1862: Archer Hays Jarrett to John E. Wool

This letter was written by Archer Hays Jarrett (1825-1869) of Bel Air Harford county, Maryland. He was married to Martha Frances Shepherd (1833-1915) of Norfolk, Virginia. In the 1860 US Census, Archer was enumerated as the head of a household that he shared with his 73 year-old mother in Bel Air with two black servants. He was married to Martha on 11 February 1861 in Norfolk.

An article appearing in the Baltimore Sun (July 8, 2006) describing “Harford History” claims that in mid July 1861, “300 Union troops from the 12th Pennsylvania marched from White Hall to Bel Air to arrest certain secessionist sympathizers and seize the weapons of local militia units. The soldiers announced that they were in Bel Air at the request of Unionists who feared violence from secessionists. Capt. Archer H. Jarrett, leader of the Harford Light Dragoons, was arrested [on a charge of treason]. Having failed to elicit from Jarrett the location of the militia weapons, the troops searched several public buildings and then private homes, to no avail. In the evening, the troops departed empty-handed of the weapons. But they took Jarrett, who was detained until Sept. 22 because of his refusal to take an oath of loyalty to the federal government.”

It should be noted that this region of Maryland was filled with southern sympathizers. Junius Booth, older brother of John Wilkes Booth, built his home just north of Bel Air in 1847. In the days leading up to the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, local militias were formed primarily for the purpose of patrolling the region to prevent the runaway of slaves which was anticipated. In the election of Jarrett to the Captain’s position of the Harford Light Dragoons, Bel Air felt they had secured “a fearless and independent gentleman and Southerner.” Those joining the dragoons pledged themselves “ready to take the field in the defense of Southern rights and the honor of old Maryland.”

According to the Baltimore Sun (July 9, 1869), Jarrett died a tragic death. It was claimed to have been the result of an accident, but sounds questionable to me. “Intelligence reached this city yesterday, by telegraph from Cumberland, that Mr. Archer Jarrett, of Harford county, accidentally fell from an upper window of the City Hotel, in Cumberland, Maryland, on Wednesday night, and was instantly killed. The deceased was a lawyer by profession, and was at one time State’s attorney for Harford county. He was a relative of A. Lingan Jarrett, Esq., and also of Lefevre Jarrett, Esq., president of the police board. The remains are expected to reach this city today on their way to Bel Air, where the interment will take place.”

This letter is a request by Jarrett to Maj. Gen. Wool for permission to allow his wife to pass over from Fortress Monroe to Norfolk, Virginia, where his wife’s widowed mother and presumably other relatives were living. Norfolk was evacuated by the Rebels on 10 May 1862—just two weeks before this request. Prior to that date, it had been in possession of the Rebels who seized Fort Norfolk and the ordnance stored there in April 1861.

[This letter was transcribed by Annaliese Vonheerigen/edited by Griff]


May 22d 1862

Major General John E. Wool, USA
Dear Sir,

I have just received permission from General Dix for my wife Martha F. Jarrett to pass to Fortress Monroe and he advises me that it will be necessary at that point to obtain a pass from you to visit her family in Norfolk. 

Will you oblige me by advising whether she can obtain your permission to pass over to Norfolk, without delay should she go down.

Very respectfully your obt. Servt., — A. H. Jarrett

Bel Air, Hartford Co., Md.

Docketed on the reverse: 

Belair Hartford Co. Md. 
May 22., ’62
A H Jarrett
In relation to pass to Norfolk for his wife 
Answered May 26th requesting Mrs. Jarrett to defer her visit for a few days.

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