1861: Rebecca Somerville to Martha Ann (Somerville) Washington

This letter was written by Rebecca Somerville (1821-1898), the daughter of War of 1812 Veteran Samuel Somerville (1789-1869) and his wife, Margaret (“Peggy”) Eckard (1792-Aft1870). The family resided in Mason county, Virginia (now West Virginia).

Rebecca wrote the letter to her older sister, Martha Ann (Somerville) Washington (1817-1880), the wife of William Meade Washington (1831-1907).

Rebecca’s letter briefly alludes to the state of of excitement that one newspaper referred to as “a border war of a most thrilling and startling character” likened to the reign of terror “almost equal to the darkest days of the French Revolution.” News correspondents reported that “refugees from injustice and oppression, tyranny and wrong, are daily fleeing to Ohio…[leaving their] golden harvests falling unsaved to the earth.” [Source: Weekly Wisconsin Patriot, July 20, 1861 (Madison, WI)]


Mason county, Virginia
August the 23rd [1861]

Dear Sister,

Your letter came to hand today. We was glad to hear from you all. Your letter found us all well. I have no news to write but I will do the best I can.

The war excitement has cooled down a little here. I don’t know how long it will last. We still hear of a man getting killed in Jackson county, [in] Ripley. The people there is just like Indians. The Union men and the dis-Unions—when they fall out—they just shoot each other down.

Well I was glad to hear you had lots of blackberries. I want you to write to me and let me know how Hannah and Birk is getting along [and] if they have any little Birk yet.

That horse company is at Mason City yet. They are going to Clarksburg to drill. Dory did not go. They did not like their captain. There was a good many did not go. Their captain’s name is John William Neal—a man that nobody likes.

Well, Ann, I would like to know what you do for factory cotton in your country. It is seldom [found] here and sugar is alit [?] a pound and coffee is twenty cents per pound. Times is hard here. There is lots of families in these little towns that would starve if it wasn’t they was helped. They are the saddest of families. Mostly they have been around begging for them corn and wheat and bacon. They got any quantity for them.

Well, I recon you would like to hear how Peggy is getting along [which is] about like she was when you was here. She cries a lot [and] talks a good deal. Tell Mat that Bob Stevenson is going to marry Andy’s Clendenen’s Mary Ann. ¹ Tell her that John Bird is dead. ² He killed himself drinking. Even too old [  ly] is dead. He killed himself drinking.

Well, I must quit and go and help get supper. You must write to mother. She thinks we ought to get a letter from some of you every week. Answer this soon. So nothing more but still remain your affectionate sister until death.

— Rebecca Somerville

¹ Robert P. Stephenson (b. 1830) married Mary Ann Clendenin (b. 1836) in Mason County, (West) Virginia on 7 November 1861. Mary Ann was the daughter of Andrew (“Andy”) Clendenin (1804-1880) and Rebecca Edwards (1807-1889).

² John E. Bird (1826-1861) of Mason county, (West) Virginia died on 8 July 1861.


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