and state governors, territorial and state legislative journals, and early state constitutions, which he hastened to put in order and inventory, though the work was at first slow: five boxes were processed in 1902, 15 boxes in 1903, and the remainder were completed only when he was able to secure an adequate Hall of Records in the New Capitol, between 1904 and 1912. He decided early that the best means of preservation was to order and bind the records, as he saw was done in European archives when he visited them, but fortunately the first arrangement of the files he made was into filing cabinets, and standards had changed by the time he would have had the funding to carry out this plan, so most of the papers remained unbound in folders or boxes. He also decided to divide the materials into three temporal periods: provincial or colonial, territorial, and state. His observation of the recordkeeping habits reflected in the official records of different eras is instructive: "The territorial archives of Mississippi have, fortunately, been more carefully preserved than those of any other period. The territorial governors, it is evident, were industrious and careful, and seem to have had a fondness for keeping executive journals in which were recorded all official correspondences and other writings and proceedings."35 His remarks with regard to papers since statehood were sparse but telling: from 1817-1839, while there was no fixed seat of government, records endured "considerable loss"; Civil War records he described as showing some damage from marauding Yankees but otherwise "surprisingly complete"; Reconstruction records for 1868-1876, he reported, "were not properly preserved," nor were those of 1877-1895—but in these latter two cases Rowland gives no reason.36 By 1913 he was making the claim that due to the existence and influence of the Department (in Rowland's terms, "various kindly suggestions"), state agencies and even county and municipal governments had adopted better recordkeeping practices, but he gives no details.37

During the early years of his tenure Rowland was instructed to concentrate significantly on the collection of Confederate records from both the United States government and from private individuals, as explicitly required by the 1902 Act of Establishment of the Department.38 With this Rowland was perfectly in agreement. His own words speak eloquently for his aims: "Perhaps the most pressing duty of the Department," he wrote in 1903," is the preservation of the peerless record of the heroic soldiers of Mississippi who served in the armies of the Confederacy....If there is one duty of this Department which should stand before all others it is that sacred duty to preserve the record of the deeds of the Confederate soldiers of Mississippi who gave up everything for country and made forever heroic the time in which they lived."39

Before sending to Washington for copies of Confederate records, however, Rowland made it his business to search out such Confederate records as could be found in Mississippi. It appears, however, that the “search” was somewhat less than difficult. A master of the dramatic flourish, he presented this search rhetorically in his official reports as an epic discovery.40 He had been informed by Col. E.E. Baldwin (presented in Rowland's report as the sole possessor of the secret of their location) that the muster rolls and other records had been hidden when Jackson fell to Federal troops and had been left in hiding during Reconstruction and since at the Jackson Masonic lodge. According to Rowland, he and Baldwin retrieved them from thence on July 25, 1902, in a classic press stunt designed to attract favorable attention to his activities and the new Department.

In order to attract the further interest of the public and their support for funding, Rowland printed in his annual reports lists of the materials he found, frequently in the form of calendars. In 1903 he went to Washington to campaign for the printing of the Confederate rosters by the War Department, and succeeded perhaps of necessity in instigating the printing of both Confederate and Union rosters, since there was judged to be a universal demand by the populace to memorialize the war's participants before they all died.41 In 1905 the Federal War Department returned captured Confederate battle flags to the states as the project to print the rosters got under way, and these flags were preserved by Rowland at the Archives.42

The Commission had warned that the collection of original papers was a matter of urgancy. “The letters and papers of our public men, which have not been lost or destroyed, should be gathered together and preserved without further delay. Other State-supported departments of history are invading our territory, and, if they are not met by superior activity on our part, many of the historical materials relating to Mississippi will find permanent places of deposit beyond our borders, and our own people will be forced to the inconvenience, as well as the humiliation, of going elsewhere to learn about the doings of their ancestors.”43 Unfortunately, this warning came too late for the papers of the centrally important Jefferson Davis. In 1908, as part of his collecting activities, Rowland began work on the publication of the papers and speeches of Jefferson Davis by beginning to secure copies of these from New Orleans and Washington. Rowland's wife Eron even compiled a biography of Davis' wife Varina Howell.44 In 1910 Rowland observed: "...while the activities of the Department embrace the care and custody of the State records since provincial days, and the records of every period are carefully preserved, no period has received more especial attention than that of the Civil War."45 In 1908, when few other materials were yet adequately arranged and described, the Department began providing reference service on its Confederate records.

Rowland early exhibited an entrepreneurial bent in his efforts at outreach to the white public in the promotion of state history when he ran a contest to name the first ten "great men of the state" to be included in a proposed Hall of Fame, which he compared in patriotic importance to the Parthenon, the Louvre, Westminster Abbey, and Independence Hall.46 The vote was carried out through state newspapers, which printed cut-out ballots in 1902, and when it was completed he saw that biographical sketches of the winners were prepared and run in those same newspapers.47 Finally, where he could find them, he persuaded the descendants of the honorees—and of anyone else of historical importance he could think of—to pay for their oil paintings to be displayed in the Capitol.

Rowland partook of the trend of his time to edit and publish historical materials to make them available to the educated public, and his annual reports soon became venues for such publications. Because his aim was to multiply copies of documents as a preservation and access strategy, he obtained copies of Mississippi records where original records could not be secured. He therefore attempted to collect materials on Mississippi history wherever they might be found, including, as the Commission had advised, in various departments of the Federal government, in the counties of Mississippi, particularly Adams, and in the archives of the European colonial powers that had variously occupied Mississippi.

In connection with the records of the Spanish dominion in Natchez, which had been formally collected and bound in 1803 and remained in the Adams County Chancery Clerk's office, Rowland cited the 1902 law, indicating "That any State, county, or other official is hereby authorized and empowered in his discretion, to turn over to the Department for permanent preservation therein any official books, records, documents, original papers, newspaper files and printed books not in current use in their offices." He observed in 1903 that by then the law had been generally observed by the heads of state government departments, but he had not yet brought it to the attention of local officials.48 But he was not successful in Natchez; in 1905 he capitulated to local determination to retain the records and borrowed the Natchez Spanish records to make copies. Over succeeding years he would find that the phrase "in his discretion" would cripple his efforts repeatedly (the Spanish records remain in Natchez to this day), but until new records management legislation, passed in 1981, introduced records management officially in Mississippi, moral suasion was all that directors of the MDAH had to work with in convincing officials to turn over their records.49

Having published a volume of Territorial papers in 1905, Rowland began in the following year his project of securing colonial-period transcripts from Europe with a trip to England and France, where he examined available materials and spent $1000 in orders for transcripts from the respective national archives. Together with preliminary lists of materials, including a calendar of the materials being copied in France, Rowland published short histories of the respective European archives, showing that they had all had periods of inattention not unlike Mississippi's.50

Reading these descriptions, it becomes obvious that Rowland was thus early being exposed to the history of archival practice and bureaucratizing recordkeeping in Europe. When in 1910 he attended the International Congress of Archives in Brussels, he presented a paper on the desirability of centralized governmental archives, citing his frustrations in dealing with widely scattered departmental archives in the U.S. Adoption of "[t]he policy of concentration," he observed, "is only a matter of time."51 On that trip he toured the archives of Belgium, Holland, and Germany, of which he observed that while the territories of the recently formed German Empire had well-organized archives, there was as yet no national archives.52 Rowland was and remained an outspoken proponent of a national archives for the U.S., continuing active in the movement for a national archives until his death.

Rowland clearly had ideological reasons for pursuing a complete collection of Confederate records as persistently as he did: to quote him in 1912, when the data-gathering in Washington had nearly been completed, "The historical fact that the Southern States fought against overwhelming odds in their effort to establish an independent nationality is not now a subject of controversy, but it seems to me that we should all be glad to know that the South, of its whole population, sent 1,000,000 men to the front from her rather sparse population, for it shows that our people were a unit in the great contest, and that the war between the Northern and Southern States was not a contest brought on by the leaders."53 Since the Confederate History Commission that Rowland convened in the state to collect materials in private hands and to disseminate a questionnaire to all surviving veterans obviously did not collect information from Union veterans or from those who did not serve, such a picture of the data is not surprising. But the date of that assertion of wartime unity may be more important than the alleged fact, in that 1912 was a year of major triumph for populism and the dirt farmers against the delta planters, the year that populist ex-governor James K. Vardaman won one of the Mississippi senate seats, Vardaman ally Theodore G. Bilbo was lieutenant governor, and the legislature was also Vardaman-controlled. In that year also the Department of Archives and History was defunded by the legislature after Rowland argued violently with one member, and incoming governor Brewer had to borrow money ad hoc to keep the department afloat.

Just how complete was Rowland’s collecting effort in assembling the first archives of the state of Mississippi? A tabular comparison of his 1914 inventory of the Department’s holdings with the inventory created by the Mississippi Historical Commission reveals the degree to which he had concentrated his efforts.54 The Commission’s inventory, though in several respects incomplete (some of the participants had been unable to complete their work on time), foreshadows, as has been suggested, a sort of prescient documentation strategy.55 They envisioned that the collections of the Department would be sought high and low, from abroad, from Washington, from other states, and from private organizations and individuals in addition to official sources. They would cover all aspects of life in Mississippi, including in addition to governmental records (which included those of cities, towns, and counties) those of business, social, and labor organizations, the arts, prehistory, and the documentation of at least famous lives, plus artifacts and paintings of individuals and events for a museum and the marking of historic (and prehistoric) sites. The proposed inventory (though not the completed one) had even included a heading “The Negro in Mississippi as Slave and Citizen.”

In contrast, Rowland had concentrated almost exclusively on the official documents of his three periods: Colonial archives obtained in the form of transcripts from Europe (as was being done by other states at the same time) and Natchez; Territorial archives obtained as part of the famous fifty original boxes and a few private collections received from the Mississippi Historical Society; and State archives also from the boxes and the Society (most notably the papers of the Adalbert Ames administration, which had been given to the society in 1900 and inventoried in detail in the Commission report). He mentioned no local government records and lumped private records in a category of “Unofficial Papers” (including the papers of B.L.C. Wailes and the archives of the Mississippi Synod of the Southern Presbyterian church, which had split in 1856 on the issue of slavery). He made no mention of “Aboriginal and Indian Remains” or “Places of Historical Interest,” although he had begun to collect paintings, as already mentioned. Although the Commission had divided “War Records” into categories by source (and had included in them all wars in which Mississippians had fought, including Indian wars), Rowland devoted the series solely to “Confederate Records.” He also lumped tax records under the Auditor’s office (although the Comission recognized the Revenue Agent or tax collector, it had noted that the agent’s records were filed in the Auditor’s office). His series were designated alphabetically and were not in the same sequence as the Commission’s inventory. He added a few series that the Commission had overlooked, most notably the territorial and state legislature, but although the Commission had omitted educational institutions through default, and Rowland clearly did not make a point of collecting them, he listed some early records of Alcorn College under “Miscellaneous Official Records.” Considering the fact that he had no trained staff, that he also had to campaign constantly for support, and that most of the official records with which he began were in a very disorganized state, what Rowland had accomplished in twelve years was amazing, and it would seem churlish to require that he have achieved complete coverage of state history in that time. Nevertheless it is clear that he had specific priorities, just as his board and his own statements had asserted.

He also had few resources except persuasion with which to pursue collections; except for the small appropriations obtained to pay for transcripts from European archives, he had no funds with which to purchase materials or to travel in order to seek them out.56 For that reason he was dependent on the influence of members of the Mississippi Historical Society and the Archives board. In the early years of the Department little official outlay was even made to pay Rowland or his few assistants. Another constraint on collecting was space. Rowland's annual reports reveal that some pressure and influence had to be brought to bear to secure the original two rooms in the newly-built Capitol building in 1903, and by 1912 he stated categorically that as far as official records of state government were concerned, "our limited floor space has prevented further accessions" beyond the original fifty boxes.57 He does not explain why in spite of the space crunch he and his board continued to solicit and collect voluminous private manuscript materials, including those of the First Mississippi Bank in 1913,58 although scattered remarks suggest that officials may have been as unwilling to part with the records of their departments as Rowland was happy to use their reluctance as an opportunity to make a case for more space. In 1903 he said that the executive still retained the records of governors Ames, Alcorn, and Powers (1868-1882)59 as well as those of their successors, which "give the record of the brave struggle to rebuild the State [after the Civil War and Reconstruction], which has been made under the leadership of Governors Stone, Lowry, McLaurin and Longino."60 By 1907 he seems to have obtained these records, however, since he observed that only the executive journals of governors from 1882 to date of writing were "yet on file in the office of the governor."61 From early on he campaigned for the renovation of the vacated Old Capitol to serve as an archival and museum facility, but though he organized women's historical groups to pressure the Legislature, notably in 1917, this argument bore no fruit in his lifetime. In 1935 he was still urging the Legislature to provide the Archives with adequate housing.62 But when he published his inventory in 1914, he seems to have settled with the idea that his archives would contain only materials prior to 1900, and the rest would remain in the offices of origin.63 Given his legislated assignment and his own focus on the construction of a history that explained events only up to that date, it is not surprising that he now turned to focusing on providing access to the archives he had created.
Publication and Contestation, 1914-1931
From 1914 to 1935, Dunbar Rowland apparently prepared no separate annual or biennial reports; data about the Department's activities are only to be found in its actual publications, Rowland's correspondence, and the state Official and Statistical Register publications first done by the Department but eventually taken over by the Secretary of State.64 Indeed modern folklore and the influential writing of his successor had it that his Board of Trustees, after its first two six-year terms, was not replaced.65 It has even been suggested, again as folklore, that Rowland supported himself by means of publications when legislative funding was unavailable. Still it is not clear what his operating budgets looked like during those years because the record is so sparse. Rowland and his Trustees clearly represented an enclave of "Bourbon" interests in an age of "redneck" populist politics, and certainly the tone of the last Annual Report, that of 1935, suggests that his troubles had been political, since he praises the people, as represented by the Legislature, for refusing "to allow the Department to be used as political spoils."66

But this does not mean that Rowland was inactive; indeed as he saw it and as his Board had seen it since the beginning, the collection and classification phase of his work would now be succeeded by a publication phase, so this was part of a plan, not a financial necessity, and it was not an unusual plan for its day. In 1914 his guide to the Department's holdings provided a pioneering finding aid (according to Posner, possibly the first in the country) not to be replaced until the 1970s, and still useful as an inventory of the materials acquired and arranged by that date.67 Drawing from the three eras into which he had classified Mississippi history—colonial, territorial, and statehood—Rowland, sometimes with the assistance of others, published massive collections of documents from each of the periods: English (1 vol.) and translated French (3 vols., 1927-32) colonial documents; territorial governor Claiborne's letterbooks (6 vols., 1917); and Jefferson Davis' writings (10 vols., 1923).68 Reviews of such publications appeared regularly in AHR and other publications, generally praising Rowland for making the materials available. In 1918, however, the review of the Claiborne letterbooks in the MVHR by E.S. Brown, though it welcomed the availability of the materials, castigated Rowland for ignoring material available in Washington, not even mentioning it. Although the Jefferson Davis volumes clearly had the greatest potential for controversy, especially given Rowland’s thesis that secession was constitutionally supported, they were well received. The MVHR review by L.B. Shippee remarked the great public service represented by the edition, but complained that only the public Davis was represented, while the AHR review, by Dodd, praised the more nuanced view of Davis that emerged from the documents. Interestingly, the unsigned review in the Journal of Negro History, while deriding the premise of the book, also praised Rowland’s having made the papers available to speak for themselves.

Rowland's 1907 Mississippi had been a three-volume encyclopedia of people, places, and events of Mississippi history, the fourth volume being a biographical volume of famous and still-living men with engravings. His 1925 History of Mississippi: The Heart of the South repeated this pattern, this time with a narrative history for the first two volumes, with volumes 3 and 4 containing biographical sketches and engravings of prominent businessmen and politicians. Although these sketches were flattering of necessity, they do now have their own kind of historical value. Politically these two publications are an interesting reflection of the efforts conservatives of Rowland’s stripe made to accommodate with New South businessmen in order to hold their positions of influence in the face of progressive/populist forces.69

Although little or no material of an official nature was added to the Department’s collections during the period in question, Rowland did open up another of the areas of interest to the Historical Commission from the beginning when he began to be concerned during this period with covering the history of aboriginal Mississippi. H.S. Halbert, involved with Indian schools in Mississippi, had been an adjunct member of the Historical Commission, writing parts of its report, and had subsequently published frequently on Indian history in the first PMHS series, and in 1914 he proposed that the Legislature appropriate adequate money to acquire a major collection of antiquities.70 Rowland continued this interest during the 1920s when two teenagers, Moreau B. Chambers and James A. Ford, came to discuss their archaeological finds with him, and he subsequently hired them to carry out an archaeological survey of Mississippi, to collect “relics” for the museum, and to carry out excavations of prominent mound sites in the state. Chambers subsequently became the first staff archaeologist, continued to carry out excavations, and was put in charge of the museum, while Ford analyzed and published their findings under a WPA project in 1936 and went on to become one of the most significant American archaeologists of the twentieth century.71 Although Rowland refused the assistance of the WPA in the form of excavation crews, Chambers was able to persuade him to accept the efforts of diggers provided pay by the FERA.

During this time of publishing activity Rowland was also involved in significant professional struggles that affected his national reputation. Active along with other state archivists in national and regional historical associations from the beginning of his tenure, Rowland came into his own briefly in the nineteen-teens. In the American Historical Association he been active from its creation in 1904 in the Committee on Cooperation of Historical Societies and Organizations, which had worked to secure and encourage the support of lay historical societies for professional historical work. Although such societies were privately despised by the leaders of professionalizing academic history because they continued to encourage historical amateurism, they were very effectively courted by especially southern historians and archivists, whatever their private opinions may have been, and for Rowland the Mississippi Historical Society continued to provide the funding for the PMHS as a publishing vehicle. Rowland had also been involved along with other regional archivists and historians like Thomas Owen (Alabama) and Clarence Alvord (Illinois) in the foundation of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (1907) and the Mississippi Valley Historical Review (first issue 1914), which younger academics interested in non-Northeastern topics had welcomed as a more receptive venue for publication than the American Historical Review.72 Rowland had also been an active member of the AHA Conference of Archivists (which would become the Society of American Archivists in 1937) since its founding in 1909. His yeoman work in the AHA, his leadership in the MVHA, and probably his general interests in regional history attracted the attention of Frederic Bancroft, who tried to use Rowland's influence with the MVHA to unseat J. Franklin Jameson from influence on the board of the American Historical Association and editorship of the American Historical Review.73

Rowland, never shy of public speaking, had in fact sounded the opening salvo of what would become the "reformers" against the "Big-University Trust" in a "vehement speech of protest" against non-constitutional officer elections at the 1914 Charleston meeting of the AHA.74 He characterized the nominating committee (which that year had ironically included Franklin L. Riley) as doing "no more than conduct a caucus by mail, the effect of which is to preclude a free and fair expression from the men who sustain the Association."75 Rowland was elected to the presidency of the MVHA the following year and apparently took the election as a kind of mandate to pursue the matter. He used his position to publish along with Bancroft several pamphlets containing other attacks on "the trust," but did not meet with complete success. In the end the AHA did return to a democratic mode of elections, but Jameson was not removed from the Review and Rowland was frozen out of any significant role in the AHA afterwards. He had also angered many in the MVHA who did not agree with him for having spoken in their name, and after his ex-president's statutory six years on its executive board he ceased activity in that group in 1922.76

Rowland's historical amateurism, Bourbon bias, and professional naivete were affronted once more in the early 1930s, when the Dictionary of American Biography was coming to fruition. Modern judgments hold that Rowland was at best an indifferent historical editor, even by the standards of his time, and his historical writing was bombast or documentary paraphrase.77 But he was much offended by the behavior of the DAB’s editor, first in assigning the entry on Jefferson Davis to Nathaniel Stephenson ("written with the spleen of a radical") and then in having the audacity to edit Rowland's own twelve contributions on minor figures. As a result Rowland actually attempted to interfere in the publication of the series by sending his correspondence with the deceased editor to Adolph Ochs, publisher of the New York Times, which supported it.78 When that failed, Rowland published the collection of letters in 1931 as a pamphlet, "The 'Dictionary of American Biography,' a Partisan, Sectional, Political Publication: A Protest," in which he ranted that the Dictionary "is in charge of a school of sectional and prejudiced historians" whose maligning of Jefferson Davis could not be borne. Rowland styled himself on the cover of the pamphlet as “Director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Secretary of the Mississippi Historical Society, and Historian General of the United Confederate Veterans.”

In another area Rowland also proved his continued devotion to the Lost Cause and its Redeemers. In 1910 and 1927 the survivors of the 1890 Constitutional Convention—one of whose leaders was R.H. Thompson, an MDAH Board member since 1908—met in Jackson, hosted both times by Rowland and his Department. The meetings were held in the Senate Chamber of the New Capitol and were written up and published by Rowland. At both meetings, and particularly the last, the men congratulated themselves on the wisdom of the measures they had devised to deny suffrage to blacks.79 Certainly the political powers of the day were no friends to black suffrage, but the group with whom Rowland aligned himself and his Department was on the losing side of the struggle between planter and redneck by the end of the 1920s.

Disappointment, 1931-36
In the early 1930s, after years of campaigning by the historical profession led by Jameson at the Carnegie Institution in Washington from 1906 onward, and supported by archivists like Rowland, a National Archives was finally to become a reality. Rowland had provided ongoing support for the effort by seeing that Mississippi congressional delegates and Mississippi historical societies could be counted on to speak in its favor whenever it came up. When success was achieved, Rowland, with the assistance of Mississippi congressman Pat Harrison, mounted a large political campaign for the position of national archivist, including voluminous letter-writing on his own behalf. He lost to another southerner, Robert D.W. Connor of North Carolina. Connor was not only a professional historian in addition to an archivist, but had the support of Jameson, whose enmity from twenty years before came back to haunt Rowland. Jameson lobbied Franklin Roosevelt in behalf of Connor as the AHA nominee, in favor of whom all others except Rowland withdrew.80 By 1934 Rowland at 70 was surely too old to undertake the direction of a new national archives, even if he had not already made so many enemies, but the lengthy lists of correspondents and letter copies in his private papers show that he made a personally herculean effort to attain the distinction.81

Rowland was also faced, particularly in the years of the Depression, with the fact that growing repositories with determined collectors at their head, like the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina, were making raids on the southern states for materials, and because they could pay more than nothing, they were achieving notable success in carrying off rare Mississippi materials. In one instance, that of the Rapalje Notebook, we only know what happened because a note accompanies the trading-post account book from the 1790s, indicating that the owners of the book handed it over to the Department in exchange for a transcript after they had been approached by North Carolina collectors, feeling that documents of Mississippi history should not go out of the state. These generous donors were the exception rather than the rule.

He went on, however, with what he was doing, publishing another omnibus compendium on judges and lawyers of Mississippi in 1935 and in 1936 even publishing another, this time biennial, director's report, in which he urged the legislature once again to provide more commodious quarters for the Archives. His death from throat cancer in November of 1937 followed that of his old opponent Jameson by two months. Jameson rated a lead article in the American Historical Review, while the only mention of Rowland's passing, in the AHR Personals, was one that slighted his thirty-five years of work: "The appointment of Dr. William D. McCain of the Division of Classification of the National Archives to the position of Director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to succeed the late Dunbar Rowland is a gratifying recognition of the value of professional experience in the field of archival economy."82 McCain, a recent history graduate, had only brief experience at the National Archives behind him; the remark was not so much recognition of an unproven young practitioner as it was the final rebuff of Rowland.83 Before this is taken as the final word, however, it should be noted that whatever his ideological limitations, Rowland had, by the time the National Archives was founded, already put in place the major functions of an agency of much broader scope than the National Archives would ever attempt.

Rowland's efforts had all the marks of "firstness": he was able to take into custody the existing "old" records of Mississippi that did not embody power useful to current incumbents, chiefly of the Territorial and statehood period prior to the Civil War, and found them in a confused and sometimes fragmentary state, presaging what R.D.W. Connor would find when he undertook the classification of Federal records as the first National Archivist.84 He then acted to acquire copies of such records as he could not procure as originals, aiming for a complete record in one place to assure the student and citizen of convenience, though his racial and elitist bias meant that what he represented as "complete" and the audience he intended to reach were far from universal.

But in spite of writing clearly about the terrible state of the records and of urging officials to better and more systematic recordkeeping, Rowland was then prevented from obtaining relatively current records because government officials wanted to keep them in their own offices; as a matter of fact he simply treated records after 1900 as current records and left them of necessity in their offices of origin. As a result of the political alignment that supported his historical aims, he was in no position to solve this problem of current or recent records management as long as he was Director. Thus although he was clearly biased in the selection of records he deemed to be important, he was aware of the necessity for records management but materially opposed in his efforts.

The most serious accusation that can be laid at Rowland’s door is that he failed to obtain collections that were representative of all the people of Mississippi while they were still available to collect. The list of reasons includes the very good ones that he had no space and no money, but for whatever reason it cannot be said that he had no inclination, since he did in fact acquire private manuscript materials that tended to support his own views and looked determinedly backward to the Lost Cause.

As to practice, Rowland was influenced by his own professional training in the law, but was an active participant in the early professionalization of archivy. Like other historical agencies that emerged in the South at the same era, and influenced through Riley by Adams’s original vision of an assemblage of objects, images, books, and documents for historical study, Rowland’s Department of Archives and History was shaped by him from early on to be a compleat historical agency, incorporating a museum, library, private and public archives, and literary and artistic collections representative of the state; and carrying out a broad range of activities to promote historical research and writing and to preserve historical sites and buildings—even if mostly those representing elite history—across the state. Observing the best practices of his time in the archives of Europe, he arranged the official records by date within departmental series, and private manuscripts by collections related to individual or family donors, not so very differently from the way they have continued to be kept. "[S]implicity of arrangement is the great object to obtain," he wrote,85 and in spite of all the contingencies of his politics, his struggles, and his failures, he managed to create an institution and make it reliable enough that others of very different convictions would want to continue to perpetuate it. As a result, not only the records he most prized, but many that he would never have collected, are still there, still accessible, and gradually emerging online to reach new audiences certainly far beyond his imaginings.86

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