1863: Samuel McConochie to William Campbell

This phenomenal letter was written by a 45 year-old Scottish emigrant farmer named Samuel McConochie (1818-1901) of Scott township, Columbia county, Wisconsin. Samuel’s parents were Robert and Elizabeth (Hannay) McConochie who died in Pickering, Canada East. Samuel was married to Margaret Nisbet (1820-1899). In the late 1840’s, the couple came from Canada to settle in Wisconsin and from the birth locations of their seven children we know they remained there until 1869 but must have returned prior to the 1870 US Census and were enumerated in the 1871 Canadian Census. Samuel and his wife died in Ontario, Canada.

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How Samuel might have looked

Samuel addressed the letter to Scottish emigrant William Campbell (1829-1914), the son of Robert Campbell (1802-1888) and Anne M. Muir (1804-1884). William came to the United States in 1842 and in 1870 was enumerated as a store clerk in Ypsilanti, Washtenaw county, Michigan. His brother Gabriel, mentioned in the letter, came to the United States in 1844, and was a student at the University of Michigan at Ypsilanti before serving in the 17th Michigan Infantry.

In his letter, Samuel summarizes his views on the progress of the war and the gloomy prospects of restoring the Union. Clearly he is truly troubled by the condition and status of the Negroes in America for whom “no friendly hand is extended.” He adds, “No right of citizenship is offered them—no equality; but instead they are hated and despised & maltreated over the North. And some of our State Legislatures are now endeavoring to pass laws prohibiting them from settling within their borders. What a burlesque on human liberty. The hatred & blind prejudice that have existed among ourselves toward the poor Africans I fear will have a serious affect on the issues of this war. Had they got proper encouragement at first & soon after been armed & equipped, it would have been a serious blow to the South. But I fear the golden moment is past and the North will not awake from its lethargy until they meet the negroes by thousands in the southern ranks.”

TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Mr. William Campbell, Ypsilanti, Michigan
Postmarked Cambria, Wisconsin

Rosedale [Columbia county, Wisconsin]
March 23, 1863

Respected friend,

I am happy to acknowledge the receipt of your kind letter of March 9th. Were happy to learn that our Michigan friends were all again restored to the enjoyment of their usual health. It is gratifying to know that your brother Gabriel ¹ at a distance from home, will in all probability e’re this be able for duty again with his command. It is to be hoped that an honorable peace may soon be concluded & that those who are now in the field defending the country’s rights, may soon return to their peaceable avocations again. It is really lamentable to see out neighbors and acquaintance who one year ago were strong, active & healthy, a returning back from the scenes of strife—some in their coffins, others lacking an arm or a leg, & numbers with their constitutions so shattered that they will only be a burden to themselves & their friends for life. Such scenes are common here and no doubt are also with you, and will exist to a greater or lesser extent over the whole country.

I am happy to inform you that at the present time we are all in the enjoyment of our usual health, although we have suffered considerably in our family from severe colds, mumps, & during this damp rainy open winter. Friends are also well. Archibald Thom ² has had considerable sickness of late in his family. About six weeks ago Mrs. Thom gave birth to a son, which is doing well, but the mother has not yet fully recovered. Three of his family were attacked with inflammation on the lungs, but are able to be around again. [Our son] Samuel continues to improve in health and strength. He wishes me to ask when you are coming to Wisconsin so that he can have the pig ready for you & also whether you can bring the jumping kitty to him. We had a letter lately from Mr. Nisbet in Canada. Miss Nisbet & other friends there were well. Have you heard from there is winter?

Well you and your friends did not like the plan I proposed for bringing the war to a close. Neither do I like it if any better terms could be obtained for the North. But really I cannot possibly see even a glimmering chance of anything better yet, but fondly hope that the prospect may not continue long so dark as it has been. My chief hope is now in starvation & the aid we are to obtain from the negroes. Apart from these aids, the idea of conquering the South & keeping it in the Union appears to me quite preposterous.

In support of the position I can only afford space for two or three reasons—viz: The South appears to be about the equal of the North man for man on equal ground. We cannot reckon on having more than two to one or double the number of soldiers in the field against the South. But will twice their numbers suffice to conquer them? Rather doubtful. The southerners are at home, they are in earnest and united, can choose their battlefield, entrench & fortify themselves, have all the freemen able to bear arms in the battlefield, while their slaves are at home raising the necessaries of life &c. The nature of the country, climate &c. are all in favor of the South.

Now we will look for a moment at the state of matters in the North. The North is divided in sentiment respecting the war to a lamentable extent. This division lessens & weakens the resources of the government. We have a large army in the field well-equipped, but jealousy exists among its commanders & the vast amount of desertions shows that hundreds of our soldiers have not their country’s cause at heart. Speculation & money making—the damning curse of the North—have been following our armies through all their stages. A draft of 500,000 men under the late Conscription Act is soon expected, and what do we already see? A large proportion of our young men that had not previously enlisted, are leaving the country and going to Canada. Some of our near neighbors’ sons are making preparations to leave. This exodus is not confined to old countrymen & Democrats but some who were reckoned good Republicans & these Americans are providing their sons with money to leave the country. About 1400 who were drafted in this state amounted to almost nothing. In one county where 200 were drafted, the United States Marshal was able to find only two men. Now if 500,000 more men are wanted, where are they to be got? In this county there are certainly not enough of men left now to till the ground & harvest the crops.

If you have any colored men to spare in your part of the country, I wish you would send some here. In respect to the poor down-trodden African, from him we may hope for much, but how can we in reason expect it. True they are promised their liberty—freedom from their masters—freedom from their home & early associations to be forcibly driven in exile in[to] a foreign country. No home is offered to them in the North or South. No friendly hand is extended to them in the North. No right of citizenship is offered them—no equality; but instead they are hated and despised & maltreated over the North. And some of our State Legislatures are now endeavoring to pass laws prohibiting them from settling within their borders. What a burlesque on human liberty. The hatred & blind prejudice that have existed among ourselves toward the poor Africans I fear will have a serious affect on the issues of this war. Had they got proper encouragement at first & soon after been armed & equipped, it would have been a serious blow to the South. But I fear the golden moment is past and the North will not awake from its lethargy until they meet the negroes by thousands in the southern ranks.

This day is rainy & cloudy & perhaps my mind has partaken too much of the general gloom. Please write soon & point out the bright prospect you see in the side of the North &c. I love to exchange views & gain information.

— S. McConochie

Please present our kind compliments to your Father & Mother & all friends &c. I intend writing to your Father when I have any news worth writing.


¹ Gabriel Campbell (1838-1923) was the Captain of Co. E, 17th Michigan Infantry—a company composed predominantly by University of Michigan students. “They were mustered in during the summer of 1862 and only two weeks after the left the campus, they were fiercely engaged at the Battle of South Mountain, where Drayton’s brigade of Confederate troops were strongly entrenched behind stone walls on the crest of a steep mountain and had supporting batteries in commanding positions…[the 17th Michigan] charged and drove the enemy from their position [and was] afterwards known as ‘the stonewall regiment.'” Gabriel wrote a poem following the battle entitled “South Mountain.”  [Source: University of Michigan, by Wilfred Byron Shaw] 

² Archibald Thom (1837-1914) was the second eldest son of William Thom and Agnes Mitchell of Dunbarton, a small town in Pickering Township, Ontario. He married Sarah Gordon, daughter of John Gordon and Nancy Graham in 1861 and together they raised six children. Arch was hired to run the Elmsdale general store, along with the post office. He resided in nearby Katrine, where he ran a farm and at one point during the 1870’s, taught school as well. In 1893, he purchased the weekly newspaper, the Sundridge Echo from R. Hewitt. He took a parner, John Harper, and they moved to Sundridge.

 

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