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Emancipation Proclamation: My Dear Wife

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Envelope from a letter sent by John Boston to his wife Elizabeth, January 12, 1862, enclosed in a letter from Major General George B. McClellan to the Honorable Edwin Stanton; Letters Received, 1805–1889; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762–1984, Record Group 94; National Archives Identifier 783102.

During the Civil War, the government moved slowly but steadily from an affirmation of the Constitutional protection of slavery to its complete abolition with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. This change was in part forced on the Federal government by the growing numbers of enslaved people who fled and sought protection behind Union lines.

John Boston, fleeing slavery in Maryland, found refuge with a New York regiment in Upton Hill, Virginia, where he wrote to his wife who remained in Owensville. At the moment of celebrating his freedom, his highest hope and aspiration was to be reunited with his family.

My Dear Wife it is with grate joy I take this time to let you know Whare I am
i am now in Safety in the 14th Regiment of Brooklyn . . . this Day i can Adress you thank god as a free man I had a little truble in giting away But as the lord led the Children of Isrel to the land of Canon So he led me to a land Whare fredom Will rain in spite Of earth and hell Dear you must make your Self content i am free from al the Slavers Lash and as you have chose the wise plan of Serving the lord I hope you will pray Much and i Will try by the help of god To Serv him With all my hart I am With a very nice man and have All that hart Can Wish But My Dear I Cant express my grate desire that i Have to See you i trust the time Will Come When We Shal meet again And if We dont met on earth We Will Meet in heven Whare Jesas ranes . . .

Page 2 of a letter sent by John Boston to his wife Elizabeth, January 12, 1862, enclosed in a letter from Major General George B. McClellan to the Honorable Edwin Stanton; Letters Received, 1805–1889; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762–1984, Record Group 94; National Archives Identifier 783102.

There is no evidence that Elizabeth Boston ever received this letter. It was intercepted and eventually forwarded to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton by Major General George B. McClellan, providing evidence to the War Department and Lincoln administration of the refugee issue. Almost one year later, President Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that slaves within the Confederacy were free.

John Boston’s letter to his wife is featured in The Meaning and Making of Emancipation. This free ebook uses National Archives documents to place the Emancipation Proclamation in its social and political context. (This eBook currently available for iPad and will be available for multiple devices later this month.)

The National Archives will also commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation with a special display of the original document at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, from Sunday, December 30, to Tuesday, January 1. The commemoration will include extended viewing hours, inspirational music, a dramatic reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, and family activities and entertainment for all ages.

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