1849: Nicholas Turner Sorsby to Wiley Perry Boddie

This letter was written by Nicholas Turner Sorsby (1817-1868), the son of Alexander Sorsby (1771-1818) and Rebecca Williams (1782-1861). Nicholas mentions his brother, John Taylor Sorsby (b. 1807) in the letter. Nicholas came from North Carolina to Greene County, Alabama, after the death of his father with his mother, six siblings, and a new stepfather — Maj. Edwin D. Whitehead. Nicholas grew up on Whitehead’s plantation and became a planter and a doctor in Eutaw, Alabama. He married Anne Liza Hill (1837-1920) in 1857.

PrUrMNSvJmuNpzTv_om6a_NG2SWo23DsQJsfZDGdplSroVcGpkS_1911KvGTnkMZSorsby wrote the letter to Wiley Perry Boddie (1826-1870), the son of George Boddie (1769-1842) and Lucy Williams (1782-1849). Wiley was married to Martha Rivers McNeill (1827-1887) in December 1848. Martha was the daughter of Malcom McNeill (1796-1875) and Martha Rivers (1800-1827). Wiley [or Willie] was educated at Wake Forest College and the University of North Carolina. He made several trips to Europe during his early manhood and studied for some time in England. His residence [“Glenmore”] was eventually established in Coahoma County, Mississipp, where he had one of the largest plantations in the entire south.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mr. Wiley P. Boddie, Lafayette, Christian County, Kentucky

Forest Grove, Mississippi
May 7th 1849

Dear Kin,

Co: John informed me the other day he had received a letter from you informing him you were on a quandary whether to quit the world and take the Mississippi Swamp and live among wild beasts and —, or to return to Hinds and settle among decent people.

It is very strange that a man who has travelled and has just taken a help-mate to sweeten his joys and to share his cares, should for a moment be in such a quandary. You reply, I dare say, it takes two to make a bargain, but if matrimony and a better or worser-half will drive a man into the Mississippi swamp to be submerged by water, or be weighed down with an ague-cake, or shaken to death with chills, or to die with the cholera, or eaten up with mosquitoes and buffalo-gnats, I say, just excuse your humble servant from such a sad catastrophe — a (better or) worse half — and consign him solo, to dry land and single blessedness. I say, drive you into the swamp because you being a dry land man I know you will have to be driven to it. What an idea? An European traveller and a Kentucky Belle settling in the swamp to make love by the music of nature’s minstrels? That would be truly too romantick!

As you are Wiley by name, perhaps you are a little wild by nature — at least after the wild goose chase to Europe, the fly up the River Serape, and the matrimonial affair to the great astonishment of your brother bachelors, one would not be surprised if you did go to Texas or take the swamp. Away with such (“Get thee behind me Satan,” or I’ll “know thee not,” or thou mayest “go thy way” with thy Wiley) notions? Such notions are preposterous.

Now Kin, as I have travelled a little on high land and on low land, and seen and tasted of the sweets of some of the biffen and forbidden — countries, excuse these few lines written with the desire to relieve you from your unfortunate quandary. Do you recollect what the man in the Quandary did? Out of it then! Be a man — a freeman, and don’t permit the marriage tie to bind your thoughts and actions, if it does your heart. The husband leads the wife; the wife doesn’t drive the husband. A man in settling to be happy must consult first by his own feelings and interest; secondly those of his wife; and thirdly, those of his friends, and then act accordingly.

I, in settling my negroes here, did not settle myself here, but in Europe for awhile. By accomplishing the first object, I was enabled to accomplish the second object. Now, since I (myself) desire to settle, I wish also to settle my negroes at home. Green County, Alabama, in my home. Hinds County, Mississippi, is yours. At these two places our affections reside and our minds ever turn to them as home, for rest and contentment. And why? Because the most of our relations reside at those places and we shall never be contented to live far from them. Tis true, your nearest and dearest parent resides in Ca: but she cannot live many years, and when she is no more, your brother Nicholas — I dare say — will leave to this  country. Then most of you will be together to form a society of your own, to assist, defend, and protect each other against the attacks of the enemies.

Keep me out of the backwoods from among strangers. In such a county we know not when our lives and property are safe. Often our (pretended) best friends are our (greatest secret enemies. Let the example, and the experience of the elder brothers be lessons for the younger. Without friends and a good country, there is no happiness in this Southern Country. Wealth does not make happiness and without these, wealth is a torment; with them, it may be enjoyed. One cannot be enjoyed without the others.

I am desirous of returning to Greene County, Alabama. You are anxious, I presume, to settle in Hinds. Come down and we may accomplish our desires. I am willing to make a sacrifice to return, and you should be equally willing to pay a liberal sum to settle here. I know it to my pecuniary interest to remain with brother Taylor, and that I shall have to pay dear for land in Greene, but I am wiling to lose to return & reside near my parents & brothers. If we made ever so large crops, I should not be satisfied.

I, therefore, make you the following liberal offer for a home. Our tract of land contain 493 1/3 acres, the interest in the ½ of which I paid $10.00 per acre, cash. I will take my interest in the land fifteen hundred dollars cash, and give possession 1st of January next, the money to be paid when possession given; or two thousand dollars. one half cash, the balance in one year from date of possession, with interest from date, and give possession 1st of January next, or sooner, the cash paid when possession is given. The stock (except some of the mules and yoke of oxen, I may keep) provisions. farming implements, mill & gin, I will sell cheap for cash, or on time.

Brother Taylor will take twelve dollars and a half per acre for his interest; one third cash, and the balance in one and two years. But should you not desire to purchase his interest, the tract may be divided — perhaps to your satisfaction. There are 160 acres in Madison County. The line runs between the garden & pond, and takes in part of the orchard. There are between 350 & 360 acres in cultivation; the balance woodland. We made a tolerable good crop last year. Cleared over 25 acres creek land. I think we shall do better this year, having in a larger crop.

I hope to hear from you soon. I shall remain here until June. I think of visiting Ca: or some other place next summer. Come down — the mud is not quite so deep as it was when you were here. Say to Mrs. B–, much happiness attend you both. Remember me to Co. Catherine.

Your friend &c., — N. T. Sorsby


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