1865 or 1866: Jane Elizabeth Weller to Joseph McCarrell Weller

This letter was written Jane Elizabeth Weller (1836-1923), a seamstress and milliner temporarily residing in Petersburg, Virginia. She was the unwed daughter of Dr. Sidney Weller (1791-1854) and Elizabeth McCarrell (1803-1870) of Ringwood, Halifax county, North Carolina.

How Jane might have looked

Jane was undoubtedly residing in Petersburg at the time with her younger sister, Irene (1843-1906), the wife of commission merchant Jessie Hilliard Herbert (1834-1900). I cannot find a service record for Jessie Herbert but his grave in Battleboro, North Carolina, is marked with the CSA Iron Cross. Jane’s father Sidney, long deceased by the time this letter was written, was from New York State but came to Brinkleyville, Halifax county, North Carolina, in the 1820’s. He purchased at that time what was perceived to be poor quality land, having been depleted from years of crop production, and “instead of becoming a planter he engaged in general farming, grew grapes, and operated a small nursery. He also planted and propagated mulberry trees in a plan to make the South a region of silk production. In a six-year period he reported having sold $10,000 worth of mulberry trees that he produced in his nursery. He advocated and demonstrated methods for improving the fertility of the soil through the use of livestock manure and other natural fertilizers, rotating crops, and cover crops to prevent erosion.” By 1840, he had the largest vineyard in North Carolina. His property is now Medoc Mountain State Park. [See Sidney Weller]

Jane wrote the letter to her younger brother, Joseph McCarrell Weller (1841-1898) who married Laurel Vinson (1845-1877) after the Civil War. Very early in the war, Joseph had enlisted in Co. E, 2nd North Carolina Volunteers which later became the 12th North Carolina. He was discharged for disability on 1 July 1862 after a little more than one year’s service.

Jane died in Greensboro, North Carolina, in April 1923. At the time of her death she was living at the Masonic & Eastern Star Home where she had resided for several years suffering from dementia. She was described as having been a school teacher prior to her becoming disabled. Her death record reveals her true birth date as 27 July 1836.

The letter is rather mundane, discussing the state of health of family members, and the usual complaints of insufficient correspondence, but the middle paragraph includes a discussion of hired labor I have not seen previously. The cost and expectations of hiring “white servants” is explored by a family that had long grown accustomed to having black servants. The envelope is postmarked Petersburg, Va., and includes a canceled US 3-cent stamp which would be considered a “Confederate State Use of US Postage” if the letter was written in 1863 or 1864. The absence of any war news, particularly in Petersburg which was enveloped by the Union army at this stage, leads me to believe the letter is post war. Unfortunately there isn’t any content within the letter to allow me to pinpoint the year of the letter.

Transcription

Addressed to Mr. Joseph M. Weller, Ringwood, North Carolina
Postmarked Petersburg, Va. with 3-cent US stamp

Petersburg, Virginia
October 15, [1865 or 1866?]

Dear Joseph,

I have been anxiously expecting a letter for several days, either for Irene or myself from mother or some member of the family, so you will readily guess yours was gladly received this morning (contents noticed, &c.). You said nothing about the health of mother who was disabled by a fall when she last wrote, If she were either worse or not improving, I suppose you would have mentioned it so will take it for granted she is better. I am very glad Laura’s health is improving. When I saw her last, she was enjoying the comparative degree of well. Hope she will have arrived to the superlative ere we meet again. When that will be, I cannot now decided as I am awaiting a letter from mother advising me how long to remain here. If she thinks proper for me to return soon, will do so, and if you still wish me to stay some with you & [sister] Laura, will be glad to oblige you (gratis) who have so often obliged me. Ask mother, if she has not written in regard to my remaining through the winter, to please write very soon advising me what to do as I am somewhat in a quandary. I expect to write again in a few days and if I go home soon will probably go week after next.

I have made some inquiries in regard to white servants and learn of one asking 5 dollars per month—another 10. They eat at the same table, require good beds of the families with whom they live and do not suppose they give more satisfaction than colored ones. I expect to go to Mr. Peyton Hervey’s 1 this evening and can learn more as she has (or had) one and when I write again, will give due information.

I hope the letters, bonnet, and package sent by E. Hunter were safely delivered (they had not been when last heard from home). Irene wishes to know if Mrs. Vinson was pleased with her bonnet. Sends much love (I too). to you Laura, mother, and the family & friends. Irene says you spoke of her letters containing so little news. Thinks yours was equally deficient. Laura’s letter to her has not yet arrived. I have written two letters to mother since the one sent by Ed Hunter and have received only one from her since I left. Irene none but will not complain. Believe me faithfully your loving sister, — Jane E. Weller


1 Peyton E. Hervey (1822-1890) was married to Virginia E. Clark (b. 1830) in October 1854 in Halifax county, North Carolina. The Hervey’s lived in Petersburg in the 1860s and 1870’s before moving to Mississippi. Peyton was a merchant in Petersburg for many years. He died in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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