Monday, March 15, 2010

The transcript of Samuel Meeker's letter to Gen James Winchester; Philadelphia 1804

Philadelphia 27 December 1804
Cragfont, Tennessee
Gen James Winchester


Enclosed I send you a list of the article of slaves & heading with their value here

I would think they would sell well in Orleans.
They leave for Domingo in stowing depots and to file up where other freight cannot be had and answer to export to most of the ports in Europe as well as the West Indies. If you can deliver them at Orleans at 1/3d less than they are worth here I should consider this always safe. Cotton continues about the same as stated in my former advice

Your obed[ient] Serv[ant]
Samuel Meeker

[Letter pictured at bottom, I have transcribed it here to the best of my ability! Corrections accepted. "List of slaves" is no longer existent.]

NO typewriter, no house address, no envelope, with a Philadelphia hand stamp, the letter is addressed only to “General James Winchester, Cragfont, Tennessee”. While daily mail delivery to the home is taken for granted today, it was a different matter in the early 1800s. During the 1700s and 1800s postal carriers traveled long distances on rough roads to scattered post offices, from Philadelphia a letter took 32 days to reach Kentucky and 44 days to reach Tennessee. Mail runs would normally be made once a week and follow a route of selected towns that were established by bids; Cragfont was not a town but simply the name of Winchester’s house. It can be assumed that everyone in the nearby region knew of James Winchester and his brother George.... “Both moved to the Tennessee country by 1785 and immediately became active in frontier government and military service. George was ambushed and killed by Chickasaw Indians in 1794, but James prospered. He added to his land holdings, built mills, and established trade in tobacco and other products with merchants in New Orleans and several eastern cities. In 1802 he built a spacious home, "Cragfont," which was described by a contemporary as "the most elegant house west of the Appalachians." American National Biography Online

The land of Chickasaw Bluffs in Tn was bought by Andrew Jackson, John Overton and James Winchester and a land company was formed. Thereby was Winchester a co-founder of the City of Memphis.

"Cragfont," described as "the most elegant house west of the Appalachians."
The question arises, just how deeply was Meeker involved in the slave trade, or was this just one transaction among many, involving a variety of products including cotton, tobacco, lumber, etc smoothed by trade information/funds provided by Meeker to Winchester in this instance?
I will be taking a look at Samuel Meeker’s career.....what provided his start in the world of finance in Philadelphia at this time?
Click on the letter for an incredible, close-up view of this historic document postulating "how well they will sell." How do I feel, that my ancestor should write such words? Sad. It is troubling. But I believe that he was not involved in the trade. The letter is important in that it shows the depth of the rot, how even the most respectable of citizens spoke of these men and women as if they were chattel...
For those of you who are interested in German, note the form of the double 's' in the word 'less' ["If you can deliver them at Orleans at 1/3d less than they are worth" & in "Tennessee"]. This form of double 's', called Eszett or ß, is still used in the German language, and it is very interesting to see it being used here in English. (ß ...gesprochen Eszett oder scharfes S)


Maureen said...

Fascinating, thank you for the transcription, I'd think when you started this blog you probably didn't expect to come across this.

Rouchswalwe said...

Fascinating. And to think that letters meant so much more because that's all there was ... no phones, etc. We're so spoiled nowadays.

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