This letter was written by Dr. James Robert McConochie (1786-1853), son of Rev. James M. M’Conochie. Family history records that James was born in Dumfries, Scotland and, as a young lad, personally knew and was taught by poet Robert Burns. In 1846, Dr. McConochie published his poems in a volume called, “Leisure Hours.” We learn from the letter that on 21 November 1846, Dr. McConochie married his second wife, the widow of John Breen, probably an Irish emigrant. At the time, Dr. McConochie owned a farm of some 350 acres in Kentucky that was worked by as many as 40 slaves.
The Filson Club Historical Society, Louisville, KY houses his papers described as follows:
Scottish-American physician and poet of Louisville, Ky. Papers include correspondence, 1825-1853, regarding his family and business affairs; legal papers, 1837-1853; land papers, 1812-1851; bills and receipts, 1825-1853, primarily regarding his medical practice; slave papers, 1817-1853; and will and estate records, 1853-1869.
James wrote the letter to Capt. Philip Pendleton Slaughter (1758-1849) — a Lieutenant during the French & Indian War and later a colonel of militia in Virginia. Capt. Slaughter was the father of James’ first wife, Susan Slaughter (1791-1830). It was to Capt. Slaughter that Dr. McConochie dedicated his previously mentioned book of poems.
Addressed to Capt. Philip Slaughter, Culpeper Court House (forwarded to Woodville) Rapp. Co., Va.
January 31st 1847
My Dear Captain Slaughter,
Your favor has a few days ago come to hand and I am happy to hear that the box containing my books has reached you in safety. I have to apologize to you for the trouble which they have, or may occasion you, but it was the only recourse which I had.
I have to announce to you an important change which has taken place in my life. On the 21 of November last, I lead to the alter a widow lady — the relict of the late John Breen with whom I have a rational prospect of passing the remainder of my life with peace and happiness. You may be assured I did not take so important a step without ascertaining to the fullest extent the suitableness of my intended wife. Two faults you might possibly make to her — she is only 31 years of age, and besides, she is a catholic. But these objections were so strongly counteracted by the lady’s personal appearance and virtues of her mind and heart that I suffered myself to be lead a willing victim in to the chains which beauty and virtue had panged for me.
We are living on my farm in perfect happiness. I have employed my wife’s pen, to include this letter, as the is a better bribe than I am. I do very sincerely regret that this step was not taken many years ago for susten[an]ce when you so strongly urged it upon me during my visit to Virginia. I should have been by that means spared many years hanging loose upon society and many a solitary and lingering hour of melancholy spent in my own house.
I am very much rejoiced, my dear friend, to learn that your general health is good. You have passed a long useful life. I trust in God you will be a centurion before you die. Whether you and myself may even meet again in this world is uncertain but my heart will still turn to you as the Father of my first love and my early benefactor.
Accept, my dear Captain Slaughter, the assurances of my perfect regard, very truly.
I remain your affectionate son-in-law, — James R. McConochie