The Stephen W. Church papers contain the letters of a Rhode Island merchant working in Charleston, South Carolina, in the late antebellum period just before the outbreak of the Civil War. He discusses business issues, such as the prices of food goods, and comments on the political climate in Charleston.
The Stephen W. Church papers contain 32 letters, all addressed to his uncle and associate, Thomas Coggeshall, of New York. These letters primarily describe Church’s business dealings, including outstanding debts in Bristol, Rhode Island, and the local demand and prices for produce such as citrus fruits, potatoes, apples, cheese, and butter. In addition to offering revealing information on the state of trade in late-antebellum Charleston, Church also explained the ideological and logistical build-up to war. For example, in the final letter of the series, April 8, 1861, he remarks about the town's anticipation of an attack on Fort Sumter. He had received news of an officer from Washington meeting with the Governor and General Beauregard, and noted, "...we are to have a fight after all. There is the most intense excitement here, and people are perfectly wild, and vengeance is depicted upon every countenance." Church correctly predicted that the fort would be attacked before the letter had been delivered.
Also included in the collection are two cartes-de-visite of Union soldiers: one of Gilbert W. Thompson, Captain of the 16th Connecticut Infantry, and one of a captain with the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry.