Kentucky Freedwoman to a Daughter in Tennessee; and the Freedwoman to Another Daughter in Tennessee

Hopkinsville Ky  May 13the 1866

Dear Daughter Leathe   this leave me tolerble well   i am doing very well as far as a home is concern   i have to work no matter where i go for i have got know one to take care of me but the good Lord   if i do wright he will be my support   we all have to look to him to give us strengh in ever thing we do   it is out of my power to come to see you for i am at work trying to make somthing to take care of myself   i am getting five dollars per month for my work   they allow me to raise a little cotton & brom corn and several other little things   Mrs Lawson has sent for me to come and live with them tell i die   i am going soon that is if i dont change my mind   i have ben press in spirits all the time   i thought i would die any how some times   they have took Dorra child and bound it out to Miss Sally Husband tell she is twenty one   i did not like that way of doing   i had got her a good home but they come and took her away then had her bound to him1   Miss Ann Ellis wants a woman to wash iron cook or do any thing that come to hand get up soon have soon breakfast one that is smart   she want one that will stay at home and attend to her business work with out thinking she is doing to much   she want one that is single   she will treat them good if they do wright   can you find her one of that kind   write to her and let her know as soon as you can   look around and see if you can find one that will suit miss Ann   you know she want them to stay at home and do her work wright then she will pay them   dont send her one she cant trust   give my love to all that inquire after me   Your Mother

Aima Ship


Hopkinsville Ky  May the 13t 1866

Dear Adeline   I am tolerble well except pain in my limbs   i suffer with my feet a good deal   i have to keep in good spirits to get along   if i keep my health i think i can make some money to take care of myself in old age   it is out of my power to come to see you all   if i make a thing i must take care of it to by me a home for that is what i want   i think if we all will work and save our money what we get it will soon by us a home but if we dont save it we wont have any when we want it   save all you can   i dont intend to spend any more of mine if can help it   i have to by a pair of shoes for sunday   tell your Daughter f Fanny God bless her soul i think of her ever day   be a good child tell Grandmar come to see her   she is coming a Christmas if i have good luck   what are you and Leatha getting for your work   i herd they was given high wages their   send me what is the most they give   the hands get ten dollars per month here some four & five and six and seven   i would send your children preant i cant trust no one   write to your Brother & wife   tell Leatha to come if she dont stay but a hour   the woman dont stay long at a place   Know if they dont do to suit they have to leave   you must all come soon   God bless you   give my love to all   your Mother

Aaima Ship

Aima Ship to Leathe, 13 May 1866, and Aaima Ship to Adeline, 13 May 1866, both enclosed in Col. J. R. Lewis to Bvt. Maj. C. B. Fisk, 29 June 1866, L-84 1866, Registered Letters Received, series 3379, TN Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. The letter to Leathe is marked “B” and the one to Adeline, “C.” Both are enclosed in a report to General Clinton B. Fisk, Freedmen's Bureau assistant commissioner for Kentucky and Tennessee, by his inspector, Colonel John R. Lewis. Also enclosed (and marked “A”) is an affidavit by Lethia Ship sworn before Colonel Lewis in Clarksville, Tennessee, on June 27, 1866. It described her unsuccessful attempt to get her own child (now deceased) from her former owners, the dying wish of her sister Dora that Lethia and their mother care for Dora's children, and the efforts she had made to obtain custody of Dora's daughter, Louisa, after hearing that the child had been bound to their former master's son-in-law. John B. Gowen, the Freedmen's Bureau agent at Hopkinsville, Kentucky, offered an entirely different version of events, denying that he had bound out Louisa or that she was being ill-treated. He also claimed that Lethia Ship had never formally applied for custody and declared it a falsehood that Dora had wanted her sister to care for her children. (Endorsement of J. B. Gowen, 20 June 1866, on affidavit of Lethia Ship, 29 May 1866, filed as P-108 1866, Letters Received, series 15, Washington Headquarters, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives.) When a Clarksville attorney sent President Andrew Johnson an affidavit Lethia Ship had sworn before a justice of the peace and its referral through Freedmen's Bureau channels led to Colonel Lewis's investigation, William M. Shipp, the former master, was irate. Denouncing the “peticion gotten up . . . in Behalf of a dirty negro wench that I once owned by the name of Lethy,” he insisted that “evy damed word in it is a damed lye.” (W. M. Shipp to Gen Fisk, 30 July 1866, S-247 1866, Registered Letters Received, series 3379, TN Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives.) When he had concluded his investigation, Colonel Lewis informed Lethia Ship that Louisa had not been bound out and she could therefore get her niece. “A short time after this,” Lethia reported in August 1866, “she ran off and came down here to me,” but “[t]hey came after her.” When Lethia refused to yield custody, she was arrested, forcing her to give up the child. Lethia appealed to Colonel Lewis “to Know if there is any legal process by which I can get my dear little niece.” (Letha Ship to Col Lewis, 15 Aug. 1866, S-19 1866, Registered Letters Received, series 3570, Nashville TN Chief Superintendent, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives.)

1. Dora Ship, another of the writer's daughters, had died during the war, leaving two children in the hands of their master, William Shipp, in Christian County, Kentucky. The children's father had gone to Clarksville, Tennessee, and enlisted in the Union army, and other slaves on the place likewise left for Clarksville. One of Dora's children had subsequently died. The other one, whose name was Louisa, had managed to run away earlier in 1866. A freedman in the neighborhood who happened upon the girl took her to the writer (her grandmother) “with her head badly cut and her back eat into Sores by the buggers.” The grandmother “had washed the child and dressed her up” and then found employment for her with “the Widow Gooch.” William Shipp had, however, intervened, reclaiming the girl and reportedly having her bound to his son-in-law. (Affidavit of Lethia Ship, 27 June 1866, in the same file.)

Published in Land and Labor, 1866–1867, pp. 605–7.