Nicholas County, Virginia: 1862. Unbound. This four-page letter is written on patriotic stationery that features Liberty holding a U.S. flag with the caption, “Liberty and Union, Now and Forever.” It was sent by John T. Blake—who was temporarily living with friends in one of Virginia’s Unionist counties that would eventually become part of West Virginia—to his daughter at home near Sinking Creek in Scott County. In it he notes: “Marlborough & I are both well & are very anxious to be at home but I do not want to go until I am satisfied there is no danger. We have been making our home at William Brown’s and they are also well. Marlborough has been working for Mr. Brown & I have been working some for the citizens & some for the soldiers. . . . O. C. Banner . . . left word . . . that you had succeeded in saving the property I left in your care. I was very glad to hear it, for I was sometimes afraid they would destroy every thing I had, & probably not leave you enough to live upon. If you have not sold any of the property yet do not sell any until I get home. In the mean time do the best you can. I will be at home I think in a short time. . . . The “Yankees” have been very kind to me & are not disturbing anyone who behaves himself, neither are they disturbing any property. Tell the people on Sinking Creek to stay at home & mind to their own business & they will not be disturbed. . . those that are my enemies & especially who have been trying to injure me will receive their reward in good time. ”. Very good. Item #009329
Although when the first vote on secession was taken at the Virginia Convention on April 4, 1861, delegates voted by a 2-to-1 margin to remain in the Union, sentiment changed rapidly following South Carolina’s capture of Fort Sumter and President Lincoln’s subsequent call-to-arms. By the time the question was put to a state-wide referendum, secession fever was running hot and Unionist supporters (who mostly lived in the western part of the state) were openly threatened with violence and death, and the danger continued long after Virginia joined the Confederacy. No doubt Blake felt threatened enough to temporarily abandon his home. Additionally, the Confederate Conscription Act was passed in April of 1862, and Blake—along with his son Marlborough—may have left to avoid conscription agents as well. It’s unclear whether he returned to his home during the war, or—as he also suggested in the letter—sought longer refuge in the Unionist County of Greenbrier or the state of Ohio where “grain, meat and all kinds of provisions are plentiful [and] cheap.” A unique first-hand account of the tribulations faced by a Southern Unionist in Virginia.