• Kentucky Letters Report Murders By Negroes, Negroes Get The Day Off

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    Offering two Kentucky letters, 6 pp total, 7 ¾ x 9 ¾, 8 x 12 ½, both written in 1847 by MARTHA J. IRWIN one to her brother George Maxwell Chambers (1800-1891), and the other to her sister, Eleanor Estill Irwin (1808-1888). The chatty letters make two references to Negroes, and one is datelined “Locust Grove,” a possible reference to the Locust Grove Plantation, which had been built by slaves and designed by William Croghan, a surveyor who died in 1822. It is unknown why the writer used Locust Grove as a designation. The Locust Grove Plantation is now a National Historic Landmark. Research included.

    In the first reference to Negroes, Martha states that “Old Frederick Cabel of Woodford County was shot night before last by two Negro men, one of them was named Hawkins, a brother of our Maria’s former husband. I suppose they will be hung...”

    In the second instance, Martha wrote that “...Mr. Stuart took [a woman] to Frankfort in a buggy to see the remains of McKee, Clay &c buried. George went down to the great doings on that occasion and Pa gave all the Negroes a holiday...”

    She was referring to a monument erected in 1847 at Midway, KY, honoring Col. William Robertson McKee and Lt. Col. Henry Clay Jr. of the 2nd Kentucky Volunteers. Both men were killed at the Battle of Buena Vista on February 23, 1847.

    The Chambers family moved from Maryland to Kentucky, and George left for Illinois in 1837, when he married. In Jacksonville, George was a merchant and had held a commission as Colonel in the state militia. He served in the Mexican War.

    Martha mailed her letters from Midway and Lexington post offices. The second is datelined Locust Grove (6 miles from the center of Lexington).

    [May 17th, 1847] In the first letter to Brother George, Martha writes, in part, “...Lizzie and myself are almost alone this evening having no one but George to protect us. Pa has left for Pittsburgh where he will remain for a week or two (Providence permitting) taking unto himself in the meantime another ‘rib’ as our friend Dr. English so affectionately designates his companion.  Now this step I shall make no remarks on knowing as I do the very desolate situation of a widower even though he has an interesting accomplished daughter like myself to manage his domestic concerns and one whose housekeeping qualifications are the boast of an admiring community...

    “No one can tell the great anxiety I feel to see you all once more and I hope to be able to visit you this Fall if nothing should turn up to prevent and I have a suitable opportunity...We have whitewashed the fence – broke one of the parlor looking glasses and killed the black cat for eating chickens. Tell sister that I thank her very much for the tomato seeds and planted them immediately. I cannot exprss the very deep sense of gratitude that I felt on receiving that very applicable piece of poetry relative to the gal that had a hole in her stocking...

    “Old Frederick Cabel of Woodford County was shot night before last by two negro men, one of them named Hawkins, a brother of our Maria’s former husband. I suppose they will be hung...”

    [Locust Grove, August 1st, 1847] “My dear Sister, It has been a long time since I wrote to you but I intend now to write you a long letter to fill up the space caused by my delinquency...There has not been a death in the neighborhood for some time...The whole neighborhood is angry at me almost. The Stevensons were speedily as a ‘report from the seat of war.’ The whole neighborhood is angry at me. The Stevensons were insulted because Charles wrote ‘something’ to William. The blame was all thrown on me who was as innocent as ‘our dog Hatch.’ Then Sally Poke told the Offutts family some lie that I should have said of them and there is not one of them that ventured within speaking distance of me...I know my innocence...

    “I hated very much to reject my Philadelphia beau but Pa said I should not go so far from home with one whom I had so slight an acquaintance with...Bethel Church has been pulled down and the workmen are busily engaged in building another which they expect to complete in about 3 months...George was at a great barbecue today and was given to our volunteers that have returned from the war...Mr. Stuart (that is his name) took [Miss Pinkerton of Midway] to Frankfort  in a buggy to see the remains of McKee, Clay & c buried. George went down to the great doings of that occasion and Pa gave all the negroes holiday...”

    “P.S. Douglas Prices is going to the Legislature.”

    Integral address leaf on each letter. Toning and scattered foxing. The August letter has a couple of folds reinforced with archival tape.

    Two very interesting early Kentucky letters with a reference to Locust Grove.

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