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Selected Excerpts from the James Gwyn Family Papers


The following excerpts are taken from the James Gwyn family papers which are a collection from 1653-1946.  I have only copied references to slaves from the diaries.  There is a separate list of all slaves copied from bills of sale.  Sasha Mitchell, June 26, 1997.

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Wythe County, Virginia, June 10, 1853

Dear Sir,

I few days ago Mr. Gwyn wrote to Mr. Martin relative to the purchase of his boy Henry saying that he would give him the $5000 for him the price first asked.  Will you be so good as to go and see Mr. Martin again and know of him if he has written to Mr. Gwyn and if so what is his conclusion.  And if he will sell at all what is the very lowest price he will take.  I am of the opinion that it would be better to buy the boy at any rate and if he will not to any better I will authorize you to make arrangements to pay him for me and I will either send or bring you the money as soon as I am apprised of the trade.  Tell cousin Ann that I don't expect her to visit Wythe soon and if she will inform me of the time she can be at ___ ___ I will meet her there and bring her home with me, also tell her to bring Cousin Sarah with her.  Give my love to tall the family and accept my best wishes for your future happiness.  Very truly yours MB Tate.

January 27, 1855

Peggy got married to Mr. H's Jo.  Mr. Barber was to have married them, but owing to sickness in his family he did not come down & I had to perform the ceremony.


March 22, 1856

Old Uncle Mason died this morning about 1 hour by sun he was taken after dinner the day before with Cholic and never got easy a moment, but suffered the most excruciating pain till he died - his death was sudden and very unexpected and very greatly to be regretted; he was so pure and good.  We buried him same evening about sunset

March 23, 1856

Easter and a gloomy one on account of the death of good Old Mason.  Weather moderate, frost every morning!

March 26, 1856

Dear Sir.

Our good old servant Mason died on Saturday morning last; rather suddenly and unexpectedly.  He was taken on Friday after dinner with severe pains in his bowels, which cotinued to the moment of his death.  We gave him many things to releave him all to no purpose.  I don't think I ever regretted to part from a friend or relation more than I did to part from him.  He was so good, honest, truthful, and so careful and attentive to the stock and to everything about the plantation, and so very kind ot the children; everybody loved Uncle Mason and they had good reason to do so.  He was about 68 and if he would have taken care of himself might have lived 8 or 10 years; but I could never get him to do that.  He would be out about something and often when he ought to have been in the house.  He has not equal of his color in this part of the country.

J. Gwyn

Col. Thomas Lenoir
Fort Defiance

June 14, 1857

Byrum & Betsy's child Eliz baptized yesterday, rather more out than usual - a beautiful & solemn service.

July 31, 1865

We have had a hot & tolerably dry month, Corn has suffered some for 2 weeks until yesterday, we had a most beautiful rain gentle & enough to do very well & it is still cloudy & misting often; very fine time on corn & it is looking very well,. the prospect now in for a very fine corn crop.  We had Cous' Ann Finley & her son Gordon with us a few nights ago & Cous Martha Finley the next night; they went to Elkin to get Cotton H & Came by to see us.  I hope the people are getting quiet & civil I here of no violence or outbreak of any kind.  The most disturbance to be apprehended now is from the Negroes; who are all said to be free & many of them have left their homes & come prowling about, disturbing others who would remain at home till fall or winter if let alone.  Poor deluded creatures,  its a death blow to them; in a few years they will be perishing & down driven about & in 20 years the race will be almost extinct.


November 20, 1865

They got back Monday 13th all safe & sound in.  We are about done our corn & potatoes H & now ready to dismiss the Negroes and let them lookout for homes.  Worth Elected Gov. - the State refused to ratify the ordinance of the Commission emancipating the slaves , & also the cessation ordinance, what is to be done now!  We are in a great mess!  Can't tell where we are drifting to.  All a mistake both ordinances ratified; still our numbers to congress are not ___ !! 


January 8, 1866  

killed bal. of my hogs 20 (including two small ones which were not of the fattening lot) which weighted 3373 lb. - 168 lb. on average making 9281 lb. in all salted down in clean cold tinns.  No darkies on  the hill now but Old Sally & family & Mace' Old S's folks will be off as soon as their house is done, then we shall have none but Bart & Mace.


February 24, 1866

Heavy rain again, now out of banks a little -- non plowing done since the day before the cold last week.

No darkies but Mace & Bart on the hill; Mary Ann & the girls have been doing the cooking & house work now for several weeds & all seems to go on finely. We got a fine large stove & put it up 2 weeks ago & its very little trouble to cook now, compared to what it was before - we are having a peaceful quiet time much more so than when the Negroes were all here, and if it were not for the loss of the value of them in $ & to my children; I don't think I would regret a lot their freedom it takes so much less to do __ & their is so much less wasted on the plantation - I shall only work 3 or 4 hands & do not spect to make much corn this year.


March 2, 1866

Began to sow oats, warm nice time - sowed on stalk field & ____ Byrum & Baldy sowed 10 __ on stalk field.

December 25, 1868

Christmas, dry weather & pretty cold, ice on pond again boys skating, 26 hauled again, filled house with fine ice no company scept Cous' Mary, Jim & Richard to dinner 24th spect them again in a day or two.  Beautiful dry roads to haul ice, the best time I ever saw for it.   Old Jude was ___ up and dismissed at the end of her 11th 8th Dec. & ___ Davis takes her place, who we now think a much better nicer woman & will suit us better.  She & her two children at breakfast & dinner in the house ____  ___ table & are not very much trouble so far.  Have not made any special contract with her expect to give her about the same did Old Jude $4 per month.


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Source: "James Gwyn Family Papers 1653-1946," Series J Volumes 1844-1804, Folder 31, Manuscripts Department, CB#3926, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Phone: 919/962-1345.

Contributed by Sasha Faith Mitchell. Website: Sasha's Roots




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