In the early weeks of the Civil War, the women of Pittston, Pennsylvania volunteered to manufacture clothing and medical supplies for the soldiers who joined the United States Army. We learn more about the Volunteer Relief Association of Pittston.
We also learn about refugees fleeing the South at the outbreak of the Civil War and hear a letter written by a Luzerne County minister to his secessionist nephew in Virginia.
You can read the full letter below:
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Read Reverend Thomas P. Hunt’s May 1861 to his secessionist nephew in Virginia:
Wyoming, PA, May 6, 1861.
Dear Nephew – You need not have been afraid to sign your name to your letter which has just been received, without the least injury to my “person or reputation.” The dread of its being “intercepted and the fatal consequences to myself and property if it became known that I had received a letter from a rebel,” is in keeping with a great deal of southern knowledge of northern sentiment. We have not got down so low as some people who pledge life, fortune and sacred honor, who well know that but little is risked in the vow except life.
Pennsylvania has passed no law forbidding business and friendly correspondence. She only forbids giving aid and comfort to her enemies. With the exception of the sentence “We are well, and send love,” there was nothing of comfort in your letter; all else was pain, sorrow, and mortification. I cannot take that as a “farewell letter.” Write again, and like one who has less of tongue to abuse and more of a heart to love and to forgive even your enemies.
I am sorry that your “facts” differ so much from facts themselves. How many armed vessels were sent to Charleston when Fort Moultrie was seized; the Star of the West fired into; Fort Sumpter surrounded with fortifications and batteries, and South Carolina seceded into rebellion? If the President of the United States is bound to protect and defend the property and enforce the laws of the Union, the people of the States are bound to support him in his efforts to do so, if he make them, and to impeach him if he do not.
Your slaves have just as much right to declare themselves free, resist your laws, and steal your property, as you have to rebel against your country, resist its laws, and steal its property. Such right belongs to neither.
There was, undesignedly and unguardedly, a most unkind remark in your letter. After admitting my loyalty to my government, you go on to describe it as much “devilish, lying, contemptible.” Now, I am not willing to admit that I am either fool or knave. I would have to be both to be the willing tool of such a government so “utterly destitute of every principle of truth, honesty, civilization, that generations yet unborn must be purged away before the south will recognize the sons of such sires as worthy or trust and confidence.”
Now, I hope that the blood of my generation will never be purged to a point so thin that it cannot love these United States, and repose confidence in the multitude of good men who once dwelt in it. I know that there are wicked men in it. But descendants of even Old Zeke Polk, traitor as he was, have become worthy of honor and trust.
John Tyler himself is now one of Virginia’s jewels. And Pryor has become a decent lamb of meekness, or else your theological professors have fallen into strange associations. Even Floyd has ceased to be a dishonor to his State, and has become worthy of all confidence and trust among southern men. And Jeff. Davis himself is the worthy President of a people who submit to him without their vote.
All these purgings have taken place before one generation has passed away. So you see that I do not believe in the slow process you prescribe. All that is necessary to restore peace and confidence to the country is, that each man confess his own sins, repent of them, humble himself before God, and seek for those things which are pleasing in his sight. Then the work will be easy, pleasant, and permanent.
You tell me that you “know your destiny,” and ask me if we know ours, correctly stating that “this question is a poser.” No, you do not know your destiny, nor do we know ours. All that I know, is, that great blindness as God permits to fall upon those he intends to punish for their sins. We are now beginning to drink of the cup of his wrath. Oh! How bitter it is, even before we reach the unmingled dregs at the bottom!
What the result is to be, none but God can tell; no man can foresee. Our forefathers calmly, wisely, patriotically examined the whole subject of the union and the separation of this continent, and they determined that our safety consisted in just such a union as has existed for nearly 80 years in this land, and made it the greatest and happiest land on earth.
We are not “contending” as you say, “for a theory,” but for a demonstrated fact. If we desire a democratic republic, we dare not consent to despotism. “The military despotism” you speak of will be upon us both if we separate.
I was once a citizen of these United States, and by birthright and as a citizen of the United States a citizen of every State in it. You say “Virginia is no longer your state.” How came I robbed of my right? How did rebels and traitors dispossess me of the graves of my fathers? Military despotism is at work with you already. No legal process, no constitutional appeal, no remedy, in law or right, permits me to try my right. It is gone, you say, forever.
18 millions of freemen a few weeks ago claimed in common, Virginia as theirs. All, every one of them, with me, have been made aliens, not by a vote of Virginia’s few slaveholders even, but how? Is there no despotism here? Neither Virginia, nor Jeff. Davis’s soldiers gave me and the 18 millions of freemen their right of citizenship in Virginia. They have no right to take it, and shall never own it to our exclusion, except by military despotism.
Never was there a greater mistaken than that made by you. You are not “fighting for principle,” nor “facts,” nor “hearths.”
You are fighting for the destruction of this Union; for the doctrine of secession and the denial of the right of your government to coerce obedience on rebels revolting against it; for abstractions and imaginations. The fact that you gave, “that Virginia did not and would not secede,” unless your government attempt to enforce its laws, defend its property, and collect its revenue, and it did secede the moment the people were called upon to do their duty, proves this statement.
Your only reason for the sudden change, was, that the President called upon you to raise your quota, with others, to execute the law. Why was your secession kept secret, and made before the 24th of May, without a vote of the people? That Gosport and Harper’s Ferry, and Washington City might be stolen, while you were crying out, “if you coerce us not to steal, or to help coerce the rogues who have done so to restore their [riches], we will esteem it a declaration of war.”
Your language about “mobs” and “freedom” sounds strangely to me, with your two letters before me. In your first you say, “my respected uncle, it grieves me to say it, but I must speak the truth, you or any other minister holding your sentiments would be mobbed here.” In your last, “we are forming a home guard to take care of such northern abolition Christians, whose zeal,” etc. Your abuse of Philadelphia was strange. The only mob I ever witnessed in that city was in favor of slavery. What caused the mobs in Baltimore? What is driving hundreds from the south, leaving their property…
We have no dread of mobs here against any man, not even against you, if you would visit us. We might give you a little touch of legal coercion. So make yourself easy about my being mobbed for receiving your letter. It has been read by hundreds, and if you will give me permission I will stand the mob and have it published, in order that our people may see what, as in truth he is, an educated, high-minded Christian gentleman says and believes in the south. Alas! Alas! Can nothing true and holier be given for Virginia’s revolt than this?
You ask me, “if I am not afraid of having my house burnt over my head for writing to a rebel, to give you my opinion on the doctrines of disunion.” I give it freely.
A division of this government into two or more, will be the ruin of democratic liberty on this continent. If there were no quarrel, and the most perfect harmony existed, and the purest motives led to the act of division, it would have to be speedily undone, or ruin would ensue.
You say “there shall be no Polands, no Hungaries here.”
I tell you there will be Polands and Hungaries in divided America, but none in united Italy. You read history. You yourself see most clearly what will come upon us. You express it forcibly and correctly. It will come upon you too. It has come; even now the Philistines are upon you. It will most certainly come if we divide and separate under the doctrine of secession, denying the power to coerce or to enforce the laws. I believe that the sooner now, the severer, the evils come upon us, the sooner and stronger and clearer will be seen the necessity of returning to, and abiding by our former tried, proved, happy government, even without any alteration.
This is the only bright gleam in the midnight darkness around me. Our people will learn in adversity and trial such as man never felt before, the value of the Union the south seeks to crush and to destroy.
Were we not all that man could hope once? Disunion has come. What are we now? Jeff Davis says, just let us destroy the Union and let us alone, and there will be peace. You say that “unborn generations must be purged of the sin of being sons of the lying, cheating Fillmores and Stocktons and Pierces and Lincolns, et it omne genus, before the Union can be reconstructed.”
You forgot to add that there may be some purging among the sons of sins we know at the south, too. Well, after mutual mistrust, unjust accusations, wicked misrepresentations, and mistaken views shall have done their work of ruin, both sections will find that no difficulty existed that could not have been remedied in the Union, while thousands of evils that have no remedy but the sword, will continue to spring up in disunion and separation. Eight or fifteen states may greatly weaken themselves, while they will not benefit the eighteen. The eighteen may bleed and suffer near to death, without giving life and strength to the fifteen.
My candid opinion is, let the revolting States return to their duty, consult with all the States, and they will find and secure in peace and union every right. If you know of any other way of safety that does not threaten the destruction of liberty, let me know it, and I will gladly pursue it with you.
I have never suffered as I have in this destruction of my country. I would give every dollar I possess (and you know that I am capable of parting with every dollar from principle if I could be convinced that the south was right. I would most cheerfully shed my blood for her if it flowed for the truth. Apart from my little family around me, I have not a blood relation that is not in the south. Except my little Susan Meade, every mouldering body that I love as bone of my bone, is buried in the south. I would love to fall, if fall I must, near the graves of father, mother, brothers, sister. But I cannot die for error. I dare not fight for wrong. I dread to face my God, wounded and bleeding for such political sophistry as now drives on the south to its ruin and our own.
Do you really believe that the south means to patronize the slave trade? I should judge so from the intimations you give of Boston and New York being ready to engage in it. By the way, I have some curiosity to know what word of promise New York has broke that makes you call it “lying New York.” I am under the impression that the Herald led you to suppose that New York would stand by you for the sale of the “batten and fatten” it would get in all your trade, slave as well as the rest. Do let me know. If Bennett has fooled you, when you find out that he is not always correct, but liable to mistakes, you will say Bennett fooled me, and everybody will believe you that knows him.
But it will take a good deal of credulity before intelligent men this way will believe that “Fillmore and Stockton and Stewart” have “with tongues blistered with lying” broken their word of honor to any.
As to my views of “State sovereignty and rights,” I reply:
I believe that the States never yielded anything that concerned the existence of their sovereignty when the people made the Union. All of sovereignty that they had before the Union they retain now. But the right of union never belonged to a state. It is not the right of unal but of dual states. One state cannot make a Union nor force another State to make it. There were no matrimonial rights existing between me and my wife until we created them. I have no co-partnership rights until some one creates them with me.
The Union creates new rights which could not exist without it, and it is sheer nonsense to talk about dissolving, regulating, or altering the Union rights it did not create. The bond binds us, and in attending or dissolving, the consent of the parties who made is necessary to unmake. I could not make them alone. I cannot dissolve them alone.
So of State Rights; they could not create alone, nor can they dissolve contrary to the will of the parties and condition of the covenant, without fraud or violence. Secession, revolution, must be founded not on State rights (a State has no right to secede, to revolt against itself,) but on individual and moral rights; by appeal to justice if the claim be right, and by force if that right claim be denied. As the States had no right touching the Union except what were created by the Union, it is foolish and wicked to talk about destroying or even changing the Union contrary to its provisions and without the consent of the parties who formed it. Until such consent is obtained, all neglect or refusal to comply with its terms is wicked, and the actors “evil doers” according to the Bible.
You see then where you stand in the present form of your complaint. You say, “all propositions for compromise have been rejected.”
Well, what then? Have not the parties interested the right to hold on to the Union as they made it, without change? But South Carolina never even made a proposition, never consulted a State, much less the United States – never pursued one constitutional, legal remedy for redress; and when the parties interested in the Union insist upon it that the laws shall be enforced and the constitution obeyed, and call upon the parties in the Union to do their duty, you take part with this illegal secession, and without trying the remedy that your life and fortune and sacred honor were pledged to the world to sustain without the vote of your State even, you turn against the Union with loathing, and trample its flag, that represents its principles under foot! May God forgive you.
For my own benefit, if I am to unlearn all that I have been taught to be true, I will thank you to give the true meaning of some terms.
“Sic semper tyrannus,” (the Virginia seal).
Does it mean, Thus may tyrants be ever trampled under foot and chains of slavery be broken? Or, Thus may it ever be by tyrants, keep their feet upon the neck of a man?
“Give me liberty or give me death!”
Does it mean I had rather die than be a slave, thereby asserting that slavery is a curse, more to be dreaded than death?
Or does it mean Give me the liberty of enslaving others, or death with which to punish all who deny my right to do so?
Is it false because some men are shorter, smaller, weaker, whiter, wiser, stronger, richer, healthier, older than others?
Or because God has given rights of manhood to one class of immortal free agents and denied them to others?
In other words, is it true the rights of humanity belong alike to all human beings? I do not want these questions answered in any other than logical, classical definitions. When you convince me that men are not equal in their rights, that they have the right on account of different, in stature, color, or any other incident, to make tyrants of some and slaves of others, and that those are worthy of death who teach that slavery is a curse to which death is to be preferred, and that liberty is not every man’s right, then I will return south, and go to glory with “Dr. Atkinson and his ministering brethren and theological students,” not win preaching peace on earth and good will to men, and liberty to the captive, but in the blaze of war and the exultant shout of men who are now ready to slay my sons and ruin my country because we feel bound to preserve this Union for ourselves, our children, and the world.
If I could only see that you were right, I had rather die with you than to live without you. But as Henry Clay had rather be right than to be President, so I had rather be an outcast from among men than to be accursed of God, as I most certainly should be, if, with my present convictions of truth, I should defend the suicidal measures of the slaveholders.
How differently these terms sound in different ears! Yankee Doodle is a reputable gentleman all over the world, except among secessionists. “Slaveholder” is a term of reproach everywhere, except among slaveholding secessionists. Strange that no one understands the Bible, nor State rights, nor the rights of man, but secession slaveholders.
You see what kind of a heretic your uncle is. Will you let him go to the grave of his mother in Virginia, and upbraid her for teachings that have led him so far astray from truth? And make him bless God that he had rather be a Yankee than a slaveholder?
I used to mourn that my father Hoge was buried in Philadelphia instead of Virginia. Now I mourn that my mother is not sleeping at his side. I could then stand and weep tears of gratitude for all the instruction I received from them, without danger of having my mangled corpse drawn over their graves by hands that would glory to be bathed in the heart’s gore of her husband, if he were living, and dared to teach what he died believing.
Better times will return. In every sin, it is said, is the seed of its own destruction. The soul that sins must die, is God’s universal law. Some men destroy the Union, fearing that South Carolina will not permit them to sell their slaves to her, if they remained. South Carolina denounces the Confederate States for denouncing the slave trade. She will open it, if Boston and New York will not help her, if she, and then she will not give a living price for slave breeding. Where are you then? Both from principle and interest opposed to the African slave trade; yet stick to the Confederate slave states!
You have mobbed out of your State, already, some of your best men, leaving their property a prey to the lawless – “The outside pressure that bore so heavily on every Union man,” will assuredly crush out every Union man at your unnecessary approaching election, for you have already, without a vote of the people, renounced your allegiances to the Union; provisionally joined the Confederates; glory in South Carolina; and committed depredations on the property of the Union, and are in armed open rebellion against what was your pride once to call your country.
Where is freedom now in Virginia? Who dare refuse to join your home guard, to vote for Union, to preach what they believe to be the truth about politics or slavery or anything else, if the “rough riders” do not like it?
In the Wheeling district it can be done. They will secede and your doctrine of non-coercion will meet you there, and the unequal taxation in favor of slaveholders will be settled without your Convention.
Long ago old General Gage came near burning Richmond and murdering its men, and dividing its women among his followers. There were no abolitionists then. Old Nat Turner is not forgotten among you. He said the Bible made him fight – no one accused the abolitionists of urging him on.
Three [separate] times the blacks of South Carolina made its whites turn whiter with fear, long before the north agitated the subject of slavery. Old Dan’s head is yet unburied in North Carolina.
If there was danger then, it is not diminished now. Old John Brown was a vile secessionist. He wanted to destroy the Union to set up for himself. He bore the first mark of secession. According to the new notion he had a right to set up for himself, and none had the right to coerce. He was hung for doing on a small scale that which is being done now among you on a larger one. All the John Browns are not dead. 15 of them, with 4 negroes and 15 white men each, could keep your whole confederacy in a continual uproar and turmoil.
How can you prevent it?
Your confederates have looked with an evil eye upon our commerce, and set your pirates to work to steal it. One of the greatest difficulties we now have, is, to keep the people from taking the matter into their own hands. There is a fearful outside pressure which you say “we cannot control.” Supposed we follow your example and yield to it and turn it against you? That spirit is pressing towards the south.
Those who murdered sons of Massachusetts’ mothers, going to the Capitol, cannot expect much sympathy for the mothers whose sons committed the bloody deed.
Let the cruel, wicked work of robbery, piracy and murder go on, and you will see trouble that you never dreamed of. If the men you are so abusing would only get out of the way, one fell swoop would be made that would cause hell itself to own it was outdone, both north and south, in deeds of violence. Already crowds of slaves are said to be passing through this State, urging the free blacks to join them and lead them against their former masters
Last week 75 blacks were found armed and training, and burning to go. It is horrid. It makes the blood run cold to think of what may come. The blood spilled in Baltimore, and the violent aggressions in the first place, from the firing on the Star of the West to the stealing of Harper’s Ferry, is provoking whole States to secede, if they are not permitted to revenge and avenge. What can we do to prevent it?
Up to the taking of Fort Sumter, no one here thought seriously of war. Firing on the Star of the West did some mischief; but still we all desired peace, and many of us deeply sympathized with you. But the giving of fiery stones instead of bread to Major Anderson and his men (50 fighting against many thousands, who at last marched out on their own terms,) did the work.
There is but one party now. All are one, and hold all that they have as one for the Union. Virginia can blame none but herself. Crying peace, she furnished munitions of war, and men and missions to the destroyers of the union she professed to love. She strengthened the hands of the confederates while trying to weaken and to bend those of the Union; and at last broke off from the government because she was called upon to defend her country against its destroyers.
May God forgive and avert the evils she is bringing upon herself and us.
You will hate your uncle, and all those whom he dearly loves at the south will hate him and treat him as a dead dog, when I tell you that I leave home on Monday to join the army of my country. I go as chaplain to the Pennsylvania 8th. I go to pray for dying men, and to be a friend to the youth of my country who are willing to die for its flag. I will let you know where to find me when our armies meet. I shall pray for you always.
Oh! Is it not horrid! Why has God thus given us up? Cannot the thing be stopped? If not, God’s will be done. How I should hate see your corpse among the rebels, fighting against your country! You do not know, you cannot tell how I love you. Only son of my only sister; child that I prayed for; boy that I taught; young man that I gloried in; mourner and sufferer that I wept for; friend and follower of the Jesus I love; have you armed yourself to destroy your uncle’s land? Have you already stolen his birthright, and become the first to tell him “he no longer owns his mother’s grave?”
It is hard, hard, to hear. But farewell now. This is not my last farewell. If we live, I will write again. If it’s my last, read it often, and remember that your uncle would sooner die than wound the child a dying sister left to his love. We will meet at the judgement bar. May our meeting there be sweeter than our present parting. Let an only nephew take the love, the forgiveness, and blessing of his only uncle.
Thomas P. Hunt
One thought on “The Gazette: Episode 5 – Farewell Letter”
What a fantastic letter. How appropriate you should post this now. If we could only learn from our past before we have gone too far and end up repeating it….Thank you
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