About the Author

Adam Rothman, Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University, teaches the history of the Atlantic world, slavery, and Jeffersonian America.


Rachel O'Connor Letter (1836)


This is the letter quoted in Boorstin et al's History of the United States to show that slaveholders could "love" their slaves. Read the whole letter. In context, what do you think Rachel O'Connor means when she writes to her sister that she loves her slave Isaac? Later in the letter, O'Connor describes a very different relationship between masters and slaves in a nearby neighborhood where the planters had nipped a slave revolt in the bud. With typical severity for such occasions, the authorities hanged two of the conspirators. Taken in its entirely, the letter reveals that hate and cruelty existed alongside love and affection in the slave South.

Jan-y 11, 1836 My dear sister, Your kind and affectionate letter, dated the 30th of last month, did not arrive until the 8th of this month. I do not know the cause of its being so long on the way, but I assure you that it met a hearty welcome after a tedious journey. I had been afraid for several days that something has happened to you from some uneasy dreams, which I tried not to think of, as I am continually expecting some new misfortune, but I find by your letter that you were not in good health. I expected to be quite alone on Christmas day, and should, if my poor little Clarissa had not come down the day previous and stayed until the day after Christmas. Mr. Davis did not like to be from home at that time and did not come. Clarissa and myself spoke of you several times that day. How sorry I should have been had I have known your situation—laying in a fever. I hope you may be able to collect fortitude to bear the absence of my dear little Frances for a short time. Most sincerely do I pray for you both, but pray don't indulge grief to the ruin of your health. I shall be truly glad to see her and her little brother with their Uncle Alfred and will try to make them happy. Should I live, I hope the children and yourself may spend a part of the time with me yet. I have got a good cover on the house and find it very comfortable. My health has become so good that I have almost forgotten my age. I can attend to my affairs with ease and I hope to do some good for awhile. You write so loving and kind to me that my very heart overflows with gratitude, and I will assure you that the confidence you place in me shall not be abused, and promise to take the same care that I have ever done, and render a just account of every cent to yourself and your brother. The greatest earthly wish that I now entertain is to afford you satisfaction. I have sixteen little Negroes a raising, the oldest of the sixteen, a little turned of six years old, all very healthy children, excepting my little favorite Isaac. He is subject to a cough, but seldom sick enough to lay up. The poor little fellow is laying at my feet sound asleep. I wish I did not love him, as I do, but it is so, and I cannot help it. Mr. Germany keeps the plantation and Negroes in good order, and all else according; and I am trying to fix my gardens, as they used to be, once more. Being sick so long, with little hopes of ever recovering, they got greatly out of order; but I have improved the looks much of late. I have sent the crop of cotton to New Orleans—126 bales in all, and have corn enough at home to serve the plantation this season. Mr. Davis has moved over to Thompson's Creek, in the East Parish, about 20 miles from me. He rents the place this year. God only knows where they will go next. Charlotte has been at the point of death. About Christmas, or a few days after, when I heard from her last, they thought her rather on the mend. Poor Charlotte has been unfortunate. I have not seen her since she got sick last. I am glad to find by your last, that you are willing to add more land to this. I think with good luck, the crop would be larger and soon pay the price of another tract. I have written last mail to your brother and requested of him to try to bargain Hail out of his. It is most excellent land for corn and cotton, and no way inconvenient to this plantation. I am really glad to hear of Mr. Stinson's return. It would have been much against the children had he not returned to them again. Where is there another so moral and who takes the pains to set good examples as he did in teaching them their duty to God and man? Now, my best of sisters, I must inform you of this day sixteen years ago, being the day that my dear, dear Stephen was laid in earth, a loss that causes my heart to bleed and will during life. Kiss my little ones for me and tell them how much I want to see them all. I have never found a white colt for my dear little Charley yet, but I love them all alike and when I get for one, I must get for all. If your brother is at home, please remember me most affectionately to him. Tell him I am looking for him to come. At a ball on the 8th in Saint Francis Ville, Dr. Hearn's lady, setting near a window, was stabbed in the back, but is living yet. It is not known who stabbed her. They had not been married long. She was formerly a Miss Jewel. The Negroes over at Thompson's Creek had some idea of a raising about Christmas and had the business planned when a Negro woman informed on them and had a stop put to their wickedness, by hanging two Negroes, and a search was made for one or two white men which made their escape so far. Report says there were two more Negroes that ought to be hung of justice had taken place, but their masters were rich, which proved excuse enough to save them. It is past midnight; excuse all mistakes. I remain your affectionate sister, Rachel O'Connor


Letter from Rachel O'Connor to her sister Mary, January 11, 1836, from Allie Bayne Windham Webb. Mistress of Evergreen Plantation: Rachel O'Connor's Legacy of Letters 1823-1845. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1983, 184-186.