Friday, August 30, 2013

"You Have No Idea of the Number That are Leaving"

On June 24, 1864, D. C. Humphreys wrote to his former son-in-law Alexander "Alec"John Alexander in Chicago to update him on happenings on the farm at Spring Station in Woodford County, Kentucky.

Humphreys opened his letter by explaining that both men had avoided losing "horse flesh" to John Hunt Morgan and his raiders in a recent excursion through the area. Alec's older brother, Robert A. Alexander, is remembered in history as the father of the thoroughbred industry in Kentucky. Robert owned Woodburn Farm in Woodford County where he kept and studded the famed race horse Lexington, which he purchased in 1858, for $15,000; the most ever paid for a horse in America to that point.  He also owned Asteroid (pictured), who was foaled in 1861. In 1864, Asteroid was stolen by Confederate guerillas, but was later redeemed. More prime horses were stolen from Woodburn in February 1865, which prompted Alexander to move his best horses to Illinois for the remainder of the war.

Humphreys moved from news of horses to news of slaves. And, although his handwriting is difficult to make out at several points, it is quite clear that their and neighboring enslaved workers were leaving for Camp Nelson in droves.

About half way down the first page Humphreys stated his concern:

"I wish I could give you as good news about our [?] by the Federal troops under orders from the Secretry of War = we are in danger of loosing every hand on our farms before harvest. there is a perfect stampede of "darkies" in Franklin and Woodford [counties]. Just before [John Hunt] Morgan reached Lexington, Charborn, Quillen & Beverly put out & then Henderson, Samuel, Chase & William (Josephine's husband) & Washington from Summers Forest, then Harry, Sanford & your Boy Charles, then Gilles & little George Canada (Ismelda's? son) and then your valuable negro man Armstead. Cotters [?] young boy left with Gilles. all have gone to Camp Nelson, which is a safer place than Canada ever was - & they are fed clothed & paid wages by the Government, and I am told have order, there to receive all that pay out the [?] of both sexes. Bernard Gratz & his father has lost I believe 15, James McKee had 5 go off the other day. thought Dr. Hurt 2 or 3. William has lost all of his. you have no idea of the number that are leaving = I don't know your Boy Dick would have done [gone] if he had been well. When Charley left he had been sick for several weeks but was never able to go about to do some work. Joe has been quite sick. he is able now to work some and commenced cutting your Barley yesterday. I requested your Brother [Robert] to send George home to plough and expected David Sargent yesterday to pay back some of [?] work by sending two hands today which if he does will finish your barley."

It is unfortunate that Humphreys handwriting in the letter is so difficult to read, but even so, it bears solid evidence of the area's enslaved people's strong desire for liberty and compensation for their labor.

The letter can be found on the digital collections of the Kentucky Historical Society here.

Photograph of Asteroid courtesy of the New York Public Library.

1 comment:

  1. I believe the missing word [?] in the first line of text is "losses."