1838: Samuel Wilson, Jr. to Hart Barker

Grave marker of Deacon Samuel Wilson and his wife Anna Moody in Harwinton, CT

This letter was transcribed from the internet in March 2011 when it was offered for sale on e-Bay. It was written by Samuel Wilson, Jr. (1805-1878) from Marion, Perry County, Alabama in 1838 while residing there and attempting to earn a living as a farmer. Samuel grew up in Harwinton, Litchfield County, Connecticut — a good friend of Hart Barker (born 7 September 1812), the recipient of this letter. Hart Barker was the son of Ephraim Barker (born @ 1782) and Huldah Hine (1785-1840).

Samuel Wilson, Jr. was the son of Deacon Samuel Wilson (1783-1866) and his wife Anna Moody of Harwinton, Connecticut. Samuel was the son of Eli Wilson (1740-1821) and Midwell Scoville (1741-1820).

Grave marker of Samuel Wilson and Julia Baldwin

It appears that Samuel Wilson, Jr. gave up farming in Alabama as he was enumerated in the 1850 Census back in Harwinton, Litchfield County, Connecticut with his wife Julia Baldwin (1805-1876). Living in the same household was 35 year-old Sophronia Barker — a younger sister of Hart Barker, suggesting that Wilson and Barker were somehow related. Samuel and Julia Wilson had three children but they all died quite young. The eldest was Cornelia (mentioned in this letter) who was born in April 1835 and died in October 1836. The second eldest was Albert George (mentioned as an infant in this letter) who was born in November 1837 and died in April 1839. The third child was Samuel, born in September 1842 and died in January 1846. Samuel and Julia Wilson are buried in North Cemetery in Harwinton, Connecticut. The Lewis Wilson mentioned in this letter residing with Samuel and Julia in Marion, Alabama in 1838 is thought to have been a nephew of the couple. The 17 year-old Lewis (who would have been about 5 or 6 years old at the time of this letter) appears in the 1850 census records living in the household of Abel Beardsley, a merchant in Harwinton, Connecticut.


Mr. Hart Barker
Harwinton, Litchfield County, Connecticut

Marion [Perry County, Alabama]
October 2d 1838

Dear Friends,

I have just returned from the [post] office from which I received Brother Heart’s kind and affectionate letter of the 3d September and now sit myself to answer it. You in the first place speak of time and distance being long since you have seen or heard from your friends in Marion. It has, to be sure, been something over four years since I saw any of you when we come to make the close calculation, but the time seems short to me. One season passes away, and another cometh on. And so after a few more seasons at the best time will be no more and dear brother & friends, I do hope to meet you all in that celestial city above where parting will be no more. Go on then to seek and know of Grace and love divine and let us so live and walk while sojourners here beloved that we may all arrive safely at where Jesus is and there we all shall write in singing his praises throughout eternal ages.

It is not probable that we all shall see each others faces here below or even enjoy each others society while seated around your father’s fire side. I can call to my recollections scenes that now afford me much pleasure and satisfaction when I but think of time that I used to be with you in the south room and talk over things in general until the clock would tell that it was time to retire and you would leave me and my heart’s desire to sit and chat about this and then about that. But those days are past. And you and I are separated in distant lands and a distance that will not allow us to travel often.

I am happy to say to you that we are all in comfortable health and have been during this season. Our little son Albert George has been in rather a dangerous situation for six or eight days past but has got much better. His disease was something like the bloody flux. His stool was often and bloody. We think him out of danger. He is the complete picture of our little Cornelia. He has been very fleshy all summer and healthy. Should he get on this, he will run about by the time that he is a year old.

And as for Lewis, he has got to be a man in some things. He, perhaps, is one of the finest boys to learn that you ever seen. He can read in the New Testament very well, has been to school all summer and we have a fine school. He attends the Female Academy where there is about 80 ladies and whom have a fine instructor. We also have a Male Academy of about the same number of students there and then we have a Manual Labor Institution 3 miles from town that flourishes.

[My wife,] Julia, I think grows handsome in her old age. You know she used to look not quite so well as some of them. But she is coming out at last. This county suits her. She enjoys good health and is contented although she says she would like to visit her friends of convenient.

We can make no predictions when we shall see Harwinton, if ever. Our crop of cotton is short. We have a very dry season. The corn is good, it being made before the dry season came on. It has been unusually hot and dry this season but little sickness through the county in general. You speak of sending your letter by W. Webster. I received it by mail. Mr. Webster has not yet arrived but I look for him this evening.

Give our love to all who may see fit to inquire and those who do not. You need not give yourself any trouble in a particular manner. I wish you would remember us to Uncle & Aunt Andrew [?]. Request them to write us without fail and do write yourselves often. I hope you will excuse me for being so neglectful in writing. I received a letter from [my] brother James [Wilson] last week in Illinois – the first that I have heard of it. Am some what surprised to think father Wilson has not wrote me. Hope you will request him to write.

In haste, — Saml Wilson, Jr.


It isn’t clear from this letter which of the two Female Academy’s that had been established in Marion, Alabama by 1838 Samuel Wilson is referring to. One academy, established in 1835/6 was The Marion Female Seminary. The other, established in 1838 — the year this letter was written — was called the Judson Female Institute. Given that “80 Ladies” were attending the academy, according to Wilson, it is my assumption that Lewis Wilson was attending the former institution which was already well established.

The Manual Labor School appears to have been sponsored by the Baptists and was operated from about 1833 to 1839. Eventually the Baptists started Howard University (1842) in Marion, Alabama.

By 1840, Perry County Alabama was a major cotton-raising area, producing in excess of 25,000 bales per year. 1838 was probably not a bumper year for cotton, however. In fact, the great drought in the Southeastern US was one of the worst in recorded history. The financial panic of 1837 and the 1838 drought may have ruined Samuel Wilson and prompted him to give up farming. In later years, his occupation is given as “merchant.”

The “bloody flux” was another name for dysentery — severe diarrhea caused by a bacterial infection in the large colon introduced by food and water contaminated by fecal matter. It was a leading cause of death in infants.

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