1858 – Letter urging an immediate suit in a convoluted inheritance to recover four slaves from the son of a dead executor of a South Carolina estate who was now also on his deathbed.
Shiloh, South Carolina: 1858. Envelope or Cover. One-page letter dated November 25, 1858, from John L. Gamble of Shiloh, South Carolina, to Messers Spain & Richardson in Sumter. The letter is enclosed in its original mailing envelope franked with 3-cent, dull-red Washington stamp (Scott #26). The cover bears a manuscript postmark “Shilo sc / Nov 26th / 58”, and the stamp is canceled with a manuscript “3” rate marking. The letter is in nice shape; two-thirds of the envelope sealing flap is missing. Transcript will be provided.
In this letter Gamble, requests his attorneys immediately to begin a lawsuit against the son of the executor of his brother’s will for the value of the “hire of four negroes” belonging to minor nieces and nephews, their owners. Although somewhat convoluted, from this letter and online genealogical records including South Carolina, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980, it appears David N. Gamble left “Big Sam” and his other slaves to his wife upon his death. When she died shortly thereafter, the couple’s children were still minors, and the four slaves were hired-out by the estate’s executor, E. H. J. Goodman Sr. After Goodman Sr. died, the slaves were hired-out by his son, E. J. Goodman, who at the time this letter was written lay on his deathbed and was not expected to live more than three days.
John L. Gamble does claim ownership of the four slaves in this letter, so it would seem clear that uncontested title for them rested with his nieces and nephews. However, Gamble was concerned that the children receive full payment from the Goodmans or their estates for monies collected while leasing the slaves for the estate. Gamble’s letter reads in part:
“Gentlemen it becomes my duty to urge Suit against E. J. Goodman for hire of four negroes belonging to the minor heirs of D. N. Gamble Decd. The negroes coming from E. J. H. Goodman Senr Decd. and which E. J. Goodman was the administrator. I Shall Sue from the time of my Brothers death to last January. . .. If it is necessary to Sue in E. J. Goodman’s lifetime you will Proceed immediately as he is lying not expected to live. If it is not necessary to Institute a Suit against him personally in his lifetime you will wait till I See you. In the case I am not well posted, two fellows one woman and a girl you will So manage it as to have a committee of three who are acquainted with the negroes to put a price upon their Services. . .. He may not live three days. . ..”. Very good. Item #009909
First-hand documentation of a very unusual inheritance case demonstrating that American slave-owners first concern was the value of their human chattel rather than the lives of their enslaved people themselves.