6 August 1861: “yesterday our town was in a very great state of excitement, early in the morning a few of us went to the top of Dr. Clay’s house to take a look at the blockading vessels which are seen almost every day…”

Item description: Photostat of a letter, dated 6 August 1861, from Norman Brownson, Fernandina, Fla., to Henry Summer, Newberry, S.C., giving news from Fernandina and describing military bustle and blockade running in Florida.

[Item transcription available below images.]

Item citation: From folder 1 of the Henry Summer Letter, #1404-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Fernandina Fla. Aug. 6th 1861

Henry Summer Esqr.

Dear Sir,

I recd. yours of a certain date a long time ago, and really intended to reply to it sooner, but as I did not do so I will not not now attempt to excuse the matter. We have had quite a pleasant summer here thus far, not so warm as usual, and fewer misquitoes I think, as a general thing, healthy, although we have had some sickness. Mrs. Peet is in quite poor health, and has been so most of the summer. Mrs. Brownson does not enjoy so good health as she does at times. As for the business, that is done in this place now, one would scarcely discern that anything was doing. As a general thing two steamboats make weekly trips from Charleston and Palatka touching at this place leaving a little something to eat (sometimes) for us which merchants sell out out at a great price, for instance flour at from ten to twelve dollars per bbl., bacon 25c/ pound, coffee from 30 to 40 cts, corn meal 50 cts per peck. I have heard it said that there has been times when there was not three days provisions in the place except what was at the fort for the soldiers.

I believe they are well supplied most of the time. There are about three hundred soldiers stationed at the fort now all of which are from the country, we have three very well organised companies besides which are composed of the citizens of this place, and are in readiness at the tap of the drums, but with all our companies, and drilling, I think we are in a miserable state of defence, our batteries are not sufficient, and unless we have more of them, the enemy could drive us off the island, and I think the Lincoln government have an eye of this place as well as some other places on the coast. After they get whipped once or twice more in Virginia I think we may look out on the coast.

I saw your brother (Adam) as he passed through this place on his way to Virginia. I only had a few minutes to see him. I told him I expected to write you soon. He said that he wants to see me and have some conversation about Indian River as he wanted to put a lot of cattle there and get an orange grove started and other things which he had not time to talk about. I inferred from what he said that he wanted me to be interested with him. He said he would write me about it I should like well to be able to go there this fall. The Privateer Jeff Davis (Capt. Coxetter) is driving a brisk business, yesterday our town was in a very great state of excitement, early in the morning a few of us went to the top of Dr. Clay’s house to take a look at the blockading vessels which are seen almost every day, sometimes very near the bar and then disappearing evidently on the look for privateers and their [?]. As we got to the top of the house we discovered two vessels one a little north east of the bar and out some way from the bar, the other was south from the bar a little south of center street and nearer the coast and seemed to have all sail set and making for the coast with a stiff breeze. It was not long before the house top was covered, all anxious to get a sight at the vessels through a glass. As the vessel at the south kept on her course, all made up their minds that one was a prize vessel endeavoring to make the bar and the other was Old Abe in pursuit, and the one to the south must be the prize, and was making for the beach as she could not make the bar soon the drums began to beat, the different companies got under march for the beach. the artillery with two cannon. I had been sick and confined to my bed for more than a week, that morning was the first that I had been out. I shouldered my musket and fell into the ranks in line of march for the beach. We got to the beach a few moments before the vessels crew had landed in a row boat. The vessel proved to be one of the [?] taken by Coxeter and sent in for this fact by a prize crew with the original captain with his wife and a few negro, she was take in mid ocean, from Cape of Good Hope, bound for Boston, loaded with wool, hides, copper and drugs and would have been worth in market one hundred thousand dollars. Yesterday morning a little after day light the blockading vessel have [?] and gave chase to her and headed her off from the bar, there was no way left but to run her on to the beach and make there escape to the shore a small boat. it was low water when the vessel ran a ground, as the water rose she drifted in still I nearer the shore but did not get nearer than about a mile, we tried to get to it by small boats but the wind was against us. the blockader came up and fired at her a few times and finally sent a number of small boats out to her and set fire to her and destroyed her. we had the gratification of firing at the men in the small boat with our cannon. some of balls struck very near them, but none of them struck them. I think some of the cargo can be saved yet. I hope he will continue to take [?] even if they are lost on the beach. I think the north has [?] by this time that it is no very easy job that they have undertaken and will wish themselves out of it before one year passes . What is your opinion of the result of the Manassas battle, will the north be more determined, or will it cool them down a little? Will it be the means of bringing about a hasty recognition of us by the great powers? I delivered your message to Mr. Mendenhall, Mr. [Yulee?] and Mr. Fuller. They all wished to be remembered to you. Mrs. Brownson and Mrs. Peet send their kind regards to you and family also Dr. Mayor and family, Mrs. DeWalt and family. I should be pleased to hear from you soon. If I hear from your brother I will let you know.

Truly yours,

Norman Brownson

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