1849: Elijah Boddie to Malcom McNeill

I believe this letter was written by Elijah Boddie (1787-1851) who was raised by his uncle George Boddie (1769-1842) — the father of Willie Perry Boddie (1826-1870) who is mentioned in this letter. Willie was married to Martha Rivers McNeill (1827-1887) in December 1848. Martha was the daughter of Malcom McNeill (1796-1875) and Martha Rivers (1800-1827). Wiley [or Willie] was educated at Wake Forest College and the University of North Carolina. He made several trips to Europe during his early manhood and studied for some time in England. His residence [“Glenmore”] was eventually established in Coahoma County, Mississippi, where he had one of the largest plantations in the entire south.

Elijah Boddie lived in Sumner County, Tennessee. His elegant residence was in a beautiful walnut grove about two miles from Gallatin. Elijah was a member of the Colonization Society and a member of hte Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1828, he hosted Bishop McKendree in his home.


Oak Ridge
May 8, 1849

My dear sir,

With much gratification I had the pleasure or reading your last letter to me dated some time in the latter part of January. You had just recovered from an acute attack of pneumonia & though several of your family were then confined, the pleasing truth had revealed itself that all were convalescent & would soon be up.

George has received one or two letters from Willie & John one two days ago. I was truly glad to learn that Willie & his better half had reached Kentucky for I must confess that I thought they were in great danger, even after their safe arrival at Lake Charles, & the sooner they left the Mississippi, the better. Say to Willie I know but little about his business but confess I was surprised to learn from his letter to John that he had not heard from George as he told me the last time I saw him he told me he had or would write Willie soon. George & wife left Jackson last week for Mr. Picket’s & will be absent for some time as they contemplated some little “at our not writing.” I am sure you have some little cause to complain & if you were to write me at the bottom of all your letters where to write you & you were to receive no more letters from me than you have for the last six months, I am sure you would have much cause to complain. For the future, let me know your whereabouts & no mistake I am now fully impressed with the belief that the health of your country will not compare with that of Madison or Jackson. The health of this neighborhood has been uninterrupted for months & was never better than just at this time. Mrs. Statewell died about six weeks since with the consumption & the Sunday following her daughter was married to Berbon Shotwell.

Since the freeze of the 16 of last month, I have heard but little else than the cold weather & the crops. The growing crops are now & have been for some time in a most critical situation with us. I commenced planting cotton on the 26th of March & finished on the 4th of April, & by the 10th had a beautiful stand until on the morning of the 16th I found I had planted too early by 20 days. I commenced ploughing up & planting over & by Saturday evening I finished a second time. My corn was injured very much — so much so in many places that after waiting 8 or 10 days had to plough up & plant over. I have had an opportunity of conversing with gentlemen from various parts of this & many of the adjoining counties & I find we have all fared alike or nearly so. I hazard nothing in saying the prospect of our great staple cotton, so far as I have heard from (and I have heard from the main cotton growing regions bother west & east) is really gloomy. Since the 27 of April, we have had light & continued rains up to this time, which have given us fine stands. My crop was decidedly promising up the the 16th of last month, but how oft are blighted summer hopes & broken summer promises. This we know is the experience of all countries. I understand wherever the fog of the Mississippi River, or lakes, appeared on the night of the frost which proved so fatal in the interior, the crop were uninjured. If this be true, I am sure you must have escaped in part if not your entire crop as your plantation must have been nearly or quite surrounded by water.

As we are both cotton planters, I will hazard an opinion as to your frequent failures on the river. In the first place, I think your rows are too narrow & the cotton too thick in the drill. By crowding the cotton either way, we are but giving it height & I feel on close observation that spots have been left too thick are sure to fail in making a satisfactory turn out says an ingenious & learned writer. There is an axiom in that science to which I know of no exception, that whatever tends to promote the production of super-luxuriant foliage & an enlargement of roots, proportionately diminishes the amount & perfection of the parts of puctification. A very striking example is afforded with us by the cotton that is grown upon a rich tenacious bottom, the rapidity & luxuriance of vegetation in the production of an excess of stalk & leaf, but little cotton. Last year I endeavored to cultivate so as to make as little weed as possible & I can assure you my most sanguine expectations were fully realized. I made the rise of seven bales to the hand & but for the worms I am sure I would have made ten quite as easy. I know one planter in this county who has invariably made heavy crops. His mode of cultivating is this: whenever he finds his cotton growing too fast from too much rain, to run the bar next to the cotton very deep & throw the dirt up in the middle of the row & let it be until the ground dries, & them throw it back again. I had 62 bales sold about six weeks since at 6½ — the balance I am holding up.

I have but little to write in the way of domestic news than can interest you but as sister Catharine & Willie would like to hear the news, I will give it for their benefit. We have had but few deaths or marriages with us this spring. Among the number married is Miss Jane Wilkins to Gen. [Joseph R.] Williams ¹ of Memphis, Tennessee. I know but little about him. I understand she is his second wife. His first — a Miss Taylor. The were married on the 3d inst. Notwithstanding we have but few marriages. We have a goodly number of belles in this county. Among the number is Miss Virginia Perkins. Virginia is quite intellectual & pretty & I think Mary has improved very much within the last six months but not so pretty as her sister. Neil Perkins talks of building a fine house in front of the old one as he feels settled for life. Mr. Ricks is also building. He has two lovely daughters both of which are very much admired. But Miss Sarah Low is decidedly the belle of the county & I think it likely she has had more offers than any young lady in the state of her age. I understand that it is impossible to call on her without finding at least half a dozen young men there. But by far the most lovely & interesting to me is Miss H. She has no superior in or out of the state.

Dr. Alston ² is very happily married & his wife is not deficient in intellect, beauty, energy, or dancing. They are quite an acquisition to the neighborhood. Mrs. Borman is staying with her sister at this time. She reached the neighborhood some 2 or 3 weeks since in bad health but is now improving very rapidly & is delighted with the county & everybody she has seen. Dr. S___ came over some two weeks since. Our relations in Alabama were well when he left.

So this is the only sheet of paper I have. I must close. Remember me to all. John will write soon. — E. Boddie

¹ Gen. Joseph Rowlett Williams was a member of the State militia of Tennessee and belonged to the Memphis Blues. He owned large interests in Memphis besides operating a successful law business. He married first Elizabeth H. Taylor (1826-1847) and second, Jane T. Wilkins, of Kentucky.

² Believed to be Dr. Auguston Alston (b. 1825) of Haywood County, Tennessee. He graduated from the Medical school at Louisville and began his medical practice in Haywood County. He married Mary B. Hay in September 1847.

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