Document 21: Letter from Charles Pelham to Martha Coffin Wright, 12 July 1869, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Introduction

      Martha had written her last letter to Charles before the Civil War, in December 1860 (see documents 13, 14, and 15). In 1869, she wrote him to re-establish contact, and this is his letter of response. It confirms that his brother John, who Martha met in Philadelphia in April 1861 on his way south to Alabama, was indeed the “gallant Pelham” she had read about. It contains much other family news, and reports his transformation into a “reconstructed reb” who voted for Grant. A lawyer before the war, Charles had been elected to be a Judge, and later became a one-term Republican representative in the U. S. Congress.

                                                                   Talladega Ala
                                                                    12th July 1869

My Dear Aunt,

       Your kind letter of the 7th was received yesterday. I had never heard one word directly or indirectly from you or cousin Marianna since bro John was in Philada in 61. You are correct in supposing that the “gallant Pelham” was the young Cadet who called on you at Mr. Motts. He was killed at the head of the 4 Va Cavalry at Kellys ford 17th Mch 63, and if you would like to know some thing of the record he made I will order (from New York) some of the histories and incidents of the war which will give you an idea of what he did. If cousin Marianna comes back I should like for her to see them. Now that the Government is safe & slavery abolished it would seem that one could read of the courage and daring of a relative though engaged in a cause that did not meet ones approval. Some day the world will recognize the difference between men “who precipitate a rebellion” and those who “go with their state.”

       “Cotton bush” (the old home at Maysville) must be a lonely place now. Aunt Penelope is the only one there. Uncle John died soon after the close of the war. Aunts Betsy & Patsy have died since. Aunt Annie is at her home in Millerville.[A] Uncle William[B] is ruined in health, fortune & happiness. The Government confiscated over two Hundred thousand acres of land for him. I endeavored to get him to try to have the confiscation proceedings set aside as most of them were informal but he refused to make the effort. My Law partner & most intimate friend was made Provisional Governor of Ala by Andrew Johnson & after the reconstruction measures were passed he (my partner) went to Washington City to practice law in the Court of Claims, he was confident that we could have the confiscation set aside and have Uncle Wm’s land restored to him. My brother William[C] was there living with him trying to farm with Mexican labor. As long as bro Will remained with him he didn’t seem to care for the loss of his property but since he left Cousin Belle[D] writes me that he is very melancholly. I had forgotten that you had never heard of the death of his oldest son (& only one) Charles. I will send you enclosed a copy of an extract from the “Acts of the Legislature” of Texas in regard to changing the name of Charles Ten Eyck to Charles Pelham.[E] He was the most reckless and daring soldier I ever saw. He came out with Col Terry in the beginning of the war & served as a private till his death in 64. Our regts were in the same Div for two years and I had the pleasure of spending a good deal of time with him. He was known & loved by our whole Cavalry--he refused a Captains Com--on three different occasions, he and my brother Peter were both members of “Wheelers Scouts.”

       My father & mother[F] are still living--both in fine health. They have two of the boys[G] at home with them and with a few hired hands and the improved labor saving machines & farming implements cultivate all the land they formerly cultivated with 30 negroes. When I was elected five of Pa’s former slaves voted for me.[H] Pa and the boys at home were inclined to joke me about it for a long time, but I believe every body is getting accustomed to the changed conditions.

       I would write you sheet after sheet of news if I thought it would interest you or if I could write as plainly as you do, but will only add a few lines about myself. I am what you would call a “reconstructed reb.” I voted for the adoption of the State Constitution under the reconstruction measures of Congress & for Genl Grant as the best means of restoring the country to peace & quiet. The paper I send you is the only Republican Paper in this portion of the state. I own one fourth of the Stock in “the Sun publishing association” and was elected its Editor but am not generally known as such--and rarely ever write anything for it & only direct its political course. My official duties only require nine weeks of my time in the spring & ten in the fall. I know a good many ex Federal officers in Florida & have promised one of them to take a hunt with him in Escumbra (Fla) before a great while and I shall certainly hunt up your son when I go.[I] I can & will offer him my sympathy and shall ask his for I languished on a bed of excruciating pain for 8 months from a gunshot wound received in the engagement at Kennesaw Mountain in June 64. I haven’t fully recovered yet. It has been so long since I wrote to you that I have forgotten if I ever wrote you that I was married. We have two children, a little girl born in March 62 and a boy in August 65. They are the prettiest & smartest children that were ever seen--perfect prodigies. It is worth a trip all the way here to see them. Do come out to Ala & see us all.

       When you write to cousin Marianna remember me kindly and affectionately to her & Mr. M. & their children. I will send her letters to Pa & he will send to Uncle Wm.

       Mrs. Pelham (Lulu) sends her loving regards to you & all your family. She desires me to ask you to send her your Photograph. She has read your letters to me many times and has unbounded admiration for you & Cousin M.--Very affectionately

                                                                       C. Pelham

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A. When Martha Wright visited Maysville, the childhood home of her first husband, in the 1850s, she met there her brother-in-law John Pelham and his sisters Ann, Betsy, Patsy, and Penelope. Ann Pelham had married Alexander Miller and moved from the Pelham home in Maysville to her husband’s home in Millersburg, Kentucky. By 1869, only Penelope was still living there.
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B. Martha had not heard from her brother-in-law William Pelham since his angry letter written to Marianna in 1861 from a Union prison in Santa Fé (see Document 18).
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C. Charles’s brother William had written to Martha’s daughter Marianna from a Union prison in 1865 seeking help in obtaining a parole (see documents 19 and 20) .
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D. William Pelham’s daughter Isabella Ann Pelham, who had married Edward Ten Eyck in 1857.
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E. William Pelham’s only son Charles Thomas Pelham served with Terry’s Texas Rangers and was killed in action in Georgia in May 1864. William’s daughter Isabella Ann Pelham Ten Eyck had a son Charles Ten Eyck, and in November 1864, the Texas legislature voted to change the name of Charles Ten Eyck to Charles Thomas Pelham.
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F. Charles’s parents were Atkinson Pelham and Isabella Atkinson Pelham of Alabama.
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G. Probably Charles’s two youngest brothers, Samuel, born in 1845, and Thomas, born in 1847.
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H. Charles had been elected Judge. He later was elected to the U. S. Congress as a Republican from Alabama. Considering the strong pro-slavery opinions he expressed to Martha in his prewar letters, it is perhaps surprising that Charles became active as a Republican politician after the war, a position that strained his relations with his brothers and neighbors. He may simply have been pragmatic enough to realize that the government would be in the hands of the Republicans for some time, and that he could do more for Alabama and for himself in the Republican party.
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I. Martha’s son William Pelham Wright was a Union artillery officer and was wounded at Gettysburg. He had moved to Florida.
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