Plantation owner and land investor Malcom McNeill writes to wife about investments, slaves health, and an outbreak of yellow fever

Date Written

Oct. 29, 1855

Malcom McNeill was 59 years old when this was written.
The recipient, Catherine Boddie McNeill, was 50 when it was received.

Malcom McNeill died 19 years, 3 months, 23 days after writing this.
It was written 163 years, 6 months, 20 days ago.
It was a Monday.

Lake Charles
Monday night, October 29th 1855

My Dear Wife,

This is the fourth letter I am writing you since I left home. Since our mail has begun to run, I have written every mail, last Saturday only excepted. I was certain I would get a letter from you last Saturday. I received none & have received none yet. This has almost deranged me. I had not the heart to write. Indeed, if I was not now buoyed up by the hope of getting a letter from you by morning mail, I do not think I would have the resolution to write.

Soon after leaving you I found we were in the midst of the yellow fever. The first boat took us to Paducah where they had had several cases & I learned it was still quite bad in Memphis. Our boat was pledged not to stop at Memphis. She did though, for a short time — only a few minutes — so I could write from there & when I got here, our mail boat was stopped owing to the officers, it was said, having the yellow fever. When it began to run, I wrote you so you know the reason you did not hear from me earlier. The yellow fever is now gone, I believe, from all points and thank God we have up to this time all had good health. I never saw at any time so little complaining at Lake Charles. Sissy, who had a touch of pneumonia, is about, yet not sent to the field. I see from the papers among the deaths that have taken place in Jackson of yellow fever, a boy, or negro man of Mrs. Boddie named — poor woman.

We are getting on tolerably well with our picking. We have at Lake Charles fine picking. Mr. Boddie now thinks certainly 400 bales if we will pick it. He changes his mind so often I do not know how to count him, so it is we have a large crop to pick for the hands, and we have filled all our cribs at Lake Charles and will have in pens enough to last until after Christmas, I expect. Mr. Boddie and Thomas Henry have not as good picking. It’s hard to say since the late killing frost which was the 25th instant. What either of them may make, though notes much I fear as we expected before the frost. The frost has done badly for Col. Perkins too who is still up here not willing to pass Vicksburg yet. He speaks of leaving though in three or four days.

I have had 86 bales of cotton sold in New Orleans on the 19th instant at 9¼. Mr. Boddie had on the same day 43 sold half at 8__ the balance at 8¼. You know he brags of his slow but clean picking and I am beating a half of a cent from that to ¾ dentin the sales. He is struck dumb. He does not say a word about slow work now. Cotton, I see, is going down very fast, but wheat, I see, is going up very fast. I see it is brisk in Cincinnati at $1.50. I thank you for stopping me at the church when I was going to send Long word I would take a dollar. I think now we are sure of $1.50 and perhaps more. Wheat and corn are the articles for sale this year. Cotton & Tobacco, I fear, will both do badly. Col. Burke has not yet arrived. We are looking for him every hour. His letters of business are now coming and arriving at our post office, which shows he has told them to write him here, and they expect he is now here.
Thomas Henry & Malcom left here the day before yesterday — Thomas Henry to see his family in Memphis; Malcom to be at John Lancaster’s wedding, and to see Miss C. I found he would not be contented nor happy unless he went, so I yielded. Thomas Henry said he would be back this week. Malcom did not know. I told him he must come before I had to leave. I suppose he may be back by the 10th November. I told him I would then be arranging to leave. I do not expect to leave until about the 14th or 15th of November. However, if I receive no letter from you shortly, I shall leave for you, to go and see what is the matter you do not write. You know how unhappy it makes me when I expect to hear from you and do not. I cannot think the fault is yours. It must be in the mails.

By a late letter from Owen — the man that was at our house from Illinois — he says from what he can learn from Chicago, that we can get $60,000 for that lot belonging between his brothers & me. I give $15,320 two years ago for one half of said lot. If he is correct, I shall double my money on that trade, and I think I had better sell. That is a fine profit & perhaps ought to be taken. He says Birchall says it can be done. Birchall is a god judge. If he says so, it is apt to be so.

October 30th 1855
I wrote the above last evening and left the heart of the letter to fill up after receiving one from you as I could not doubt that my dear wife had written, but the mail has gone by and no letter from you. Just as I wrote the last word, Col. Burke and his brother-in-law — doctor somebody — has arrived. The Col. wishes me to say to you that you may say to his father if you see him that he is fleshier than he ever was. He says Gibson has sold his land, does not know what he intends doing, that Tivally Gibson’s son-in-law expects is dead, he was despaired of when he left with the fever. The Col. is greatly pleased with the bottom this time. He says he does not intend to leave without buying, that he was unfortunate not to have purchased before. The doctor — his brother-in-law — says he is determined to purchase and go right home, sell, and move. That it perhaps is better than anything he ever saw in his life. That he could not have believed it. The country is beginning to be crowded with persons wishing lands. “Lands, lands” is the cry here now. I only regret I have not more money in lands. It will be too late now for you to answer this letter to this place. I hope though you will answer it to Chicago. I cannot in my heart accuse you of not writing. I think you have done. By my not hearing from you is owing to the great neglect of the mails.

May the Lord bless you my dear wife. May he take care of us all and finally save us together to praise him for ever and ever is the constant prayer of your devoted husband, — Malcom McNeill

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