1842: Alonzo Flack to Nathan Henry Bitely

This letter was transcribed directly from the internet where I found it offered for sale on e-bay in October 2011.

Delia Webster (lower left) and her sisters

The author of this letter was 21 year-old Alonzo Flack (1823-1885) whose parents were James H. Flack (1791-1873) and Jane Randle (1798-1828). After teaching select schools such as this one in Fincastle, Virginia, Flack attended Union College in New York State and graduated in 1849. By 1850, Alonzo had become affiliated with the Methodist church and in 1854 he was appointed the Principal of Claverack College and Hudson River Institute in Claverack, New York.

The recipient of the letter was Nathan Henry Bitely (1822-1884), the son of Joseph Loadman Bitely (1785-1858) and Laurilla Durkee (1801-1882). He was a graduate of the Balleston Springs Law School who came to Paw Paw, Michigan in 1851 and later Lawton, Michigan. He served in the State Senate as a Republican, but devoted most of his career to horticulture.

In his letter, Flack mentions the case of Delia Webster, the preceptress of the Lexington Female Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky who was arrested in the fall of 1844 for aiding in the escape of a black family into the Ohio underground railroad.


[Addressed to Mr. N. H. Bitely, Argyle, New York]

Fincastle, Va.
July 26th 1842

Dear Friend,

A few days since I received yours of the 13th & with pleasure take the early opportunity to answer it. I expected you would never find a soft seat unless you got it in a law office. But human nature is such that no seat suits long. I imagine next you will think the Judge’s bench better cushioned than your own. His office not being popular enough, you will then want to cross around those marble pillars at Washington. And who knows, but take the consort with you & reside in the white house. Friend, all I care to say is in the language of Col. [Davy] Crocket, “[Be sure that you are right, and then] Go Ahead.”

I was not a little pleased with your laconic description of old Argyle. You even went so far as to say there was some gossiping in town. For my life I cannot see what need you had of telling that. When you told me there had been three or four lawyers come in the town, the only consequent that could result would be in the first place gossiping & before I shall reach home, there should be “suit of slander in every family” it would not appear strange to me. The lawyers now in town exceed the preachers & I expect the law suits will exceed the sermons.

But let us to the business of this letter. You wish to know what would be your chance for making a living in this part of the country. In my opinion, you can get a school any place you have a mind to go south. After one term, if you do well, you can get almost any wages you wish to ask. At first you may have to put up with nearly the same wages you would get in N. York. As for myself, this term I clear thirty dollars per month & only teach twenty days for a month. I told them last spring if they did not make me up a school worth that, I would not stay and they soon made it up. My school will not average more than 23 schollars. You know it is not as hard labour to us if there were fifty.

The Southern people are kind & hospitable. I have not been homesick since I have been here. I would not advise you to come where I am. The people are generally more wealthy east of the Blue Ridge [Mountains] and among the wealthy is the best chance for schools. I shall leave here as soon as this term closes for home & if I should return south again, I would not come here. This is a difficult place to get to or from. I am surrounded by mountains. I would advise you by all means to go far back into the south & not to settle yourself near the free states. In such places there is so much injury carried on by abolitionists that all Northerners are suspected & you [have] seen what suspicion does to Miss [Delia] Webster away back in Lexington, Kentucky. I would advise any one coming South to come to East Virginia, Tennessee, or North Carolina. If you feel an inclination to come when I am , I will do all in my power (I must say it (for there is no one to say for me), that I am quite popular here as a teacher.

I close this in haste as I have an opportunity now for sending  it to the office. Any further information you may want, write and I will give it to you. Remember me to all my fellow students & that worthy teacher. Also those worthy citizens who may enquire. I remain, your friend, — A. Flack


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