I recently found this letter that my mother transcribe years ago. I believe that the original is in the possession of one of our cousins, but don’t bet me on that. James, one of my great Uncles, is writing to a brother, (whom is not named), less than a year after the American Civil War ended. The letter also has him using the language of the time in reference to African Americans. I have left the gist of the word where it is found, because I am not going to ‘rewrite’ his words, but I will not spell them out.
I have included my own commentary, and snarky comments because I was in a mood.
Feb 21 1866
Our Texas State Convention met here on the 7th inst. I am a delegate from the counties of Burleson and Robertson. I have been absent at home a week and have just returned. Nancy came very near dying and sent after me but her symptoms change for the better before I got home. I staid[sp] a week and left her improving. The balance of my family and ____ are all well at our _____ _____. Our convention has as yet done but little except the Introduction of Resolutions which have generally been refered[sp] to the appropriate Standing Committees on the different functions of our State Constitution most of which will respond in a day or two. A great majority of our delegates are in favor of giving up all issues which have been decided by the late disastrous war and standing on the reconstruction policy of Andy Johnson as our last and only hope.
The poor n**** is in a worse fix than he was before the war, but that is a matter, not for us now to grieve over [he is grieving that he can no longer legally own slaves], but I hope the extremists [those who were against slavery, and didn’t like traitors who attack their fellow citizens] of both sections who are responsible for his nominal freedom will have his future comforts and happiness attended to. [James was not a big fan of people of color and their rights as human beings, see Slave Schedule below. In this letter he almost appears to show compassion for their plight after the war, he must have been drinking, or out late and was tired when he wrote this.]
There is now a great opening for industrious white men here who can be depended on to labor as but few people here have any confidence in free n***** labor. [You mean you miss slavery? Yeah great Uncle, you and your ilk started a ‘disastrous’ war over slavery. Remember? And now it’s over. You lost. No more slavery.]
Travis & Trump [really hated typing that word!] have hired 8 or 10 at from five to eight dollars per month and are going to try to make considerable cotton, as well as, corn on my place this year. How they will succeed under the new system of n**** labor time alone can determine. [Yeah, that must really suck that you have to pay your laborers now and they have rights.]
So far they are doing admirable, but I fear when hot weather sets in the n**** will fag [tire]. [No shit Uncle, no one likes working long hours in the hot effin’ sun. Not even industrious white men.]
Our Convention is a compound of different elements, Secessionists, Unionists, Confederate and Federal Generals in the late war. I think however they will harmonize as well as could be expected under the current circumstance.
I am boarding at my brother-in-law’s at 6 Raymond they are all well. Write me a long letter and direct to my usual place Texington, Burleson Co[unty] as I expect we will adjourn in two or three weeks. Your note on my letter to John telling him that “if he had looked ahead of him on Sunday or behind him on Monday evening he might have seen his brother George in the 5th Ohio Cavalry” plagues him considerably. He say he’ll be damned if he _____on Monday evening.
Give my best love to all especially to my good old mother. [His mother is Nancy Morin Shaw, wife of John Shaw.]
Old Uncle Jeminy Shaw [possibly James Joseph Shaw] is still living and as wicked as ever. He was very much opposed to the late war and says that the _____ _____ or their descendants of the Old Revolution brought it on.
As promised here are the US Federal Slave Schedule entries for James.
James in the 1850 Slave Schedule for Texas. Here he owns 11 slaves. The information has been water damaged, so I can’t read the details, just his name.
Here he is in the 1860 Texas Slave Schedule. He owns 4 slaves:
2 males 1-36 years old and 1-12 years old
2 females 1-36 years old and 1-25 years old (she is Mulatto)
1 slave house.
James was a Confederate sympathizer, and one of his sons died as a Confederate soldier during the war. To be honest I am not a fan of James. I believe in none of the thing that he did, and do not respect his decision to back the Confederate traitors’ cause.
I guess that this makes the point that folks in the same family can have totally different beliefs from each other. No one in my Shaw family ever owned slaves. Of course, it doesn’t mean that they weren’t racists, but at least they didn’t own people.
One thought on “February 21, 1866 Letter James Shaw To a Brother”
Thank you for sharing this letter. I’m related to Nancy Sr., she’s my great aunt 4x. I am just now learning about the slavery and indentured servitude; I’m trying to wrap my head around everything they endured. I am grateful for all the sacrifices made and will make a mindful effort to acknowledge and honor them.
I found an interesting narrative when looking for more information about Theodosia Shaw and Christopher Rives; the information is on page 7 under the “Penelope Shackelford Rives” section, 1828-1847″
Click to access pha%20april%202011%20small%20for%20e-mail%20only.pdf
I also found some general insight about the time period from this Tennessee Genealogical Society’s “Ansearchin’ News”, it puts context into a new focus and mentions several families you’d be familiar with, throughout, highlighting ages 66-68, as an example.
Click to access Vol%2021%20No2%201974.pdf