1850: Sarah (Gwyn) Brown to James Byron Gordon

The following letter was written by Sarah H. (Gwyn) Brown (1798-1889), the wife of Hamilton Brown (1786-1870) of Wilkesboro, Wilkes county, North Carolina. Sarah’s first husband was Nathaniel Gordon (1784-1829) who died when her son, James Byron Gordon—the recipient of this letter—was only six years old.

Sarah (Gwyn) Brown’s Grave, Wilkesboro, N. C.

Some readers may recognize James Byron Gordon (1822-1864), having gained a name of distinction while serving as a Confederate Brigadier General in the Civil War. He began his service under the command of General J. E. B. Stuart as Major of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry and was promoted as its Colonel. In September 1863 he was promoted to Brigadier General an assigned command of the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade, taking over a higher command when General Stuart was killed in the Battle of Yellow Tavern. He was mortally wounded in May 1864 north of Richmond. He never married. When this letter was written, James was representing Wilkes county as a Member of the N. C. General Assembly House of Commons (HC) at Raleigh, as indicated on the cover.

Sarah mentions James’ half brother, Hamilton “Allen” Brown (1837-1917) in her letter as well. Allen also served the Confederacy as Colonel of the 1st North Carolina Regiment. She also mentions another half-brother named Hugh Thomas (“Tom”) Brown (1835-1861). After graduating at Chapel Hill and receiving his lawyer’s license, Tom had only just begun to practice law in Van Buren, Arkansas, when the Civil War began and he was elected Captain of the Van Buren Frontier Guards (3rd Arkansas). He was killed on 10 August 1861 at Wilson’s Creek.


December 26, 1850

Being alone today and as usual thinking about my dear son, I concluded I would commit some of my reflections to writing. I do not suppose you had any idea your Mother would send any of her scribbling to Raleigh while you. were there knowing I am so little accustomed to letter writing.

James Byron Gordon (ca. 1850)

I was glad to see so much tenderness and affection breathed in your letters to Cal. Oh, how dear my children are to me and as I advance in life, I feel a deeper interest in their happiness. But where is the jewel to be found on earth. Some writer has said domestic happiness was the sole surviver of the fall. But this you have not tried yet. Neither do I see much prospect of it. If you were married and settled in life with a pious, sensible woman and a true Christian yourself, then I would say you were a happy man. We pass by the flowers and gather the thorns.

Carro [Caroline] is at [her sister] Ann’s. Mr. [Hamilton] Brown has rode off and Allen is out hunting. It has been a mild, still Christmas. We went to preaching yesterday. Heard a sermon from our circuit preacher Mr. Floyd. Had several addresses from the Sunday school children.

We have sent for Tom and look for him home tomorrow. There has been a considerable breakup in College owing to some misunderstanding between the President and some of the students. He has expelled some. Hugh Gwyn has come home and says [he] expects he will be expelled. Tom wrote to his Father [that] out of 25 from North Carolina, there was only 6 left and they were leaving every day. We thought it best to send for him forthwith. It is believed that the faculty are abolitionist. I do not know whether Tom will return or not. Hugh says he will go back if they do not expel him. 1

Well, my dear James, the old mill is gone at last. There has been the greatest freshet I have ever recollected of seeing. [It] tore up the banks some and thrown out a great deal more white sand. You must make up your mind before you come home what is to be done. It is bad getting on without the mill, or sell out and move to some new country where you can commence life with renewed energy. John and Ann are much I the spirit of moving. I hope you will get perfectly satisfied this winter with a public life.

Oh my son, keep a watch over yourself. Be aware of temptation and of dissipation of every kind. Touch not, taste not, handle not the unclean thing. Be as wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.

James, do you recollect the last chapter you read for me from the old bible? If you do, get your noble and read it again for your Mother’s sake. It was the last chapter of Ecclesiastics. I hope, my son, you read your bible and take it as the man of your council. I know you have age and experience sufficient to direct your course without any of my council but none but a Mother knows the feeling of a Mother morning and evening upon my knees do I implore High Heaven for the welfare of my dear son that He will open his eyes, enlighten his mind, and lead him to life everlasting.

Your ever affectionate Mother, — Sarah H. Brown

1 I believe the unnamed college involved in this incident was Emory and Henry College where James B. Gordon had previously attended but not graduated. Tom Brown may have initially begun his college courses there as well before attending Chapel Hill. Hugh Alexander Gwyn (1830-1861) of Janesville, N. C., the author’s nephew, did attend the school and was a Senior (Valedictorian) in the Class of 1851. After graduation he took at position as a teacher at Woodlawn Academy in Salisbury, Tennessee, and died there on 16 June 1861. Unfortunately I cannot find anything in the school history or period newspapers describing the incident.

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