Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the Samuel McDowell Tate Papers

Accession Number: 100
Papers: 1811-1941
Bulk Dates: 1850-1859, 1865-1892
0.8 linear feet.
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Series Description
Series I - Correspondence
Series II - Financial and Business Documents
Series III - House Bills
Series IV - Real Estate Politics
Series V - Miscellaneous

Access and Use


This collection was purchased and processed by Berea College Special Collections & Archives. There are no restrictions placed on this collection other than federal copyright regulations.

Preferred Citation:

Col. Samuel McDowell Tate Collection, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Ky.


This collection consists of two manuscript boxes containing Samuel McDowell Tate's correspondence and financial documents from his many years as a banker. An engraving of Samuel McDowell Tate by F.E. Kernan, a small number of House Bills Tate had prepared, and miscellaneous publications are also included. There is no material from Tate's time in the Civil War.


Samuel McDowell Tate (September 6, 1830- June 25, 1897), born in Morganton, NC, was described as a “quiet, old-fashioned Jeffersonian Democrat; sound, logical, practical, and worthy to be carefully considered.” (The Legislative Biographical Sketchbook of 1883.) After his father, who had represented Burke County in both houses of North Carolina’s General Assembly, died in 1836, Samuel attended private schools in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. After graduating, he was successful in Philadelphia as a merchant, but then returned to Burke County in 1850 and set up a thriving general merchandise business there. In 1854, Tate was recruited by Colonel Charles Fisher of Salisbury to work under Fisher as an agent and manager of the Western North Carolina Railroad Company’s financial interests. While working for the railroad company, Tate also became a federal census taker for Burke County and served as the postmaster of Morganton, beginning in 1856. In addition, he was justice of the peace for twenty-five years.

When war began in 1861, Tate volunteered for service in the Confederate army and became captain of Company D, 6th North Carolina regiment. He was then promoted to the rank of major on May 20, 1862, and was again advanced to the rank of lieutenant colonel on July 2, 1863 in Gettysburg. Tate led the troops of the Sixth North Carolina Regiment in the battle on East Cemetery Ridge after the death of Colonel Isaac E. Avery. He remained in command of the Sixth Regiment until the Civil War ended.

Following the war, Tate returned to Morganton, where he was elected president of the now bankrupt and highly disorganized Western North Carolina Railroad Company. He set out to restore the railroad to its former glory. Removed from presidency in 1865, returned in 1866, and removed again in 1868, Tate continued to act as the financial agent of the stockholders and as a trustee for payment of debts. In 1874, as he embarked on his political career, he sold his stock and removed all ties he had to the railroad company.

In 1874, Tate was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons from Burke County. During his term in the General Assembly Tate sponsored a bill that allowed state control of the Western North Carolina Railroad. After the bill passed, Tate was elected commissioner to reorganize the railroad. Another bill he authored was to provide convict labor on works of internal improvement; he also was elected the overseer of such convict labor in 1875. Yet another accomplishment in his first term was the founding of the Western Insane Asylum in Morganton. In addition to the railroad commission, he was also on the committee for internal improvement, the rules committee, and the finance committee, of which he was elected chairman in 1880, 1882, and 1884.

In 1886 Tate was appointed the examiner of national banks in the district from West Virginia to Florida. In 1891, he brought the North Carolina School for the Deaf to Morganton. The next year he was appointed state treasurer of North Carolina to replace the recently deceased Donald W. Bain. He served to the end of the term but was not re-elected in 1894.

During his campaign for state treasurer, Tate was accused of pressuring the legislature to secure the sale of bonds for railroads. He was torn apart by the press, investigated twice by legislative commissions, his bank books were examined, and he lost the election, but he was not found to be guilty of any wrongdoing. After this, Tate retired from public life.

In 1866, Tate had married Jennie Pearson, the daughter of a bank president and merchant in Morganton who was the first president of the Western North Carolina Railroad Company. Together the Tates had ten children. Tate died in Morganton in 1897 and was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery.

Series Description
1 Manuscript Box

Series I Correspondence Box 1

While there are some family-related letters in this series, the bulk of it is correspondence related to financial or political issues dating 1850-1902.

Box 1

  1. No Date
  2. 1850-1854
  3. 1855-1859
  4. 1865-1869
  5. 1870-1874
  6. 1875-1879
  7. 1880-1884
  8. 1885-1889
  9. 1890-1894
  10. 1895-1902
Series II Financial and Business Documents Boxes 1-2

Composed of receipts, bills of sale, and legal contracts, this series dates from 1811-1941. Also included in this series are personal account books of Samuel McDowell Tate and blank receipts of the sort Tate used regularly.

Box 1, continued

  1. No Date
  2. 1811-1859
  3. 1860-1869
  4. 1870-1879

Box 2

  1. 1880-May 1886
  2. May 1886-1889
  3. 1890-March 1892
  4. April 1892- April 1941
  5. Account Books
  6. Blank Receipts
Series III House Bills Box 2

This series contains bills created and put before the North Carolina House of Commons during Tate’s career as a representative.

  1. House Bill 331; “An Act Relating to Roads and Highways”
  2. House Bill 360; “An Act to Amend the Public School Law…”
  3. House Bill [Number Unknown]; “An Act to Amend the Charter of… Morganton, North Carolina”
Series IV Real Estate Politics Box 2

As a representative of Burke County, a president and financial agent of a railroad company, and a census taker, Tate was very involved in matters of real estate and property taxes. Contained in this series are documents related to taxation and buying of properties.

  1. Southern Real Estate Investment
  2. “The Experience of Other States with the Valued Policy Law”
  3. Pamphlets
Series V Miscellaneous Box 2

This series is composed of an engraving of Samuel McDowell Tate and empty addressed envelopes (stamps attached).

  1. Picture of Samuel McDowell Tate
  2. Empty Addressed Envelopes

Home > Special Collections & Archives > Southern Appalachian Archives