This letter was written by Dr. John Freeman Walker Merritt (@1797-18xx) to his brother, Dr. Alexander Thomas Belfried Merritt (1800-1870). They were the sons of Rev. Henry Merritt (17xx-1830) and Elizabeth Walker (1765-1819). Rev. Henry Merritt was a Methodist Minister.
John married Mary J. Person on March 1819 in Franklin, North Carolina. Alexander was married first to Ermin Love, and second (1827) to Jane Susan Atkinson (1812-1900).
Dr. John Merritt moved to near Vicksburg, Mississippi and had four children. One of them — John A. Merritt (b. 1835), served in the Confederate Army and was killed during the Civil War. Another son, Henry Embry Merritt (b. 1825) is mentioned a couple of times in this letter (not to be confused with his uncle Embry Merritt). A daughter, Francis (“Fanny”) J. Merritt (b. 1834), is also mentioned as having recently been married.
Dr. Alexander Merritt and his second wife had several children but only one survived childhood, namely Frances Merritt who married Isaac Patton. Alexander resided in Richmond, Virginia, but later moved to near Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he died.
Mention is made of another brother — William Henry Embry Merritt (1796-1885) — referred to simply as “brother Embry” in this letter. Embry was married to Elizabeth Willis Goode and had several children. The boys all fought for the Confederacy and at least three of them lost their lives in the war. Embry was a prominent lawyer and judge of Brunswick County, Virginia.
John Merritt mentions the Openwood Plantation in the letter. This was the 1500-acre plantation started in 1818 by Rev. Newit Vick, the founder of Vicksburg. The plantation was inherited by the Vick heirs but through mismanagement, they became indebted to Alexander and Embry Merritt in 1846 and the Merritts took ownership of the plantation until 1860 when they sold it to T. A. Marshall. Apparently John Merritt has his own plantation which he referred to in this letter as The Bend — which might be a reference to the large Bend in the Mississippi River near Vicksburg.
Addressed to Doct. A. T. B. Merritt, Richmond, Virginia
February 26th 1857
Yours of the 17th & Bro. E’s of the 15 came to hand this afternoon. Embry went up to Dr. N____ on the receipt of your letters but failed — the Dr. having accommodated a gentleman with what we could have got for you if we had known in time you had wanted it from the Doctor. He told me early in the winter if Bro. E. had come on, he could furnish him with 10,000 if he wanted it. I mentioned it to Embry but neither of us knew whether you wanted any more from the doctor until we got your last letter ____ ___ us to try to get it from him. The Doctor could not do it as he had parted with it while making arrangements to return home.
We have — or rather Embry has — written to the firm of Messrs. Enody Brown & Co. Mr. Johnston here thinks there is little or no doubt but we can get it. I expect to hear very shortly — say in three days perhaps from this time. We will let you hear by telegraph as soon as we get an answer. I entertain no doubt but we shall succeed. We have used due diligence in this matter and will send on the drafts if we succeed as soon as possible.
We have got, I think, an overseer at the Burn — a Mr. Ferguson — who will do and I shall try to urge them on each place to make what corn and cotton it is possible to have made at each place. I have been more annoyed by overseers than a little. Of all rascally sets, I do believe the majority of Louisiana & Mississippi overseers forms the most finished set. There are no doubt exceptions to the rule but “they are few & far between.” Most of them require as much watching as negroes. I have been heartily tired and sick of them. I shall try to keep them straight as possible at each place.
I want a fair crop of cotton & corn made at each plantation. I will sell as much land as can be sold to any advantage and get all the money we can by collecting it. I should think that there is for the next year a fair chance for a cotton crop at all three of the places if the overseers do their duty and the season should be favorable.
There has been some sickness at __ks & at the Burn all the winter through. The disease was the influenza. Some of the cases have been very severe. Many of the children have suffered from it. All have got over but one which died — Molly, the youngest child, about a week since died. The child was taken with a convulsion about 2 in the morning after a few days sickness. Mr. Ferguson came for me but the child died as I got to the Burn [but] before I could get to the negro house before sunrise, living only about three hours after it was taken with the convulsions & dying before I could get to it.
Two months or six weeks since, the melancholy accident of a child’s burning to death happened at the Burn — a little girl of Moses & Louisa Percival. The weather was very cold and the mother in the house & she suffered her to go out or sent her out to some other house in which there was a fire but no person in. Here she caught on fire and her clothes burned off before she was discovered. I wrote to Br. Embry next day but E & myself concluded to withhold the letter as at time we heard he was in disposed and perhaps quite nervous. This you can inform him of or withhold as you think best.
I telegraphed to you on the 26th inst. informing you that Johnston has thought we could get what money you wanted of the House of G. B. & I. I did not say the sum because they do not like to dispatch figures. You, he thinks, can get of them the amount of 10,000 dollars. We will in a day or two hear from them. We expect and forward to you the amount as soon as possible.
My own family is well but we have had some sickness this winter but nothing very serious. Mingo, at Open Woods [Plantation northeast of Vicksburg], has been very low with an attack of Pneumonia:Typhoid but is better and about. Fannie J. Merritt was married to a gentleman from New Orleans — a Mr. [Oliver L.] Racine [on 17 February 1857]. Mary & all the rest send their love to you & sister Jane & Fannie and Br. E’s family when you see them.
My love to you and all. Affectionately & truly, your brother, — John F. W. Merritt