1868: Louisiana (Wilson) Nunn to Alexander Turney Stewart

This poignant 1868 letter was written by 42 year-old Louisiana, or “Lou”, (Wilson) Nunn (1826-1910), the widow of Sgt. Daniel Lafayette Nunn (1827-1862) who died of typhoid fever in the hospital at Cairo while serving in Co. G, 63rd Illinois Infantry. In her letter to Alexander Turney Stewart (1803-1873)—the American textile merchant whose dry-goods store grew in to a giant wholesale and retail business in New York City—Lou shares the saga of her efforts to provide herself with a livelihood for herself and two daughters, Harriet N. (b. 17 Oct 1849) and Ida M. G. (b. 18 July 1854) since her widow’s pension of $8/month had proven woefully inadequate. Military records reveal that Sgt. Nunn entered the service on 1 December 1861 at Robinson, Crawford county, Illinois, and that he was mustered in on 10 April 1862 only to die some ten weeks later on 21 June 1862. See letter 1 in Pension File pertaining to Daniel’s cause of death written by Lou Nunn.

“I have worked almost day and night, saved and economized every way in the world, sometimes I give up in dispair but ralley again.” — Louisiana Nunn

From the pension file we learn that Louisiana and Daniel were married on 3 January 1849 in London, Laurel county, Kentucky. Daniel was a carpenter by trade and just prior to the Civil War, had his own wagon and carriage shop in Somerset. Kentucky.

In March 1879, Louisiana married a harness maker named Cornelius Holden (1806-1898) and took up residence in Humbolt, Coles county, Illinois. The couple later purchased land in Whitley county, Kentucky, where they farmed on 200 acres. After Cornelius died in 1898, Lou was able to reinstate her monthly widow’s pension which she had lost upon her 2nd marriage. Her monthly pension of $20 was finally terminated in 1910 when she died.

To his credit, the wealthy Alexander T. Stewart gave handsomely to benevolent causes but his public notoriety most likely made made him a target for thousands of letters of this nature.

Transcription

Champaign County, Illinois
October 10th 1868

Mr. Alexander Turney Stewart
Sir,

You will be very surprised to receive a letter from a total stranger on such business as this in on. But I hope that you will have patience to read it over carefully.

In the first place, I will tell you who I am and what I am. Then if you look favorably on my wishes, I can give you the best references our place affords. I am the widow of Daniel L. Nunn of the 63rd Regiment Illinois Volunteers who died at Cairo June 21st 1862. We come from Somerset, Kentucky October 1st 1861, forsook home, property, friends, and every comphert for our Country & its cause. My husbon had a wagon and carriage shop, and a grocery store all in full operation. He had ben raised a farmer but he had the head and ability for a business man. He was also raised a Democrat but I had no trouble turning him to the right side. I never dared argue a point with him but I would argue with others in his presence—in that way kept him all right, for a good woman can always have a good influence over a man.

But I have aggressed from my object. When the Union men of Kentucky was forbiden to drill on Kentucky soil by Governor McGloflin, my husbon was among th first to go over the line to Indiana to Camp Joe Holt. He drilled there three months. The day that they was sworn in to Government service, his captain gave him a discharge on account of bad health so as soon as he come home, he was elected captain od a company of home gardes. They was talking of organizeing a camp at our place (which they did in a few days after I left. I left the day before the Wild cat Battle was fought; Zolocougher fought his next battle with Hoskins across the Comberlain river, right over my house). Judge Bromlet—afterwards Governor Bromlet—had organized Camp Dick Robinson in opposition to Governor McGloflin’s orders. Then next they was talking of organizing one at our place, a little town (Waitsborough) on the river, which they afterwards did.

They designede giveing Mr. Nunn a Loutenant’s place in the company to be raisede there. Some advised me to leave there but others to remain. Our Sherif was a strait out Reble. Mr. Nunn & him had always been good friends. So he sent me word not to let any one perswaid me to remain for we would have as hot times their as any where: so we did, and that, I had taken too decided a stand not to be made a target for some villion. I knew that it was so. We had the Post Office, and while Mr. Nunn was gone, I had the full charge of it. I would allow no man to speek a word of treason in the office and had made some 3-4 men leve the office. So I left. Mr. Nunn remained under promise that if he got sick before he was sworn into government servis that he would come to this state; then go from here if he was needed. He did so. The result was that he died in the Illinois servis. We sacrafisede or left every thing that he had in Kentucky and by the time that my hunbon died, I was out of money.

Mr. Nunn volunteered in the Southern parte of the State but he was not willing for me to live there. So to plea him, I movede to the northern parte of the State. I failed to receive the sympathy of the people as I would have done had he volunteered here. They acted as if they thought us a Humbug because we come from the South.

I studyed money plans to try to make a living for myself and children. I finaley seteled on keeping a millinary store but I had no capital to invest and it made it slow work, having to depend almost entirely on doing repairing work and never failed when the season was at its hight to give out, and be down sick the balance of the season. So I worked for three years trying all the while to find someone to let me have seven or eight hundred dollars to build me a neat little house. I wanted to get the money and give a mortgage on the house until it was paid for. But no. I went to a Mr. Harris, the welthaest man in Champaign County, said to be worth between two and three hundred thousand dollars. I told him that I wanted to find someone that was willing to let me have the money without interest if I could and give them a mortgage on the house and obligate myself to pay it as fast as I drew my pention for that was my only chance. My pention was not anough to pay my house rent but I knew that if I once got it into a home, I then could begin to enjoy the good of my pention which is the price of the life of my dear husbon. But he would not tuch, unless he knew that the whole world could have known of it. Then he would have let me had it.

I then went to the different lumber yards to see if they would let me have lumber and pay for it as I drew my pention. But no. I then got a friend to write to a lumber merchant at Chicago stating my case and see if he would let me have lumber on them terms. So I sent a bill for lumber. The very next day I was taken sick and lay sick for nine months; not able to earn anything and no one helping me. But I never suffered for there was a poor grocer keeper that knew me and let me have everything that I wanted on a credit. There their was a pay day comeing some day. The next thing was where was the money to come from. The lumber was only a small item. I sent for one of our hardeware merchants, told him how the matter was, and what I wanted of him. He let me have all I wanted from his establishment on time. I then sent for a glasier with the same success. Next came lime sand and workmen. After I had tried several other places, I thought of a Mr. [Frank] Finch that owns a flower mill in Champaign—a man worth 40-50 thousand dollars, a bachelor supporting a widowed mother , a widowed sister and two children. I sent for him, stated the case to him. He said that one of the mill hands was building a house and had been disapointed about money. He had told him to go ahead. He should have money untill his house was ready to live in. Now he said to me, go ahead, I should have money untill my house was ready to live in and I did. But when the house was so that a familey could live in the lower parte of it, I was not able to be movede to it. So it was rented for 4 months. But I never got my rent.

I am in the outskirts of the town where I can raise my chickens, pigs, and garden which brings its own labor for I found myself nearly 1 thousand dollars in debt—grocery bill, doctor bills, and all. In the last three years I have worked almost day and night, saved and economized every way in the world, sometimes I give up in dispair but ralley again. I have heard so much of your generosity that I have been tempted a number of times to apply to you for help in the way of a few hundred dollars. Then I would get afraid that you would not help me. (Then [I thought that] I would ask your wife for a few of her cast off garments for myself and children, for I have cut over everything for the children until I have nothing hardly left for myself—garments thrown to one side, worked over here would look quite nice) for I would suffer, even perish before I would ask alms, or even hint that I needed, to those that are bound to know how I have to struggle to live. Fer I have a proud, high-minded, enterprising spirit.

“I am 5 feet high, waying 100-106 lbs., so you see that I have not got an iron constitution. But I have got an iron will—a determination to conker every difficulty and ride triumphant over every foe. The neglect that I feel on account of my poverty seems like an iron heel crushing out my soul.”

—Lou Nunn, 10 October 1868

I am 5 feet high, waying 100-106 lbs., so you see that I have not got an iron constitution. But I have got an iron will—a determination to conker every difficulty and ride triumphant over every foe. The neglect that I feel on account of my poverty seems like an iron heel crushing out my soul. But I am determined with God’s goodness and will to ride triumphant over every slight.

I have two children—girls, both emerging into womanhood. The oldest one is in her eighteenth year with misserable health for 4 years past. She is the image of her Father, tall and a beautiful round form and full face that sickness does not affict much only by taking away the colar. She has a natural tallant for music and ough to go to a Musical Colloge. I have given her two terms of lessons on the piana. She can compose beautiful tunes. She has composede two this week. I think one of them as prety a thing as I ever herd. She calls in Grant’s Victory Waltze. Both are good. If I had the means of educating her, she could soon support herself.

The other is 14 years old with little or no education. The education of both is quite limited for I have had to keep them at home sometimes to help me. But most comonley for the want of proper clothing and books. We are a spirited high-minded set. If they can’t feel that what they have on is half way deacent, they won’t go. By that means they don’t often get out. A strainger to see my girls out would take them to be highley accomplished and educated for the ability is there, I asshure you, if it is never cultivated. They will soon be too old. I have been trying for the last two years to go South and see if I can’t gather up something of our lost estate. But I can never command the money for my honor is out for my pention to go on my debts and I lack about three hundred dollars of being out of debt.

Now I have got a plan for a big speckulation in my head. There is a thirty acre track of land that my house is on joining the town plot. I think that it can be bought for ten thousand dollars. The new rail road runs close too it. Now if I could borrow the money of you and give you a lean on it to secure you, then throw it out in too town lots and sold immediately out, which I think could be done right away, it would rase me above want the ballance of my days. I have been on the point of writing to you to see if you would not fit me up with a dry good store on commishion. I have got to strike some kind of a breese so that I can get along without so much harde labor. People tell me that I look 20 years older than I did six years ago. I can realise it myself. But I have had to go through hardships anough in that time to make anyone look old, much less a frail being like myself. Therefore I should love o get something that I could find rest for my poor wearied boddy and brain.

Now I have given you a small sketch of myself or history so that you can form an ideah of woman that applies to you with perfect confidence for help, beliving that she will get it in some form or other. I wish you to bair in mind that I feel that it is no desgrace to work at any kind of labor that is honest if I am onley able to doo it. In short, I think it an honor for people to know that poor people to work for what they get for they have to have a living—honest or dishonest one.

If I could be contented to live like a hethan, I could get along. But I can’t. I would have went raving mad if I had not succeeded in geting me a home. I had always ben uste to a good home.

My mother was killed when I was 4 years old. My first step mother was an amicablem good woman. The second was as mean as the Old Nick would have her. Se married my Father for his money, then led him a miserable life. He went security for a man that took the benefit of the bankrupt lone and then left my Father the debt to pay. In the heat of it, my Father died and by rascality his property all passed from us. The property is now worth over one million of dollars. That is harde to bare. Still we must bare it.

Please to answer this immediately if you possabley can and let me know in what way you are willing to help me. I would rather have the money to buy the land if agreeable. If your wife has cast off garments, they would any and [all] be acceptable as we have got almost out of everything that is to ware or keep us comphertable. Hopeing to hear from you soon, I am very respectfulley, — Mrs. Lou Nunn


1 The following letter was found in the Pension File, written by Lou Nunn at the time she was attempting to prove her claim in August 1863.

Campaign Cty, Ill.
August 17, 1863


Mr. [Joseph H.] Barrett, [Commissioner of Pension Office]

Sir,

It is impossible for me to send you a Certificate from any of the surgeons in the hospital for Capt. Stanford wrote me tat all the surgeons and physicians that was connected with the regiment at the time of his death have all left the regiment long ago. And I know not where to find them.

As to the disease he died with, if you will take the trouble to go to the hospital as I did, and see the poor boys brought their, emaciated from a diarrhea, brought on by drinking all kinds of miserable stuff at Cairo (and the whole city under water except the barracks and grade) then brought to the hospital, and stuff Quinine down them until they loose their hearing, turn people, have a burning fever, and suffer a great agony for a few days and die. I should like to see the doctor that could five it a name. And still such is the disease that 5 tenths of our poor boys die with. I could find none in the hospital of a different cast to that and I have seen a great many set home, all with the same disease, far away from those that love them, and would take care of them to be neglected by those that have the care of them them. Such is the poor soldiers’ lot. Still our Government must stumble over such trifling points and let the widdows and orphants suffer and starve for their just rights now the Husband and Father can no longer assist them.

I lay sick last winter for a long fever and lingered a long time. I had to borrow money on my government prospects to live on so that when I got my money from the auditor which was $128.90, it was all gone in 36 hours to lift notes and it will take 50 dollars out of the pention that is due me to clear me of debt. (Their, I have added it up—it is 70 dollars). So you see my [ ] will be small, but it is better to have it in my hand than to pay interest on borrowed money.

As to the marriage certificate, it answered the auditor’s purpose. I can’t see why it won’t yours. It ust be an over sight in the new clirk, not to attack the county seal. I will send back to Kentucky for another copy. It is doubtful a bout my getting it soon as the Rebbles are in that parte of the State almoste constant. It frets me constant to think here, I am so dependant on others. When I had a comphertable little home in Kentucky it it is not destroyed. But the Union Army, or the Rebble Army are one or the other their almost constant around it. I fear that their is not much of it left being right on the ferry where the cross the river. Excuse my long preamble.

Respectfully, — Mrs. Louisiana Nunn

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