Sunday, January 22, 2012

Amanuensis Monday - Letters from Louisburg, Part 3

I have been posting a series of letters written by one, William A. Eaton, of Franklin County, North Carolina, to officials at the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands over the course of a few months in 1865.  I ran across these letters during a visit to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., while searching for any mention of my great-grandfather, Calvin Yarborough, a former slave who'd been notated in the 1870 Census as a "former schoolteacher".  Since the Freedmen's Bureau was instrumental in helping to establish schools for "colored" children after Emancipation, I wanted to see if my ancestor's name might be mentioned in any of the correspondence to/from Franklin County.  Although my great-grandfather wasn't mentioned by name in these letters, I still felt a connection to him through these letters, because the "poor, colored" folks the writer so often refers to include many of my ancestors, including (most certainly), my great-grandfather, Calvin. Not only that, but in another letter, which I took a picture of with my camera, but don't have a full copy of to transcribe, Mr. Eaton uses as an example the slaves of one widow, Mrs. A.J. Yarborough.  This Mrs. Yarborough was the widow of my great-grandfather's last owner, James H. Yarborough, and was thence Calvin's owner at the time of Emancipation.
This is the final letter of the three I copied, although there were several more on the microfilm.  (Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.)  Whenever I return to the NARA, I will try to get copies of those missing, which include responses from some of the officials Mr. Eaton was writing to.

Louisburg Sept 25th 1865

Col E Whittlesey

Dr Sir
     I wrote you in answer to your favour of Aug 12th about three weeks past, and as your letter was 18 days coming from Raleigh to Louisburg, I thought it posible my letter did not reach you at all, therefore I write you to know if you received my letters.
     If it is posible to take any steps towards buildng up a home for the colored people, or freedmen, the sooner we begin about it the better for I see that as the year nears to a close, the poor creatures are runing more and more into a state of confusion, without homes. And (without) any person to guide or advise them it is now difficult to keep them at home long enough to gather in the growing crop, part of which is now ready to be gathered.  Some of them are really in a deplorable situation, it being out of power of any person to govern them.  It will be utterly imposible for the White people to feed them in their present condition.  Have you made

pg 2

up your mind what shall be done with the children that have no parents.
     Please let me hear from you at your earliest convenience. Should you think it desirable to have a personal interview with me, I will come to see you, but I would greatly perfer seeing you at my house, and if you can come out, I will meet you any day you will appoint at Franklinton and bring you out.

                                                                                                       Very Respectfully
                                                                                                                     Your Obt St
                                                                                                                     W A Eaton

About Mr. Eaton:
William A Eaton was born in 1812 or 1813 in NC.  He appears to have spent most of his life in Granville County, which is ajacent to Franklin, but once shared some of the same land. His main property appears to have been in the township of Fishing Creek (Granville). It is unclear at this time where his property was located in Louisburg.
In 1840, Mr. Eaton owned 38 slaves. In 1850, he owned 80, and in 1860, the value of his personal estate (not including real estate) was $86,900, so it's safe to assume that his attainment of human property had increased, even more.
William Eaton married the former Jean Burwell, of Mecklenburg, Virginia in 1840.  He died of paralysis in 1870 (in Louisburg) at the age of 58.

Source Information:
Virginia Marriages, 1740-1850 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999.  Original data: Dodd, Jordan R., et al.. Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850. Bountiful, UT, USA: Precision Indexing Publishers

Year: 1850; Census Place: Fishing Creek, Granville, North Carolina; Roll: M432_631; Page: 88B; Image: 177.

Year: 1860; Census Place: Fishing Creek, Granville, North Carolina; Roll: M653_898; Page: 380; Image: 384; Family History Library Film: 803898.

United States. Nonpopulation Census Schedules for North Carolina, 1850-1880: Mortality and Manufacturing. M1805, rolls 1-5. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C.

A note from the transcriber:
During the weeks I've been transcribing these letters for the blog, all of the intial feelings/reactions I had to reading them that first day at the Archives have resurfaced.  I've chosen to say little about those feelings because I don't want to skew the perspective of my readers, however, I am so very interested in hearing your thoughts!  I've received some comments on the previous posts, as well as via Twitter and email, however, I'd love to have a "conversation" of sorts with you, my dear readers, via the comments section right here on the blog.  So, please ma'am, please sir, if you are so inclined, do share a few thoughts with me about these letters?  I'm curious to hear from White and Black on this, to know how you're interpreting Mr. Eaton's words and intentions.  Of course, if you'd rather keep your thoughts private, that's your perogative, but for those who'll leave comments, I will respond to them all. :)  Let the conversation begin!



  1. Seems odd if people are in such a deplorable state that they wouldn't work. Unless conditions are such that they feel still enslaved. Wish I could have a letter from one of the colored people he's talking about and what they say about conditions. I hope you will post your feelings on these letters!

  2. In my opinion, Mr Eaton saw colored people as lazy, idle, ignorant, in need of a paternal figure to take care of and make them work. Of course, the paternal figures would make a profit off the backs of the lazy, ignorant people.

  3. Kristin and LindaRe, thanks for your comments. I do plan to check the Archives for any letters from Blacks to the Bureau during this time. That was so not my purpose, initially, but now my interest is also picqued!

    Linda, I agree with your assessment of Mr. Eaton. I also think that he was afraid -- very afraid! He seems to want to come out of this a hero, but I believe he's just trying to save his own butt, and try to keep the poor, ignorant folks in their place.