These letters were contributed by Terry Cowan who is writting a book on the Matthews family. This is the family of Joseph W. Matthews, governor of Mississippi from 1848 to 1850. Joseph lived in Salem, Mississippi which at the time of the war was in Tippah County. It is now in Benton County near the Marshall County line west of Ashland and near Snow Lake. The Hamer's mentioned in the letters was another wealthy family who also lived in the Salem area. Joseph was on his way to see Jeff Davis about a position in the Confederacy when he stopped off at Palmetto, Georgia and suddenly and unexpectantly died.
These letters give an idea of what Mississippi was like in the reconstruction years immediately following the war. While the killing was over, times were still difficult. It also paints a not very pretty picture of race relations.
Terry has more information he plans to contribute and is seeking any information available on the Matthews family for his book. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please help him if you can.
The footnotes in the following letter were added by Terry Cowan.
19 November 1865
Letter from Samuel Matthews (1805-1875), a planter of Como, Panola Co., MS to his brother, Dr. Robert Lowrie Matthews (1814-1896), a physician, rancher, and Republican state legislator of Monterey Co., CA.
Como Panola cty Miss Nov. 19th 1865 Dr Brother Robert After a Silence of Several years forced upon us by the civil war which has raged in this country I resume our correspondence which I hope will not be interrupted again until it is Gods will to remove one or the other of us to another and a better world. My anxiety to hear Something from you in that far off land I presume is only equaled by yours to hear from us, Had I the power to draw a true picture of this once beautiful & Prosperous country and present it to you as it is or as it has been you could hardly reallize the truth, It has been the boast of our contrymen that the free institution and happy form of government adopted in america had placed us far in advance of other civilized nations, but this has proved a great delusion, man unrestrained by law is now what he was 4000 years ago, a tyrant, Our houses have been burned, including churches Masonic buildings & School houses, corn cribs & Gin houses etc, and Johns1 wheat was burned in the shock his fence and all out houses, leaving his corn which was in roasting ear to be destroyed by the stock, his waggon buggy harness plows & everything else that would burn was consumed by order of Genl Hatch, many others suffired more than he did, He has been so entirely broken up that he is living with his father in law Mr. Hamer2 he escaped unhurt, & his wife and little bobbie are both well, My other Son Robert3 went out as a private in May 1861 and having risen by promotion to the command of his company fought through the war under the world renowned Genl. Lee in Virginia he was twice slightly wounded but returned home safe. he is now in Philadelphia attending medical college not to be at home till next march, he is a Very Steady moral and religious young man he made profession of riligion in Virginia & was baptized in the rapidan a few weeks before the memorable battle of the wilderness and was in the hard fought battles from there to Petersburg.
But it is all over and we have lost all but our honor & many have lost that too, those who were most clamorous for war were the first to shirk from duty and with a few honorable exceptions, those who favored milder counsels but were forced into the struggle had the fighting to do, so true it is that the barking dog dont bite I have not been disappointed at the result, i am one of those that believe in an overruling providence God has often chastised nations for their sins and often he chose the Heathen round about to chastise his chosen people, as for instance the carrying the jews away captive to Babylon for 70 years but mark you one thing Babylon was afterwards utterly destroyed, so that it has never been inhabited to this day for her cruelties committed upon Gods people & such may be the fate of other nations yet the same just God reigns and exercises his Sovereign power over the nations now as then little as some think of it, We have plenty to eat and wear and I have no fears but that he who clothes the lilly and feeds the young ravens when they cry for food will supply all needful wants. The negroes I once owned are still with me but dont support themselves I shall not let them stay on my place longer than Christmas unless they will agree to work their idea of freedom is exemption from all work and plenty to eat, if we could be rid of them the country would be satisfied the institution of slavery was no favorite with me but I am clearly of the opinion that the two races cannot get along together unless the negro is subordinated to the white, tis natures law that the superior race must rule and rule they will, I was a member of the convention that amended our state constitution & could have been Senator from this district if I would but my health was not good, until lately I declined the honor, We heard through a letter from you to brother James4 that Sister Hannah5was dead, poor Sister hers was a bitter lot I hope she has found that peace in a better world that she never had in this, let me know all about her children, where they are and how they are doing also, let us know where brother John6 is, if alive and how he is getting along be also particular to write about your own family and prospects. how are are pleased with the country etc, I had a letter from Sister Nancy Stubblefield7 nearly a year ago, Jeff is dead & she is in bad health but she stated that they had plenty to go upon, Sister Issabella Nabors8 lives about 15 miles from us, doing well but in bad health - brother Andrew9 went to Texas early in the war and I have not heard from him since, Brother Jo.10 died at Palmetto Georgia during the war and his family is living at the same place, badly used up his disease was cholera morbus, it is said he died in hopes of a happy immortality, his son James11 is married and has one child, Bettie12 married a Mr. Strickland13 of Ripley, son of Hardy Strickland she has one child Any, Brother James E's family are well Sue is married to a Mr. Garvy has one child, Cousin mary you know married Doctor Barbee14 She has 5 smart children, all badly used up by the war they lived near the main road & of course suffered much, I perhaps lost less than any of the family, & I lost my waggon & team, nearly all my own clothes, all of Elizas15 in a manner but she recovered one trunk with some of her things & we got back part of our bedclothes, - but let things go we can live without them, but many families must suffer thee is no help for it.
Old Aunt McDaniel16 is still alive but cannot live much longer She is helpless My sheet is full now, if this gets through dont wait a day but answer it, direct to Como, that is my depot on the rail road, May God bless you and all my friends in California your Brother Saml. Matthews
1. John Evans Matthews, son of Samuel
2. The first wife of John Evans Matthews was Martha Louise Hamer of old Salem, Benton Co., MS
3. Robert Joseph Walter Matthews
4. James Evans Matthews, state legislator and state auditor of MS, well known preacher in the Christian Church of Crockett, Tate Co., MS
5. Hannah W. Matthews Carter Cullumber Campbell who moved to CA in 1853
6. John Hamilton Matthews, state legislator in CA and AZ
7. Nancy Matthews Stubblefield of Camp Co., TX
8. Issabella Matthews Nabers; Samuel's half sister of Lafayette Co., MS
9. Andrew Davis Matthews; Samuel's half brother of Arkansas Co., AR
10. Joseph Warren Matthews, former governor of MS
11. James Hamilton Matthews
12. Elizabeth Jane Matthews Stricklin Hamer
13. Walter Stricklin
14. Dr. William J. Barbee--noted Christian Church evangelist and educator
15. Eliza McDaniel Matthews--second wife of Samuel Matthews
16. Euphemia Houston McDonald, mother of Mrs. James E. Matthew--McDaniel and McDonald names used interchangably
26 July 1866
Letter from Samuel Matthews of Como, Panola Co., MS to his brother, Dr. Robert Lowrie Matthews of Monterey Co., CA
Como Depot Panola Cty Miss July 26th 1866 Dear Brother Robert, In the midst of the confusion and trouble growing out of the late civil war & the pressure of the times I have neglected write longer than I intended in reply to your long and interesting letter of the 28th of december last. I wrote to John some time ago which I suppose he has recd. before this, The health of all the connection is good so far as I know & I have information from all lately, I have just finished a letter to Sister Nancy Stubblefield She has moved to Montgomery county Texas, her post office is Montgomery She has rented out her place * intends selling it and speaks of moving back to this country next winter, She lost her little boy Jo last fall & from what she says they have had a great deal of Sickness in the last two years, her two boys Bob & Sam are living with her, Mary died in 1861 & Jeff died in 18621. She writes that She has plenty and seems hopeful for the future I had a tight Spell of cholera morbus a few weeks ago but am now well, I am working my old hands and have a tolerable crop I have about 70 acres in cotton & will make about 35 Bales I give the hands one half - they paying me for all their Supplies of food and clothing, I think I shall make as much as under the old system, the negroes will suffer more by this change than the whites, there are many women with families of children that cant get places Their course during the war has deprived this of the Sympathy of their former masters, I suppose the Yankees in order to get them to enlist told them that the lands of their masters would be divided amongst them, they gladly embraced the delusion and in some instances boasted of their anticipated plantations & refused to him for wages, under the delusion that we would soon be ousted in their favor I am Satisfied that mine had more money last winter than they will have after their debts are paid this next, I gave them 2 Bales of cotton which brought them over $500.00 and I paid all expenses.
The people in this State are well Satisfied with the Abolition of Slavery & could they be removed from amongst us no one would want them back in Slavery Our true policy now is to introduce white labor & thus increase the proportion of the white inhabitants. this will give a feeling of greater security against collisions that may occur when the black element preponderates, I was a member of the convention that amended our State constitution So as to conform to the proclamation of the president & I will be true to the oath imposed upon me to Support & uphold the proclamation and laws of congress in relation to slavery, but to forgive or forget the vandalism of the federal Government and it officers and soldiers in the prosecution of the war is another matter You ask me if we ever recd the wreath of hair work sent by my dear but unknown sister2. I answer yes, but that and every other memento of lost loved ones has gone to crown the triumph of the Conqueror, even the clothes of my deceased wife and daughters3 were distributed among negro wenches or sent home to the soldiers wives to wear But these things are past & I wish that I could forget them But I fear all is not over yet the course taken by the radical party at the north is not calculated to conciliate * while all good men north and south are laboring to pour oil on the troubled waters these agitators seems determined that the country shall not have pease nor will they rest till the Southern white man is reduced to a level with the negro, Our State will be represented in the great National Convention at Philadelphia & it is my earnest wish that the president may be sustained in his efforts to restore all the States to their former position in the Union, If that is done * Jeff Davis is set at liberty time will do the balance but if the South is to be ground down with taxation without representation, rules by Military, instead of Civil Law, our best citizens dragged before tyranical military tribunals unknown to the laws their property siezed and confiscated without even the form of law but in defiance of it with no reasonable hope of redress, why much as I dread war & much as I have suffered by it - it would be preferable to such a peace & sooner or later the fact will be established that a free people can only be governed by their consent, I still hope that wise counsels will prevail & that our whole country will again become prosperous & happy.
We are all trying to make Something this year & so far the cotton crop is promising and we expect a good price the corn crop will be light, but little has been planted and it has been neglected & in some neighborhoods it has been very dry Bro. James E.'s family is well & he is struggling as usual to live Sam is farming on the bottom & has a good crop Ben4 is living with him, Antony4 died in Memphis, after stealing several of his masters horses & mules which he sold to the Yankees he died a pauper, Suky4 died before the war, She had professed religion * joined the Baptist church some years before * gave fresh evidence that she was a true Christian, Bro Andrew is near his old place in Arkansas & badly broke He sold his land during the war for Confederate money went to Texas & only returned since the Summer I have not seen him but have heard from him sister Issa. & Jack Nabors are well & I am told has a fine crop - my son John is living with his father-in-law Mr. Hamer near Salem & has rented out his own place, he as a fine little boy, about 2 1/2 years old, & calls him Bob, My other son Robert was married this spring to a Miss Katie Partee of Memphis Her father is a large Merchant of that city and has considerable means Robert is now out on business for the house & will spend the summer riding for it in Miss & Arkansas, his wife weighs 96 pounds & is an amiable little girl but has much to learn about housekeeping, Sister Mat & Jim5 are cultivating the farm, with some 12 hands Strickland that married Bette6 is practicing law in Coahoma county & farming & doing will, Jim Hamer that married Sallie7 is farming.
In giving an account of your
children I was pleased with one thing & that was their fondness for
Books I am now what may be called an old man & have been a close observer
of men and I have never known any man to arrive at distinction without
this method of cultivating the mind, I care not whether your child go to
school or not if he reads every good book he can get there is no adverse
circumstances can hold him down, "Knowledge is poer" But in these times
care ought to be taken to supply children with the right kind of books
- an inordinate thirst for reading novels is injurious, while I would not
deprive young people entirely from this class of books I would not encourage
it, life is made up of realities & thence good substantial books such
as History, Moral philosophy travels etc should occupy most of our time
But above all read the Bible, it teaches how to live & how to die,
it is the only Book that God has given to us, It molds his character by
his dealings with the children of men & what is of most importance
it explains how God can ge just and yet justify the believer in his son,
in a word it teaches us the great plan of Salvation through Jesus Christ,
- I know that to the unregenarate man or woman it is a dry uninteresting
book, but to the true Christian it is a source of unfailing joy he can
"Book of all the Books the best
"Give me this above all the rest
"Other Books may lead astray
"This one never will betray"
I fear I never will have the pleasure of seeing any of my dear Nephews or Nieces in that far off land but may I not indulge the hope of hearing that they have not only grown up to be useful men and women but that they have also become believers in Jesus & while struggling manfully to make a name and a reputation in life may also lay up for themselves treasures in heaven I have for some time never went to my bed without Supplication our heavenly fathers blessing, and I never forget to plead with God that he would remember and bless my dear friends that are perhaps separated from me forever? I will not Say forever, for I trust we will meet again if not here in this vale of tears, in a better and purer world, when the wicked cease from troubling John in his last letter spoke of moving to Arizona on account of the difficulty of getting land in California It strikes me that if he should break up and move at all he had better return to Texas or to Mississippi, at the present price of cotton, no business pays so well as raising cotton, and the extinction of Slavery must very much reduce the amount to be made & hence it is probably the price will continue to range high for some years at present prices one hand can make 6 or 700 dollars a year and corn & stock enough to do him, good land well improved can be had for $10. per acre, I think Sister nancy will move back this winter - Well my sheet and a half is about full and must come to a close, I trust to hear from you Soon and that your health is getting better, give my love to Bro. John & his family to you and yours I send the assurance of unallenable affection May God bless you all Farewell
1. Mary Stubblefield Campbell of Camp Co., TX, daughter of Nancy Matthews Stubblefied, and Jefferson L. Stubblefield of Camp Co., TX, formerly of Hardeman Co., TN and Tishomingo Co., MS, husband of Nancy Matthews Stubblefield.
2. Maria "Mary" Gunnels Tenbrassen Matthews, Norwegian-born 2nd wife of Dr. Robert Lowrie Matthews of Monterey Co., CA
3. Jane McDaniel Matthews (1805-1859), Elizabeth Ann Matthews Boyce (1833-1866), and Mary Jane Matthews (1841-1859), all buried Fredonia Cem., Como, Panola Co., MS.
4. House servants, and before the war, the only slaves of the James E. Matthews family; mentioned often in prewar family correspondence.
5. Probably reference to Martha Ann Jones Davis Matthews, widow of Gov. Joseph Warren Matthews, and son, James Hamilton Matthews.
6. Walter Strickland, formerly of Ripley, who married Elizabeth Jane "Bettie" Matthews, daughter of Gov. Joseph W. Matthews.
7. Sarah Caroline "Sallie" Matthews, daughter of
Gov. Joseph W. Matthews, who married James G. Hamer of Old Salem.
19 September 1867
Letter from Samuel Matthews of Como, Panola Co., MS to his brother, John Hamilton Matthews of the Arizona Territory
Panola county, State of Mississippi (so called)
Sept. 19th 1867 Dear Brother, I recievd your long and very affectionate letter from Arizona in due time & ought to have answered it sooner but I neglected it at the time & then the troubles of our country have so thickened upon us that I hv hoped to see some hope in the future before I would write, It has always been painful for me to dwell or think upon misfortunes - within the past Spring and Summer I have had two severe attacks of rheumatism but now am in good health Eliza is also. Well, we have no white persons on the place but ourselves - I have about 20 negroes all but one of my former slaves, still with me working my farm on the shares but neither they or myself are making more than a bare support, they will not work unless they are down to it & I have no power to compel them, we have the Bureau agents all through the country that encourage them to insubordination and illness, and the negro still clings to the belief that the government will divide the land among them they are now allowed to vote & being in the majority a negro government in Mississippi is certain there is no hope for this coutry unless the reaction that has just manifested itself in California should be general in the North & West Brother James E died on the 29th of June the family neglected to send for me untill it was too late and although I got there some two hours before he died he could not speak I learn that he met his fate as a Christian thus one by one our family is pasing away to the Spirit land, & soon it will be our fate to follow, I feel that I have the assurance that by the grace of God, I shall pass through the valley and shadow of death fearing no evil.
I recd. a letter from Sister nancy a day or two ago, She is going to start to move back to her place in Upshur county about the first of next month they have had a good deal of sickness in Montgomery cty, & this has determined her to move back, She says you must quit that wild Indian country & come to Texas.
I have heard nothing from Robert since you wrote and as his health was bad I fear he is dead if you have had any thing from him let me know immediately, Brother Andrew was to see me this las spring he is dissatisfied with ARKANSAS & intends coming back to Mississippi this fall, Sister Issa was over to see us a few weeks past read your letter and requested to be remembered kindly to you She had Brother Alexrs. oldest & only daughter with her about grown & a modest pretty girl. - It is now bed time, I will resume tomorrow - if I should live to see tomorrow I resume my pen this morning to finish my letter, today is very hot & dry and the cotton is opening very fast, The worms have eat all the leaves off, & injured the prospects seriously I have a good crop of corn & potatoes & have commenced gathering corn - but we have to work under great difficulties - I want to either rent out my place hereafter or get some industrious young man to work with my hands in the future, I wish you would come back to this country It is our only hope here to hold out inducements for an increase of white population - there is a general feeling among our people to cease to depend on negro labor, to build up manufactures and as soon as possible cease to export raw cotton but work it up at home If the abolition of Slavery shall tend to change the direction of our labor it will prove to us a blessing & work the ruin of the north for they cannot compete successfully with the Southern manufactures
I dont know how often I have been stopped since I began this letter and it is now the 24th & I will bring it to conclusion this time I must say something about Brother Jos. family, his widow has married Esqr. Taylor in Shelby county Tenn. an excellent old Gentelman & was rich before the war, Jim is on the old place trying to wind up his fathers business but will never do it he has no business qualifications. but is a good boy and smart but wild. Jo Warren is in Kentucky at School and took first honors at the examination this Summer Jim Hamer has come to hard work. Bettie Stricklin lives at Fryars Point Coahoma county & is doing well I want you to let me know all about your own Son and sister Hannah's children & make an effort to come and see us once before I die - You would enjoy yourself here for a while very much
I had William Dougherty to stay all night a week ago you ought to remember him in Hardeman county he was our nearest neighbor for some time he is now an old hard Shell Baptist preacher
I have a letter to write tonight to Sister nancy so I will close May God Keep and bless you and all yours is my prayr
23 May 1868
Letter from Robert Joseph Walter Matthews of Memphis, TN to his uncle, Dr. Robert Lowrie Matthews of Monterey Co., CA
Memphis, Tennessee May 23rd 1868 Robert L. Matthews, Esq Dear Uncle - You will no doubt feel surprised to get a letter from your nephew and namesake who has never had the pleasure of seeing you but once and that was when you was on a visit to see us at jackson Miss. many years ago. I was then a small boy but think I have not forgotten your features yet - I have grown to be a man and am now almost a middle aged one being in my 29th year - I was a student until the year before the late ware - In 1860 I attended to Pa's farm for him - In May 1861 I left home for the Army amongst the first volunteers from the State of Miss - I belonged to the 12th Miss. Infantry which served under Genl R.E. Lee through the war. I was in about 25 battles and was so fortunate as to be only wounded three times and each time only slightly - I became very tired of the great struggle before it ended but never thought the cause for which we fought wrong and dont think so yet: but would now be as loyal as anybody if I was only permitted to be: but here in Tennessee our pious Governor Revs W. G. Brownlaw has managed to have all Rebels disfranchised and to have the negroes enfranchised & made rules over their former masters - I have voted only once since the war and then in Miss. Although belonging to a political family, I take very little part in political matters, being content to attend my own little affairs and let corrupt politicians take care of the government for I cant help myself anyway - Well Uncle Robt the war left me almost penniless and I have been working hard ever since to make a rise in the world. I have been in Memphis about 18 months with the Commission house of Partee McGehee & Co. I married the daughter of Mr. Partee something over two years ago - We have been doing a large business but not a very profitable one owing to the bankrupt condition of the country generally - The condition instead of becoming better seems to be growing worse all the time. Times were never so dull her before - never so little money -so little trade and so many untenanted houses - Rents are coming down and taxes going up - Every one complains of dull times and many are seeking homes in other regions - A great many young men from this place have gone out North West within the last few months - they stop generally on the Union Pacific RR. I have an idea to go out ther soon on a tour of inspection and if I like the country will move out. I was always very fond of my old home and boyhood associations: but I can see but little hope for this country now - The negro wont work and we have not and I fear never will have white labor sufficient to till the soil - immigrants are afraid of Dixie and well they may be under the present regime - The capitalist in search of a place to invest his capital will never come to a country so impoverished and downtrodden as ours: but to change the subject: I was down in Mississippi a few days since and saw my father and brother. Pa had been suffering a good deal with Neuralgia & Rheumatism but was then looking tolerably well - he has broken very much within the last few years - he is farming in 5 miles of Sardis Depot on the Miss & Tenn RR and had when I left him a very good prospect for a crop - He is getting on very smoothly and takes the world as easy as almost anyone - I received a letter from him yesterday in which he said he was well - My brother John is living near Senatobia Depot on Miss & T. RR which is his post office - John is a good farmer and is making good support. he has tow children - one named for me and the other for my wife. They are very sprightly and promising children - John and his family are all well - Uncle Evan's family was well with the exception of Saml. who is afflicted with chronic Rheumatism of a very severe character - I think it will finally kill him - Uncle Joe's oldest son James H. is a smart young man but very reckless and unpromising - a perfect spendthrift and I am told bets at "Keno" and other games - Joe the younger son is very steady and I think a young man of promise - he is studying law or will soon - My own family consists of myself wife and one child - a daughter 18 months old - she is a very promising child her name is Sallie - named for my wife's sister - my wife is 22 years old is said by our relatives to be the prettiest one of the Matthews family out here - she is an accomplished lady, not in education only: but is naturally fond of home and of performing the every day duties of a good wife - She is a very good cook: but is almost too light for washing, her weight being only about 100 pounds - she is very healthy, cheerful and very devoted to my relatives - should as well as myself like for you to enjoy the hospitality of our little home - Are you ever coming back to see us? Write me a long letter soon and tell me all about your country and my relatives there - My best love to them all -
Robt. J. W. Matthews Address me in care of Partee McGehee & Co., Memphis, Tennessee
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