1861: Wyly J. Smith to James Knox Polk Saylor

I believe this letter was written by 11 year-old Wyly J. Smith, the son of Peter Smith (1828-1902) and Lucinda Hall (1825-18xx) of Romeo, Greene county in eastern Tennessee. He wrote the letter from Lindley, Grundy county, Missouri, where I presume he was staying with friends or relatives—there were four Smith families living in the Grundy county in the 1860 US Census; two of them from Tennessee. Perhaps young Wyly chose to leave his parents who apparently did not share his secessionists views for his father later joined Co. K, 1st Tennessee (Union) Cavalry.

Smith wrote the letter to James Knox Polk Saylor (1839-1919) who was a school teacher in the same district where Smith was raised and the content suggests to me that he was Smith’s teacher. Saylor was the son of a blacksmith-farmer named John Saylor (1808-1879) and his wife Mary (“Polly”) Fink (1809-1895) of Greene county, Tennessee.


Addressed to James K. P. Saylor, Esqr., Romeo, Greene county, Tennessee

Lindley, [Marion Township,] Grundy county, Missouri
March 24th 1861

J. K. P. Saylor, Esqr.
Dear Sir,

It is with the most profound regard and highest respect conceivable that I take up my pen this good Sabbath evening to try to promulgate a few thoughts to your perceptive faculties through the medium of an epistolary. Correspondence as I understand from B. F.’s last letter from you that you have got to be a great Union Man. Perhaps you will say you have always been. Be that as it may, we at last bid farewell in political friendship never to meet until this nation and country is drenched in blood, unless you turn from the error of your way and quit following such [a] heartless demagogue as Andrew Johnson whose speech is like himself—black as hell. Nothing but slander and a disgrace to the state and age in which he lives and is endorsed by all the damned black-hearted abolitionists in the North.

I do believe if hell was raked and sea scummed, there could not be another such a damed, heartless hypocrite found—Judas not accepted. Yes, a Benedict Arnold to give up his country. Oh! may the gods be angry with him. May they blast all his efforts and aims. May they cut him down. Oh! may Mars be upon him and send him down to his proper place and may his prosperity if imbibed in his doctrines, be blasted from off the face of all the earth. May all his seed be forgotten among men & those who will now say amen to his hellish notions. He has always been an abolitionist in my opinion and as he thinks that it is getting popular, he will now show his hand. Abe [Lincoln] is a gentleman to all such and would be preferable to him with me. I hate a traitor.

Perhaps you begin to think I am a secessionist. Yes sir, that is my stripe and as spotted with it as a leopard and say damn a man that hasn’t got the spunk to say amen to it. But why? say you. Well sir, I will tell you. Before I get done with this correspondence. From several considerations. The first is we haven’t got any Union, nor haven’t had any for the last 15 years which you—if an honest man—will give up [as true]. Don’t think I mean to say you are not honest, for no unconditional Union Man can be honest.

The only kind of Union you can be for is the union of the races—i.e., the amalgamation of the Saxon and the Ethiopian which is contrary to the laws of God and should be repudiated by all honest men.  But says you, how do you make that? Well, I will show you, first we have no Union as a nation. The North first violated the law by passing the Liberty Bills which were unconstitutional and to repeal those laws would have been civil war & subjugation. And to have those laws remaining on the statute books would be no Union at all—for a Union that is not in union is no Union at all. Where can you see union in their measures? The only chance to have union is to go the way Wade & Chase & Greeley go. Confiscate the property of the South. The abolitionists are for Union. A. Johnson is for Union. Therefore, A. Johnson and his confederates are abolitions.


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