In this 1847 letter to his agent in NYC, Mr. Durand, William Brown Hodgson (1801-1871), an African ethnologist, who had several years previously married Georgia Telfair, the youngest daughter of Georgia Governor Edward Telfair, flaunts his new wealth and states his disapproval of abolitionist legislation being entertained in Congress: “We are ready for a Southern Confederacy rather than submit to have our property stigmatized.” In doing so, he presages the beginning of the Civil War, not to take place for another 14 years.
Hodgson, who did not himself come from a wealthy family, displayed an early academic interest in Africa and traveled extensively there in the 1820’s when Secretary of State Henry Clay secured him an assignment to the Barbary States of northern Africa. He published multiple scholarly works, particularly on the history and ethnology of black muslim Africans, as well as developing an interest, mainly after moving to the South with his new bride, Margaret Telfair, in the early 1840’s, where he became quickly involved in the family’s financial dealings (as evidenced by the present letter). Hodgson based much of his ethnological and linguistic scholarship on his contacts with the enslaved people of the Telfair plantations. He found a great deal of ethnic diversity within this population and could distinguish among the Mandingo, Ebo, Gullah, Fula (according to Hodgson, a powerful, warlike nation), and people from Guinea. Through his knowledge of African languages, he was able to converse with the Africans in their native tongues.
Despite his interest, Hodgson was very much a racist, believing the negro to be inferior and unworthy of freedom.
[Note: This letter is from the personal archives of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
January 22, 1847
My dear Mr. Durand,
This morning I have your esteemed letter & enclosures of the 14th inst. It is the first mail that we have had for 6 days. Between Charleston & Wilmington the boats are hors de combat, unseaworthy, &c., &c.
The ladies send you a thousand thanks for the House notices, and for your orders to Genoa. We adopt at once the offer of Mr. Habricht’s house, if it has water, bathes, &c., as you suggest. We will pay the amount in cash, whatever it may be. You think $10,000 will not purchase it. If you fail to get it at that price, for cash, then, we will take it at any of the hundreds above that mark. Please look at it for us—make the best bargain—and send us the decision. Just let it depend upon the few days that may elapse before you can get a final answer from us. The $10,000 will be remitted to you instanter, or as soon in the Spring as Mr. Habricht may wish to leave the house when the bargain is made. We will ratify it here so as to relieve yourself from all responsibility. The Habricht House is what we want.
Your purchase of N. York T’s is entirely satisfactory. Mr. Habersham will deliver the scrip to me.
At this moment of writing, Mrs. Hunter & Miss Sarah are on a visit to Mrs. Hodgson who is an invalid in bed from muscular rheumatism. She is doing better. Miss Sarah is looking remarkably well. Your daily reports keep you advised of all this. The ides of March will soon be here & we hope again to greet you here.
This day is one of the coldest of the season. You must have had cold to your heart’s content, after leaving the evergreens and the camellias of the South. I have just sold a plantation in Carolina for $30,000, on terms equal to cash. Cotton is uppish and our receipts this year from that quarter will be very favorable.
The Slavery restrictions in Congress are making us haul in our sails for future events. We are ready for a Southern Confederacy rather than submit to have our property stigmatized. The gentlemen of your firm will understand the force of this argument. Our property must not be stigmatized by act of Congress. We can carry on our commerce as heretofore, if we are driven out of the Union, and our property will be as secure as formerly.
Believe me, my dear sir, sincerely, — W. B. Hodgson