Mary Duncan Letter to Abraham Lincoln
His Excellency - Abraham Lincoln
President of the United States
My Dear Sir.
Before stating my case - permit me to introduce myself to you on paper - as a Northern woman, - wife of Henry P. Duncan of Mississippi & daughter-in-law to Dr Stephen Duncan. We have all been & are devotedly loyal. & when I inform you that my husband has had to conceal himself on various occasions - to avoid arrest & imprisonment for his well-known loyalty - & that Mr Davis issued orders for my arrest - I shall probably have said enough in sign & token of our Unionism, although if further evidence be required - I can refer you to Mr Seward, - Genl. Halleck, Gen' Grant, - Admiral Porter, - Mr Thurlow ___, Mr Alex. Hamilton, Mr George Schuyler, & any number of influential & trust-worthy persons.- So much then, for our claims on the protection & justice of our rulers!
Owing to the conflicting authority on the Mississippi river - the "protection papers" given us (as well known loyalists) by Genl. Grant & the Admiral have been rendered null & void. & while one party violated said papers in the name of the "Treasury De'pt. - (taking books, curtains, & all they wanted) certain officers (acting under orders from Genl. Thomas) have forcibly seized & impressed our remaining male negroes. (saving some few who saved themselves by concealment or flight) & carried them off for service either as laborers or soldiers. - informing my husband "that all blacks thus impressed would be permitted to return to the estates to visit their families"! Thus - Genl. Grant's authority - & Gen Halleck's orders - are entirely cancelled. & if Mr Chase can seize all cotton, - Genl. Thomas seize all negroes, (despite their freedom & our wages) & if armed blacks can roam over the property at pleasure, may I ask, My Dear Sir, in what shape "protection" is to come? We have (in the Duncan family) nine plantations (about ninety miles above Vicksburg) on the Mississippi river. & owing to the depredations of the Union troops, - & the enormous loss in negroes - millions would hardly cover our losses. consequently it is somewhat natural that we should ask -- due protection for the fragment that remains of a once princely fortune. It seems rather hard, too, that - as recognized Unionists - we should be made to suffer so peculiarly. & while anyone hiring our estate from Genl Thomas - can obtain negro labour, & all needful supplies & provisions - no loyal citizen (who has perilled his life for loyaltys sake) is permitted to purchase one pound of food for his starving laborers - or hire his own freed blacks. neither are they given any choice of masters. but impressed to make cotton for speculating strangers, - or forced into military service. This injustice to Unionists speaks for itself. & having recently returned from a brief visit to that Mississippi region -- I can speak from observation & experience -- of the condition of things in that miserable country.- If we are recognized & acknowledged as faithful & long-suffering Unionists - can we not have protection from the Flag? & to you - My Dear Sir - as Chief Magistrate - do I apply for that "righting" of a great wrong. Our negroes are free. & we only ask to be permitted (with their consent) to hire the few that remain. & not to be further molested by either Gen' Thomas, - or commissioners from the Treasury De'pt. - Gen' Grant & the Admiral desire to protect us. but - their "papers" are rendered worthless -- by the higher law of Gen' Thomas & others. so - I now ask your authority in the matter. in order that we may know what to expect, - & whose commands are to be obeyed? My father-in-law's Unionism has made him so conspicuous both North & South - that his name may perhaps be familiar to you. - or - you may perchance have known of him as former Vice President of the "Colonization Society". He is Northern by birth & education, & - although nearly eighty years of age - has exhibited perfect courage & independence in the maintenance of his unflinching loyalty. yet - it is the property of this man & his family - that has been depredated & ruined.- If the oath of allegiance were offered tomorrow on the Mississippi river - it would be gladly taken by many. but - Gen' Thomas takes pains to repress & discourage loyalty. & - as in our case - makes no distinction between Unionist & rebel. All are punished & pillaged alike. & of what use are Gen' Grant & the brave Admiral's "papers" or commands - when Gen' Thomas (or others) can veto them! I have often declared (by tongue & pen) that I would willingly sacrifice all our property to ensure success to the Union cause. but - never thought that we were destined to be ruined pecuniarily - on account of the success of the Flag!
A few lines in answer would greatly oblige me. My address is care of "Duncan & Sherman. Bankers. New York". & trusting that you will see justice administered to us - I remain, My Dear Sir, with much respect
Yours very truly
Source: Mary Duncan to Abraham Lincoln, May 24, 1863. Available at Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (Washington, D. C.: American Memory Project, [2000-02]), http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/alhtml/alhome.html, accessed June 8, 2003.Notes:
1860 Issaquena Co. MS Census
Pg.5, #51, H.P. DUNCAN (m) 44 MS planter $60,000 - $34,000
Mary 30 MS
Will of Henry P. Duncan: Issaquena Co. Mississippi Will Book C, Page