1844: M. W. H. to Mrs. Sophia R. Freeman

The identity of these correspondents remains a mystery. The author of the letter signed his name “M. W. H.” and I believe he was the brother (or brother-in-law) of Mrs. Sophia R. Freeman. I have not been able to discover the identity of Sophia’s husband — Mr. Freeman — who lived in 1844 in Greenwood, Louisiana. Neither have I been able to learn Sophia’s surname. M. W. H. was residing in Fayette County, Tennessee. We know he had an uncle residing in Louisiana also — possibly the brother of his father.

The content of the letter is almost entirely about a land transaction between the author’s father and someone named Royal (presumably the first name) who also appears to have been a relative — perhaps a son-in-law of the author. Royal seems to have resided in Collierville, Tennessee but I can’t find him there either.

1844 Letter

1844 Letter

Addressed to Mrs. Sophia R. Freeman, Caddo Parish, Greenwood, Louisiana

Fayette County, Tennessee
June 9th 1844

Dear Brother & Sister,

I have had it in contemplation for more than six months to write to you but could not bear to do it when we were in so much trouble. But now that the great and notable day is past and we all live to tell it, I intend to give you a regular detail of the whole matter. You recollect that in one of my letters I told you that Pa had bought Royal’s place that we were living on and paid him for it with Uncle’s notes and a note on W[illiam] Littlejohn of three hundred dollars. Royal first proposed the trade and kept constantly at Pa until he got him to consent to it which he never would have done had he not have been old with a young family on his hands to support without a home or anything to do with. He knew that if he ever collected the notes, he could buy a place worth two of this but as he was situated, he was in a manner forced to comply. After the trade was completed, Pa wanted the writings drawn and the business done correctly that there might not be any difficulty hereafter. But Royal objected by saying he did not want to have the notes signed over to him until he had gone down to Mississippi to see what he could do with them in Pa’s name as he thought Uncle would be more likely to pay Pa than him and he said when he came back he would give him a transfer of the land and a bond secured by two negroes to finish paying the man he bought of. On these grounds he moved off of the place and gave up possession to Pa. As soon as he got settled in Collierville, he went down to Mississippi with the notes and after talking with Uncle and Henderson a long time about Pa’s being without a home in his old age and unsettled, he found he could not do with the notes as well as he expected so he came home and kept pretty still for some time. But at length we heard that he said he never intended to give Pa a right to the place — that verbal testimony was nothing in their land matters and that Pa had no writing to show that he had ever sold the land to him. Father being ignorant of the law thought he was completely in his power (which would have been the case had it have been deeded land) — in occupant land verbal testimony is as good as writing — but Pa did not know this then so he concluded all was lost. Royal came here soon after and told Pa he intended to sell off fifty acres of the land the whole tract being 200 and as Pa knew he was disposed to show him no mercy he did not object to it so he went on and sold the fifty acres. Not long after this, one of our neighbors told Pa there was a law by which if he would put in in force he might save the remainder of the land. He then got a statute of the law and read in as plain terms as it could be put down that where any person should neglect or refuse to give another a transfer of any certain land, that the purchase should take two respectable witnesses to the entry takers office and there prove by them that he had bought and paid for any certain tract of occupant land that the entry taker should be obliged to give him a transfer. And after he had paid 12½ cents on an acre, that he should be obliged to send on and get a deed for him.

Accordingly Pa took Symes and I to Somerville and proved up the payment of the land and the entry taker gave him a transfer. All this was done unknown to Royal and we did not wish him to know it until he had paid the man he bought of. In the meantime, Royal had advertised the place for sale in the Memphis Enguirer for several months until at length he found a man that wished to purchase. He brought the man over to look at the place and with unblushing impudence strutted about showing him every part of the house with all the presumption that could horribly be imagined. He told Pa that if he sold the place he would not turn him out of doors but would give him a lease of some new land in the woods where he might go and improve it for him (what a sweet home as the fly sand when he got in the molasses). However, we said nothing and when he went home he said tell George the man had made him offers that he was about to take up with. George then told him what Pa had done, that he had proved the payment and got a transfer of the land on the books at Somerville. On hearing this, his anger knew no bounds. He swore he intended to take Symes & I for perjury, that he had swore to damned lies, and he intended to rip up the whole matter. In a few days he came over with Bussey and ordered Pa off the place immediately or he would be dealt with as the law directs in such cases. Pa told him he was willing to abide by the decision of the law, that he wanted nothing but what was lawful and just. So nothing could satisfy him but a lawsuit and he entered suit against the entry taker and Pa came into defend the cause. This was six months ago and the trial was to come on the last of May. The anxiety, fear, and suspense of those tedious months are better to be imagined than told. The day of judgement at last drew near. Pa, Symes & I together with 2 other witnesses who had heard Royal relate the contract exactly as it went up to Somerville to the trial. Royal’s witnesses were Bussey and another fool about like him. Bussey swore to a conversation that he heard between Pa and Royal that Pa will swear he never heard of before. It was about a rescinding of the contract. And you know Pa when Pa says a thing, it is so. However, to make the matter short, the suit was decided in Pa’s favor. But not satisfied with that, Royal has appealed it to the supreme court which will not sit until next April. He says he intends to take it to every court he can in the United States and he will spend the last red cent but he will have justice done him.

I have nearly filled the sheet and I have not got this subject done yet. I shall not have much room for anything else, I am afraid. We understand you were living in the neighborhood of Uncle. If it is so, let him see this letter and ask him why he treats us with so much neglect, one would suppose, by his never writing to us that he was either offended at something or had given us up forever. He is so well acquainted with the law that perhaps he can think of something that Pa might do that he does not know of. If you have my letters from Royal relative to this contract that you or Uncle think would be beneficial for Father to have at the next court, you must not fail to send them to him. O how I wish I could see you once more and how I wish I knew what you said in that letter to Royal about coming to see us but he seems glad of every opportunity to spite us that lies in his power. I hope Mr. Freeman, you have not given it out entirely. You had, I think, better sell out entirely and come here and settle with us. You will have better health and get rich just as fast.

When you write, direct your letters to Macon, Fayette County, for Bussey keeps the other post office and we don’t care about trusting him any too far. Write often and you may be sure of an answer to every letter whether it ever reaches you or not. It is late and I am tired of writing but still I could say more if I had room. May the choicest of heaven’s blessings forever be yours, — M. W. H.

[P. S.] Mary says she will work out by the month to get money to fee lawyers with if Royal will only go it. She has whipped her children tremendously because they claim kin with us. She tells them they shan’t say granna and grandpa. It shall be the old woman and the old man. She says as for me I did not bear a good character where I came from and she don’t care who she tells of it. She is grit to the backbone as well as Dutch. — M. W. H.

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