The Story of Hagar Randall

The following is a first-hand account of the life of Hagar Randall (c. 1810-1895), an enslaved woman from Virginia. Not being able to read or write, she dictated her story while visiting the family of Frederick Newman Knapp in Plymouth, MA. The hand-written transcript is in the Drew Archival Library, along with a photograph of her daughters, Jerry and Dick Randall.

Dick (seated) and Jerry Randall, c. 1869.
Photographer: G. P. Critcherson, Worcester, MA.

My old mistress of all was Cockburn. I was born in Springfield, VA. My mother didn’t die til the time of the war. Where did she live? Oh, yes, Newport. Ann Powell was my new mistress.[1] I guess my mother was born in Springfield. My father belonged to the Masons. His name was Jackson. When I was 19 we moved. Nancy Cockburn had a friend just as Miss Perkins is to Miss Sally[2]– and that friend was Nancy Triplet. Nancy [Cockburn] set us all free when she died. Dr. Triplet and Bailey Tyler and Judge Dade broke the will. Tyler left Springfield on Saturday to go to Leesburg. He got as far as his farm, Shelter Farm, and started next A.M. Got one foot in the stirrup and fell back dead. Dade didn’t die till next fall. After the will was broke we all was gathered up and sent to Alexandria to Joe Bruin’s jail.[3] I wouldn’t like to describe it to you. It was more like hell than any other place. I stayed in Joe Bruin’s jail 8 weeks. Harry was not with us.[4] Seven children were with me – Mary Ellen, Dick, Jerry, Rachel and Peter, Artemis, Frances – she was the oldest child. Next oldest to Frances died and next oldest died. I raised seven, lost six. Seven were in jail. I was cooking for Joe Bruin all day. They wouldn’t let me out with the children, afraid I’d run away. I slept in jail every night. Dr. Powell bought me out of jail. Joe told me if I would go to Powell three children could go with me and he would keep the other two and wouldn’t separate them [Dick and Jerry]. I took Mary Ellen, Rachel and Peter. I had a very good life. I lived splendid but they took my children. 

When she sent Mary Ellen off the fat was in the fire. I told her [Mrs. Powell] I never would xxx her again as long as I lived. I used to go and sit and talk with her nights. If Dr. Powell had lived, Mary Ellen would not have been sent off. [she was sold for $900 and sent to sent to Louisiana]. She made as Mary was going to Fauquier to learn to cook. I used to dream and I always see her traveling. I made up my mind I’d ask Mrs. Powell so I went and said,  “What you done with Mary Ellen?” “Why didn’t you ask Mr. Taylor I guess he knows where she is.” Her son Llewellyn said “why didn’t you tell Aunt Hagar where Mary Ellen is?” “Well,” said Mrs. Powell, “Mary Ellen got to cussing and swearing.” Said I, “That’s one of Shackleford’s lies, you might as well as told us.” I knew it was a lie. “If you had sold Mary Ellen, why didn’t you tell me?” I’ve been to church and been to church to see if old Kingsford could preach anything why one woman should take another woman’s child. Do you think so you think I could take your child and sell it? She pulled her bonnet over her face and went out as if crying and I prayed to God Mary Ellen could die. I prayed Mrs. Powell might die. I told her everything right to her face for I wanted her to sell me.

Me and Tip would quarrel but me and Tip was first rate. When Tip was shut up I carried him things. He was a miserable bad boy but always my favorite, good to me. Mary went down south and stayed twelve years. 

You know when Fremont was running I knew who was running for President[5] I cared about freedom ever since I knew anything. I’ve heard talk about freedom ever since I can remember. Them that owned slaves they weren’t going to set and talk about freedom. My old master was abolitionist – Dr. Powell he didn’t believe in selling. I know by the club he belonged to. They’d all go together. There was always something dropping and you could pick it up. When Fremont wasn’t elected we was dreadful sorry. Mrs. Kitty Powell, Ann’s mother, would tell you anything. When old Abraham L was elected all was expected. I took for granted if the war came on we’d be free. The first gun that was fired I knew it – first gun on Fort Sumter. Little Fanny came and said, “Aunt Hagar the war’s begun, the war’s begun.” I was getting breakfast, I ran out and said, “Hush, it ain’t.” Every paper that came I tried to find out who was elected. Miss Ann went off and left not a soul but me. My children were sent off to Miss Emily. Harry and I lived in a little house and Miss Ann left everything in my care. 

Bull Run Battle began about 10 o’clock, 6 or 7 soldiers came to see if I could give them a dinner. By and by we heard a cannon firing and they said they believed they was going to fight that day. I give them a dinner they day. I got all kinds of vegetables in the garden. I made two great big chicken pies – damson pies, damson tarts. Oh Lord I was afraid for the soldiers that night. A great storm came on and one poor fellow who had been sick couldn’t eat nothing but boiled eggs. Very nice men looked like fellows that had been raised at home. One said, “Aunty, they’re fighting up here and if we are ordered off you must follow us.” I was feeding people all the next day, a great big pot of coffee all the time on the stove. The first day I saw soldiers was when Col. Ellsworth was killed.[6]“If you have come to kill me, kill me right here.” I was sitting one day when I saw a lot of soldiers, they came right up and I said that. 

Miss Powell said she must sell Mary Ellen to give Bob his education and she wasn’t going to draw her money out of the bank to educate Bob.[7]

The house was a contraband camp. I liked the soldiers but I was always afraid of ‘em such a mass of men and I didn’t see no women. I’d like to see Charley Clough, he was a gentleman and never lost it soldiering. Just as I was born a colored lady and through all the traveling round I has always been a colored lady. 

Peter’s mistress carried him to Leesburg and he ran away and joined the Union soldiers. I told him to xx xx like the Lord directed me what to tell him. 

I went to see Lincoln after he was dead. I walked on muskets that day and laid my hand on his face and when he was reelected, I went up and sat in Lincoln’s chair. I sat in President’s seat that day.

Your kitchen Mrs. Knapp was the first place I went in after the war.

“Hagar’s gal’s come” Uncle Harry in Mrs. K’s door. Mary Ellen knowed she was sold from Alexandria. When she came from the south she inquired for me. She was gone two years then I got a letter, Fanny came and said there was a letter from Mary Ellen. After the war I knew nothing about her til she come to find me.

After leaving the Powell’s home in Alexandria, Hagar worked for the family of Rev. Frederick Newman Knapp in Washington, DC. Knapp was an administrator in the United States Sanitary Commission. Hagar’s daughter’s, Jerry and Dick Randall, made their way to Washington, DC just as Mary Ellen did. Their story is described more fully below in Gershom Bradford’s letter.

After the war, the Knapp family moved for a brief time to Sutton, MA. Jerry Randall remained with them. It was here that she married George Lyles, also a former slave and employee of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

The Lyles’ home at 174 Court Street, Plymouth, MA

By 1870, George and Jerry Lyles had moved to Plymouth, MA and purchased a small house at 174 Court Street. Their home was not far from the Knapp’s newly established Knapp School for Boys. Although Hagar and Harry Randall remained in Washington, DC, once widowed, Hagar spent time in Plymouth as well. She is part of the Lyles household in the 1880 US Census.

The Lyles raised five children. Jerry died in 1902; George Lyles in 1922.

Letter from Gershom Bradford, III to Duxbury Town Historian Dorothy Wentworth, September 27, 1971

Quite in contrast with the foregoing is the recent death in Plymouth of my friend of 50 years, a fine Negro, James Chester Lyle. He was 90 and his mother was a slave! I remember her, Jerry Lyle…The Randall family was owned by a doctor in Alexandria, VA. The old doctor would never allow a slave to be sold, but he died and his wife, ambitious and in need of money steeled herself and sold off several of the children.[8] The father was a free man. My uncle, Rev. Frederick Knapp afterwards got the mother, Aunt Hagar Randall, to tell him the story as he wrote it down. I have it. There were two girls about eleven who were put on the Auction Block, but Bruin, the auctioneer, or broker, decided that he would take these girls himself. He sent one of them down on his farm in Fauquier County. There, as the Civil War was on, the girls would drive the horses and cattle into the swamps whenever either of the armies came near.

At wars end they went down to the RR track and burned matches for the night train, got aboard and reached their old home in Alexandria. Everything was changed; they walked aimlessly until a man stopped them.

“Ain’t you Hagar Randall’s girls?”

“Yes, where is she?”

They were told that she was with a Knapp family in Washington (just back of the present Smithsonian Institute is now). They made their way over, were united with their mother and some of the children. There was not room in the house so they built a shanty in the back yard. To the Knapps they were known as the Contrabands.[9]

Mr. Knapp, after he had closed up his business with the Sanitary Commission, was called to Yonkers, Sutton and then to Plymouth in the 1870s. They brought one or both of those girls, Dick and Jerry – Dick being a girl. I never knew what became of Dick. Rachel, another sister, became the cook for friends of Mamie’s family. She spent most of her life with the Bonds.

In “The Home” of the Sanitary Commission, a convalescent hospital for soldiers preparing to go home, Aunt Charlotte, in her last service, was the matron.[10] Her right hand man, a Negro named George Lyle. He was devoted to her. In time, he made his way to Plymouth and later married Jerry [Randall]. When George came to Aunt Charlotte’s funeral at the Old house, I was standing by him when he tied his horse to a tree. He said that this was one of his saddest days. Jerry cooked dinner at the Knapp’s when General Grant visited Plymouth at the initiative of Mr. Knapp, who had him many times in the war.

“Chester,” her son, always was ready to help when we or the Knapps were in need of his services. Once in about 1921 I had an old car that needed repair. Chester and I worked on it all day. At five it was running. I asked him what I owed him. He hesitated saying, “I hate to take money from a Bradford or a Knapp.” When I felt badly on one trip North and not feeling like driving back, the Knapps got hold of Chester and he drove us down. So you will understand why I sent flowers to Plymouth.

Aunt Hagar’s story is deep in pathos. She showed no hate towards her mistress’ actions, not ranting against her. In fact, at times she seemed to feel sorry for her. It is a moving story…

1. Ann Maria (Powell) Powell (1800-1885), born in Leesburg, VA to Cuthbert Powell and Catherine Simms. She grew up on a grand estate called Llangollen. In 1820, she married her first cousin. Dr. William Leven Powell (1797-1853). He was a physician, a graduate of the Medical College at the University of Pennsylvania.

2. Sarah Perkins was a long-time family friend to the Knapps. She often lived and traveled with them..

3. Joseph Bruin’s Slave Jail was a two-story brick building located in Alexandria, VA.

4. Harry Randall, Hagar’s husband and the father of her children. According to some, he was born a free man. However, in a deposition taken during the Civil War regarding a stolen horse, Hagar explained that she and Harry were married according to the “custom of colored people in Virginia who were slaves. His master gave him permission to visit me and my master consented.” Together they had 13 children. Harry Randall appears in the 1870 US Census with Hagar, born c. 1790 in Virginia.

5. The John C. Fremont presidential campaign was in 1856. He was the first Republican candidate.

6. Elmer E. Ellsworth (1837-1861) was the first Union officer to die in the Civil War. He was killed while removing the Confederate flag from the Marshall House Inn in Alexandria, VA. 

7. Dr. Robert Conrad Powell (1838-1890). Began college at the University of Pennsylvania , but left when the Civil War began.  After the war was a graduate of the Medical Dept of the University of Baltimore, 1869.

8. The narrative of Hagar Randall says that she and three of her children (Mary Ellen, Rachel and Peter) were sold to Dr. Powell after the death of her original owner, Nancy Cockburn. Dick and Jerry were sold away from her at Joseph Bruin’s Slave Auction house. Two other children, Artemis and Frances, died at Bruin’s.

9. Contrabands was a term used to describe escaped slaves during the Civil War. 

10. Charlotte Bradford (1813-1893). Born in Duxbury to Capt. Gershom Bradford and Sally Hickling. Her life as a nurse is highlighted in her home, DRHS’ Bradford House Museum, 981 Tremont Street, Duxbury, MA. See also previous posts in this blog.

Fanny Lee: Girl Soldier in the Civil War

fanny lee001

Letter written by Fanny Lee, Bradford Family Collection

Fanny Lee, whose real name was Fannie E. Chamberlain, was one of the hundreds of women who enlisted to fight in the Civil War. She was 18 when she disguised herself as a boy and joined the 6th Ohio Cavalry alongside her cousin, George. She would have seen action in Virginia during the winter of 1863-1864.

It is unclear how she was discovered, or even her full story. Fanny seemed to be an expert at subterfuge. She told Charlotte and Lucia Bradford, nurses from Duxbury, that she was Fanny Lee, a war widow with no friends. They seemed to believe she was forced to leave the Army once her ruse was discovered. Lucia wrote in her notes, “a young woman taken from the army is sent here by the Provost Marshall.” However,  The Daily Ohio Statesman, a Columbus, OH, newspaper, claimed “she announced herself, disgusted with life as a trooper.” Whether she left of her own accord or was accidentally discovered, she was ill at the time and needed care. Not able to be treated at an all-male Union Army Hospital, she was sent to the United States Sanitary Commission’s Home for Wives and Mothers. It was here she met matron Charlotte Bradford and her sister, Lucia.

Fanny wanted to become a nurse and continue to serve her country, but the US Army wanted nothing more to do with a woman who had so “unsexed herself.” Once well enough to travel, she returned to Ohio. Shortly thereafter, Charlotte received a letter from her former patient. Fanny, with her hair growing out, had traded in her soldiers uniform for good and married John J. Butts in Summit, Ohio on July 28, 1864.

In her letter she wrote, “The soldier girl is now a soldier for life in the Brigade of

Fanny Lee002

Excerpt from Fanny’s (Fannie) Letter

The full transcription follows:

[illegible] Summit Co Ohio
August 20th 1864

Dear Friend

I wrote to you soon after I returned but receiving no answer I came to the conclusion that you had not received it I wrote twice to Mrs. Doresay before I received an answer. I have just received one form her in which she says it is the first time she has heard from me. I am now married to a young man of my acquaintance here I will send you a paper with my…[missing page]

…in the man for whom I procured a discharge is my cousin. I have often thought of you dear friend and of your sister and the many kind friends in Washington. I feel that I am greatly indebted to the Sanitary Commission and the kind people connected with it.

I have lost all my hair and the new has come out to about a inch long it is so very dark so almost as it was colored all the time of my masquerade in soldier attire. The weather is considerable cooler here then in Washington. I am very anxious to hear from you please write all the news I would like to know if any body was there to see me after I went away. Has Mrs. Vassar been there if there is any letters there for me please send them to my present address.

I hope you will write soon and not wait as long as I have it was not my fault for I wrote to you before I wrote six or seven letters and sent them to the Post-Office by a boy and I think now that he never mailed them at all. I am in better health than I was when I left Washington. Give my love to your sister and remember me to all my acquaintances there. Tell Mr. Wood that I never shall forget their kindness, do not forget to remember me to Valentine. I must now close my letter hoping it will find you all well as it leaves me. From you war loving friend.

Fanny E. Butts

P.S. You see that Lee was only an assumed name. You will see by the paper what my real name is.

Yours Truly
Fannie Lee

The soldier girl is now a soldier for life in the Brigade of Matrimony. Do you have as much fun or noise there as when I was there I suppose Mrs. Cornwall was glad to get rid of me.


News of Lincoln’s Assasination in the Drew Archival Library

New York Herald, April 15, 1865. Bradford Family Collection.

New York Herald, April 15, 1865. Bradford Family Collection.

One hundred and fifty years ago today, April 15, 1865, many American’s awoke to the news that President Lincoln had been shot in Ford’s Theater the night before. In the Drew Archives’ collections we have a number of journals and letters that speak of this tragic event. Some written days after, when the news finally filtered to those far afield. Lincoln’s death was devastating to many Northerners, especially coming so close on the heels of the joyous celebrations following the surrender at Appomattox.

Captain Edward Baker was at sea when the assassination occurred. His journal entry for the April 15th, not surprisingly, makes no mention of the shooting. On April 19th Baker and his crew received papers bearing the news of Lee’s surrender ten days before. Baker wrote, “such glorious news is almost overpowering. My greatest desire, to tell the truth, was to go away by myself and have a long hearty cry, that was the way I was affected.”  After this entry, the pages in this journal were full. His next journal entry begins in a new book and is dated April 24th, 1865:

Capt. Edward Baker diary page, April 1865. Capt. Edward Baker Collection.

Capt. Edward Baker diary page, April 1865. Capt. Edward Baker Collection.

“This day our souls have been harrowed up as seldom in a lifetime, as great national calamities affect people. The “Katahdin” came in with her flag at half mast, and we soon learned that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated!!! Shot through the head, in Ford’s theatre!! Secretary Seward while lying on a sick bed, had his throat cut, but he was no killed…a terrible and overwhelming affair.”

Like Captain Baker, brothers Gershom and Laurence Bradford did not hear of the tragedy on the 15th, but days later. Twenty-three year old Laurence was in the Navy and had spent April 15th in Richmond, VA, witnessing the somber mood of the citizens of that Southern capitol as General Lee rode through the streets. On the 16th Laurence visited Fort Darling and made no mention of the President’s death. It wasn’t until days later that he learned exactly what had occurred:

Journal of Laurence Bradford, Bradford Family Collection

Journal of Laurence Bradford, Bradford Family Collection

“Sailed for Fortress Monroe where we arrived on the morning of the 17th. Carried down orders for every vessel to commence and fire a gun every half hour from sunrise to sunset, in honor of the president.

April 18, 1865 Tuesday. First got the particulars of the president’s death – that he was assassinated by J W Booth in Ford’s theatre Washington.”

Laurence described the scene in Norfolk, VA on April19th, the day of Lincoln’s funeral:

“the city was draped in mourning – everywhere was the grief of the people apparent in sorrow for the death, and in respect for the memory – of this preserver of the Republic. Whose confidence in his abilities and admiration for his character, had twice given him their greatest gift.”

Gershom Bradford, Laurence’s older brother, served in the U. S. Coastal Survey during the Civil War. From April 15th – 18th Gershom was busy repairing vessels and doing other assigned tasks in South Carolina. On the 19th, in Charleston Harbor, he wrote the following mention in his pocket diary:

Gersh Lincoln 2 death001

Gershom Bradford II Journal, Bradford Family Collection

“Heard of President’s death. Minute guns fired.”

Charlotte Bradford was the Matron of the United States Sanitary Commission’s Home for Wives and Mothers in Washington, DC when she received the news. She did not record events every day, so it is not surprising that it took her over a week before she wrote of Lincoln’s death:

Charlotte  Lincoln death002

Diary of Charlotte Bradford (2), Bradford Family Collection

“April 28. The President murdered and buried. I believe there never has been a person so universally lamented. All the black material in the city used in a few hours to drape the houses. Immense crowds to see the body and at the funeral. In N. York there were said to be 150,000 went in to look at the corpse.”

Finally, in a letter dated April 30th, Eden Sampson of Duxbury wrote to his son, Sgt. Horace E. Sampson, of the death of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth:

Excerpt from Eden Sampson Letter, April 30, [1865], Cushman Family Collection

Excerpt from Eden Sampson Letter, April 30, [1865], Cushman Family Collection

“That Damned Scamp of a Booth has come to his end and I am glad he is dead. If he had bin cort alive he wold have cost the Country a pile money so that thing settled up on a square…”

150 Years Ago Today…

Today was a very momentous day in the life of Duxbury’s own Civil War Nurse, Charlotte Bradford.  It marked the end of her tenure as a matron aboard the United States Sanitary Commission’s Transport Ships and the beginning of her life as a U.S. Army nurse under Dorothea Dix.  Her journal entry to mark the occassion is quite simple, “Thursday 4th. Taken leave of Fortress Monroe and at 5 1/2 started in the port for Baltimore. Most beautiful evening.”  It belies the anxiety she felt just a few days earlier when she wondered what would become of her.

To read Charlotte’s daily journal entries, you can “like” her Facebook Page:!/charlottebradfordnurse

John Southworth of the 18th Massachusetts

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

Letter from John Southworth, Hall’s Hill, Virginia, Camp Barnes, January 7, 1864.

“Cheer up Emma, it will all seem better when he comes home…”

                      – Harriet J. Fish to Emma Cushing Paulding, July 15, 1861

On a late summer day in 1861, 17 year old John Southworth of Duxbury was mustered into the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, Company E.  He was not alone, accompanying him were a number of young men from town, including his brother, 20 year old Walter.  John and Walter, like many in Duxbury at the time, were shoemakers.  The glory days of Duxbury’s shipbuilding era was a generation past and many took to making shoes, or cordwaining, as an occupation.  John’s father, James, was alternately listed as a farmer or shoemaker in the US Census Records, indicating that the Southworths owned a sustainable farm in Duxbury but required the additional income shoemaking could provide.

The Southworths belonged to a large network of families that had lived in Duxbury since its founding.  When John marched off to war he left behind his parents, James and Lucy, as well as a number of siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.  One such relation was young Emma Cushing Paulding (b. 1843), the daughter of one of the last successful shipbuilders in town, William Paulding.  As first cousins living in a small town, Emma and John had grown up together and it is through their Civil War correspondence that we are able to glimpse the kind, wistful and serious-minded man John Southworth was.

As a member of the 18th Massachusetts, John Southworth’s tenure was three years, during which he witnessed many of the most notable battles of the Civil War, including Gettysburg.  His letters describe the cold, miserable conditions men on the picket lines had to endure, the long marches without any rest, and the fear of facing battle.  In one letter he described the suicide of a fellow soldier who was so desolate he would rather die than face another day of war.  John also writes of coming home and his wish to see his parents, to go on a sleigh ride and to attend dances once again.  Through his letters it is obvious he and his cousin Emma shared a familiarity and friendship, and perhaps, although they were cousins, a bit of romance.  Many of John’s correspondents had left off writing him and he was always grateful to receive word from Emma.

Unfortunately, John Southworth did not survive the War. He died in Andersonville Prison in Georgia during the summer of 1864.  In his last letter to Emma, written on April 10th, only a few short months before his death he wrote the following:

“You say I don’t think enough of myself, ah yes I do Emma, I think I am as good as anybody…But I don’t know as I am good enough to go with a girl.  I think they are a higher grade of human beings than men.  They don’t take part in the abominable, diabolical war.  I can’t say anything bad enough about it…I’m afraid of shot and shell, I have had too many of them sing around my head already and I never want to hear another one fired at them, don’t know how dreadful they sound.”

Although John did not make it home, his brother Walter did, marrying a local girl named Emma Chandler and raising a family in Duxbury.  As for Emma, a few years after the War, she married George Bartlett Bates of Kingston, MA and had five children.  She died in 1930 at the age of 87.

John Southworth alludes to a diary he kept as a soldier.  We can only suppose it was lost while he was a prisoner.  The six letters that Emma Paulding kept, however, allow us to know John Southworth and his experience, if only a bit.  The letters were transcribed by Dylan Kornberg as part of his Duxbury High School internship program and are available by clicking the Emma C. Paulding Papers link to the right under Small Collections.

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society’s Duxbury in the Civil War blog site ( in May 2011.  In light of the Southworth letters being featured on the Library of Congress’ National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collection’s Documentary Heritage of the Civil War I thought I would repost it.

John Hatfield Frazee

Civil War letter from John Hatfield Frazee to his father.

By Emily Hansman

I spent this fall getting to know John Hatfield Frazee.  He was an interesting man who spent much of his life in Tennessee.  He worked as a lawyer, a clergyman, a soldier, and a father.  He was born in New Brunswick New Jersey where he spent his childhood.  After attending Rutgers College he worked as a lawyer for several years, during which time he married his first wife, Christiana.  Misfortune came into his life when Chrissie passed away just three years after their son was born.  Three years later he married his second wife, Caroline, who was fated to be left anxiously at home while her husband fought in the Civil War.  Their family was living in Mississippi when the news of secession shook the country.  Included below is a letter to his father in which he expresses a feeling of isolation, torn between maintaining good relations with his neighbors and parishioners, and remaining loyal to his family, his country, and his home up north.  As the civil war progressed this sentiment drew him and his family back up north where he enlisted in the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry as the Chaplain.  As he moved from battlefield to battlefield he constantly wrote letters to Carrie at home, describing everything from his evening meal to watered down accounts of battle in which, with much skill, he conveyed the stark emotions of the battlefield without including gruesome scenes of carnage that would scare his wife.  His love for God comes through in everything he writes, as his faith was the cornerstone on which he built his life.  His letters show that despite what he was surrounded by, his faith never diminished, instead it only grew stronger.  After the war, he became a pastor in Knoxville, Tennessee where he spent the rest of his life.  His passion for his country and his family is evident in the extensive research he’s done on his family’s past, particularly his ancestor Hendrick Fisher, a soldier in the American Revolution.  He lived a long life and died in old age as a well-loved man.

As a high school student, oftentimes the only way I experience history is through the pages of a textbook. This internship added a whole other dimension.  To hold in your hands the very letter that was written a century and a half ago on the battlefield of out country’s most devastating war, is an incredible experience.  John Hatfield Frazee is such an interesting man and I was privileged to spend an hour each day getting to know him through the legacy he’s left in his letters.

Claiborne Miss.   January 14, 1860

My Dear Father,

                While Carrie is writing a note to Mother, I will begin a short one to you.  It is time our letters were off, if they are to go in tomorrow’s mail.  You are all doubtless kept much better informed of the actual condition of affairs here than we are, for we depend on a paper which is published eleven miles off and gives us but one side of the question.  It is rabid on the subject of secession and that is not our feeling, as you may well know!  We have heard cannon booming all about us for one or two evenings, and the rumour is that this state has seceded.  A member of the Legislature stopped here this morning on his way to Jackson where the Governor has summoned the Legislature to convene tomorrow.  We are in the midst of great confusion, and God alone knows what the issue is to be.  You may easily imagine that we feel very peculiarly at being alone, literally in the far south, and hearing so many hard things said against those we love so much.  But we are away off from the centre of excitement and go on our way quietly, saying and doing nothing which shall excite the prejudice or opposition of anyone.  Our duty is outside of politics entirely, and we strive to do it faithfully to all.  I have, however, this morning, written to the Board of Domestic Missions upon the subject, and have told what my views were, as to the probable necessity of my having to return my commission as their Missionary at the end of this quarter.  And I have also talked with one of my Elders and he has assured me that if at the time named we feel it is our duty to go north all will be well: we shall be paid.  You need not fear for our safety.  We feel as safe as we ever have at the south.  I cannot see any reason why the negroes should rise now, and if there is to be any collision between the states, we are so far inland that we do not fear any harm or injury.  We may very now be in a situation in which letters may not be carried either way for reason you will easily understand but if you should get none, don’t feel that we are in danger or run off into the swamps.  Continue to have Hattie write, and we will do the same.

                We have warm and damp weather just now.  A small congregation yesterday owing to rain.  The people seem to like me, and we like many of them very much. 

                Thanks for your little rubber articles.  We will have a settlement some day.  You must not hesitate to tell me of all your little difficulties and remember that I am always ready to assist those who have done so much for all mine.  I would love – oh how much I would love to see you and all at home!  I never was away from you all so long before.  Yet we are contented, striving to be useful, and satisfied that in God’s own time He will unite us.  Often pray for me, dear father, that my hand may be upheld in this ministry, and that souls may be converted through ever such a feeble instrumentality as my preaching.  We pray daily that your afflictions and bereavement may be for the purifying of your souls, even as gold is made pure by the [xxx] fire.  Love to Mother, Sister, Niece, and Brother.  I would love to get a note from your two hands.

God bless you all.

                                                                                                                                                Your Son, 


The Civil War Homefront

Charlotte Bradford (1813-1890)

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

Although the battles during the Civil War raged in the South, the thoughts of every Northerner were never far from the front.  Any first-hand account of the war was eagerly repeated to family and friends through visits and correspondence.  During the late summer of 1861 Duxbury native Charlotte Bradford shared information she had gathered about the recent battle at Bull Run with her sister, Maria, then living in Yellow Springs, Ohio with her husband, Claudius.  Charlotte wrote her sister of Dr. Josiah Bartlett’s experience assisting the wounded (Bartlett was a doctor and the husband of the Bradford’s cousin Martha).  She also described the travails of a family friend, Frank Frothingham, who had fought in the battle with the 5th Massachusetts.  Interspersed with the gruesome details of the war, were more homely accounts of day to day activities in Duxbury, such as “working for the soldiers” in the Methodist Vestry and entertaining house guests.

In future blog entries we will learn more of Charlotte Bradford as she heads off for Washington, DC to begin her career as a Civil War nurse.  The following, however, is a letter written months before she considered leaving for the South.

Duxbury, Aug. 18, [1861]

Dear Maria,

I intended to have written you long before now but we have had so much company and so much to do, and I have been so tired, that I had no chance to do it.  The middle of July Lizzie Ripley and Sarah E[llison] came down.  Lizzie spent a week.  Her mother [Sarah Alden Ripley] was coming the next week, but I had a lame knee and had to put off their visit.  The most of that week and the next we went to the Methodist vestry to work for the soldiers.  The 1st of August E[lizabeth] and I went to Abington.  There was very fine speaking there, but the seats in the ground were so wet that we came home most awfully tired…Ezra Ripley[i] has gone to Fortress Monroe. He is lieutenant of one of the companies.  How unfortunate our troops should have been beaten twice.  I am afraid it will not be quite so easy for the North to conquer as they have boasted.  Josiah [Bartlett] took a trip to Washington and was present at the Bull Run fight and assisted in dressing the wounds at the hospital at Centreville.  Frank Frothingham[ii] is here.  He was in the battle in the Mass. 5th Regiment.  They had nothing to eat from Saturday night till Monday noon.  They marched 8 miles in the morning into the battle, then 45 miles or more Sunday night and Monday morning, arrived in Washington wet through in a drenching rain, and Monday night 45 of them slept in a kitchen with a brick floor and only 2 windows which had to be kept shut on account of their being so wet with no change of clothing.  It must have been dreadful. In the morning an acquaintance found Frank in a high fever and took him to a friend’s house where he was cared for.

Mother sends her love to you and Claudius and says she wants to see you very much.  Give my love to Claudius.

Your affectionate sister,


This article originally appeared on the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society’s Duxbury in the Civil War blog.

[i] Ezra Ripley was the son of the noted Transcendentalist and Bradford cousin, Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley. The Ripleys lived in the Old Manse in Concord, MA.  Ezra Ripley enlisted as a 1st Lieutenant on 24 July 1861 at the age of 35 in Company B, 29th Massachusetts Infantry.  He died of disease on July 28, 1863 in Vicksburg, MS.

[ii] Frank Frothingham was from Charlestown, MA. He enlisted, at the age of 23, in the 5th Massachusetts, Company K for 30 days from May 1, 1861 until July 31, 1861.  He then served with Company A, 33rd Infantry Regiment as a Lieutenant and with Company I, 3rd Massachusetts Calvalry as a Captain.  He was mustered out of the Army on June 5, 1865.

Charles M. Smith of the 11th Massachusetts

Centreville, Va. Stone church

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

This blog post originally appreared on the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society’s Duxbury in the Civil War blog.  It is such a great letter, I thought I would share it here as well.

July 21st marked 150th anniversary of the 1st Battle of Bull Run (also known as the First Manassas). On the field that day, in the ranks of the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, commonly called the Boston Volunteers, was a carpenter’s son from Charlestown named Charles M. Smith. “Charlie” enlisted on June 13, 1861 shortly after Abraham Lincoln made his plea for troops. Two days after Bull Run Charlie sat down next to a wounded comrade and dutifully recounted all that he experienced in a letter to his mother so she “would not feel worried.” The following is hair raising letter Mrs. Harriet Smith received:
July 23 [1861]

Shooters Hill, V.A.

Dear Mother and all,
We are again at Shooter’s Hill, we started from here a week ago at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and marched till 3 o’clock the next morning and then started at sunrise and marched till sunset where we camped overnight and took some prisoners. All the houses are empty and some of them we set on fire. If we get hungry we kill hens, ducks and cattle and pigs and every thing we want to eat. We started the next morning with the intentions of cutting off the retreat [of] a rebel regiment which started from Fairfax but we was 2 hours to late. They burnt bridges and cut down big trees to stop us all they could but we pushed on as far as Centerville. There was about 8 regiments in all that went with us but when we got to Centerville there was 20 or 30 other regiments encamped there. We stopped here two days then we started for Manassas where we fought an awfull battle. Men that have been in other battles say that it was the most murderous battle they ever saw for so short a time. It only lasted 6 hours. I haven’t heard how many men we had to take the place, some say there was 40,000 but there wasn’t one half took part in it. The battle twas either sold or it was a great blunder. They had over 100,000 men and had batteries in the woods and batteries that reached 1 ½ miles. They heard we were coming and was reinforced 30,000 the very day we got there. I will give you a little description of it but I suppose you will read about it in the papers. When we got within about 1 mile of the place we heard cannon and saw the smoke they then made us urn double quick to the field where we threw off every thing that encumbered us. The shells were flying every direction and the first man I saw killed was one of our own Company. A shell struck within six feet of us killing one and knocking down two or three more. A piece tore my pants a little and that was all. We was ordered on to the hill where I saw sights that was enough to make a man grow mad. There was men laying dead and wounded and the artillery men had been killed and the horses were all dead piled together by the Cannon. The bullets were flying thick. The enemy wasn’t more than a stones throw from us. The glorious eleventh gave one fire and fell back leaving behind them many dead and wounded. A ball struck my gun but that was nothing. We loaded again but that was the last fire we gave together for the other regiments that went up after us got cut to pieces so they broke, breaking us and everything was confusion. Some of our captains got killed. Then there was so much noise we could not hear our Colonels and every man was for himself. I went again on the hill and fired but the bullets and grape fell so thick we fell back again leaving hundreds behind. Besides a lot of Ellsworth Zouves lost 3 or 400 of their men. I went down into the woods with about 100 others where we could fire into them without their seeing us and here I came the nearest to getting killed. There was some of us went deep into the woods. I saw a company of men in there and thought they were our men but when they see us they fired into us and the way the leaves and splinters flew off o the trees it made me think of home. I rushed out of the woods and our Cavelry were coming down the hill to charge into them but they had hardly got into the woods when I should think a whole regiment fired upon them. They turned their horses and fled and there was as many as 30 horses came out without a rider. I jumped into a little hole to keep clear of the bullets and there was 4 or 5 soldiers in there. I asked them some questions but I found they was all dead. Every one was leaving for the hill. I went up there where I shot about a dozen shots when I see they was retreating. I was one of the very last ones. When our Cavelry rode by us on the gallop told us to run for some woods ahead as quick as we could for their Cavelry was coming. I looked back and saw the dust and only saw about 20 behind me when I threw away my grub bag and gun and run for life if I ever did. They did not follow but a little ways and went back. I picked up another gun that was loaded and discharged it at them. Every body was going towards Centreville on a run. There was men wounded on the way crying for help but every man seemed to look out for himself. All the houses and barns were filled with the wounded but we had to leave them and I suppose they were all killed. There was 12 of our company missing this morning. The Cavelry charged on our rear when we got about 2 miles off taking some prisoners. They also fired shells into us when we got within 4 miles of Centreville killing only a few. One of them struck a rail fence about 10 feet from me and wounding 2 or 3. I was very lucky during the whole of the battle. There was men each side of me got shot dead while I wouldn’t get touched. There was hundreds of men walked to the camp at Centreville that were badly wounded about the head and body. There was only 2 of our Company that was wounded that came here with us the rest we had to leave. One is now sitting in front of me, a ball passed right into his mouth and out of his cheek taking several teeth with it. We shall stay here until we get a big enough force to take the place. Nearly all their whole army are there and you can’t see them but when you go up to fire they can pour right into us. I thought I would write to you so you would not feel worried. They told me today that we could not have any letters go but if you get this you write quick and let me know so I can write more. I don’t feel much like writing today. Give my love to all the folks. I have received two letters from you and want to get some more but good bye till I get home.

Charles M. Smith was mustered out of the 11th Massachusetts, Company I on June 24, 1864 and promptly reenlisted six month later in the 1st Massachusetts Calvary Battalion. He finally left the Army for good at the end of the War in June, 1865. Charlie settled in Humbolt, Kansas where he married and raised a family. The Drew Archival Library of Duxbury Rural & Historical Society has 8 of his Civil War Letters all of which are as well written and detail laden as the above.

Photo above: Civil War photographs, 1861-1865 / compiled by Hirst D. Milhollen and Donald H. Mugridge, Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress, 1977. No. 0001

Charlotte Bradford vs. Louisa May Alcott

Charlotte Bradford (1813-1890)

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

During the Civil War Charlotte Bradford of Duxbury traveled to the South to become a nurse.  She worked for a time aboard the Transport Ships (“Floating Hospitals”) organized by the United States Sanitary Commission and later worked in Washington, D.C. area hospitals under Dorothea Dix.  During her tenure as a nurse she kept a daily journal and wrote numerous letters home.

One of her most interesting letters is to the Editors of The Commonwealth (c. 1863), a Massachusetts newspaper.  In it she describes her feelings toward Louisa May Alcott’s recently published serial, “Hospital Sketches.”  Charlotte was none too pleased with Alcott’s description of life in a Union Hospital.

What is particularly interesting about this critique is the fact that Charlotte most probably knew Miss Alcott, or at least of her.  One of Charlotte’s cousins was the Transcendentalist, George Partridge Bradford, who was a great friend of Broson Alcott.  Her other cousin was Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, the owner of the Old Manse in Concord and Alcott neighbor.  Perhaps Charlotte did not know that Tribulation Periwinkle, Louisa’s pseudonym in Hospital Sketches, was actually Alcott.

The copy of the letter in the Drew Archival Library is incomplete.  There is at least one page missing.  I have not verified if the letter was actually sent or whether the Editor’s chose to publish it.  Charlotte’s description her hospital work, soldiers and diet is a bit different from what we read in her diary.  Although she claims to have a good appetite in her letter, it was, in fact, not very good.  She was a vegetarian and dispised the Army rations she was forced to eat.  She also came up against surgeons on more than one occassion and was dismissed from the Armory Square Hospital for insubordination.  Her time in Washington was difficult and often times far from the rosy description she gives to the Editors. Despite her own tribulations, however, Charlotte obviously did not like anyone anyone speaking ill of the conditions publicly.

The following is Charlotte’s copy or rough draft of her letter to The Commonwealth.

Mr. Editor,

Your paper of the 19th was handed me today and it is so seldom that I see one from Mass. that I greeted it as a friend from home.  “Hospital Sketches” on the first page caught my eye, but I read it with no little pain and was tempted to give you a sum of my own experiences, it has been so different from the feeling expressed there.  I have been a nurse in hospitals in and near Washington for nearly a year and have heard much said about self denial and sacrifice, but I have had no sympathy with that at all.  My motives for coming and here were not, I am sorry to say, of the self denying sort.  I had no great idea of the good that I could do for I have no doubt there is many a woman at the North who would be glad of the privildge of coming who could do more and better than I can.  I came simply from the love of taking care of the sick and my interest in the war and so perhaps was better prepared to offer [?].  I must say that I cannot recall a year of my life that I have passed more pleasantly.  It is not, I think, that I have ben favored in the choice of hospitals for I have served in six different ones, including some of the worst as well as the best.  I have eaten off tin plates nothing but army rations and sometimes without a knife or fork but what of that?  I fared the same as the soldier and preferred that to partaking of the nicer victuals from the surgeon’s and stewards tables.  But I am blessed with a good appetite and it was rather and amusement and difficult to realize that I was sitting in the cellar of the Capital eating off an unwashed table or eating in this primitive style in its magnificent rooms above stairs.  Let no one criticize even that hospital too severely.  It was a temporary one in a building entirely unsuited to the purpose excepting in its fine and spacious rooms for the beds, but when it comes to perparing food for 1000 men best no one find fault untill he has been behind the scenes and seen what it invovles.  A hospital is a vast machine that requires a great many springs to be put in motion before it works evenly and smoothly.  In Armory Square Hospital which Miss seems to consider a model I have not a year since had the better part of many a meal from not going a the first sound of the bugle. I have eaten after the surgeons as well as before an found how essential it was to my comfort that they should be punctual at their meals.  A word in regard to the bread.  I know that the aeratated bread is used somewhat and that, when a day or two old is certainly much like sawdust but the army bread that we get in Washington is certainly excellent and superior to most homemade bread.  But what are such petty annoyances to one who has the priviledge of going into a ward in the morning and meeting the smile of welcome that greets her.  I have always heard it said that men did not know how to be sick, had no patience, but I was soon convinced of the fallacy of that doctrine.  I never saw such patience and fortitude as shown by our soldiers indeed the cheerfulness and even fine spirits of the soldier is almost proverbial.  I have in my mind’s eye a young man who had lost altogether the use of his lower limbs, could not even sit up in bed, but as he lay on his back or leaned on his elbow, his face was radiant with smiles.  I at first thought he must have heard some pleasant news.  I shall never see him again but if ever I am sick and inclined to be impatient I believe that face will be a lesson to me.  Then how pleasant to go round with the dressing tray and as one after another receives the refreshment of clean water and bandage to watch from day to day the gradual healing of the wound and listen to their kindly, pleasant talk for they are all your friends.  The sorrow is  that of the hundreds that I have watched and tended I shall probably never see ten again but I have met some curious instances showing that the smallest act of kindess is appreciated.  A young man came one day and spoke to me whom I did not recognize “you may perhaps remember” said he “I am the one whom you gave 2 soda crackers one day ’cause I could not eat my dinner.”  And let me say that though I do not doubt there is a great profanity in the Army yet in hospital I have rarely, except in delirium, heard a soldier utter an oath and in these few instances it was always followed by “I beg your pardon I did not know you were there” showing the respect of our people for women.  I must not forget the pleasant though sadder task of administering to the wants of the sick.  To bathe the aching head and moisten the fevered lips or even to speak a kind word are trifles but they are a solace to the weary, worn out soldier.  I have seen the tears glisten in more than on manly eye…

Charlotte Bradford’s diaries and letters are part of the Bradford Family Collection.  She lived her entire life, other than her three years in Washington, DC, in her family’s home on Tremont Street (The Gershom Bradord House).

Small Collections are coming!

Over 25 small collections, and we do mean small, have recently been processed. Some collections are no more than one item, most are no more than one folder. They range in topic from the 1742 Indenture papers of young Elizabeth Hedge, to the Civil War letters of John Southworth, to the construction documents of the Duxbury Alms House.  

Finding Aids for these smaller collections will be online soon.