Monday, July 14, 2014

Manuscript Monday—Stunning Civil War find

Last week I discovered this faded Civil War letter, written by the poet Charles Follen Adams to his brother John Swasey Adams while Charles was on picket near Belle Plain Landing, Virgina. The letter was written on January 1, 1863—the historic day on which President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation—and documents the reaction of African Americans in the area, who immediately began heading North, to Washington, D.C.

A reproduction of the letter follow, with excerpts transcribed:

Charles Follen Adams letter to John Swasey Adams, 1863 January 1, Ira Winchell Adams papers, MS 16, courtesy, California Historical Society

In the first place, a "Happy New Year" all around, which I hope I shall enjoy myself as I have made a good commencement this morning. Myself & 2 others from our company started from camp at 8 1/2 a.m. & are to remain 24 hours on picket about one mile from our camp. It is a very pleasant day and as there is no officer in charge of us we do just as we d--m please ("if I may be allowed the expression"). 

After breakfast I took a trip over to a negro plantation and went into some of their houses & sat down & talked about the President's Proclamation & as it was about luncheon time I got some boiled meat & hoecake for which I gave them some thread and needles which I happened to have about my trousers [?] & which tickled them mightily.

Charles then observes a group of twelve African Americans, men, women, and children, some riding and the rest walking. He asks one of the men where they are headed, and the man replies: "to Bill [sic] Plain" & from there to Washington. Tell anyone that thinks the Proclamation of no account to "put that in their coffee & cool it."

Marie Silva
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian

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