This letter was written from Gainesville, Alabama. The town grew rapidly in the 1830s because of its convenient location on the navigable Tombigbee River where cotton from the surrounding plantations was shipped to the port city of Mobile. Between 1835 and 1850, Gainesville became the largest inland port in the nation with annual shipments of 6000 to 8000 bales of cotton.
The identity of the author of this letter, as well as the recipient, has not yet been confirmed by checking my usual resources. The signature of the author appears to be Sallie [Sarah?] Pearson and she may have been a brother of Dr. Isaac F. Pearson (b. 1836) who is said to have been born in Gainesville. The recipient’s name appears to be Harriet[t] Keyes of Louisville, Winston County, Mississippi. The two girls seem to have a family connection but I don’t think they were cousins.
I would estimate Sallie’s age to be about 16 (birth @ 1835). Contents indicate that Harriet is about to spend her first winter in the South so her family is probably not in the 1850 Census of Winston County, Mississippi.
Addressed to Miss Harriet Keyes, Louisville, Winston County, Mississippi
November 11th 1851
My Dear Harriett,
I have taken the earliest opportunity of fulfilling my promise since I have started to school. I wrote to you before I started but not in a way that would afford you any satisfaction, as you did not receive the letter. I wrote it, and designed sending it by Uncle as he went on back, but he passed so ceremoniously I had not an opportunity of sending it. Well I suppose I have said enough about that unprofitable letter.
Harriett, I was much affected the morning I departed from you all and the place I became so much attached to. But as I approached nearer and nearer home and contemplated on seeing the family and all my old friends, the affection I possessed for Louisville somewhat vanished. I finally became tired of my idle thoughts and commenced wishing as idle people generally do. I regretted very much I did not bring some reading to amuse myself with as my time was entirely unoccupied, riding through those old gloomy looking Mississippi woods.
Uncle was taken quite ill soon after he left home and gave me possession of the reins to drive. I was very much delighted with my employment and flattered myself so highly as to suppose I performed the occupation of a driver with a great deal of skill. In the evening I drove for Aunt Sarah and ran the buggy over two or three little stumps and she gave me such a scolding for it [that] by night I considered myself quite an inferior driver.
We spent the night with a lady who was very well acquainted with your uncle’s family. She treated us very kindly and expressed a great desire of seeing your aunt. Her name was Miss Rose something before she was married, but I have forgotten what. Bright and early the next morning we were up and off with a heavy day’s drive before us.
We reached Pa’s in the afternoon about the time the sun was concealing herself behind the tall oaks. We rode up unseen by any of the white family. I went in and found Pa almost crazy with the headache. They were all supposed to see that I looked so much more healthy than I did before I left home. They did not think it was possible that I could improve so much in that length of time. There were some persons who called in a few days after I arrived [and] said they would not have recognized me if they had seen me from home.
The next morning after I arrived, Pa told me he wished me to be prepared to enter school the following week. I told him I had no preparations to make whatever. When the appointed time arrived, he postponed carrying me until the next week. I have now returned to my old school room again with a full determination of making up my lost time, but I am afraid I will not do it. I am troubled so much with my old companion — the headache.
Out of five days in the week, I devote about three to my studies. We have an excellent teacher in the school room this session who occupies Miss Hazard’s place. I think, Harriett, she is certainly one of the most unassuming, sweet-looking ladies I ever saw. When she enters the room every morning with her cheerful smiling face and her charming voice, I can scarcely keep my hands off of her. I enjoy myself finely. All of my room mates are very pleasant — one especially, Cousin Grace Rush. I know you would almost die with laughter sometimes if you were here. We go to church twice every Sabbath and once a week to prayer meeting, but we don’t have any company beyond our own sex excepting one old long leg fellow who leads the way for us.
Hattie! It is often said a friend out of sight is soon forgotten. Now let us resolve to be an exception. Do not forget your promise in regard to letter writing. Write soon and be sure not to forget to write what you said you would. It has been so long I am afraid you have forgotten what it is, but I am in hopes not. I am in hopes you will spend a delightful winter as it’s your first at the south. O Hattie, do you recollect those nights after you came? I do indeed and nothing affords me more pleasure than the recollection of them.
Good night. Your friend, — Sallie Pearson
Oh dear me, I blush to look back upon my sheet and see so many I’s or my’s in it.
Give my love to your uncle and my aunt Harriett and that dear sweet little sugar camp and kiss her fifty times for me. Perhaps I am giving you more to do than you will accomplish. Perhaps you had better employ Lizzy to assist you. I think she will do it with pleasure. Give my best respects to Mrs. Godden and L. Will you be so kind as not to let anyone see the letters I write to you, and if you please, excuse all mistakes if it is possible that you can. There are so many, I don’t know how you will do it.
12th. It has been raining here for the last two days. This morning arose and found the sun shining brightly and the [Tombigbee] river rising very slowly. I am afraid we will not have any boats up before January.