Letter sent to Josiah Nichol, Esq. at Washington, Arkansas notifying him of three slaves who had been “stolen” and would soon “be lost” if taken across the [Ouachita] River into Union held territory
Letter sent to Josiah Nichol, Esq. at Washington, Arkansas notifying him of three slaves who had been “stolen” and would soon “be lost” if taken across the [Ouachita] River into Union held territory

Letter sent to Josiah Nichol, Esq. at Washington, Arkansas notifying him of three slaves who had been “stolen” and would soon “be lost” if taken across the [Ouachita] River into Union held territory

Tates [Bluff], Arkansas: Jany 25, 1864. This letter on blue lined paper measures 7” x 9.5” unfolded. It is franked with a pair of 5-cent blue Confederate stamps (Scott #7-Richmond printing) and cancelled with a circular “Camden Ark” postmark dated Jan 26. The stamps and letter are in nice shape with a few spots of light foxing and a small tear at the wax seal where it was opened. Very good / very good. Item #008890

In a rather frantic tone, the letter-writer informs Nichols that: “I wrote Maj Peay to inform you in regard to 2 Negro Boys that were stolen from Maj. John Easton & a girl from Mrs Williams. . . . I am fearful the letter was not put in the PO. The thieves are about here & I have no doubt the negroes will all be lost. . . . The girl is gone now. The Boys of Eaton are on this side of the River & placed with some woman who is instructed to keep them as her own if no one calls for them – But I fear they will be taken away unless you come for them without delay.”

By 1864, the Union Army controlled much of Arkansas, and the state’s Confederate government had established its Capitol at Washington. Tates’ Bluff was located on the Ouachita River about twenty miles north of the Camden, a Confederate stronghold. No doubt, Embres feared that whoever had stolen the slaves (likely members of the Underground Railroad) would soon spirit them across the river to Union territory and their freedom.

Nichol’s relationship to the slaves’ owners is unstated, however, docketing on the letter notes that it is “concerning Agnes.” Perhaps, he was a friend of Ms. William and “Agnes” was either her first name or, more likely, the name of her girl slave.

Although written after the heyday of the Underground Railroad, this letter gives testimony that even late in the war, Southern abolitionists were risking their lives to lead slaves to freedom as the Union forces advanced.

Civil War Confederate letters discussing slave stealing are extremely scarce. Also, the two stamps that frank this letter are rather scarce as most of this issue was printed in England, and the British printings out-number those made in Richmond by a factor of nine to one.

As of 2018, although OCLC identifies a handful of letters that mention runaway slaves, none appear to have the urgency or perspective from Southerners concerned that stolen local slaves are about to be spirited away to freedom. Nothing similar for sale in the trade and no auction records on file at ABPC, the Rare Book Hub, or Worthpoint.

Price: $1,500.00

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