Monday, August 8, 2011

Amanuensis Monday - Letter from a Slave to her Former Mistress - 1858

This letter was written by Harriet Walker to Mary Shaw, wife of Thompson Breckenridge Shaw. Harriet, living in Arkansas, wrote inquiring about her children who were living on the Shaw farm in Jefferson County, MS. The letter does not tell us how long she had been away from her children nor whether Harriet, husband and other children were sold as a group. Apparently, the husband was separated from the family, causing sadness for Harriet.

Columbus, Arks
June 7th 1858

My Dear Mistress,

It has been a great while since I heard from you or my children and I know not whether any of you are now in the land of the living. but write begging you to please let me now how they are getting along in the world. Me and my two daughters Caroline, and Mary, my son Colby are still owned by Dr. Walker we have a very kind master and mistress. My son Jim belongs to his son Jim and my two daughters are now grown. I begin to feel very old. I often wish I had never left you but at that time thought I would be with my husband as long as we lived. We never know when we are doing for the best.

I am so very glad my children are so well satisfied and have good homes. tell them to stay by their masters and mistress as long as they can. they do not know what it is to have their families scattered and never expect to see them again.

I am very sorry indeed to hear of Old Masters death, but thus passeth away the world and what was your loss was his infinite gain, and all we can do is to strive to meet him in the world to come where there will be no more pain, no more parting.

And now Mistress, tell my children to be good and faithful servants, to honor their master's, and mistresses and in all things do what is right snd honest and set a good example for their children, and above all things to serve their God, and teach their children the same, for they will have to give an account of their deeds in that last day. give my best love to them and tell them I often think of them.

Farewell my dear Old Mistress please answer this is the last request of your old and faithful servant

Harriet Walker
Source: Shaw (Thompson B.) - McKell Papers
From Special Collections of Mitchell Memorial Library
Mississippi State University


  1. So much sadness. I hate reading those letters and still I have to. I want to connect everyone in the letters that I find to someone today. To finally say that sons and daughters are home.

  2. I too hope Harriet's descendants find this letter so they can be reunited.

  3. This letter is sad but I feel the love that this mother had for her kids just coming off the page."above all things to serve their God, and teach their children the same." Such beautiful words of wisdom. Thanks for sharing.