James i want you toe rite toe all the boies and toe tell them that if tha node how glad it make thaire old mother tha wod rite often if tha cod here the prairs that she send toe wards them tha wod rite Jim it wod of mad the hairs rais one youre hed and the tears run from youre ies to a sene youre ant whe she got the letr from you it was [day?] here so i was in the field and i did not no what was the matr so i wont you tae give me thaire post ofies and i will rite turn toe them whether tha will or not tell theme if tha cant git ink and papr i will send theme sum i cant say i will leave here this fall or not So i will Sa i don’t want toe stay here but it is put on me toe take care of mi old mother and if god will and nable me toe i will doe it with the graits of plears god bing mi helpr i hop and trust at mi brathers and sisters and cusen and all fo mi friends will rite soon and faire not toe rite

A Caldwell         James


[See image scans of the original letter]

Translation:

James, I want you to write to all the boys and to tell them that if they knew how glad it made their old mother they would write often. If they could hear the prayers that she sends towards them, they would write. Jim, it would have made the hairs raise on your head and the tears run from your eyes to have seen your Aunt when she got the letter from you. It was [day] here so I was in the field, and I did not know what was the matter. So I want you to give me their post office [address] and I will write [in] turn to them. Whether they will or not, tell them if they can’t get ink and paper, I will send them some. I can’t say I will leave here this fall or not, so I will say [that] I don’t want to stay here. But it is put on me to take care of my old mother, and if God will enable me to, I will do it with the greatest of pleasure, God being my helper. I hope and trust that my brothers and sisters and cousin and all of my friends will write soon and fear not to write.

Analysis:

Since this letter was in the possession of descendants of Sharrard and Rachel Fulton Caldwell, it could be assumed that it was written to James Leander Caldwell, their son–however, this letter was written sometime after the end of the Civil War and before the death of Betsy in April 1873. James Leander would probably have been too young to be corresponding during this time period, as he would have been only 13 in 1872. The addressee of this letter has written recently to an Aunt known to Allison — James Leander’s aunts in Georgia would have been Frances Ann Caldwell (James would never have really known her), Sarah Jane Caldwell (after October of 1870–but he wouldn’t have known her at all), or possibly the wife of William Caldwell (Elvira C McArthur, whom he would not have known). Selena would have been a great Aunt, and the most likely candidate for this identification, especially since James Leander’s mother and Selena were close.

In the opening of Allison’s letter he says “James, I want you to write to all the boys and tell them if they knew how glad it made their mother…” He would probably not be asking James Leander to write to his own father, as they lived in the same household, so this points up that he might be asking James Mullins to write to “the boys” and tell them to stay in better contact with their mother, Betsy.

It is my assumption that it was written to James P Mullins, husband of Malvina Caldwell, and brother-in-law to Allison. Sometime after 1870, James and Malvina may have moved to Arkansas to join the older siblings of the Caldwell family. There is evidence that James Mullins may have had siblings of his own who were living near the Caldwell family in Arkansas prior to the Civil War, and they are in the 4 ARK INF-USA and 2 ARK CAV-USA with the Caldwells. Allison definitely maintained a closeness with James Mullins, as this is one of the few death dates that is handwritten in Allison’s Testament. James and Malvina lived near her Aunt Selena in Georgia, and were fairly close in age to William Washington James. That might explain them writing back to her when the got to Arkansas, perhaps.

Allison makes reference to his brothers (Sharrard and Shelton) and sisters (Elizabeth Mullins is dead before 1868 in Georgia; sister Mary Caldwell’s whereabouts are unknown; Malvina Mullins may be living in Arkansas?) He also could be referring to sisters-in-law as ‘sisters’.

He also refers to his cousin. Allison’s cousin would have been the son/daughter of one of Betsy’s brothers/sisters — or the son/daughter of one of William Caldwell’s siblings (of which we know nothing). Daniel James is dead and his family is in South Carolina. Mary James Meeks is childless and living with Allison. Nancy and Sarah are in South Carolina. John Shelton James’s second family is in Texas by now, and the remaining children by Martha are living in Pickens County. Sharud Jr and his family are probably in Walker County, GA, except for Gilly Godfrey. Gilly James Fulton and her family are in Arkansas, and they were known to Allison — so these are probably the cousin[s] he is referring to.

Allison indicates that he wants to leave Georgia and join them, except that he must care for their old mother. (Reconstruction was especially bad in Pickens County, since they spoke out early in the war for the Union cause. The tax digest from 1867 suggests that times were really hard for Allison and his brother William.) He says, “I can’t leave here this fall…”–so that indicates that the letter was written in spring or summer, perhaps. James and Malvina are on the 1870 census taken in the summer of that year, so they apparently left for Arkansas after the summer of 1870. Assuming that it took them some time to get to Arkansas and get settled and write back, the letter that Allison is referring to might have arrived sometime in 1871 or 1872. We know that Allison wrote back prior to April 1873, because that is when Betsy died.