William Giles Harding Papers

Identifier: MSS.0189

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

This .42 linear feet collection is divided into three series:

Series I includes original, handwritten general correspondence sent to William Giles Harding primarily from Matthew Fontaine Maury, 1827-1872. The letters discuss Agricultural and Meterological Societies, importation of Llamas and Alpacas from South America to Tennessee, the Civil War, and politics. It also includes an address by Matthew Fontaine Maury before the National Agricultural Association, miscellaneous notes, and typed transcripts to selected letters. The series is arranged chronologically containing 28 file folders.

Series II includes original handwritten family correspondence from William Giles Harding’s wife Elizabeth I. McGavock Harding; daughter, Selene; daughter-in-law, Maggie; servant, Susanna; sister-in-law, Mary McGavock Southall; nephew, Randal McGavock Southall; and, friends beginning in 1860 and continuing while he was in prison during the American Civil War and ending in1867. The letters chronicle family life in Nashville during the Union occupation. There are typed transcripts for selected letters, and some typed transcripts with footnotes. The series is arranged chronologically in 22 file folders, and includes two bound volumes of the same letters.

Series III contains two photographs, in two file folders.


  • 1827-1872

Language of Materials



William Giles Harding [1808-1886] was born near Nashville and attended the University of Nashville; the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy in Middletown, Connecticut; and, studied law in Litchfield, Connecticut.

William Giles Harding married Elizabeth Irwin McGavock in 1840 after the death of his first wife. He lived first at Stone’s River Farm, where his son John later lived, and then at the 3500-acre Belle Meade Plantation, where he raised cashmere goats and racehorses. He transformed the Federal style house his father built into the Greek Revival mansion that stands today.

At the beginning of the American Civil War he served as a General in the Tennessee militia. In 1862 he was imprisoned for six months by federal troops as a political prisoner, for supporting the Confederate rebellion, and sent to Detroit and Fort Mackinaw, Michigan. During his absence, his wife was left to manage Belle Meade Plantation. During the war, his plantation was used as a headquarters for the Union Army.

After the war, Belle Meade became one of the best thoroughbred breeding farms in the country.

Mrs. M. G. Buckner donated the original letters to Special Collections. Ridley Wills deposited some typed transcripts of the letters with genealogical footnotes in 1985.


.42 Linear Feet

Physical Location

Special Collections & Archives

Finding Aid for the William Giles Harding Papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Library
1101 19th Ave. S.
Nashville TN 37212 United States


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