Monday, September 3, 2012

Amanuensis Monday
Duncan McArn's Letter Concerning the Health of Ned

Ned was purchased in Fayetteville, NC, by Duncan McArn of Union Church, Jefferson County, MS, from John McLaurin. McArn felt he had received an "unsound negro."

Mississippi, Franklin County
January 05, 1836

Dear Sir,

I take the present opportunity to inform you that the negro boy Ned which I purchased of you is certainly not a sound and healthy negro agreeably to your bill of sale to me which warrants him sound in body and in mind.

I would have written you sooner on the subject but while on the road I had no opportunity and since I got back I have been engaged until the present. I had the company of two traders from Fayetteville on to Georgia and the other to Montgomery, indeed there were two in company with me to Montgomery.

One of them advised me to go back with him after we had traveled a few days and after we were convinced that he was unsound but the rest agreed with me in opinion that it was impossible for me at that time consistent with my interest to go back with him. He had the third day fever and ague* regularly on the way and in bad weather every day. The first fever he had was on the second day after we left Fayetteville but that is not the worst. He had a constant and regular cough which I have no doubt is consumption. He was feeble and weak, not able to make a day’s travel much less to render any assistance on the road. Indeed, I have had to sit up with him at night, he being crazy with a scorching fever. But why need I go to detail, his cituation(sp) you no doubt are better acquainted with his condition than I am. Those gentlemen that I before adverted to are witnesses of his infirmities to.

Now sir that I have made a simple statement of facts and what I know and believe. I will now only say that in making that trade, I took you to be a high minded honorable gentleman. I therefore took you at your word and you certainly sold me that boy for a sound and healthy negro. Now in as much as he is not what you sold him to me for, I only hope you for a reasonable deduction in his price. I want nothing but what is equitable, right and just.

I would here further observe that I would rather we would settle it ourselves. I think it would be better for us both. It will at least save cost. Do not think hard of my ? for I insure you that I do not do it to hurt your feelings. I do it in order that I may not be misunderstood and because I believe that all matters are easier to settle when fair and candid statements are made.

Please write me as soon as you receive this and let me know what you indend(sp) doing in this matter. I wish you to be frank and candid with me as I at least try to be with you.

Direct your letter to Malcolm Post Office, Jefferson County, Mississippi.

Your friend,
Duncan McArn

Ague -- the recurring fever and chills of malarial fever
Consumption -- Tuberculosis

Duncan McArn was born on 14 February 1810. He moved from North Carolina to Jefferson County, MS, around 1835. McArn taught school in neighboring Franklin County during the first five years of his residence in MS. He married Catherine Torrey of MS on May 9, 1844. McArn soon began cultivating cotton on a plantation near Fayette, Jefferson Co., and he established business outlets in Natchez and Rodney, MS, and in New Orleans. He died 24 Feb 1875 in Jefferson County, MS

McArn owned members of my maternal family, the Sartin family of Jefferson County, MS.

Source: McArn (Duncan) and Family Papers, Collection Number: Z/1487, Box 1
Mississippi Department of Archives and History


  1. Whew--The child is sick, and separated from family members who would care and nurse him back to health. It's unbelievable how Duncan described the boy and how little he seemed to care about about his welfare. Hopefully someone gave him the care he needed.

    1. He was concerned about his investment. If Ned died, Duncan would lose twenty to thirty years of labor.

  2. He could have been referring to a full grown man as a "boy" since no age is given. Aside from the horror of being that black man, sick and a slave, the part that jumped out at me was "...I took you to be a high minded honorable gentleman.."

    1. American slavery was indeed a peculiar institution.

  3. Great piece Linda. Gives a glimpse into the mind of a slaveholder.

    Family Griot

  4. Duncan McArn was my great-great-great grandfather. Though I know the history, reading this makes me so sad and ashamed. I have lots of letters from his grandson, Dr. John WD Dicks that I am transcribing. I look forward to digging into the full picture of this side of my family. Thanks for sharing this info. I grew up in Philadelphia, PA., but all of “my people” are from Natchez, and I spent many summers there. I love my family, but so know that there was a whole other side to the family lore, that I never heard. You have inspired me to dig into it. Thank you

    1. Becca, thanks for your heartfelt words. If you find anything (photos/letters/documents) pertaining to the Sartin Family would you contact me? I am the grandson of Genoa Sartin. His father was Ellis and may have been a slave of Duncan.

    2. My email is