This letter was written by 21 year-old bachelor, Archibald McDonald from Cheraw, South Carolina. We learn from the letter that Archibald has two deceased brothers — Charles McDonald (died 1821) and Duncan McDonald (died 1823 in Alabama) — and two brothers and a sister, presumably still icing in South Carolina. Remarkably, at age 21, Archibald claims to have been elected as a representative to the South Carolina Legislature represent sent the Chesterfield District.
Archibald wrote the letter to Malcom McNeill (1796-1875) who may have been a relative of McDonald’s. Malcom was born in Person County, North Carolina but moved to Christian County, Kentucky, one mile south of the Sinking Fork bridge on the road from Hopkinsville to Princeton, in 1817. He began accumulating property at an early age, first near his home in Kentucky, but later he bought thousands of acres in Mississippi and within the city of Natchez, which greatly increased in value. He made his first investments in Chicago in 1842, at a time when travel there required carriages or horseback. He became a man of great wealth, described in an 1884 history of Christian and Trigg counties as “perhaps the richest man in the county, with a large estate and many negroes both there and in Mississippi.”
Malcom’s third wife, Martha Rivers (1800-1827), died in August 1827. He married his fourth wife, Eliza D. Lynch, on 29 November 1829.
Addressed to Malcom McNeill, Esqr., Natchez, Mississippi, forwarded to Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Cheraw, Chesterfield District [South Carolina]
4th January 1829
Malcom McNeill, Esqr.
Your esteemed favor of the 18th November last I have had the pleasure to receive on the 2nd Inst. & am happy to hear of your prosperity, though I am extremely sorry to hear of your brother Pryor’s death. I had no acquaintance with your brother John [B. McNeill].
I will now give you as correct a statement of your brother’s land as I can. About two or three months since, some of the citizens of this district took out a land warrant & had it entered as vacant land & has taken it through the office. I presume their motive was to have an opportunity of getting some of the gold, which was the only reason for advertising the land in the public papers. I shall take the liberty of acting as your agent without your written permission merely to put a stop to their proceedings until I hear from you again. With respect to the quality of the land, it is very indifferent and situated in a very poor neighborhood. The name of gold will probably add some to the value of it. My own opinion is that it would not be worth man’s attention to search for gold on it, for there has been several trials made on it with but little success in washing the gold dust. There is a tolerable gold mine joining it. There is one or two joining the land that wishes to purchase at this time. I think it could be sold for 3 or 4 hundred dollars by giving a credit of one & two years. The best way is to sell & take a mortgage on the land to secure the debt. I will ascertain what he got for the tract. It contains four hundred acres. I shall be guided by your next answer.
The little your brother got for the land was left with Mr. Alex McNeill of this district. He moved to the State of Mississippi & died since. I expect his son Hector has got the titles which are necessary for you to get before a sale can be effected. The best course for you to pursue is to send your brother’s will to the Ordinary of the District. Then he will have to issue his commission to the witness to the will in the State where your brother died. Then he can order a sale of the land. Or should you think proper to make a sale of the land before I can effect a sale by giving a bond for titles. My impression is the sooner the land is sold, the better. Or should you think proper to make a sale of the land, you will have to send me or some other person you may think proper a Power of Attorney. Rest assured, I shall be happy to render you any service in my power.
With regard to my marriage, it has to be done yet. I am still a young bachelor of twenty-one & as regards the number of children I am at a loss to give you an answer. They are very much scattered — so much so that I think it rather doubtful whether I shall ever be able to get them all together. Should there be any favorable chances in your section of the country, I would thank you to inform me of it & will cheerfully attend to it. I have been trying here for a number of years but with little or no success as yet & can assure you my prospects of success at present are very gloomy.
With respect to my brothers, brother Charles died about eight years ago & brother Duncan about six years in the State of Alabama. I have still two brothers & our sister living & all the relations I have in South Carolina. John McNeill married in North Carolina & moved to Alabama & there lost his wife & some of his children. He still remains there himself.
Should you conclude to end me a Power of Attorney, it would be best to forward it as soon as possible because those that is interested in the land might contend that I was acting without authority & continue digging gold. If you think proper, I shall make a full trial on the land before I make any contract for it. I think I have given you as correct a statement of facts as I am in possession of. You will please give me a full statement of your part of the country. If you wish to get another wife, we have a young wide to dispose of worth about $150,000 at your service. I have the honor to represent this District in the State Legislature this year.
Please address me to Cheraw, South Carolina
Yours most affectionately & cordially, — Archibald McDonald