This letter was written by Courtney Baker to his older half-brother Fisher Amos Baker. They were the sons of Alpheus Baker (1780-1857), who was born at Athol, Massachusetts — the son of Sherebiah and Clotilda (Daniels) Baker. Alpheus was a Dartmouth College classmate of Daniel Webster in the graduating class of 1801. Afterward, he went to Barlow County, Alabama where he found employment as a teacher. He somehow obtained a fortune, possibly through his marriage in 1820 to Eliza H. Courtney (1800-18xx), a native of Ireland, and retired to the Clover Hill Plantation in Abbeville County, South Carolina in 1820. Alpheus’ first wife was the daughter of Capt. Dennis of Newport, Rhode Island, who was the mother of Fisher A. Baker.
Fisher Amos Baker (1815-Aft1880) married Mary Ann White (1822-Aft1880) on 28 February 1839. Fisher and family appear in the 1860, 1870, and 1880 census records residing on the Abbeville Plantation of his father.
Nothing further could be found on Courtney Baker, the author of this letter, who must have been born about 1822. My assumption is that he either died before 1850, or he went by his initials, or a different name (Courtney likely being his middle name) in later life. We learn from this letter that he had other siblings, including Thomas Baker — then residing in Mississippi — who was probably an older, half-brother, like Fisher. A sister named Julia Baker, a brother named Alpheus Baker (b. 1825), a brother named Paul DeLacy Baker (b. 1830), and a sister named Ellen Baker (b. 1835?) also resided at the Clover Hill Plantation with Courtney; all I believe being younger. Alpheus and “DeLacy” would have successful professional careers as a lawyer and a physician, respectively. Both made their home in Eufaula, Alabama before the Civil War but Alpheus would eventually move to Louisville, Kentucky. Both served the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War; Alpheus rising to the rank of Brig. General and Delay as an Army Surgeon in a hospital near his residence in Eufaula.
The letter contains an interesting reference to squirrel hunting competitions, one of which resulted in the killing of as many as 837 squirrels in Abbeville County. There is also a reference to the popular ballad of Davy Crockett and Pompey Smash which first appeared in 1834. Courtney also mentions the names of three Clover Hill Plantation slaves — Grany, Millibby, and her newborn, Lucy.
Addressed to Mr. Fisher A. Baker, Charleston, South Carolina
Politeness of W. A. Wardlaw
Abbeville [South Carolina]
August 1st 1839
I must apologize to you for not writing to you before but the fact is I know not what apology to make up unless you will receive laziness. Besides, you know the longer a person puts off a thing, the worse he hates to do it. But I am determined not to neglect writing to you as I promised I would and as I know you would not forgive me if I did not.
We are all quite well here and hope you and yours are the same. Is it true the Yellow Fever is raging in town? They have issued so many false reports that I do not know when to believe them. Tell me if you see George Moore and whether he is well. His mother is frightened nearly to death about him and has written for him to come up. But I hope the report is ungrounded. Do you know whether Uncle’s family is well? I wrote to Aunt but have not received an answer.
Our crop is exceedingly prosperous this year. We have had very fine seasons and it has been worked well (no overseer). Most everyone round is suffering dreadfully for want of rain. Some down below have not had (until lately) even the water to stand in the furrows since they planted it. Therefore, corn will be very high this year – from $1.00 to $1.25 per bushel. The wheat crops, however, have been exceedingly fine. There was never such a plentiful crop known before and wheat is cheaper than corn now. I expect you have very little of the situation of the farmers and care not much to know about them now. But persons in the country have nothing else to talk of.
I brought up the little rifle, which I told you Uncle had in town. It kills very far on account of the barrels being steel, shoots extremely true, and I have killed a good many squirrels with it. There was a big squirrel hunt yesterday and the day before to which I belonged and hunted in. The barbeque was today but I did not go on account of its raining and having some other business to attend to. And I do not know whether our side beat or not. The last hunt they had (last week), they killed 837 squirrels – a pretty good number. I wish you could have been here. You would have made the bark fly round their heads worse than old Davy Crockett did with Pompey Smash.
Father has given vacation since the first of July and school has just commenced today, August 1st. Alpheus went over into Georgia on a visit to Mr. Whalan (the priest) and to Mrs. Caatins and some other friends in Warrenton (Mr. Thompson has moved to Alabama). We expected him back to days ago, as that was the time on which he would be positively back, and that nothing would detain him but sickness. This is the third day and we have not heard from him. Ma is a good deal alarmed and is afraid that he is really sick. But I think that if anything is the matter, he has lost his way as he rode horseback.
Julia plays beautifully on the piano (she is playing now). So does Alpheus. Oh! how I wish you could come up here even for ever so short a time. How happy we would all be to see you and Mrs. Baker. Do come if you possibly can. Ellen has grown so that you would hardly know her. She talks very often of you and asks me what kind of a looking little woman (for I have told them what a small one she really is) your wife is, and if she looks like Ma. DeLacy has grown to be a fine, hearty, blustering fellow and ready to fight as ever.
Grany talks of you incessantly and is dying to see you; so also all the negroes. Millibby has another fine boy. She named the girl Lydia.
I saw a man a few days ago (I have forgotten his name) that saw Brother Thomas in Mississippi about a month ago. He was living with his Brother-in-law, Mr. Leslie. He kept the market had made a fine crop and got another baby all quite well. When will you be able to say all that for yourself.
Father is waiting for me to go out to ride Bachus, which I do every evening. He has thrown every one else that has attempted to ride him and I expect my turn will come next. But he has tried very hard for it and failed so he has thought he might as well be gentle as he gets nothing for his trouble but the hickory in abundance.
One and all desire their best love to you and sister. Father desires his best respects to you and your lady and hopes to receive a letter from you in answer to the many which he has written to you. You know that he is your Father and therefore you should write to him. Give my love to sister Mrs. White & Mrs. M___ and all the rest of my friends not neglecting [paper torn] pretty my_____ Mary. You know who. And receive the same from your affectionate brother, — Courtney
P. S. Excuse bad writing as I am in a great hurry and bad pen. I am saving the peach stones for you. Julia has just brought me up some. The tree out in the middle field is all broke down.
A record found in the Sacramental Register of the Church of the Purification of the Blessed Mary has an entry in 1824 that reads:
Married on the 6th of September at Mr. John Cratins of Fishing Creek, Alphues Baker to Eliza H. Courtany both of Abbeyville Witnesses R___ E. Sweeney & John Cratin. The above A. Baker & H. Courtney had been previously married before a magistrate upwards of two years, according to the laws of South Carolina. + J. B. C.