Category Archives: Antebellum South Carolina

1856: Francis B. & Elizabeth (Caldwell) Higgins to Dr. Alfred W. Higgins

These two letters were written by Francis Bernard Higgins (1794-1863) & his wife, Elizabeth Ann (Caldwell) Higgins (1803-1889) of Newberry county, South Carolina. The first letter was penned by Francis; the second letter by Elizabeth. Both letters were addressed to their son, Dr. Alfred W. Higgins (1827-1906) who married Mildred Nichols (1837-1912) in the late 1850s.

Francis Bernard Higgins

The first letter was written four years before the Civil War a couple of months before the 1856 Presidential Election that resulted in the Democratic nominee James Buchanan taking the Presidential chair. The second letter was written seven years after the Civil War and the two letters, together, provide an interesting contrast in the tone of the writing.

The first letter acknowledges the ascendency of the Democratic Party and seems to portend the dissolution of the Union should that party ever loose its grip on the control of government. The second letter shares a tone of bitterness as a result of “the devastation of war and fire” and resentment of the Yankees who continue to “take up men and put them in jail” just to keep Grant and the Radical in office.

[Note: These letters are from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and are published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Newberry, South Carolina
U. S. of N. America
August 21, 1856

Dear Alfred,

Your letter of the 3rd July last, acknowledging the receipt of a draft No. 1 for 2500 Francs enclosed in my letter of the 11th June was received by me on the 21st of July, and I was pleased to know the fact that it had reached you in safety.

By this days mail I have received (or rather Fannie has received as it was directed to her) a something from you dated on the 4th of this instant. I cannot call it a letter to either of us, as it seems to be part of two letters; the first four pages in part of a letter, directed in the inside to me in which you state that my draft No. 2 for the amount above tased, has also reached you & you further then go on to recite instances in which remittances to several gentlemen in Europe had failed to reach them from this country, after which you proceed to say “with these reasons I proceed to make the following suggestions if meeting with your approbation.” But what these suggestions were intended to have been is more than I can imagine, as. the subject is entirely dropped, and the next page of your letter (the 5th page) begins in the middle of a sentence & in the middle of a subject to Fannie, the meaning of which none of us can understand on account of the absence of the first four pages of the letter to her. If this was the first instance of such a blunder, I might bear it with some degree of patience, but a similar instance of carelessness has occurred with you before which makes the present one doubly provoking.

I have written to you heretofore for a statement (as near as you. can approximate to one, and I cannot expect you to be precisely correct). of what amount of funds you will require to carry you through the course you have prescribed to yourself in France & to bear your expenses home, & at what time you would want those funds; but you have given me no explicit answer on the subject. I wish you in your next to do such a statement however may be contained in that part of your letter of the 4th of August which you neglected to enclose in the letter to Fannie.

The coming Presidential Election is producing a blaze of political excitement in this country, from one extremity to the other, which has never been equalled since the organization of our government. There is less of it in South Carolina than in any other state of the Union because at least three-fourths of our people belong to the democratic party & their minds are already made up and therefore require no political excitement to stir them up. And as to the possibility of changing their political faith, that is regarded by all the other states as impossible & therefore is not attempted.

Many persons apprehend a dissolution of the Union as a consequence of the present antagonism between the free & slave states. The thing is possible but I do not regard it as probable as yet, although I cannot believe that our confederacy can remain many years in its present condition. For the present, however, I think the storm will pass over without very serious consequences as the democratic party are now in the ascendant in every southern state without exception and also in several of the largest of the middle & western states & is still increasing in strength & will, I think, without any doubt be strong enough to elect a democratic president.

We have had through most of the southern states a very unfavorable summer for crops. In some small sections the seasons were more favorable, but those section were few and far apart. Very many of the planters will not make corn enough to do them, whilst the cotton crops is in many places also seriously injured. My own corn crop, though not good, is far above an average of the crops in this vicinity & without some unforeseen accident, I shall make enough to do me. My cotton crop is tolerably good & I expect to make as much as I usually do.

I received a letter from John not long since. He had been quite sick but had recovered. All of the other members of the family are well.

Answer me on the receipt of this and let me know the amount of funds you require & I will forward them to you. Your mother and Fannie & Martha (who is now here) send their regards to you.

Yours as ever, — F[rancis] B[ernard] Higgins


Newberry, South Carolina
May 23, 1872

Dear Alfred,

Why have you so long been silent? I have often written to you all and have not received any answer from you since Christmas when I wrote to Minnie. I am very anxious to receive a letter from you. Fannie wrote a very long letter to dear Minnie in February before she was confined. She has another lovely son almost the exact image of his father. She has recovered her health but looks very thin from nursing,

I have just returned from a pleasure trip to Columbia to see Lolla. I am quite proud of the improvement, both mental and physical. She is quite a lovely girl and has established a good name for her industry, obedience and cheerfulness of temper. Mrs. McCormick says the she is now receiving good wages in the mantua business. Lolla says the she will be very glad to hear from you again. If you think there is a good opening in your town for her, she thinks that she will be ready by the last of this year if you can help her start. She wishes to learn the millinery department as it will. be conducive to her business to carry on both. I think you and Lolla could make it quite profitable if you would superintend the store. You know she will only be able to do her work as she will not have anything to start with but her hands. I am very proud of Lolla, She is very smart and everyone speaks in the best terms of her ability to carry on her trade.

I spent two weeks in Columbia and often had her with me, I had a very delightful visit. I stayed at Mr. Clark Wearing’s who married Mollie Black, old Aunt Gillam’s great grand daughter. He is a very wealthy artist or menial instructor. He lives in good style. I had a very happy time. Mollie asked me very affectionately of your welfare. She has a lovely family of children. She is the third wife of a rich man—very much petted. I was very glad to be able to visit the scenes of my childhood after 55 years absence, notwithstanding the devastation of war & fire. I viewed the old part of the college & thought of those dear ones who received their education in those walls, now silent—all gone from the scenes of this world to that rest that remains for God’s people. I was the happy witness of the monumental celebration of the association decorating the graves of our departed brave soldiers. It was indeed a lovely sight to behold so many dear friends engaged in crowning the silent, sleeping place of those who gave their lives for their country. I think there assembled over 2,000 persons in procession, all engaged in that solemn duty to the dead. I never witnessed such a scene and I think it was beautiful & respectful.

I wish you to write to me and all me how you are all getting on. I am still living when at home with the Dr. and Fannie at the old place as I wrote you word he bought it. Oh, he is indeed a good kind son to me. I am much better satisfied now than I have ever been since your dear Father’s death. Although I have but little, I knew I could not keep up the place. Therefore I consented to give up all & let the sale come on to have things settled. The Dr. has got it it into some shape so that he can arrange matters now & I got my dower which I had to pay for all the property I took under your Father’s will which the law said I had no right as the estate was in debt. I have nothing now but my land your Grandpa gave me & then I have a blessing in my children who I hope will never suffer Mother to want. All of them has offered me a home but you know how independent I am. I wish to be at all times ready to go where I think I can be of most service. I expect to go up to Tue’s in about the first of June as she will need my services in July. I have nursed Fannie through & she is in the same strength.

Poor Charlotte. She is still dragging out a miserable life. No improvement. All her first children left her but Burt & I am thinking of sending her to Charleston to the Soldier’s Orphan’s Home as there are some of the girls from this place who have been sent down and are doing well. I hope that Charlotte will consent to ____ going also. I am greatly surprised to hear that you have not received my letters. I wrote to you the week after Fannie was confined. I have been very much taken up with the babe until I left for Columbia. I had a delightful trip….

…We have had quite a time of meningitis amongst the blacks but none in the whites. We have had a spell of the Yankees taking up men ad putting them in jail. This your see from the papers, all for effect to keep Old Grant in office and radicals to rule the country. I hope the Lord will bring good out of evil. Write to me as soon as you get this. Direct it to Chappel’s Depot, Newberry County, care of James W. Smith as I will soon go there. Remember me kindly to all my friends…

Your Mother, — E[lizabeth] A[nn] Higgins

1852: James Taylor Wade, Sr. to Walter Wade

This letter was written by James Taylor Wade, Sr. (1786-1853) of Lancaster, South Carolina—the son of Capt. George Wade (1747-1823) and Martha Taylor (1749-1816). James was married to Martha Rives (1792-1853) and the couple raised at least seven children.

James wrote the letter to his nephew, Dr. Walter Ross Wade (1810-1862) of Port Gibson, Claiborne county, Mississippi. Dr. Wood’s “Rosswood Plantation” diary (1834-1862), containing details of the operation of his cotton plantation, is housed at Mississippi State University.

He worked as a physician, treating patients in the Natchez District. He purchased the Rosswood Plantation, a 1,250-acre cotton plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi. He owned more than 100 slaves who picked cotton in the fields. In 1857, he hired architect David Schroeder to design the Greek Revival mansion that he had built as a gift for his second wife. The Wades entertained guests regularly and went fox-hunting on the grounds. During the Civil War, the mansion was offered up as a Confederate hospital.

The familial relationship between uncle and nephew was further cemented through Dr. Walter Wade’s marriage to his first cousin, Martha Taylor Wade, eldest daughter of James T. Wade. It seems that also James also sold slaves to his nephew in Mississippi. In a letter written in 1847 in the South Carolina Library, Univ. of South Carolina, James wrote his nephew that he was delighted Walter was pleased with “Beck and her family…as I never saw a family that I would prefer; they are of true African blood are healthy and as hardy as mules, if a little lazy, [but] that can be brought out as has to be done with most of them.” 

In this letter, James postulates that the birth of several male slaves on his plantation may be due to his feeding the slaves pork. Male slaves, of course, were preferred as they could command a much higher value in the marketplace.

Cotton Plantation painting by William Aiken Walker


Chestnut Ridge
April 3, 1852

I received your letter telling of the death of Mrs. Young and the copy of Mr. Johnson’s letter by Patrick. The death of Mrs. Young 1 took us quite on surprise. When we parted with her yesterday twelve months ago, she was the picture of health and to judge from appearances anyone would have supposed she would have survived Mr. Young, but alas! how uncertain is human life and how often are our fondest hopes and desires disappointed as in this case. Yet it behooves us to submit with humility to the dispensation of an all-wise Providence. I suppose in this the corpse of Mrs. Young has arrived and has been buried in the family burying ground at Prospect Hills. It did seem strange to me that one who seemed so devoted to his wife while living should leave her corpse to be brought across the ocean and even home without his personal protection and as you remarked it might come as safely yet it did not seem right it should be alone and for the life of me, I never could have done it. I would have been miserable until its arrival. But all men are not alike and it is best it should be so.

I have executed Titles to Thomas Lockhart and Samuel A. Sproles with your Aunt’s renunciation of dower on each which I hope will be satisfactory and that the amounts due by each of them will be paid on presentation of Title. They are enclosed in an envelope and sent with the letter. I hope Mr. Johnson will be able to sell the other quarter section he spoke of. In fact, if the whole of the balance could be sold so as to net me two thousand dollars cash, I would be satisfied. And when Patrick goes up, would like him to make an effort to sell it at that price but if he could get more by giving time and on interest as Mr. Johnson has done, he might do so. I leave it with you and him to do what you think best.

We have all been suffering with bad colds. The children have got pretty well over it. Your aunt and myself are now bad off with it & Charlotte not much better. It is just beginning to take hold at the plantation two or three cases. I fear it will go through all there will will be bad on us at the season of the year planting time. We have had an uncommon dry spring with the exception of two days in March which were rainy and cold at that. We have had but little rain since the winter broke in January. Vegetation is forwarder than I have ever seen it since I have lived up here and planters are generally forewarder than I have ever known them. Most my nearest neighbors have planted their corn and I understand Coln. Burns has planted nearly half his cotton crop. He has quit public life and is attending to his own business.

We have planted about 75 acres corn at the plantation and it is going up. Have about 30 acres in the lowest, wettest bottoms yet to plant, and our nice ground 30 acres. Want to begin to plant cotton on Thursday the 8th—the soonest we can planted here was the 6th and then had to plant over. I planted my corn crop here today. Have in all planted in corn 100 acres which I hope may do well. Have fifty acres in the island which I expect to manure and plant in cotton forty acres of new ground cleared but not planted last year and the balance to make up 200 acres shall cull from the gin house fields and others about 25 acres of which will be manured. I fear unless we have a very favorable year and good health, it will be full as much as we can manage as we have four suckling women and Harriet—one of our best hands—will be confined in May making the fifth. This will be a drawback. There must be something in feeding on pork as we have had seven boys born within a year all doing well and Harriet, who has not borne a child in eight years, can barely hope she may have a boy also and both may do well, which would make eight.

James’ family have all had the colds but have got better of it. Their unfortunate one, S. Agnes, continues to have convulsions. Their youngest seems to be a healthy and perfect child, and the little boy is fat and lively—runs all about. Maria Louisa goes to school with James T. and Martha Rives. She and Martha Rives, Mr. Croxton says, are doing very well but he can’t bring James T. to it yet. Sally is learning at home, is fond of her book, and says when Pa comes she is going to school too. And they all say you must be sure and come in May and that I must tell Pa and Uncle Pat howday. All the rest of the family unites in respects to you, Patrick, and all other friends and relations. your affectionate uncle, — James T. Wade

1 Jane Brown (Ross) Young (1824-1852) died on 29 January 1852 at the age of 27. She was the wife of Benjamin Farer Young (1799-1860)—25 years his junior. She died in Paris while on her wedding tour. She was the daughter of John Isaac Wayne Ross (1784-1832) who owned the Prospect Hill Plantation in Jefferson county, Mississippi.

1849: John Wiley Gulick to John Taylor Coit

This letter was written by John “Wiley” Gulick (1829-1898), the son of John V. and Margaret Young (Wiley) Gulick. Wiley was residing with his father in Fayetteville, Cumberland county, North Carolina when he penned this letter in January 1849 (he erroneously datelined it 1848) during the height of Polk’s popularity as President and nearly a year after the close of the War with Mexico. He was married in 1858 to Margaret Jane Sutherland (1835-1879) and moved to Washington county, Texas, where he made a living as a physician. During the Civil War, he served as surgeon of the 18th Texas Infantry, reporting to General Bragg.

Gulick wrote the letter to his friend, John Taylor Coit (1829-1872), the son of John Caulkis and Ann Maria (Campbell) Coit of Cheraw, Chesterfield county, South Carolina. Coit graduated from Princeton University in 1850 and returned to Cheraw where he practiced law. In 1858 he married Catherine Malloy Bunting and relocated to a 320 acre farm straddling Dallas and Collin counties in Texas. During the Civil War, Coit raised a company of cavalry and he became captain of Co. E, 18th Texas Cavalry, later Lt. Col. of the regiment. He was take prisoner with the surrender at Arkansas post in January 1863 and after he was exchanged and returned to his regiment, he was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga which ended his career as a field officer.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Fayetteville, North Carolina
January 20, 1848 [should be 1849]

Dear Friend,

You may be a little surprised on receiving this epistle from me, but when you consider the intimacy that has subsisted between us for some time, you may take it as a natural consequence. I hope that our intimacy may not be broken by miles but that we may at least think enough of each other as to write occasionally. Your father passed through town on his return from the North. He stayed a short time. I called on him at Mr. McIver’s. He said you had gone to P[rinceton]. Before then I had not heard & that he would like me to write you. So according to promise, as well as inclination, I will make the effort. Hoping that you will have patience in reading until you get through with the above exordium, I will proceed.

You have doubtless heard of the many changes that have taken place in Cheraw & of your uncle’s death. Such, I dare say, you was prepared to hear. But there is another shade over the first. It is this. There being some misunderstanding as to the place where Mr. [John] Taylor’s remains should rest. He was first buried in the Presbyterian Church yard & removed a few days ago to be carried to Georgetown to be placed by his wife [in the Episcopal Church yard]. His body was taken up & in the charge of [John Taylor’s nephews] Mr. David & John McFarlan to be taken to Georgetown. The body was placed in the steamer Richland. Allen McFarlan did not go with them owing to a law case he had on hand which he was obliged to attend to. He, when through, started by land to meet them at Georgetown, but dreadful to relate, when the boat was [descending the Pee dee River] near Britton’s Ferry, the boiler bursted and carried away everything in its reach. The whole was soon consumed by fire to the waters edge. 1

John McFarlan was standing by Mr. David when the explosion took place. He instantaneously disappeared and has never been heard of since. It is thought that he fell in the burning mass. Several were killed (16). A Mrs. [Henry] Davis and daughter [niece] was killed. Capt. Brock had an arm & leg broken and his body badly burnt. Mr. David not hurt. What a sad state of affairs! How can poor Allen stand it? Oh! it is shocking. John was consumed and the body of his uncle.

There has been no deaths for the last two months or more. Nearly all those who went to Mexico have died. No marriages have taken place. Cotton is coming in very fast. They say more business has been done in this than in last season. Col. H. & LaCoste are about to return from the field. James Presley Harrall has become the lion of the Cheraw market. He has the name of J. P. Napoleon on account of his buying so much cotton (nearly all). It is said if cotton shall rise this spring, that he will make a great deal of money. Very little sickness.

I must now try and give you the news of this famous city. I suppose you know that I am hard at the monotonous duty of a school boy’s life & news are very scarce. We are very pleasantly situated on Hay Mount—we call it “Literary Hill.” Have a little fun now and then and a good laugh over our lessons, for we do come across some of the smuttiest that I ever saw. I suppose you have noticed in the Georgian &c. we have the two Smiths (Jim C. and Alex R.) Alex rooms and boards here. We stay in the same room & have a great deal of fun. The old coon is sitting back reading Polk’s Message—it being the first time he had seen it. 2 He is almost a Democrat & is much pleased with it as far as he has read. Don’t you think it an able & well written document? Don’t you think Polk one of the, or the greatest man of the age? Has he not immortalized himself? I think so.

Alex says he is alive and kicking and that his Uncle John’s Billy don’t grow any smaller. He wishes you much happiness and success, &c.

How do you like General Taylor? Don’t you think he is a pretty Old Coon to be President of the United States? If the northern fanatics should, from their encroachments upon southern rights, cause a civil war, would you not fight? Calhoun is a wheelhorse, is he not? He has taken a bold stand & so ought a southern members. I watch his movements with interest. If you are acquainted with David E. Smith, please give him my regards & kindest shake of the hand. Tell him if he has cut my acquaintance, let him say so & if he does not write me a letter soon, I will be after him.

I shall be glad to hear from you soon & as much news as you can possibly sed. Tell me all about the college & the town people, &c. &c. Believe me to be your friend, — J. Wiley Gulick

To; John T. Coit

1 Lawsuit testimony taken long after the incident revealed that the Richland “left Cheraw for Charleston, taking in Cotton at the landings along the river. On Sunday morning, January 12, 1849, the steamer stopped about two hours at Woodberry’s landing to take in wood. Seven or eight miles below that place, at or near a bend in the river, while the boat was underway, the boiler burst. All the officers, and five or six deck hands, were killed or disabled. Some of the passengers were killed or blown overboard…The anchor was dropped by some person unknown, and the steamer lay about thirty yards from the shore. The boat took fire, which spread so rapidly as to prevent the rescue of several passengers who were not injured by the explosion. All the cotton [1,000 bales] aboard was burnt or destroyed. All the witnesses concurred that, after the explosion, by no efforts of the surviving crew could the cotton have been saved.”

2 Wiley is referring to Polk’s 4th Annual Message to Congress (equivalent to today’s State of the Union Address) which was published in the newspaper in early December 1848. In his message, Polk wrote: “In reviewing the great events of the past year and contrasting the agitated and disturbed state of other countries with our own tranquil and happy condition, we may congratulate ourselves that we are the most favored people on the face of the earth. While the people of other countries are struggling to establish free institutions, under which man may govern himself, we are in the actual enjoyment of them–a rich inheritance from our fathers. While enlightened nations of Europe are convulsed and distracted by civil war or intestine strife, we settle all our political controversies by the peaceful exercise of the rights of freemen at the ballot box.”