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William P. Cumming Papers

Identifier: DC080

Scope and Contents

The bulk of this collection is Cumming's correspondence with various acquaintances from his research and work related to maps. While correspondence with many acquaintances is included in Cumming's papers, below are details that locate the principal written communications. The Publications, 1935-1938 folder has correspondence with C.C. Crittenden (Secretary of the North Carolina Historical Commission) and Randolph G. Adams of Ann Arbor's William L. Clements Library concerning Cumming's work and publication of the articles, "Nathaniel Batts and the First Permanent Settlement in the Carolinas" and "The Identity of John White Governor of Roanoke and John White the Artist." The Nathaniel Batts and Comberford Map research, 1935-1939 folder includes correspondence on Batts and Comberford with the New York Public Library, the Works Progress Administration of North Carolina, Robert L. Schuyler of the American Historical Review, W.T. Couch of the University of North Carolina Press, Thomas R. Smith of the University of Kansas, and William H. Robinson of London. It also contains some of Cumming's notes and a copy of "The Earliest Permanent Settlement in Carolina'Batts and the Comberford Map." Folders 7 and 8 (Southeast in Early Maps, 1935-1941 and Southeast in Early Maps, 1942-1961) include correspondence concerning this work with the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the Harvard University Library, the John Carter Brown Library, Clifford M. Lewis of Wheeling College, and Louis Karpinski of the University of Michigan. The Grants, 1936-1947 folder contains information and correspondence dealing with the Southern Grants-in-Aid, Social Science Research Council, and Carnegie Davidson Grants-in-Aid programs. Correspondence with Wendall H. Stephenson from the Journal of Southern History folder concerns the publication of Cumming's "Geographical Misconceptions of the Southeast in the Cartography of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries." General correspondence from Cumming's time before going abroad to Europe in the 1958 is included in the General, 1950s folder. The North Carolina roads and road building, 1952 folder contains correspondence with T.C. Johnson and Ambassador Capus Waynick concerning the latter's book on roads and road building. The Europe, 1958-1959 folder contains correspondence from Cumming's time in Europe and also contains some notes on the research he was conducting while there. Folder 25, Sauthier research, 1962-1980, contains correspondence on Sauthier with Helen Wallis of the British Museum, Jeanette Black of the John Carter Brown Library, W.W. Ristow of the Library of Congress, the Bibliothecaire de l'Universit\xE9 Strasbourg, the Archives et Biblioth\xE8que de la Ville de Strasbourg, C.F.W. Coker of the State of North Carolina Department of Archives and History, and the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. The North Carolina in Maps, 1963-1967 folder contains Cumming's correspondence with Memory Mitchell at the North Carolina Department of Archives and History, Charles E. Lee of the South Carolina Archives Department, the Library of Congress, and Louis DeVorsey of the University of Georgia. Folder 27 on the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers symposium primarily contains correspondence with Louis DeVorsey about the event. The James Cook, Thomas Abernethie, and Benjamin Ratzer research, 1967-1972 folder includes correspondence with Jeanette Black of the John Carter Brown Library, David Buisseret of the University of the West Indies' Department of History, Mrs. Granville T. Prior of the South Carolina Historical Society, and Charles E. Lee of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History concerning the men's cartography. The Discovery of North America, 1967-1969 and Discovery of North America and Exploration of North America, 1970-1979 folders primarily contain correspondence with the books' publishing company and Cumming's coauthors. Correspondence with Paul Elek, Moira Johnston, Mary Turner, Joyce Lorimer, David Quinn, R.A. Skelton, and John Calmann is included. Also included in these folders are descriptions of the works. The Royal United Service Institution (RUSI) Map Collection, 1968-1974 folder contains information on the map collection but also has correspondence with Helen Wallis of the British Museum. The folders Fate of a Nation, 1969-1973 and Fate of a Nation, 1974-1976 contain correspondence with Phaidon Press Ltd. (initially named the Pall Mall Press) including employee Lavinia Keef, Hugh Rankin of Tulane University, John Calmann, Jack P. Greene of Johns Hopkins University, Don Higginbotham of the University of North Carolina Press, W.W. Abbot of the University of Virginia, and W.W. Ristow of the Library of Congress. The Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 1971-1975 folder includes information on the Collet biography by Cumming and correspondence with Memory Mitchell of the North Carolina Department of Archives and History, and William Powell of the University of North Carolina Department of History. The Blackmore research, 1970-1976 folder primarily contains correspondence with Arthur Robinson of the University of Wisconsin Department of Geography concerning Blackmore's cartography. Correspondence with Harry Margary of Kent, Douglas Marshall of the William L. Clements Library, and Louis DeVorsey of the University of Georgia is included in the Popple and Wimble research, 1972-1977 folder. The Scull research, 1973 folder contains correspondence with Jeremiah Post and W.W. Ristow about Cumming's research on Scull. Cumming's involvement in the South Carolina/Georgia Boundary Dispute Case is noted in folder 51, which contains correspondence with Robert D. Cook and Kenneth P. Woodington of the State of South Carolina's Office of Attorney General. It also contains correspondence with Louis DeVorsey, who was also involved in the case's proceedings. Folder 53, Historical Society of Pennsylvania's XIII Conference on American Prints, 1980-1981, contains mostly correspondence with Peter J. Parker of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania but also has a copy of Cumming's paper, "Geographical Misconceptions of North America in Early Maps." Also included are some of Cummings' book reviews and three of his addresses (in folders 17, 49, and 55 respectively): "Zoana Mela: Cartography and Nomenclature of the South Atlantic Coast of the North American Continent 1492-1592," 'success and Disaster: Influence of Early Explorers" Maps of the East Coast of North America," and "Early Maps of the Chesapeake Bay Area: Their Relation to Settlement and Society."


  • Creation: 1935 - 1984

Biographical / Historical

William Patterson Cumming was a graduate of the Davidson College Class of 1921. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Princeton University and spent a year at Oxford University before briefly teaching at Williams College in Massachusetts. Cumming returned to Davidson College as Irvin Professor of English in 1927 and remained in Davidson until his retirement in 1968. During his professorship at Davidson, Cumming researched early American cartography and became one of the leading scholar's within this area. He published many books, including The Southeast in Early Maps (1958), North Carolina in Maps (1966), The Discovery of North America (1971), The Exploration of North America (1974), and The Fate of a Nation (1975). In 1958 he traveled to conduct research in Europe through a Guggenheim Fellowship. Cumming published many book reviews and articles of his own in journals, participated in many conferences and lecture series, and was one of the experts on cartography consulted in the Georgia-South Carolina boundary dispute Supreme Court case. He died in 1989. (It should also be noted that Davidson College Rare Book Room houses Cumming's extensive map collection.)


1.25 Linear Feet (3 boxes + oversize)



Physical Location

Carrel Storage

Attachments to letter from Charles E. Lee to Jeanette Black, July 22, 1970 in Box 2, Folder 28

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Manuscript materials donated with map collection. Map collection housed in Rare Book Room

Processing Information

Processed on 10/01/2004

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collections Repository