Finding Aid for the William Forbes Stearns Collection


Summary Information

University of Mississippi Libraries
Stearns, William Forbes, 1817-1867
William Forbes Stearns Collection
Date [bulk]
Date [inclusive]
2.0 Linear feet (2 boxes)
Material Specific Details note
Transcriptions of all documents in the collection are available upon request.
The collection contains correspondence, lectures, and legal materials related to the life and career of attorney and law professor William Forbes Stearns.

Preferred Citation

William Forbes Stearns Collection, Archives and Special Collections, J.D. Williams Library, The University of Mississippi

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Biographical Note

William Forbes Stearns was born in Bennington, Vt. on 11 November 1817 to Anna and Rufus Stearns. Rufus Stearns owned a large share in a wool factory in Bennington until the factory burned down in 1823. Anna died shortly thereafter. Rufus died in 1827, causing William and his siblings to be separated among various relatives.

Stearns relocated to Pontotoc, Miss. by 1836, where he worked in a bank for several years. While in Pontotoc, Stearns began to study the law, and he became a practicing attorney. When the University of Mississippi School of Law was established in 1854, Stearns was hired as its sole professor.

Stearns apparently left Mississippi as a "war prisoner of federal forces" in 1862. In 1864 he relocated to Chicago with his wife, Mary Jane Ferriss Stearns, and their two children. He established his own law practice in Chicago.

At the time of the move, Stearns and his wife were both in ill health, and Stearns' condition worsened after an 1865 attack he suffered on a Chicago street. Mary Jane went to live with her sister in Essex, N.Y. in 1866 or 1867. On 8 September 1967, Stearns committed suicide in Minnesota, where he had traveled on business.

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Scope and Content Note

The collection contains correspondence, lectures, and legal materials related to the life and career of William Forbes Stearns.

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The collection is arranged in four series:

Series 1. Addresses/Lectures, 1841-1855 and undated

Series 2. Correspondence, 1850-1854 and undated

Series 3. Legal Documents, 1837-1866 and undated

Series 4. Miscellaneous, 1869, 1993

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

University of Mississippi Libraries November 2012

Access Restrictions

The William Forbes Stearns Collection is open for research.

Copyright Restrictions

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use", that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

Acquisition Information

Received from Cameron Hearn, 2004


No further additions are expected to this collection.

Processing Information

Processed by Archives and Special Collections staff. Finding aid created by Kathryn Michaelis, August 2012.

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Related Materials

Related Resources at the University of Mississippi

David G. Sansing Collection (MUM00402), Archives and Special Collections, J.D. Williams Library. Folders 2.1 through 2.7 contain notes on William Forbes Stearns.

A letter written by William F. Stearns exists in the William Cowper Nelson Collection (MUM00688). The letter has been digitized and is accessible through the Civil War Archive digital collection.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • University of Mississippi. School of Law.


  • Lawyers -- Illinois -- Chicago
  • Lawyers -- Mississippi

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Collection Inventory

Series 1. Addresses/Lectures, 1841-1855 and undated 

 1.1 Address delivered in the Presbyterian Church, Holly Springs, 5 July 1841 

 1.2 Address delivered by the Holly Springs Temperance Society, 18 May 1845 

 1.3 Address delivered at the corner-stone laying ceremony of the Methodist Chapel, Holly Springs, 12 September 1848 

 1.4 Introductory lecture delivered to the senior class of the University of Mississippi, 2 October 1854 

 1.5 Address delivered before Oxford Lodge #33 

 1.6 Circular: University of Mississippi by William F. Stearns 


Information about the Law Department

 1.7 Address delivered upon the laying of a cornerstone for a church/house of prayer on the grounds of a university, undated 

 1.8 Advice to fourth graduating law school class and duty of lawyers, undated 

 1.9 Commencement address, possibly for the Franklin Female Institute, Holly Springs, undated 

 1.10 Practical advice to young lawyers, undated 

 1.11 Lecture on English literature and poetry, undated 

 1.12 Address to young gentlemen, undated 

 1.13 Two short writings on the legal profession, undated 

 1.14 Lecture on constitutional government and pre-Civil War sectionalism, undated 

 1.15 Address or essay on slavery, undated 

 1.16 Address or editorial about marriage, addressed to "Mr. President," undated 

 1.17 Speech or editorial honoring and praising local soldiers who served in the U.S./Mexican War, undated 

 1.18 Eulogy for an unknown woman, undated 

 1.19 Temperance address or sermon, undated 

 1.20 Address to worshipful master and brethren (Masonic), undated 

 1.21 Advice to graduating class and setup of office, undated 

 1.22 Debate: Happiness and morality are twin sisters?, undated 

 1.23 Debate: Is love of country or women most powerful incentive?, undated 

 1.24 Debate: Preface stating intent to exfluncticate, undated 


"Exfluncticate" is a mock-Latin term meaning "to destroy completely"

 1.25 Debate: Should there be a pecuniary reward for breach of marriage promise?, undated 

 1.26 Debate: Is there a right to remain old bachelors?, undated 

 1.27 Debate: Keep or abolish the credit system?, undated 

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Series 2. Correspondence, 1850-1854 and undated 

 1.28 Anonymous letter to editor F. Stearns for the Jacksonian newspaper, 6 May 1850 


Re: Memphis and Charleston Railroad construction

 1.29 Letter soliciting funds to defend Carver's suit, December 1852 


Re: Chickasaw lands

 1.30 Letterbook, 22 September-21 December 1854 

 1.31 Letter to Henry Lockwood, undated 


Re: Parent/child responsibilities

 1.32 Letter from William F. Stearns to the Methodist Episcopal High Priest, King, and Scribe and Companion of Wilson chapter No. 5, of R.A. Mason, Holly Springs, undated 

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Series 3. Legal Documents, 1837-1866 and undated 

 2.1 Facts in the case of George K. Morton and Philip Poindexter, submitted to arbitration of [Steaves] and John Palmer, 1837 

 2.2 Contract of sale to Henry Anderson, B.M. Bradford, and Thomas Niles by Eli Ayers, Daniel Saffaraus, Joseph McCain, Robertus Wilson, 9 June 1938 

 2.3 Notes of the decisions of the high courts of errors and appeals, 1843-1844 


From the memoranda of the Honorable Alexander M. Clayton, Judge of the Court

 2.4 Indenture between John R. McCarroll, Sheriff of Marshall County, and Hamilton Thornton, 28 August 1846 


Re: Land conveyance

 2.5 Thomas N. Niles vs. Russell Stebbins and others, July 1849 

 2.6 Ex-[parte] of S. Septwich vs. Joseph W. Matthews, 8 July 1850 

 2.7 Supplemental brief for appellant: William M. D'Antignac vs. Central Bank of Georgia, 12 February 1853 

 2.8 Legal documents of the case of H.A. Johnston vs. the State of Mississippi 


Re: Mississippi Union Bank

 2.9 High court docket, Marshall County, Miss., 1853-1854 

 2.10 Pontotoc County Circuit Court transcript for October term 1854: Eli Agnes vs. Stephen Daggeth, 22 February 1855 

 2.11 Lafayette County Circuit Court: affidavit of John Jones against Samuel Stokes, April 1855 

 2.12 Supreme Court of Illinois (Third Grand Division--Ottawa): Error to the Circuit Court of Cook County: Elizabeth Flaglor vs. James Crow, April 1866 

 2.13 Abstract of record of case of Joel H. Wicker vs. William Lewis, Ben Pager, William Sprague, Supreme Court of Illinois, 1866 


Printed document

 2.14 Brief for W.F. and A. Murdock vs. Alexander Caruthers, Isaac N. McCampbell, and Thomas C. Trimble, undated 

 2.15 Note about a debt between two parties, undated 

 2.16 "Interlocutory Decree" in the case of Caroline M. Cook vs. Richard Irvin, undated 


Re: Slave ownership

 2.17 Written opinion on a child-custody case, undated 

 2.18 Legal brief of William F. Stearns on the case of Levi Cummings vs. The Farmers' and Merchants' Bank of Memphis, undated 

 2.19 "Defendant's Brief" for the case of Thomas Coopwood vs. R. Bolton and others, undated 


Written by William F. Stearns

 2.20 Handwritten legal document by William F. Stearns regarding Joseph C. Crook, Adams H. vs. George W. Duke, exr., undated 

 2.21 Plaintiff's brief, Mississippi Union Bank vs. Basil C. Harley, undated 

 2.22 Executor of James C. Alderson, deceased, on writ of error from Marshall County Circuit Court, undated 

 2.23 Document regarding the Mississippi Union Bank, undated 

 2.24 Legal document/motion describing the case of Joseph Mosby and Robert Kyle vs. Robert H. Wall and others and heirs of Malachi Peques, undated 

 2.25 Skeleton of brief in the case of William Crockett vs. Gully M. Brown, undated 

 2.26 Brief: Martha B. Dilliard vs. Permilia Connoway, undated 

 2.27 Brief in Chancery-U.S. District Court at Pontotoc: John D. and Benjamin Bradford vs. the Union Bank of Tennessee, undated 

 2.28 Memorandum of cases in the chancery court at Hernando, Miss., undated 

 2.29 Brief: Larkin Echol and James Goodrich vs. Charles Butler, undated 

 2.30 Brief for defendant: Thomas N. Niles and Eli Ayres vs. James Brown, undated 


List of authorities cited in support of defendant's demurrer

 OS Folder 1 Two oversize documents 

Essay on Masonry 

List of names and amounts of money either paid to or received from those individuals, undated 

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Series 4. Miscellaneous, 1869, 1993 

 2.31 A biography of William F. Stearns begun in 1869 by his wife, Mary Jane Ferris Stearns, and completed in 1993 by his great-grand-niece, Phyllis S. Kitson 


20 pages

 2.32 Biographical summary of William F. Stearns 


2 pages

 Unfoldered Photocopies of various documents in collection 

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