Sunday, June 27, 2004

An 1860 pre-civil war dated letter from William Wadsworth to his sister, Emma Wadsworth


"…A good nigger is worth from fourteen to eighteen hundred dollars here…." William Wadsworth, July 1, 1860"

A pre-civil war dated letter from William Wadsworth to his dear sister, Emma Wadsworth. The letter by Wadsworth is written from Camden, South Carolina on July 1, 1860.

Little did William Wadsworth know, but a short two years later, in 1862, he would muster into Company "I" of the 83rd Illinois Infantry. His perspective on the South in 1860 is very interesting. What he was doing in South Carolina at the time is left to the imagination.

At the time this letter was written, Abraham Lincoln was busy campaigning and was soon to be elected President on November 6, 1860. South Carolina would be the first to secede on December 20, 1860, on the heels of the Lincoln winning the election. What a time for Wadsworth to be visiting South Carolina. The political atmosphere must have been exciting with the North and South at each other’s throats. This letter gives us great insight into the days just before the Civil War commenced.


Below I have quoted excerpts of the letter

"July 1, 1860

Miss Emma--Sister

I received yours of the 16th and was very glad to hear from you. I am well and doing as well as could be well as could be expected for these times. You asked me to tell you what I think of the South. I think just as I always have about the South and the Slavery question. I always thought that if you would rather live in a slave state than a free one and I expect to live farther South than this before many years. I do not believe that Slavery is right, but still I think that under the circumstances that they are held in the South that it is better to keep them as they are for the Slave and Master, although there is is not one Slave out of ten that does not work enough to pay his master the interest on the money that he has invested in him. A good Nigger is worth from fourteen to eighteen hundred dollars here. As for politics there is not much ‘tis made here yet. I think that the race in this state will be pretty close between Bell and S.A. Douglas.

[Wadsworth refers here to John Bell and Steven A. Douglas. John Bell initially opposed secession; however, he later gave his full support to President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Army. In 1860 Douglas was nominated by northern Democrats for the presidency.] ******

You spoke in your letter about some of them trying to make a split in the…church on the slavery questions there is…and I suppose they can all do what they please, but I hope that they will find…foolish enough to have anything to do with such measures, and I think that if old John Miller would strain as hard for the salvation of his soul as he does for popularity, that he would let such things alone and to counting up men he has cheated in horse trades and pay them the difference.

I left Lexington about a month ago. Times got so dull that we had nothing to do and as I was the lost jer in the shop, I had to take my chances. I came from Lexington to here. I have a good job here carrying on a shop for a man that does not know anything about the business. I am getting two dollars per day. I have been out of stock for two or three days but look for more everyday. I cannot tell anything about when I will be at home. I have not got a letter from Lib since I left home. I wrote to Ed twice or three times and to Lib once but have got no answer yet. I do not think that I will write anymore unless they write to me.

Politics does not bother me as much as the girls. There are so many good looking ones here and they all want to marry. I have almost made up my mind to tie to one of them, but I cannot decide which. I think that I shall find one after…need not be surprised if I should bring her home with me when I come. If I do you…expect to see something good looking. We will have a grand ball at the hotel where I am boarding on the fourth and as I am one of the floor mangers, I will have a good chance to look around among them.

If I leave the man that I am at work for soon I will go farther south, and I think that I will stay here and after the first of next month I am going to try to carry…on the shop on my own …
Give my respects to all inquiring friends and not to ones that do not inquire to. Tell Kate and James that I would like to hear from them….[edited the rest of the letter].

Yours truly….Wm. Wadsworth"

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