April 11 1855 – Martha Haun to James Haun

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In this long letter, Martha Haun debates traveling to California and rebukes her husband for the tone of his most recent letter.

April the 11th 18551

My Dear Husband,

I received your letter dated February the 15th. I had written one to you about ten days before I got yours. I told you in that one about my getting home on the 3rd of March and all about myself. We are all well and doing as well as we can these hard times for it is said to be the hardest times that has ever been known in Kentucky. It is almost a famine here now. There was so little raised here last summer on account of the drought.

I told you in my last that I was again boarding at Pratt’s, that I had put Lizzie to school in Midway, and I keep Anna with me. I find with all the economy that I can possibly use it is cheaper to board than to keep house. I have tried it effectually and know it to be so, though if times had not off got so tight I should have continued to keep house for the satisfaction of it–but I have got the room that Mrs Holtzclaw occupied when you left, a very comfortable retired room. I am very comfortably situated.

Old Mrs Beaty was buried yesterday. She had another stroke of palsy. Ed Applegate and Darinda Maddox get married next Wednesday. I believe I told you in a former letter about Ellick Carrick and Queen Cantrell running off and getting married, and about Frank Rankin joining the reform church. Frank sticks up to his profession well. The church is in a very lukewarm condition, though we have John Ganoe to preach one Sunday in the month for us. There has been several families had to break up and leave town because they could not get provisions to eat. Everything is so high. Johnny Beatty, Rose and J.H. Thompson has left for the present while times are so tight. Mike Algiers’ stables, buggies, hacks, and horses was sold yesterday by his  creditors to pay his debts. He is broke, as industrious as he has always been, he is broke. He says he can pay his debts and have a thousand dollars left to begin with. His dwelling house has not been sold. I suppose his farther will keep that from being sold. Ben Finnell is pretty badly bent. Harvey Graves’ house was burnt down one night last week with very nearly all of its contents. Some of the family did not save one suit of clothes. They get some few things out, though nothing of much importance. They discovered the fire at two o’clock in the night. From all appearances it must have been the work of an incendiary, though they do not like to think so, or they do think it, but do not say it. His loss is estimated at seven thousand dollars, besides the insurance. It was insured for three thousand and the furniture at one, making four thousand in all. He is a-going to build immediately and build nearer the road. Persons say he is going to build a much finer house than the other was.

You spoke in your last letter of what Jack and Dave told you W.G. said about your not paying him. I do not know whether it is so or no and even if he did say so I would not, if I were you, suffer it to make any impression my feelings, nor would I ever attempt to pay him, and I would not hesitate to tell him so, for I know to my own certain knowledge that he justly owes you more than that, nor will he say half as much about it, nor care half as much as some of the balance of them. Them that told you such stuff has no regard for your feelings nor his. I do most honestly think he is the best hearted brother you have, though you know he always keeps himself in such a press for money. That makes him do things he would not otherwise do.

Sant told me to write to you and put on your guard. I told Sant that you owed him, and he said in justice you did not, and further said it would do Bill no good if you was to pay him, that that it will only go with the balance some of this days to pay his debts and that
amount would not keep him from breaking no how. He said you would be foolish to labor where you are to make money to pay that debt. It would be just like throwing it away, for it would then do neither of you any good, where if you would keep it yourself it would do your family some good. Sant told me if I did not write to you this way that I was not as smart as he took me to be. You must not say a word to any one about what Sant says; it would get him into a fuss and he is mad and grumbling more than half his time at Bill any how. He says just as many hard things of Bill now and more than he used to and still makes his house his home–but I know he has talked as hard of him to me as he could more than once. I do not know how to take any of this, but this much I know: that do as you will they will talk hard of you so I want you to do as the balance: take care of yourself. They will say hard things of you, do as you may, and you might just as well give them something as not. They would think just as much of you and more too. If I was you I would tell Billy G. plump and plain that I did not intend to  go to the mines and work, and make my child work to get money to pay him merely because he had a claim according to law when if justice was done you do not owe him one cent. He would think just as much of you. Now keep this to yourself but act it out for your child’s sake.

Sant asked me one day if I ever lived as easy a life as Ray. He said, “no, by God, nor you never will. I know you never did and I know you never had everything thrown into your lap without ever asking for it as she has.” He said to me, you see for yourself that he would, and does, make a slave of anybody, even his own child to keep her humored. He would make every drop of kin he has labor to keep her up in her laziness. Then Sant said, when you see and know what he would do, if you let Jim pay that money you would be very foolish. I told him I could not prevent it if you took a notion to pay. He said I ought to try and you ought to listen to it, for Bill would not stint one day for all the kin, children not excepted, of anything she might want, no matter how foolish, not to say any of their lives. I do say of a truth, she is the laziest, crossest, dirtiest, most extravagant woman I ever saw in all my life before. He certainly has less satisfaction in his house than any poor devil I ever saw. I never felt as sorry for any man I ever saw as I did for him. Oh how it made me think of you, how hard you would think of me always if I ever got fretted and grumbled. How mad you would always get at me for it, and I always a-doing and trying to do something for my family. To see the contrast–she does nothing under the heavens nor takes no care, no interest in anything, no more than a stranger. She then quarrels and fusses continually and he puts up with it and tries to humor her and never scolds at her, let her do as she will. I know such a wife would run you mad, but it is their lookout, not ours. I tell you these things for the purpose of letting you know that your brothers that have wives care only for themselves and their family that you may act to them as they would to you–but by this time you certainly have found it out.

Now about my going to California. I came home fully determined in my mind to go out there the first of May and I have thought and studied every way about it. I think if I had never of written to you about coming that you would never said to me come. Well I would get to thinking about you, and I would feel sometimes that I could not stand to be separated from you and that I could brave anything to get to you. Then I would write and tell you how I felt, not thinking it would be the means of causing any unhappiness on your part, but I done wrong. I thought to you I could express my feelings and you would not think hard of me, but I have got so some times now that I can think reasonably about it and at other times again I cannot reason. My feelings rule but, oh, it is one constant effort on my part to subdue feelings and let reason and interest gain the ascendancy. I have done it to some extent, as I said before.

I had determined to make an effort to go and to keep an eye to what would be to our interest at the same time. It was to make money that we made the sacrifice of parting in the first place and we have gone through the worst part of it, Well, to sell the negroes now they would not bring much over half as much as they would have done one year ago, for they are down now very low, so it would not do at all to think of such a thing now. We would loose too much. For me to go leave them would be almost like throwing away that much money to go some where else to make it. I thought at one time I could do it but after trying I found it not so easy to leave them in the hands of a man that had nothing. It would not do. How easily they could be run off or be sold and we would never hear of them and the men say they had run off. Well, if he had no property we would be at the end of our rope, and again to leave them with a responsible man. That sort of man does not like to take such a responsibility and if they would consent to do so, I know people well enough to know that they would care very little whether they lived or died, so I could not feel satisfied to leave that much property at the  mercy of people that could not, nor would not, feel much interest in our welfare–not enough to put themselves to much trouble whether we made or lost. This is a very selfish world, I have long since learnt. By my going out there it would make us run the risk of loosing more than we would probably make.

(When I told Sam and Bet I had a  notion of going to California Sam said he had rather die almost than for me to go and leave them. He said it was bad enough when I was here for them to get along and they could not do it all without me, that whenever I was away they was public property. And he said there was plenty of people that envied others their Negroes and would delight to abuse them whenever they had it in their power. He had learnt that while I was away the winter and two since you have left.)

Then why, when money is our object, place our property in jeopardy? I think it would be very unwise under all the circumstances for me to go and leave it, though as I said before, I was so anxious to be with you that I thought I could just as well go as not–until I began to make an effort to go.

Then I saw it was not so easily done without risking too much. Then will you think of all these things and not think hard of me for expressing the wish I did to be with you, or for causing you to feel so bad as you said it did. Oh, have you forgotten that I am a mother and a devoted wife that cannot control my feelings as regards my love for you so, or to be always on my guard how I speak to you, or always and at all times take a deliberate view of what would be to our interest. You speak of your hard and unpleasant life. I know it, and it is that that has ever made me feel that I wanted to share it with you. It makes me so sorry to think of it that. I feel like I could live on bread and water if you and John were only happy. I care but little for myself. God knows it is for you I have felt and on your account. I wrote about going to you thinking I could be of some little comfort to you if I were with you. I am willing to sacrifice myself for you at any time, but I do not think, when money is the object, that we ought to sacrifice our property here, to go there to make it. It is not selfishness in me, nor because I do not want to go, but because I do not see how it is possible for me to go, the way I am situated without running the risk of too much loss. So I will say no more about going until I get further orders from you, but will rest content to hold on here and take care of what we have here until you feel satisfied to come home believing it to be the best thing I can do, and, oh, do not think that I am enjoying life as you seem to do in your last letter while you are toiling and suffering privations.

You wrote so cold and seemed to blame me and think that I was taking my pleasure. Oh God have you forgotten that there is no pleasure for a lone woman, as I am now, with none to care for me, but many, yet many that would delight to hurt my feelings? Yes, it is an unfriendly world and I am alone in it a-trying to bear up and philosophize with myself to bear my lot for your sake and my child’s–and then for you to write me such a letter as the last one, blaming me and intimating to me that I am living by pleasure while you are living by faith. It was so cold! Not one word of affection or tenderness–yes those anxiously looked-for letters–and oh when I read it, how it pierced my very soul–you, my husband! It put me to bed for three days. It seemed to me that you had lost all the love you ever had for me, not to let me have a word of tenderness or love in your letters–for it is all I get or expect of love or tenderness from you. The cold, selfish friendship of the world has almost froze my heart, and when I get a letter how anxious I am to read it and look for love and tenderness from you, and how my heart delights to dwell on any little expression of tenderness, be it ever so slight–but in your last I was made to feel that you had grown cold towards me. I felt for a time that I was ready to die, that for you I lived, for you I give up everything else on earth, and for you I give up everything else on earth, and for you I suffered–and then to think that you had ceased to care for me! But I do not believe it now. I cannot–I have so much confidence in you that it can only be lost with life. Then, oh, think of me as I am, a poor lonely, heart-stricken, desolate woman, and not living in pleasure as you intimated, but only trying to live at all. Please don’t write me a cold letter and blame me so in it, for I live or die upon the contents of your letters. My God, you are my all on this earth. To you I cling and if you grow cold I am truly without one on earth to look to or cling to, for I shut myself out as much as I can from the world and live on the hope of meeting you again and in the discharge of my duty as near as I can. This is truly all the comfort I have: to do right and hope for a reward.

I read a letter from Larue to his wife yesterday. It was full of love and sympathy and tenderness. In the same evening I read one from Laura Stiller to her mother. It was the same way, expressing the tenderest regard and feelings– and oh when I read them and thought of my own letter. What a difference! How it made my heart sink within me and made me think what have I ever done, or even been more than they, that I must have to bear so much more in the way of coldness–but my sweet husband I do not believe you wrote that way to wound my feelings. Oh, no, it would break my heart were I to believe you did not love me nor care for my feelings.

As to trouble or being unpleasantly situated and having unpleasant things to bear with, my situation is by far more unpleasant than yours. It is true I have more comforts than you have but as for work, I idle no time, not as much by half as I did when you was here. You have nothing but your work to annoy you but, oh, think for one moment of my situation and my feelings, and you cannot envy me my pleasure. I am not as a widow even at liberty to seek society and enjoy it, and more I have no task for it for my treasure and my love is on the earth and my heart is with them and I sit in solitude keeping all my feelings and love locked up in my own bosom waiting the time to come when I can throw myself once more in your protecting arms and pour out on your bosom my soul’s joys and sorrows, for my feelings must all stay locked in my own breast until I do see you. I have none to tell my secrets to, no one but you to confide in. I can and will cheerfully bear my situation if it is to be to our mutual benefit, and you will give me a word of encouragement in your letters, for I stand much more in need of encouragement than you do, for mine is the hardest lot of the two. If you will only think impartially you must know it to be so. I am a helpless woman and have to be strictly on my guard in all things and at all times, while you are a man and can do as you please and do not have that lonely helpless feeling that a woman has…

But I will now say to you, to wind up all this long letter, that if I have said one word to hurt your feelings in any way I pray you forgive it–for I would rather suffer anything than to write one word to wound your feelings. Oh God, I meant to comfort you and you to comfort me. Let us try to comfort each other in our letters, for I can say of a truth, my greatest comfort is a letter from you. Now let me say to you: exercise your own judgement about how long you stay and what you do and it will all be right with me. I would not under any consideration have you leave on my account until you are satisfied to do so. Lay your own plans and do what you think best, and if you love me still and won’t blame me when I am doing the best I know how. It will all be right with me. I cannot go with the encumbrance I have here and be anything like satisfied or feel like I was doing my duty. As for any of my kin I would be better without any, for they are anything but a satisfaction. I will write you again soon and tell you how Moore and Liz treated me and  little Lizzie. You may look for a letter the next mail after you get this.

And now my precious husband and child, keep in good heart and do just whatever you think best, for on your judgement I rely, knowing it is so much better than mine. If you only write to me that you are in good spirits and not hurt with me I am satisfied and will be and do the best I can. Write me soon dearest. I dreamed I was in your arms the other night Oh how happy it made me-but it was all a dream.

I remain your devoted and true wife until death,

M. Haun

Metadata: Sender’s location: Georgetown, KY | Recipient’s location: Nelson Creek, CA
  1. James Haun records the receipt of this letter in his diary entry of May 27 1855.