14 October 1862: “I was also informed that his negroes were very much averse to leaving, and that 30 of them had run away, in consequence of their having been informed by the disloyal men around them”

Item description: Two letters, dated 14 October 1862, from William Pettigrew. One letter is to his brother Charles Pettigrew and the other letter is to an unknown recipient, possibly a Mr. Bryan. After the fall of Roanoke Island in 1862, William and Charles, fearing imminent invasion by northern forces, took the precaution of marching their slaves out of the swamps and into Chatham County in central North Carolina. These letters describe in detail William’s trip to assist his brother Charles with moving the enslaved people he owned further into the state, and how some enslaved African Americans, hearing of their forced removal, escaped to the neighboring woods.

[Transcriptions below images]

Item citation: From Folder 258 of the Pettigrew Family Papers, #592, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item Transcriptions:

Near Jamesville, Martin Co.,

N. Carolina, Oct 14, 1862

My dear Brother,

I arrived at this place some days since, with the intention of going into Tyrrel for the purpose of assisting brother Charles in the removal of his negroes, presuming that he required more force than he could command. But soon after my arrival here, I met with several persons who were carrying off their negroes from our neighborhood, who informed me that he was preparing to move them & that he had as much assistance as he required. I was also informed that his negroes were very much averse to leaving, and that 30 of them had run away, in consequence of their having been informed by the disloyal men around them that they were about to be carried away.

With that representation before me, I thought that not only no good would result from my going into the lower part of Washington, but rather much inquiry, as it would certainly be made know that I was at home, or near there. The inference would then be drawn by brother Charles’s negroes that I had gone for them and those in the woods would be very difficult to seise, and those who had remained would be likely then to run. As my object was to do good, I was unwilling to own the hazard doing harm & perhaps causing the loss of thousands of dolls. [dollars]. Without it was not improbable that in the avidity of the Buffaloes to seize me they would place guards on the roads which would prevent any negroes, particularly brother Charles, from being carried up the county – the way by which they carry them in on the road three miles south of Plymouth. Consequently I have remained here. Brother. C. will pass along to-morrow morning, I presume, with his negroes & those of mine who are worth removing – 9 in number. I am informed that he will bring all his who have run away but about 10. Twenty – five he will leave at home.

My chief object in writing this is to say that I have engaged for you a free mulatto boy at $16 per month. He has an excellent character & I think will suit you in (?) particulars. He will go with me when brother Charles moves on. At Rocky Mount he will take the R. R. Please inform May & D. J. Coward who belongs to Col. Brabble’s Reg., 32d (?) at Down’s Bluff (?) Post Office, Petersburg – that you have a boy engaged. otherwise he may engage one for you as I have requested him. I will write you a long letter by Wiley Boon – the servant engaged. Brother C arrived here to-night with all his negroes but about (?) & 8 of mine – at that are worth remaining.

Your affectionate brother,

William S. Pettigrew


Near Jamesville, 11 miles from Plymouth. Oct 14, 1862.

Dear Sir

Mr. West & myself arrived at this place- Mr. Geo. M. Burras’ – on thursday morning last – at – 2 o’clock, after having ridden in a two horse waggon from Tarboro, which place we left at 11 o’clock on Wednesday. The distance between the two places – Tarboro & Jamesville – is 40 miles, as you are aware.

At Tarboro on Tuesday night, we had the good fortune to meet with several of our Washington & Tyrrel people, who were carrying up their negroes to the western part of the state. The night of our arrival in Raleigh, we also saw several persons from those counties, who had just arrived with their negroes. They left with us on Tuesday morning & accompanied us as far as this place. There had been brought up from our counties within a day or two, we had been informed, more than one hundred negroes, and I have since heard not fewer than two thousand negroes have been brought from the counties of Washington & Tyrrel within the last ten days.

A few hours after our arrival here, I was informed by several of my neighbors, who had arrived at this place about breakfast time in the morning, that my brother Charles was preparing to remove his negroes, & that thirty of his men were in the woods. Myself and those to whom I mentioned it, were of the opinion that the fact of my being in the the lower part of Washington would be attended with no little disadvantage to my brother, as it would immediately impress the negroes with the idea that I had gone for them, & perhaps assisted by cavalry; Consequently those who were in the woods would be yet more determined to escape (?), and many of those who were on the plantation, yet would probably make their escape. Without the fact of my presence in the county would yet more infuriate the Buffaloes, & cause them to station guards on the main roads with the hope of accomplishing my arrest. These guards once set in active disfunction, would probably prevent my brother & others from bringing their negroes, at all.

As to the Buffaloes, & Yankees & their wish to arrest me, I hear(?) it with the contempt which it merits, & would not change my purpose _ just on their account, as I am convinced I could take care of myself & them: But, I am unwilling to contribute to the defeat of the very object for which I have come to the low county for: the assisting to secure from destruction my brother’s property, Nor am I willing to become unintentionally, the cause of throwing additional obstructions in the way of my neighbors & friends, securing their property. I learn my brother has all the aid he requires. My brother will travel before this evening. My negroes will also be with him. Report says my brother has obtained possession of all his negroes but 10. With my best regards to Mrs. Bryan, I am, very respectfully & truly, Your William S. Pettigrew.

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