Correspondence to Abraham Lincoln from John L. Barbour
CAMBRIDGEPORT, MASS., April 11, 1863
Hon. ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
HONORED SIR: I cannot bring my mind into a state to apologize for addressing you on a subject calculated to arouse the deepest feelings of the human soul. I have before me in my office a weeping mother, a Christian woman, whose oldest son has been sold as a slave in Houston, Tex., having been captured in the city of Galveston with the Forty-second Regiment. He is a noble boy, born in Boston. His mother is a member of the First Baptist Church in this city of which I also am a member. He was a Sabbath scholar in the school connected with our church. This boy was earning about $8 per month in one of the houses connected with Harvard College. He gave it all to his mother, who is so white that she is not suspected as having any negro blood in her veins. She is well educated and in every respect a perfect lady. Her agony is intense, heartrending, and yet subdued by that Christian fortitude that sustains her in her thoughts and emotions of despair as she broods over her loss and the sufferings of her son, born in freedom, but which the might of thirty millions of men cannot because they will not protect. Information has been received from the quartermaster of the Forty-second that though earnest remonstrances were made against it and assurances given that he was born free in Boston that he was sold for the pitiful sum of $47. He was a servant of Doctor Cummings, surgeon of the Forty-second regiment. His cousin, Charles G. Amos, sixteen years old, was sold at the same time. He was servant of Colonel Burrell, of the Forty-second regiment. Who are these young men now slaves in Texas? I will tell you. Their great-grandfather was Prince Amos, who fought at Bunker Hill. His wife, the great grandmother, now lives in Andover (I think) at the great age of ninety-seven years. She receives a pension from the United States Government now which enables her to live the few remaining hours of her prolonged existence. She hears with anguish that her great-grandchildren are in that slavery that none of the family ever knew.
During the long period of life they have intermarried with the Indians and whites. There is some (though remotely) negro blood, just enough to give a shade to the skin. The woman I plead for is poor. She has not yet received a dollar from the son who I presume has never seen a cent of pay since his departure from home.
For thirty-four years I have seen this result. I have always struggled to place it before the community in the business (a merchant) I have transacted. I have warned my countrymen. I voted for you as President. I have confidence in you but more in God. I know you are moved by the infernal influence of the border States slave-masters. I have stood with and among them in Washington. I heard their plans. But you have been no more moved to protract this war than God deems necessary to allow us to clean out with perfection the awful system that glories in making merchandise of God's poor men and women. If you have confidence in Him he will help you and make you a glorious instrument in doing the mighty work; if you shrink He has other agents who will accomplish it.
Can anything be done for this poor, suffering, praying, Christian woman? If there is power in the aggregation of immense power that has been concentrated in your hands do I presume in saying you ought to do something? Would to God I had the power. I would use it.
JOHN L. BARBOUR.
I am known to Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson, our Senators; to John B. Alley, Daniel W. Gooch, Samuel Hooper and other of our Representatives; to George W. McLellan, Assistant Postmaster-General; Dr. John Pierpont, in the Treasury Department; Judge Fernald and Charles H. Morse, esq., of the Quartermaster's Department, either of whom will testify to the reliableness of my statements.
WASHINGTON, April 29, 1863.
With respect to the inclosed letter the undersigned respectfully refers to his indorsement April 14, 1863,* upon a letter from His Excellency Governor Andrew of the 8th instant on the same subject, and painful as the facts are feels obliged to repast that it seems impossible to do anything for the relief of the boys except as the result of success in the prosecution of the war. It is manifest that a formal demand for the boys except at the head of a conquering army would be met with insult.
E. A. HITCHCOCK,
Major-General of Vols., Commissioner for Exchange of Prisoners.
SOURCE: WAR OF THE REBELLION: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series II, Volume 5. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890-1901.