Document 10: Letter from William Pelham to Marianna Pelham Mott, 25 June 1854, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.
In this response to Marianna’s request for information about her Pelham ancestry, William noted that his Uncle Peter “became embued with a spirit of emancipation, and liberated all of their slaves.” Of his many uncles, William chose only to write of this one, who chose to free his slaves and move to a free state.
Washington City D.C.
June 25th 1854
My dear Niece
I will now endeavour to comply with the latter part of your letter of the 21st inst.
My grand father was an Englishman and came to America and settled in the city of Boston, a short time before the birth of my father. About four years after that period my grand father[A] removed to Petersburg Va. and I think at one time resided in Richmond.
My grand father and mother had five sons, and I do not know how many daughters. The sons names were Peter, Charles, William, John, & Henry. Peter lived in Petersburg and was for many years clerk of the Court of that County and accumulated sufficient wealth to be considered wealthy in those days. He married a Miss Brown. They had fourteen children I believe all of them lived to be grown, and were with their parents, members of the methodist church. My uncle died at eighty one, after having buried twelve of his children. He and his white family, about the year 1809 removed from Petersburg to Xenia Ohio, where his sons began to labor in the field, and his daughters in the kitchen, occupations entirely new to them, as their father had many, very many servants, while his children were growing up. He and his wife became embued with a spirit of emancipation, and liberated all of their slaves.[B] Many of them wept and pleaded to be allowed to live and go with them, but they steadily refused, and left them all in Va. The only two of my uncles children alive at his death were two daughters Caroline Davis and Mary Pelham both of whom I believe are alive yet and live in that vicinity, the latter not yet married. I think upon reflection, my Cousin Jesse was alive at that time but died shortly afterwards.
My father[C] was the second son. He early manifested a military predilection, and previous to the war of the Revolution was a Midshipman on a war ship for a few years, but when difficulties occurred between the Colonies and Great Britain, he took sides with the Colonies, and consequently resigned his position on the war ship. During the time he was on the vessel he was three times at Liverpool, and also at London. I have heard him say he visited some Relatives while he was at London, whom he spoke of as wealthy persons.
He joined the first Virginia line of Continental Troops, being raised soon after his resignation from the sea service, and was appointed a first Lieutenant in the regular Army of Infantry. He was soon promoted to a Capancy [sic] in which capacity he led a company in the three hardly contested Battles, of Brandywine, Germantown, and Valley Forge, and was in many other smaller ones of which I do not recollect sufficient to describe them. Some time before the siege of Charleston S.C. he had been promoted to a Major’s Command and during that siege was in almost all of the fighting consequent upon it. Some months after the English subdued the fortress and took possession of them and the City, he among others were paroled. He during the existence of this parol visited his brother Peter, at Petersburg, where he again saw Miss Isabella Atkinson, a grown young Lady, the niece of his brothers wife, a motherly girl of eighteen years, whom he had seen when a little girl before the war. After his visit was through he proceeded to Ky. to locate land Warrants, where he remained several months and then returned and was married to my mother. His age was thirty seven and hers eighteen. They lived with much love and happiness together until death separated them. My mother was said to have been very handsome and sprightly when young, and was very much admired. My mother had eleven children, all of whom lived to be of age.
This narrative will be continued in my next.
Your affectionate Uncle.
A. William’s grandfather Peter Pelham (1721-1803) was organist of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.
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B. Many letters written by this Peter Pelham (1747-1822) are in the Edward Dromgoole Papers in the Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In one letter written 20 June 1807 after moving from Virginia to Ohio, he wrote“of my happy feelings on setting my feet on a Land of Liberty.” In several later letters, he referred again to Ohio as a “Land of Liberty.”
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C. Charles Pelham (1748-1829) moved to Maysville, Kentucky about 1786. Charles’s oldest son Peter, first husband of Martha Wright, was the only one of Charles’s eleven children who was born before the move to Kentucky. William was born in Kentucky in 1803.
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