Category Archives: Slavery

1832: Walthall Burton’s Statement of Theft

Walthall Burton in post-Civil War years

This unusual statement was written in 1832 by Walthall Burton (1807-1899) a planter residing near Woodville in Wilkinson county, Mississippi, in the early 1830s. Woodville was one of the earliest towns established in Mississippi. It was sited in the rolling hills just north of the Louisiana-Mississippi border in the southwest corner of the state on the Natchez Trace. The planter community centered at Woodville thrived on cotton production from the 1830s until the Civil War.

Burton was born in Nelson county, Kentucky, the son of Wilson Burton (1779-1825) and Eleanor Gray Bruce (1778-1862). He lived there with his parents until 1811 when the family relocated to Wilkinson county, Mississippi. When he was 19 years old, he became the overseer of a plantation near his parent’s home but by 1827 he was ready to start his own plantation near Woodville. It was on this plantation that he wrote the following.

The year following, 1833, he move to St. Helena Parish where he resided until 1849. Following the Civil War, Burton spent his time steamboating on the Atchafalaya river. He was married in 1827 to Theresa A. Terrel of Mississippi.

This statement appears to have been meticulously prepared as if it were intended as an exhibit in a trial, but I can find no record in the Woodville newspapers of either the described incident itself or a trial that might have followed.

[Note: This statement is from the personal collection of Rob Morgan and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Walthall Burton’s Pocket Book, Wilkinson, County, Mississippi—Woodville


On Saturday, 26th of May, Wilson went to Woodville and was there informed by William Evans that my Boy Reuben 1 had brought an order to him and which he had taken up and wished to know whether it was good or not. Wilson came home and told me of the order and asked me if I had gave such an order. I told him that I had not and asked him in what way my name was signed. He told me that it was signed Wat Burten. I then realized that it was forged if it was intended for my name.

Advertisement for store operated by James Jones in Woodville in April 1832

On the Thursday following I went to Woodville to see Evans about the order. I went to Evans’ house and saw Mrs. Evans who showed me the order. I told her that my name was forged to the order and enquired of her what kind of a negro it was that passed the order. She described the negro to the best of her recollection and said that he had a hat on that he told her he had got at Mr. [James] Jones’s. I then went to Jones and asked him if he had sold a boy of mine a hat. He said that he had but it was on an order of mine that he done it. I then told him that I had drawed no order on him at all. He then said that he had two orders on me passed by the same boy. I came home and on the next day I searched all of my negro houses and could find none of the kind of goods that was given me as a sample. I then went to my negroes and showed them the samples and asked if they knew of any person that has such clothes; one of them told me that Mr. Deloroches’ Ned had such them goods. I then went and seen Delroch and told him of it. He then said if Ned had passed the orders that Bird had wrote the orders, for Bird and the negro was very thick he believed. He told me to come back next morning and he would take the negro and search his house.

“The negro still denying the charge, we then resorted to means to make him confess. He stood out for some time…” Scene from Twelve Years A Slave.

The next day I went and took the negro and searched his cabin and found some of the goods, but the negro denied getting or passing the orders then. We then took the negro and carried him to Woodville for the purpose of seeing if he was the negro that passed the orders. We went to Jones’ first. Jones recognized the negro immediately and said that he was the very fellow that had brought the orders there. I then sent the negro to Evans’ which I was informed that Mr. & Mrs. Evans both knew on first sight and said that it was the same negro that brought the order there. The negro still denying the charge, we then resorted to means to make him confess it. He stood out for some time and [at] last said that Bird had given the orders to him and he did pass them. I told the negro then if he did not fix it so that Bird could be detected, that he would have to suffer. He told me that it would be very easy to do that if any person would go with him; that he could tell him anything that he could get to suit him and he would get another order from him in our presence. I and Mr. Evans then agreed to go with him on Saturday night.

Accordingly, I fixed myself and took my brother and Mr. Deloach and the negro and some meal and came to Woodville for the purpose of trying Bird’s innocence or guilt. Mr. Deloach & myself and the negro together went within fifty yards of Bird’s house where the negro laid the bag of meal down and told me and Deloach to stay until he came back. The negro the went to the house of Bird as he told us and had some conversation with him. We heard them talking but it was too far to hear what they said. After the moon was down and all fairly dark, the negro came to us again and told that Bird had agreed to take the meal but had made him promise not to say anything in our presence about the orders. I told the negro that he must talk about the orders in our presence. The negro then took the meal and we all three went to the house. When we got to the house, Bird was standing in his yard a scolding of his dog whenever the dog would attempt to bark at us.

The negro walked up to the palin and set the bag on the top of the palin & I walked in about 5 or 6 feet of the palin and stopped. Delroch stopped immediately behind me. After he had got the dog reconciled, he stepped to the fence immediately between me and him and commenced looking at me very close. I thought he wanted to see me good. I stepped up close to the fence where he was and laid my hand on the fence close to where he had his. He then looked at me good. He had looked at me for some time. He then turned his head to one side as if to look at Delroch which was immediately behind me. He looked at Delroach for some time. Then he went down the fence a few feet to where the negro was with the meal and laid his hand on the bag and said to the negro it is a very hard matter to trade now. Times is very squally. People watches very close. And then [he[ came back and took another look at Deloach & myself. He then went back and felt the bag. The negro asked him what he wanted. He said that he wanted to taste the meal but the bag was tied. The negro then untied the bag. There was some noise heard. Bird then stepped back against the side of his house and said some person was coming. I sorter squatted down against the paylen and asked Bird if there was any patrol about. He said he believed not—that he had heard no noise about lately. I expressed some fear of the patrol. He told me that they never came in that part of town—that he had got in that part of town on that account (all was still again).

Bird then stepped to the bag and took out some meal and put it in his mouth. The negro said to him the meal is good, sir, we stole it out of the mill yesterday. Bird answered yes, the meal is good. Then he asked how much there was. The negro told him a bushel. Then he asked the price. Ned told him 75 cents. Bird said the meal was high and asked me what Drake gave me for mine. Ned said 75 cents. He then said that Mrs. Conrad had bought some last Sunday morning at 62.5 cents and that he had offered the same negroes 75 cents for it right on that hillside (pointing to the hills east of his house) and he would not take that but went and took 62.5 cents from Mrs. Conrad. Ned then said I suppose Master you won’t give nairy order tonight. He said that he rather not. That there had been some noise about orders and he did not like to give any. Ned told him that that man’s master was a going away (pointing to me) and that he wanted to get an order for him—that he wanted to get some things before he went away and I told him that you had written some orders for me and I thought you would give him one. To that Bird made no answer. Ned then said that he can write and would write one himself but he was afraid. Bird then said it is a bad business. He then looked at me and asked if I could read. I told him yes, that I could read a little. He then paused a moment. I told him that I could write my own orders if I could spell well. I then said to him, Master, I wish you would give us an order tonight, if you please. He then said that he was willing to give the order but he could not write himself—that he made his wife so all his writing and she was asleep.

Ned then took the hat off his head and said to Bird. I got this hat with the order you gave me to Mr. Jones and it is a mighty good hat. Bird said I am very glad you got a good hat. Ned then said the stamped britches I got, you know I gave them to a runaway negro. I then said to Bird, Master, I wish you would wake up mistress and let her write the order for us now. He then said she is a bed and got a very cross child and if she gets up, the child will cry and make noise. I then said if you will get her to get up and write the order, we will go out in these weeds and lie down until you give us the sign and then we will come and get it. Bird said no he would not wake her and asked us if we could not come in the morning and he would have he order wrote for us. I told him that I had a mighty tight master—that he made me get up very soon of a Sunday morning and hunt up the stock and I had no chance to come in soon in the morning. Bird said that I could get the order any time that I would come next day. I told him that I wanted the order to come to town or that I could not get a pass and would have to slip in at a time when master would not be at home and it would hinder me to call and get the order and I would have but little time to trade in. Bird said that I could always get there and that he would have the order ready when we called for it in the morning. I then asked what time in the morning I could get the order. He said any time between daybreak and sunrise. I asked him then if there was no chance to get the order before daybreak. Bird said not that soon.

Ned then asked him if he would give us orders like them others. Bird said yes. Ned said you recollect he orders you give me on the 6th of May to Mr. Evans and Mr. Jones with my name wrote in it, Reuben, and Watly Burton’s name to it, for ten dollars. Bird said yes, he gave the orders but he did not write them—that his wife wrote the orders—that he could not write a bot. I then renewed my application for the order and told him if he would give us the order tonight, that I would slip him in something more some night next week that would better pay him for his trouble. Bird said I told you that I could not write and I won’t waker her up tonight to write it. Ned said can’t you write? Bird said, no, that his wife done all his writing and said she wrote the others.

Advertisement for the new store in Woodville run by David Armstrong, May 1832

At this moment we heard some beast cough. Bird said there is somebody a coming and started like as if he was a going in his house and said some person will come presently and I won’t stay here any longer. Ned said as Bird walked a little off we can get the order in the morning, can’t we? Bird said yes and turned and came back and went into the corner formed with a little room that project beyond his house and joins with the corner of the paylon near a door that leads into that rom or just between the room and house. He there leaned back against the wall of his house with his crutches in one hand and a hold on the side of the door with the other hand as if prepared to spring in at the door the moment he should see or hear anything that might affright him. Bird had in the course of our conversation about the orders taken the bag of meal from the fence and put it on a barrel and laid a board on it. We asked him for the bag. He asked us if we could not get the bag in the morning. I told him that master always sent to mill on Sunday morning and that was one of the mill bags and if the bag was not at home ready for mill, that there would be a noise. Bird said he would empty it then and started back from the door where he had so completely fixed himself that Ned then told him to write the order to Mr. Jones. He said yes but he did not like Jones much ad would rather give one to Armstrong [see adjoining advertisement]. He said Armstrong was a very fine fellow and his goods is cheaper. He then took the meal and hopped along with it in at the door above mentioned and emptied out the meal and gave us the bag at a different place from where he got it and gave us some water to drink. We then told him that we would be back in the morning to get the order, bid him farewell, and left him.

June 5th, 1832

— Wathall Burton

1 A Slave book kept by Burton indicates that Reuben & Amy were a couple and together they had the following children: Amstead, b. 1 December 1831; Edmund, b. 15 Jan. 1834; Delphine, b. 4 July 1836; and Mariah, b. 12 October 1842.

1849: Darius Henry Starbuck to Gerrit Smith

This incredible letter was written by Darius Henry Starbuck (1818-1887), the son of Reuben Starbuck (1787-1880) and Mary Beeson (1789-1840) who raised him in a Quaker family in Guilford county, North Carolina. Darius was a graduate of New Garden College and was one of the earliest lawyers in Winston and helped in the formation of Forsyth county and the building of the first courthouse in 1849. He took up residence in the town of Salem in 1849 when this letter was penned.

Darius H. Starbuck, ca. 1880

He was a delegate to the North Carolina state constitutional conventions of 1861 and 1865. In December 1865, he was appointed to his position as US Attorney for the North Carolina federal district court by President Andrew Johnson. In 1870 he was reappointed to this same seat by President Ulysses S. Grant.

Darius was married in 1856 to Ellen Blickenderfer (1834-1920), a native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who came to love in Salem, North Carolina, when she was 10 years old. Darius and Ellen were members of the Moravian Church.

Starbuck’s letter was addressed to Gerrit Smith, the well-known abolitionist, social reformer, and philanthropist. The letter explains the circumstances of Starbuck’s having become the owners of seven slaves formerly the property of his friend Thomas Adams of Stokes county and having incurred a debt while settling Adams’ estate. He then asks Gerrit Smith if he would be willing to pay the debt so that he might honor his friend’s wish that the slaves be liberated.

Gerrit Smith

Incredible details of this transaction are provided in Wikipedia although Starbuck’s letter makes it clear that Syphax and Letty were siblings, not husband and wife as was presumed. That segment of Starbuck’s biography follows:

On February 24, 1840, Darius Starbuck was written into the will of his “friend” Thomas Adams of Stokes County; Starbuck was also named executor of this will. This was witnessed by Thomas J. Wilson. In the will, Starbuck was named heir to an enslaved family owned by Adams upon the death of his wife Lucy, on the condition that Starbuck would emancipate them “as soon as the law will allow.” They were named Syphax, Letty, and their children Syphax L., Mary Addine (Mary Magdeline), and Sarah Jane (Sally). The will was notarized on 15 July 1843. On June 22, 1844, however, Starbuck purchased the family for $85.20. Mr. and Mrs. Adams were to continue using Syphax and his family for labor until both of their deaths. Under the new terms Starbuck was to instead free the family after they had “worked out the consideration money and interest”. This mandated that the family work as Indentured servants for Starbuck until the price Starbuck had paid for them—with interest—was returned to him either through labor or by payment. This bill of sale also mentions two more children, Emeline (Nancy Adeline) and Lewis. At the time of purchase in 1844 Syphax was aged about 26 and his wife Letty was about 30. This deed of sale was witnessed by John Hasten, who had to confirm this in court in April 1845.[9] The estate files of Thomas Adams were probated in 1848.

According to the Slave Schedule of 1850, Darius owned one male slave who was reported to census takers as being 37 years old. This may have been Syphax Adams who appears by his fluctuating age in written records to have not known his exact age. As Starbuck’s home in Winston was built in 1851, it is possible that Syphax’s labor may have been used during the brick mansion’s construction. On March 15, 1857, Syphax’s daughter, Nancy Adaline Adams, requested to become a member of the Salem African Moravian Church, a month later she began receiving instruction, and by October 11 she was baptized by the church. The church register in October 1857 listed her as, “Nancy Adelia, a single woman, property of Darius Starbuck.”

By the time of the 1860 Census, before the abolition of slavery, Syphax and his family were living as freed citizens of the Broadbay Township in Forsyth County. By the time of Starbuck’s death in 1887 he owned 322 acres—an area referred to in his will as the “Bouer Place”—in the Broadbay township; it is unknown whether the Adams’ ever lived or worked on this property during their residence in Broadbay. On April 14, 1861, Syphax’s daughter, Mary Magdalene Adams (single), was baptized into the Moravian Church on the same day as Lewis Hege (also single). At this time Mary was employed by Traugott Frederick Crist, and Lewis was a servant of George Hege. Lewis also served as an elder of the African Moravian Church in Salem. At some point before 1862 Mary and Lewis were married. As there is no surviving record of the marriage in the church register, it is possible that the couple jumped the broom. On July 17, 1862, Lewis and Mary had a child named Arabella Hege who was baptized on November 30, 1862. On February 14, 1864, however, Mary died of typhoid fever. At the time of her death she was described as “a quasi free woman of color.” Lewis later remarried to Dinah Ann (Malone). Jane, a servant of Louisa Shober Crossland, died on June 26, 1864, at the age of 19; this may have been Syphax’s daughter Sarah Jane “Sally” Adams. On October 23, 1864, Nathan, “a boy in care of D. H. Starbuck,” was baptized by the Salem African Church. A girl by the name of Lucinda, who was a servant of Julius Edward Mickey, was also baptized this day.This Lucinda could be Syphax’s younger daughter Lucy Adams.

On August 29, 1887, Lewis Hege, widower of Mary Magdalene Adams, was named in the land divisions of Starbuck’s estate. A Daniel Hege also owed the estate a personal loan debt of $200 at the time of Starbucks death. The loan was originally lent on July 26, 1859.

Whether Gerrit Smith ever responded to Starbuck’s solicitation is unknown. A search of Smith’s correspondence among his papers housed at Syracuse University does not include any letters to or from Starbuck. Given that the slaves remained in Forsyth county for years to come suggests to me that Gerrit never provided the requested funds but it appears that the temptation to sell the family to pay off the debts incurred in settling Adams’ estate was resisted and that Starbuck partially recovered his costs by their continued labor to him as indentured servants until he eventually freed them.

The hiring of Slaves for twelve months from the estate of Thomas Adams. Document found in the Adams’ Probate Records, dated 12 March 1849


Addressed to Gerrit Smith, Esq., Petersborough, New York
Postmarked Salem, [Forsyth county] North Carolina

Salem, North Carolina
September 29th 1849


I trust you will excuse a stranger for calling your attention to a matter calculated to enlist the sympathy of every feeling heart. It is the freedom of eight slaves.

About six years past an elderly gentleman by the name of Thomas Adams willed to me his slaves (which were his only property) expressing a desire that I should emancipate them. At that time he was much involved in debt. Many of his creditors brought suit & pressed payment. His negroes being his only property were about to be sold to make payment. After applying to neighbor after neighbor to assist him & to no avail, he then applied to me & begged me to intercede in his behalf to prevent the negroes from being sold, promising me a bill of sale for them. I accordingly paid off most of the claims & he made me a bill of sale for the slaves, I not being able to lose the money paid out.

He died nearly two years ago and after a series of continued litigation from that time to the present with his heirs who were nephews and nieces living in Alabama and Mississippi, I succeeded in establishing my title to the negroes. In consequence of this litigation, the costs, together with the demands at present against the estate, with those I have paid off, amount to near a thousand dollars.

From the fact that the freedom of the slaves was a matter which Mr. Adams had very much at heart, I am desirous to get them free if I can have that amount refunded me. The negroes would bring at this moment more than ($3,000.) three thousand dollars if I would sell them but this is something I wish to avoid if possible. But I am not able to lose this amount of money. Hence I shall be under the necessity of continuing them in slavery, or selling part of them to refund me in order to free the balance. Their being all of one family would make this a painful duty to separate them. In order to avoid either of these unpleasant dilemmas, & from your character of unbounded munificence & exalted philanthropy, I have been induced to solicit your aid in their behalf.

If you should feel disposed to aid these slaves in obtaining their freedom, they will doubtless long cherish you as their benefactor, besides being willing to pay you by their labor or other means if thy should ever get able, and I will make you a bill of sale of them or pursue any other course you may suggest for the purpose of freeing them.

If you should desire to correspond with others on this subject, or for the purpose of reference as to myself, I will give you the names of Thomas J. Wilson, Esq., of this place, John A. Gilmer, 1 Esq., Greensboro, Dougan Clark sen. of New Garden—a minister of the gospel in Friends Church, or Thomas Hunt, superintendent of Friends Boarding School at New Garden, N. C. I hope to hear from you soon on this subject.

Yours truly, — D. H. Starbuck

[to] Gerrit Smith, Esq., Petersboro, New York

P. S. Perhaps a more minute description of these slaves may interest you. The two oldest, Syphax & Letty are brother & sister. Syphax is about 35 years old & a free woman of color for a wife who has three children by him. Letty is about 32 years old, has a slave husband and six children, the oldest of whom is about 15 years of age. — D. H. S.

1 Darius read law with John A. Gilmer, Sr. of Greensboro prior to being admitted to the bar in 1841.

1849: Bela Metcalf Hughes to James William Denver

This lengthy letter was written by Bela Metcalf Hughes (1817-1902), the son of Andrew S. Hughes and Rhoda Dent of Carlisle, Kentucky. Bela came to Liberty, Missouri, with his parents in 1829. While attending Augusta College in Kentucky in the late 1830s, Bela dropped his studies for a short time to participate in the Black Hawk War with the Missouri Volunteers. After graduation in 1838, he returned to Missouri and was elected as Platte county’s representative to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1844. He later resigned his seat to to take the office as Receiver of Public Monies at the US Land Office in Plattsburg. “After resigning as Receiver at Plattsburg in 1849, Hughes moved to St. Joseph, Missouri to practice law there. In St. Joseph, he formed the law firm Woodson & Hughes together with Silas Woodson, a fellow Kentucky-born lawyer involved in the local Democratic party, who was later in 1872 elected to serve as 21st Governor of Missouri.

Hughes and Woodson were alleged to be involved in electoral irregularities in the Kansas Territory at the beginning of the violent civil confrontations called Bleeding Kansas. In May 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act had organized the Kansas and Nebraska Territories in the lands west of the Mississippi River. Congressional proponents of the act had assumed that Kansas would permit slavery while Nebraska would prohibit it and therefore preserve the balance between slave and free states. Immediately, immigrants supporting both sides of the slavery question arrived in the Kansas Territory to establish residency and gain the right to vote. In November 1854, thousands of armed pro-slavery men known as “Border Ruffians,” mostly from Missouri, poured into the Kansas Territory and swayed the vote in the election for a non-voting delegate to Congress in favor of pro-slavery Democratic candidate John Wilkins Whitfield.

On March 30, 1855, the Kansas Territory held the election for its first territorial legislature. Crucially, this legislature would decide whether the territory would allow slavery. Just as had happened in the election of November 1854, “Border Ruffians” from Missouri again streamed into the territory to vote, and pro-slavery delegates were elected to 37 of the 39 seats. Bela Hughes and Silas Woodson were both mentioned in multiple testimonies in front of the congressional committee investigating the elections as well-known public figures from Missouri who were present at the election at Burr Oak precinct in 14th district of the Kansas Territorial legislature. Hughes or Woodson were not witnessed actually participating in the illegitimate voting on that day. Hughes personal stance on slavery is unclear [and he does not show his hand in this letter either]. Silas Woodson, on the other hand, was actually well known as an abolitionist. At the 1849 Kentucky Constitutional Convention, Woodson was the only member to introduce language for the gradual emancipation of the state’s slaves. During the Civil War, both Hughes and Woodson were Unionists.

On April 26, 1861, Bela Hughes was chosen as president and general counsel of the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company. He was at the time still a resident of St. Joseph, which was the eastern terminus of the company’s Pony Express stagecoach line. In the years prior, the company had successfully operated the Pony Express as the fastest way to transmit information from east to west before the advent of the first transcontinental telegraph in October 1861.

Hughes wrote this letter to his friend, Capt. James William Denver (1817-1892) who moved to Platte City, Missouri in 1845 after completing law school in Cincinnati and beginning a practice in Xenia, Ohio. In 1847 he recruited a company for the 12th US Volunteer Infantry and served under General Winfield Scott in the War with Mexico. We learn from this letter that Denver returned to Platte City after the war where he apparently tried his hand as a newspaper editor which did not appeal to him. Shortly after receiving this letter, he relocated to California where he found employment as a trader. While there he killed newspaper editor Edward Gilbert in a duel in August 1852 and then was elected to the California State Senate. In 1854, he was elected as a US Representative from California. In 1857, President Buchanan appointed Denver as the Territorial Governor of Kansas Territory.” [Wikipedia]

St. Joseph, Missouri


Addressed to Capt. James W. Denver, Platte City, Platte county, MO.

St. Joseph, [Missouri]
3rd August 1849

Dear Capt.,

Your letter was most welcome. It is just as kind and friendly as I should have expected an epistle from you to be. You must not think that because I have thought proper to extend the area of my enjoyments in life by annexation I have ceased to regard my old friends of the harsher sex. Far from it, dear Sir! I am unchanged and unchangeable. It is not infrequently the case that men when married are “civilized mortems” to the world outside of their matrimonial cage, but for me, I have so long lived in the indulgence of warm friendships with me fellow men and have so great a weight of obligation resting on me for their partiality and kind offices, that I should have to undergo an organic change and become a ch___, and an ingrate, before the warm attachments subsisting of years between us can be cast aside and forgotten.

I thank you for the proof of your remembrance which lies on my table. Our friendship was begotten by no motive of a base nature; was founded on no mean object. It has grown uninterruptedly for years in strength. Mutual confidence has restrained it, and not any slight circumstance shall ever shake it.

With regard to the change in my domestic affairs, I am wholly persuaded it was the wisest step of my late years. I needed a wife—not a sickly sentiment and ninny without health, sense, or capacity for the duties of wife. I have one, selected by my cool judgement and endorsed or course by my heart’s fullest approval. I have one who can make her own clothes, bake bread, spin and weave, and like the mother of the men of ’76, it not ashamed to labor for the independence of herself & her husband. Such are the kind of women to raise men from. Enough of myself and my wife, or you will charge me with being too uxorious for an “old body.”

When I saw you last, it was my intention to remove to St. Louis. On careful examination of the propriety of the step, I gave it up and determined to locate here believing that this place must ultimately become a place of great importance, comparatively speaking, and that in time it would be a good point for law business.

You are right, I have thought much and with great anxiety in regard to the events of this day: the agitation of that great question, which, I fear will at some future period make an end of the Union of these States, unless providentially prevented. I have somehow a confidence that the Divine Wisdom which brought the Republic into being for purposes which to us seem apparent; as glorious, as beneficial for man—that that Divine Wisdom which has guided us to such greatness, such true greatness, in the happy condition of so many millions of mankind under a mild and efficient system of social union, that it will protect the ship of our State through years of tempest and fury, as dark and threatening as the gloomiest hours of the Revolution, and guide it into an harbor of eternal security. It would seem that the work of the hands of God could not be moored with his consent and this home of the exiles of oppression made the worst of despotisms. It cannot be!

“I have thought much and with great anxiety in regard to the events of this day: the agitation of that great question, which, I fear will at some future period make an end of the Union of these States, unless providentially prevented…I can only pray that the toil and blood of our gallant lives of ’76 may not have been uselessly given for a posterity it was their design to elevate in the scale of humanity and bless with equality and liberty.”

— Bela M. Hughes, 3 August 1849

But how it is to be avoided, if passion and fanaticism rule the ascendant, it is not mine to foresee. I can only pray that the toil and blood of our gallant lives of ’76 may not have been uselessly given for a posterity it was their design to elevate in the scale of humanity and bless with equality and liberty. May it not be said of America and her people by the historian and post of another and even far distant age, “Fuit Hium et ingens gloria Dardainidusa!” [This was the great glory of Dardsnidusa!]

The limits of a letter are too small to give you my opinion at length in regard to the question referred to, and indeed that expression of it, or any other of a nature less extended, would be of little consequence to you. I am withdrawn from a active political life; have no consequence or very little even as a citizen, but if I were in a high place, and my position was of the smallest consequence to my friends and the public, it would be made known without fear or stint even if I shook hands with my political prospects forever.

We have talked this Slave Question over often and our views have been freely made known to each other. I have but little to say about it at any time for I know my disposition to excitement in the discussion of political subjects and the liability one encounters of misconstruction and misrepresentation also, when in the habit of shouting in crowds of persons on the streets, part of which understand perhaps correctly but a portion thereof, either cannot comprehend or seek to prevent what they hear. I have no ends to cure. I have no hope or wish to enter a field of political discussion, or to waste my life in the vain struggles for power and place which so many of my fellow mortals thirst to obtain and in the pursuit drop all considerations of a higher and more important nature: the ties of friendship, the endearments of home, the good of their fellow citizens, and in sort, everything which man is formed to desire and enjoy on earth, and this too to be the pet of popular favor for an hour or a day!

See my dear fellow! How many men you know who were yesterday the happy (?) recipients of popular applause who were followed, caressed, quoted. whose words were sucked in like honey by bus. Lo! what a change hath an hour wrought! “The friends once so linked together,” have fallen away, from the side of the favorite of the fickle people. and the victim of a senseless ambition is left to cheer the cad of bitter retrospection and ponder the mutability of human affairs. “But yesterday Cesar might have stood against the world,” &c. Man fore warned is thrice armed. I hope I shall never be induced to leave my great fireside and mingle in the battles of mere men at any future period. I am not however any the less ready to serve my fellow citizens when they demand it and I think that they need my feeble services in a capacity not beyond my ability, but I shall certainly not meet the luck or fate of this Roman Cincinnatus and shall just as surely stay at home and pour over my law books.

Col. Benton speaks here in a few days, it is rumored. It is not improbable that Birch will speak here at the same time. He has constituted himself (perhaps he may have been chosen) the champion and leader of all who differ with Senator Benton in this region. You know as well as I that the opposition of that man, to Col. Benton, will be a most happy division in his favor; for the people only look to see which way Birch goes to decide them, which path to take themselves. He cannot muster the people under his standard in any cause. I marvel exceedingly that he can be tolerated by leading men in this State; a leper whom the Jordon could not cleanse—a creature whom no man who has any self respect or regard for public opinion will consort with. But it seems indeed that this skunk who has annoyed the olfactories of the people of this State so long, this breathing ulcer whose purulence has insulted the stomachs of the honest of all parties for near a quarter century, hath of a sudden become as pleasant to the nose as the spice of Araby, and as desirable to the palate of our [ ] at least, as the honey of far famed Hymethos…

I have trespassed on your time and will desist. Much have I to say to you. Much for your good, I hope, and mine too. But here I cannot find time to lay it before you. I refer not to anything connected with politics or politicians, You went into that paper with half my approval. I would see you out of it….Work out of it, my dear Denver. Be the part of other men, a warning. Leave before the iron enters your soul, the dangerous vicinity. There are men fitted to the task of fighting through life with pen and tongue, born with the epidermis of a rhinoceros, to encounter all the ills of an Editor’s life. You are not. Your nature is gentle, warm, and humane, tender, sympathizing…I would not discourage you—far from it—but would warn you to seek a more genial employment either at your profession or whatever with aid of friends you might choose.

I have some plans for the future and I would like to see you included. I will discuss them anon when we meet. I have resolved to make a competence if my health is spared me, and place myself above the frowns of men or fear of power. If my Creator is kind to me, I shall do it and endeavor to deserve it. The first case of us all should be to make ourselves independent. Think of it.

Send my paper here. Don’t fail. Shall I see you here ever? I shall hope to be in your town in a few weeks. I am, dear Capt., as ever yours sincerely, — B. M. Hughes

to Capt Jas. M. Denver

1837: Charles Smith Hempstead to William Hempstead

Charles Smith Hempstead

This letter was written by Charles Smith Hempstead (1794-1874), the son of Stephen Hempstead (1754-1831) and Mary Lewis (1757-1820) of St. Louis, Missouri. Charles was married in 1838 to Eliza Barnes (1799-1880). He wrote the letter to his younger brother, William Hempstead (1800-1854) who lived in St. Louis with his wife Sarah Augusta Bouton (1815-1844). Charles & William had a sister named Sarah Hempstead (1789-1858) who was married to Elijah Stuart Beebe (1785-1822)—a saddler & harness maker in St. Louis. An older brother, Edward Hempstead (1780-1817) was a delegate to the US Congress as a representative from Missouri Territory from 1812 to 1814. The Hempstead family were close friends with the Thomas Hart Benton family of St. Louis.

Charles was an early resident of Galena, Jo Daviess county, Illinois, where he had a law practice with U. S. Congressman Elihu Benjamin Washburne. He came to Galena in 1829. He was elected the city’s first mayor in 1841. He partnered with Washburne from 1845 until 1852. Described as “a quiet, dignified, urbane man, and an able lawyer,” Charles practiced his profession until past middle life, when “he devoted his entire attention to his private affairs. He was a promoter of the Galena and Chicago railroad, the first road to be constructed west of Lake Michigan, and was one of its board of directors for many years. He served in the civil war as a paymaster and was one of Galena’s early mayors. His two sons, Edward and Charles, became prominent citizens of Galena, and both moved to Chicago and engaged, the first named in the lumber business, and the second in the practice of his profession as a physician, in which he became distinguished.”

In his letter, Charles speaks of his slave Tom and of his desire to see him placed in a free black community in the country somewhere. That Charles was a slave holder is certain. Cornell University Library houses a Certificate of Manumission for a mulatto woman named Mary and her ten year-old son Augustus who came into his possession in 1836 and were manumitted in 1845.

Charles S. Hempstead’s Brick Home at 611 South Bench Street in Galena, Illinois


Galena [Illinois]
February 23rd 1837

Dear William,

Charles S. Hempstead served as one of the commissioners appointed by the Illinois General Assembly selling shares for the Mississippi & Rock River Canal Company in 1838

I received your favor 13th inst. by due course of mail. Respecting your interest in Milan, I will write to [John] McNeil to try and sell one or two shares of interest at the rate he sold & to clear myself of H. S. B. & one or two other liabilities. I would sell a part of my interest also although now is not the time to sell for Mr. [Charles] Oakly & partner in that place are waiting for some other [ ] before they will offer lots in the place for sale—such as a canal to unite Rock river with the Mississippi to terminate in [ ] below the town. Those men have been all winter at Vandalia to effect a law for that purpose.

I will attend to the estate matter you have set up and I am pushing my town lots & other business to be [ ] to leave by 15th or 20th next month for St. Louis. Edw. Beebe has not arrived here yet. Our rivers are yet firmly frozen & in probability of a breakup to await boat before 4 or 5 weeks.

We have nothing new here. Times [are] dull. Nothing stirring. No speculation this winter. All of our speculating citizens are East, operating there. The Iowa Copper Mines 1 of Aubry & Mills have been sold to a C. in Philadelphia 3/4th for $75,000, Dr. Miller, one of the purchasers, but we hear poor Mills will not live to enjoy any of it.

You ask what is to be done with my Tom. I wish you would send him to the country somewhere. Are there no free black men with whom he could live? If you cannot do anything with him till I come down, let him be and I will attend to him. As to family matters on this side of the river, we all are well—and also on the other, and the fear of her husband & others have been happily relieved. Dr. McKnight’s wife—who has a fine daughter, & mother & child doing well—at my home. We are all as usual, and among yous and your wife’s friend in town. I believe we are all well.

Please remember us affectionately to all the family & believe me ever & affectionately yours, — Chas. S. Hempstead

1 The Iowa Copper Mines were located about one mile from Mineral Point in Wisconsin Territory, and about 35 miles from Galena.