1852: Julia Caroline (Lyle) Piper to Henry Matthew Lyle & William H. Lyle

Presented here are two separate letters written by Julia Caroline (Lyle) Piper (1824-1871) to her younger brothers, Henry Matthew Lyle (1837-????) and William H. Lyle (1829-1865). Julia was the wife of Archibald Rutherford Piper (1822-1892), a farmer in Washington County, Tennessee, who was assisted in his farming by a small number of slaves.

Jonesborough, Tennessee in 1857

The first letter was written in late January 1852; the second letter in mid April 1852. From the contents of the first letter, it seems safe to assume that Henry Matthew Lyle was attending Emory & Henry College in Emory, Virginia. He would have been about 15 years old at the time. His 22 year-old brother William H. Lyle, the recipient of the second letter, was also attending the college [he appears as a student at E&H College in the 1850 Census].

Although the April letter was not dated, I have determined that it was written in 1853 based upon Julia’s mentioning the recent marriage of Thomas Sims Gillespie and Nancy (Brown) Harvey which occurred on 29 March 1853. Also, Julia mentions the Odd Fellows Female Academy which operated in Jonesborough, Tennessee and county records indicate it did not begin operation until 1852.


[Letter addressed to Mr. Henry M. Lyle, Emory, Virginia and postmarked Jonesborough, January 29, 1852]

Sweet Home
January 25, 1852

Dear Brother,

I received your very welcome letter a few days ago and was glad to hear you was pleased with your new home and hope you may learn fast and do well. Try and have all the students [be] your friends. Be good and kind to them all and try to imitate the good and get the papers to say you are one of the best boys on the hill. You might try and learn something new every day and not do during the day what you cannot at night say was right.

We are all well.  Ma and [your little brother] “Charley” were here yesterday. Ma will send you a trunk soon. Jonathan Tucker is married. Everything goes on in the old way at home. We have had very cold weather and snow on the ground ever since you went away. I have moved my stove in the house and got on very well. The children want to see you very much. Charles does too.

Jacob’s legs has got worse again.

I have got on a big fat turkey cooking. I wish you and William were here to eat some of it. But you might to be at school and I will not complain. You must take good care of yourself and not get sick and keep in good heart. Don’t leave the college without asking William if you may go. Keep the best of company all the time. Write often and tell us how you get along. Give my love to William and accept the same. Don’t get homesick. Excuse this as it is written in haste on my lap.

Farewell, your affectionate sister, — Julia C. Piper

P.S. I must praise you for your neat, clean letter and good writing.


[Addressed to Mr. Matthew H. Lyle, Emory, Virginia, postmarked Jonesborough, TN]

Sweet Home, [Jonesborough, TN 18 April 1853]

Dear Brother,

I have been a long time answering your letter but you must excuse me. I have been so busy making garden and tending to hens & chickens and there is no news of much interest, I believe. We are all well. Mr. Piper is done sewing oats and wants to try & plant a little corn next week. They are still sewing at the river yet and are not done the boats yet. John has been sick. I have not heard for several days how he is. Mr. Piper has gone down there today.

[Our brother] Cyrus is still swapping horses once and a while. He has had 6 or 7 since you went away and is cheated every time. Most he always gives boot. Kitt has a fine colt a few days old. It is a pretty little thing. [Our brother] Charley wants it but ma holds on to it. Old Maria has one too.

The Baptist have set up a school in town against the other academy and have a caused a great excitement about town. [The pastor, William] Cate & [others] among them have rode steady to get scholars. They have 26. The other teacher has not come yet for the academy. The odd fellows have the female academy & the masons the male. The masons have their school going now. They have a very good school. Their teacher’s name is Davies. The railroad is going ahead fast down the way.

Some of the negros have been sick. Little Sally Lyle has been nearly dead with the acute rheumatism lately & cannot stand to walk alone yet. Ben is at work on the road. Lizzie got a letter from Will. Came not long ago. He was well & he said he looked better, felt better, and was doing better than ever in his life.

The stage run away Tuesday before day in town from [Dr. Daniel] Kinney’s to [John] Simpson’s [hotel and] stable & threw out a man – a stranger – and run over his head. He was carried to Dr. Kinney’s & had not [yet] spoken when we heard from him yesterday or knew anything since no one knew him. Dr. [William P.] Chester was in [the stage] too, just getting home from Washington City. He stayed in [the stage] and was not hurt. The horses wanted to get to the stable. The driver had got off & left them.

Ma has sent Louis up to Uncle Tom Youngs to stay & see if uncle can cure him. Nancy Harvey & Gelaspie [Thomas S. Gillespie] are married at last and old Good and Betts Maginis. You must write soon again & not wait for me. Take good care of yourself & do your best. June will soon be here. Farewell for this time.

Your affectionate sister, – Julia C. Piper


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