‘Without my husband we are a desolate and ruined family’

Zebulon B. Vance, North Carolina governor during the American Civil War, often had to contend with deep opposition among his citizens against Confederate conscription laws. The exemptions that were granted to privileged individuals often rankled with the poor farmers who made up most of the families in the the state. In connection with the “Twenty Negro Law” that allowed one white man to be exempted for every 20 enslaved Blacks on a plantation, one woman wrote to Vance:

From Martha Coletrane
Nov the 18 1862

Stae of Northcarolina
Randolph Co

Dear sir this is a greate undertaking for me as i never wrote to a man of authority before necesity requires it of me as we are nonslave holders in this section of the State i hope you and our legislature will look to it and have justice done our people as well as the slaveholders i can tel you the condition of my family and you can judg for your self what its condition woul be if my husban is called from home we hav eight children and the oldest is not forteen years old and an old aged mother to support, which makes eleven in our family and without my husband we ae a desolate and ruined family for extortion runs so hie here we cannot support and clothe our family without the help of my husband i hope you will look to the justice of the peepils of this section of the state and i trust you will hold the rane in your own hands and not let the confederate congress have the full sway over your State i appeal to you to look to the white cultivaters as strictly as cngress has to the slaveholders and i think they men from 35 to 45 be hel as reserves at hom to support ther families if th are calld from home it is bound to leave a thoasn families in a starving condition in our county we trust in god and look to you for some help for our poor children so no more

Johnston, Frontis W. The Papers of Zebulon B. Vance, Vol. One, 1843-1862. Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History, 1963. Pages 374-375.

(Photo: Farmer, Identity and date unknown. Library of Congress.)

A.R. Bredenberg, 4 Jan. 2021

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