The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Number: M182
Volume: .9 cu. ft.
William Harris Hardy, founder of the Mississippi cities of Hattiesburg, Gulfport, and Laurel, was born in Todds Hill, Alabama, on February 12, 1837. He attended Town Creek Academy and Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. After three years at Cumberland, Hardy became ill with typhoid pneumonia and was forced to return home. Shortly thereafter, he traveled to Jasper County, Mississippi, to visit his father’s cousin, James Hardy. While he was there, the local Methodist Church offered him $900 a year and a new building to start an academy.
Hardy decided to remain in Mississippi and start the school. In 1855, he founded the Sylvarena Academy in Flowers, Mississippi, and while the academy flourished until the end of World War II, Hardy taught there only one year. He decided to enter into the legal profession and, in 1856, he moved to Raleigh, Mississippi, where he took and passed the bar examination. It was there that he began his successful law career.
During this time he met and married his first wife, Sallie A. Johnson. They were married on October 10, 1860, and six children were born of the union: Mattie, Willie, Ellen, Elizabeth, Thomas, and Jefferson Davis. During their marriage, Hardy joined the Confederate Army in 1861 at the start of the Civil War. With the rank of Captain, Hardy led Company H of the 16th Mississippi Regiment and fought under the command of General Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He became ill with a gastric ulcer and returned home in 1865, to resume his legal profession in Raleigh.
After the death of his first wife on September 16, 1872, Hardy moved to Meridian, Mississippi, and set up a law office. While visiting Mobile, Alabama, he met his second wife, Miss Hattie Lott, who was born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 20, 1848. She received her education at the Barton Academy in Mobile, and was described as a sweet-natured, beautiful woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. William and Hattie were married December 1, 1874, after a brief courtship; she moved to his Meridian home and began to raise the Captain’s orphaned children. They had three children of their own: Lena Mai, Lamar, and Toney. Being a cultured woman, Hattie tried to improve the quality of life in Meridian. She helped organize a literary society, the Fortnightly Club, which is the oldest women’s club in Mississippi. Hattie spent the rest of her life in Meridian, never living in the city that was named for her, Hattiesburg. She died unexpectedly on May 18, 1895, at her home in Meridian, Mississippi.
During the time of his marriage to Hattie, Captain Hardy became interested in establishing railroad lines through the state. In 1881, he was responsible for establishing the line between New Orleans and Meridian, with the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad Company. Hardy chose and named the sites where stations would be established, thus establishing the cities of Hattiesburg and Laurel. In 1887, he became President of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad Company and established the railway station that became known as Gulfport.
After Hattie’s death, Captain Hardy became interested in public service. He was elected to the Mississippi State Senate in 1895, and while there he served as the chairman of the Committee on Corporations and the Finance Committee. He introduced a bill to remove the penitentiary from Jackson, Mississippi, and to construct a new Capitol on the old site. In 1905, he served as circuit court judge for district two in Mississippi, and when the district was split in half, he accepted the Coast district in 1906 and was judge there until he retired at the age of 72 in 1909.
On June 14, 1900, Captain Hardy married his third wife, Ida V. May, of Jackson, Mississippi. He and Ida were the parents of three sons: William H. Jr., Hamilton Lee, and James Hutchins. He spent the remainder of his life as an attorney in a firm he had with his son, Toney, in Gulfport. At his home in Gulfport, Captain Hardy died of a heart attack at the age of 80, on February 17, 1917. He is interred in Gulfport.
Hardy, Toney. No Compromise With Principle. New York: American Book-Stratford Press, Inc., 1946.
Fike, Claude E. “William H. Hardy: An Extraordinary Life,” The Hattiesburg Story: 100 years of Growth. Hattiesburg: Hattiesburg American, 1982.
The Hardy (William H. and Hattie L.) Papers consists of original and duplicate correspondence, a memorial book to Hattie Lott Hardy, and a scrapbook commemorating the dedication ceremonies of a bust of Captain Hardy in Gulfport.
Most of the collection is correspondence. There is a total of 127 letters: 106 are from Captain Hardy to his second wife, Hattie; 18 are from Hattie to Captain Hardy; 2 letters are from their son, Lamar, to his mother; and one letter is from Mattie, Captain Hardy’s oldest daughter.
All the letters from the Captain to Hattie were written after their marriage. Most were sent from London or New York. A few were sent from Meridian to Mobile, while Hattie was there visiting her family. The letters deal with personal matters, although some discuss the Captain’s business interests. He confides in Hattie his concern over selling the bonds that will finance his railroad project, and also discusses sightseeing trips in London and New York.
Most of Hattie’s letters were written before her marriage to Captain Hardy. These letters were either written from Louisville, Kentucky, or Mobile, Alabama. The letters are all of a personal nature and chronicle the brief courtship of the Hardys. There are also a few letters that Hattie wrote after her wedding.
The three letters from the children deal with family matters. The two from Lamar were written while he was in Chicago with his father on a business trip. The letter from Mattie was written in Brandon, Mississippi, while she was there visiting friends.
On January 6, 1929, in Gulfport, Mississsippi, a bust of Captain William H. Hardy was dedicated. At the ceremony such dignitaries as then Governor Theodore G. Bilbo, Lieutenant Governor Bidwell Adam, and Senator Pat Harrison attended. A scrapbook compiled to commemorate this dedication is a part of this collection. The scrapbook contains newspaper clippings, speeches, photographs, blueprints, programs, invitations, and handbills. At the time of the dedication ceremonies, the Hardy family held a reunion. The scrapbook also includes some miscellaneous information about the Hardy family, including a copy of a booklet that Captain Hardy wrote, Recollections of Reconstruction in East and Southeast Mississippi.