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SUBMITTED BY:  Anne Russell (edited by Cheri Todd Molter)

The following is the transcription of the letter that was published in the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Inc. Bulletin (Vol. XLVI No. 3, November 2002) (Photographs of the original letters are below; click on images to enlarge)

Wilmington N.C.
Nov. 8th 1898

Eliza Wootten

My dear Edward:

As you have not had a letter from me in some time I will utilize this waiting time in writing to you. I will draw you a word picture of our house-hold and how the evening has been spent.

It is now nearly 11 o’clock- perfect quiet reigns in the streets except occasionally a vehicle passes or a man or so walk by the house.

I am sitting in the big room. Your father lying on the bed—awake—Anna there too fast asleep.

Lucy & Amoret have gone up to go to sleep.

Henry & Bradley are sitting down stairs in the dining-room with arms in readiness awaiting orders which may come at any moment.

  1. did not go to work today but did go to vote before breakfast then worked among his flowers the rest of the day & such a beautiful day it has been.

Since dinner Mr. Orrell who is Capt. of this block called to tell the men to hold themselves in readiness for a moments call. Of course that sent a thrill of dread through us but as it was day we were patient & as we waited we calmed down as no call came. I got your father to go down & buy rolls & bread so if we had any trouble there would be something to eat. The girl cooked the supper & finished her work & went. Since supper Mr. Monroe came to tell us that if the Presbyterian bell rang the women & children were to go to the R. C. Church. I suppose others are to go to other places. But we all made up our minds it would be better to stay right here for the town is to be guarded by 4 or 8 men at each corner – so there would be little chance for anyone to sneak in lots & enter houses. B. has a beautiful pistol – H., a gun & pistol – then ours your father has – that leaves none for L. & me. But I saw that the hatchets were handy. Then I went down & made strong coffee for the boys & told them if trouble came I’d make more for some other guards. I really do not believe the negroes will dare start so terrible a thing but if they are drinking they may do more than if sober & it would take a small match to set all on fire. I am truly sorry for timid women & the little children.

Amoret & Anna had gone upstairs & undressed – Then heard Mr. Monroe so came tripping downstairs to this second floor – in their night-gowns – So we told them to run back & put on their clothes which they did & of course were greatly excited. But after awhile – Anna dropped to sleep – Amoret could not so I sent Lucy & Amoret up to their room though they will not undress.

Lucy & Amoret have appeared on the scene. Anna too is awake, but I have given them a dose of bromide & ordered them down & to sleep.

Imagine the uneasiness & here in free America & this [the] nineteenth century. A great many of the businessmen turned off the colored men if they registered – that Stephen at Stevenson’s had to go – Holmes & G. turned theirs off & have white drivers – nearly all did it.

You see by the papers how they have been robbing pantries. Your father had just come in again from a tour of inspection, says the walking was a man with his gun & cartridges rattling in his pockets – no negroes are about where we can see them.

Well we have another piece of news to impart. Lucy & I have wanted a new machine for a long time as these are unsatisfactory with some kinds of work. We saw one advertised in a catalogue at $13.80 so we talked it over & got your father to order it to come by the Clyde Line. Lucy ordered some braid at the same time – making the bill come to 18.40.

The steamer generally leaves N.Y. on Sat. & we wondered if our order reached there in time to ship. Well on Tuesday morning the paper informed us that the Croatan – the one we lost on before—was delayed for repairs & would not reach here before Thursday. So Lucy & I were greatly disappointed but hoped on – B. said he heard a steamer blow. When Henry came up to supper he asked if we got our machine – I asked if the boat had come – he answered: “No, & she’s not coming.” We asked what the matter was.

She was burnt at sea – all on board save except a colored woman for this place. We have heard no more of her but it is dreadful to hear of the losses & no insurance – our bill was $18.40 – Poor Mrs. Warren lost $800. All her Christmas fruits, baskets, [etc.]. Mr. Yates $200. Mr. Huggins $400. & there are lots of them. Oh, Mr. Whitlock $300. Messrs. Edwards & Bridgeman were here Sunday – said they lost about $300.

George Crow was here Sunday night said they lost a pile of blankets & comforts they had ordered. Boatwright & Holmes & G. were insured.

Perhaps after the excitement blows over we may see fit to get another. Bradley milks now but the cow is not giving much. Sunday we had chocolate ice cream. B. got the ice – it was frozen nicely – put in a plenty of ice & it was just delicious.

I have a young girl who came last Thursday & who does very nicely I do hope she will stay. Amoret is doing nicely in her music but the piano does need tuning dreadfully.

I am so dreadfully sleepy that I take a nap & dream a little while trying to write one word. The two little ones are asleep again now & Lucy sitting in the big chair you put the darkey bottom in – I found I had dropped to sleep & wrote the wrong word.

Did you see that Annie Gause’s father died out at the hospital? We have heard nothing more of his sickness or death.

I may add a line after daylight. It is after 12—& all seems quiet–except just as I wrote that word I heard pistol shots – I hope it is only someone letting off steam – I dread it yet I feel we need it & that it must come before things are settled. The Romish priest said he found those horrid Syrians had been buying arms & selling at a profit to negroes. Jim Lane said he did not intend to vote that times were too bad. Well I’ll stop now for nap.

Wednesday A.M. 9th

All quiet we lay by our arms all night for riot—All quiet this A.M. Democrats elect everything except 2 or 3 Congressmen in the state.

Bellamy elected by 4000 probably good Martin Willard & George Rountree both being elected. New Hanover all well. God keep you, y[ou]r Father.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Eliza Wootten wrote this letter to her son, Edward, on November 8, 1898, the day that an election was held at Wilmington, North Carolina. On the morning of the 9th, Edward’s father added a note to tell him of the election’s outcome. (To read more about the 1898 election visit: https://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/exhibits/show/1898/history.) Twenty-four hours later, on November 10, 1898, the event that became known as the Wilmington Race Riot, or the Wilmington Massacre, took place. The State of North Carolina officially recognized it as a Coup D’état in 2017 (https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article192202109.html). (To read more visit: https://www.ncpedia.org/history/cw-1900/wilmington-massacre-1898.)
  2. Eliza mentions the “Clyde Line,” which refers a fleet of ships that was established by Thomas Clyde in 1844. Originally, the Clyde Line connected Philadelphia with other east coast ports. However, in 1872, its headquarters moved to New York. On Nov. 1, 1898, the Croatan went up in fire off Cape Charles while on a voyage from New York to Wilmington, North Carolina. Of the twenty-seven people aboard, twenty-five survived, according to the article published in the San Francisco Call on Nov. 5, 1898. The African-American woman from Wilmington, N.C. who died was named Jennie Willard.

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