In the new UIP release The Dumville Letters, Anne M. Heinz and John P. Heinz bring us the antebellum-era correspondence of Ann Dumville and her daughters Hepzibah, Jemima, and Elizabeth, as well as their acquaintances.
Kept at the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, the Dumville Letters are nothing less than the largest archive of letters written by ordinary working women. Hepzibah Dumville—witty, sharp-eyed, in tune with pursuing her own destiny, not averse to signing off with adios—provides some of the more colorful examples on a range of issues and the controversies of her day.
She also comes across as a fair reporter. As Hepzibah reveals in this excerpt, slavery could and did reach into the free states to affect lives and communities:
Mr. Pitner was turned out of the church in March, for selling men and women into perpetual bondeage, as the people said. He takes it very Hard, he sayes he has had a great deal of trouble, and we know he has for his sister was burned to death, and his two sones was drowned just at the time they began to be of some service to him but he says that this afaire hurts him worse than all the others, as he knows he is innocent of the charge brought against him.
He left his family in the depth of winter and went to Tennessee with the full intention of liberating the negros and had written to his Brother in law for him to be there so that they could be divided but he did not come and law according to the Laws of that State, such property could not be divided unless all the heirs were there. They were not there and could not be. According to Law they were sold, and the mony that fell to his wife was given to him. But they were not sold with his consent. In fact, he did all he could to prevent it. But what could he do? They (the negros) were not willing to go to Liber[i]a. He could not set them free there, for that was contrary to the Law of the place. He could not bring them here and set them free here. It is contrary to law here. So what could he have done with them even if he had them in his poses ition[possession].
The Brethren here was not pleased with him so they thought this would be a good time to show there dislik[e] and they did so. I cannot tell you all the particulars about it but I believe Mr. Pitner is as good a man as any of his accusers. He says one consolation is they cannot keep him oute of heaven, if they do put him out of the church.