Saturday, May 14, 2011

One Woman's Take

It doesn't surprise me anymore to find letters from Civil War era people to their elected officials. I think that people back then thought that their sentiments would be listened to more than we do today.

Writing from Logan County in southern Kentucky Sue H. Burbridge wanted President Lincoln to hear her concerns even before he officially took office. On January 20, 1861 she wrote:

Dear Sir

The negros have taken up the notion, or rather it has been taught them by beggers and Gipsies, that as soon as you were elected they would all be free. They have commence their work of poisining and Incendiaryism. Now all I want to know is make them know it, so that they may go to work and wait until the next presidential Election to cut up again. I wish you would ask your Estimable Lady how she would like, "just as she gets a good cook for some stragling begger, peddler or fortune teller to come along and pursuade her that some one would give her higher wages on the other side of town. For God sake Dear Sir give us women some assurance that you will protect us, for we are the greatest Slaves in the South.


Sue H Burbridge

It is not known if Abraham Lincoln responded to this woman's fears or even if he read her letter. Knowing Lincoln I would not be surprised if he did both. Letters like this might be one of several reasons he treated the border slave states with kid gloves early in the war.

Her mention of gypsies and peddlers as the cause of trouble with slaves was a common concern among citizens of the slave states. Whether these traveling salesmen and wandering performers were responsible or not, they often drew the wrath of community members concerned with personal safety and maintaining their slaves as property. Peddlers were particularly targeted for vigilante harassment. Treatments of tar and feathers or a ride out of town on a rail were not rare. For the citizens of the slave states the law of self preservation remained primary to any rights bestowed by government and written laws.


  1. Susan Henry Burbridge was my grandfather's great-grandmother. She was appointed postmistress of the Hopkinsville post office by President Grant after the war. Where did you find the letter?
    Thanks for posting it!

  2. I found this letter on the Library of Congress website. Search for manuscripts "Sue Burbridge" and you should find it.