Friday, July 6, 2012

Milo Thompson Writes a Letter to His Lover

I preface this post by saying that I am not a big fan of speculative history, but at times one has to infer based on the information available. This week I finished reading a great little book titled Blacks in Bondage: Letters of American Slaves, which was edited by the late Robert S. Starobin.

While I don't think it is necessary to do a book review on a collection of letters, I think I would be negligent if I didn't share a few of the gems from the book.

One that stuck me as quite interesting was written on October 15, 1834 from Harrodsburg and came presumably from the pen from a Kentucky slave named Milo Thompson. The letter was written in Harrodsburg, Kentucky and was intended for a Miss Louisa Bethley. The letter comes from the collection of the letters of James Gillespie Birney, and the noted abolitionist and future Liberty Party candidate for president in 1840, is referenced in the missive.

By doing a little searching I found that Birney apparently freed his slaves the same year this letter was written. And perhaps Milo Thompson foreshadowed the fate of Mr. Birney. In the letter Milo wrote:

"I have got greatly disappointed in my expectations on next Saturday. I will be compelled to disappoint you at that time but I regret it very much. Master says I must put it off a little longer, until he can see farther into the matter. he says probably Mr. Birney may break up house keeping or something of the kind and he dont know what may become of you, for that reason we must defer it a little longer. I will come up and see you shortly and then we will make some arrangements about it. it is with great reluctance that I put it off any longer, but I am compelled to do it owing to the circumstances I have related. I shall remain your affectionate lover until death."

Was Milo Thompson preparing to marry Miss Louisa Bethley?  Was the marriage called off by Thompson's master? What does his master mean when he says "Mr. Birney may break up house keeping or something?" Is that a reference to Birney's antislavery work and a foreshadowing indication that he would later the next year be asked to take his abolitionist sentiments and plans to print an antislavery newspaper in Danville to Ohio? Did Milo write this letter or did his master write it for him? It would not be impossible, but would seem somewhat strange for a slave to be so literate and use such varied vocabulary words such as "defer," "arrangements," "reluctance," "circumstances," and "affectionate." What happened to Milo and Louisa?

What seems to be for sure is that Milo Thompson does not want to delay whatever it is he wants to do, whether it be marriage or something else, any longer, but is compelled to do so by the will of his master. Thompson knows he ultimately will have little say in the matter. To me, that is what was so terrible about slavery. Perhaps Thompson's master was kind and treated him well, well, to me, that's not the issue. The issue is that Milo Thompson was unable to make a "pursuit of happiness." He was not allowed to make a decision that he clearly felt was in his best interest and would make him content.

Image courtesy Library of Congress

No comments:

Post a Comment