[1851 and 1861 St. Helena Island Autograph Letters Signed to Dr. Robert Stephenson, Summerfield, Ohio].
Two affecting letters touching on slavery, loss and suffering, and more
Two affecting letters touching on slavery, separation between men of common English ancestry, and loss and suffering. Both letters addressed to Ohio physician, Dr. Robert Stephenson.
Dr. Robert Stephenson, a former traveling Methodist preacher, emigrated from England and settled in Noble County, Ohio. There he established a medical practice until removing to Iowa in 1866.
While in Ohio Dr. Stephenson received these two letters: one from his brother in 1851 and a second letter, likely from his nephew (who signs his letter as “R. Stephenson”) in 1861.
Dr. Stehenson’s nephew describes himself in his letter as a “Pupil Teacher At the British school St. Helens.” This is likely a reference to the British island Crown colony of St. Helena. The British Navy used the island as a base to suppress the African slave trade. Between 1840 and 1849, over 15,000 freed slaves arrived there. Young R. Stephenson writes to his uncle and aunt and cousins in November 1861:
My father wishes to send my kind love to you all. I am sorrow [sic] to hear that Robert V. Thomas is in the confederate war, but I hope if it please God he will bring them out alive again. But I hope also that instead of America being a in a very unruled condition that it may be a very good government, and that every one who loves war better than rejoicing may be punished. And may America be a country long to be remembered by every nation of every tongue ... O what a glorious and good country America has been ... I hope that if you die in this war we may all meet in heaven ... We are all freemen in England and I hope you will be the same and what rejoicing there will be. ...I hope that in a short time we will have to say, Slavery, Slavery, Oh Slavery. Get out of our countries.
At the time of this 1861 letter, Dr. Stephenson (1841–?) had recently enlisted as a private in Company D., Forty-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry. This regiment was led by none other than General James A. Garfield, future American president. Toward the end of the war, in 1864, Dr. Stephenson removed to Iowa.
The 1851 letter from St. Helena is from Dr. Stephenson’s brother Jo. Stephenson, mourns the death of Dr. Stephenson’s first wife:¹
Your long & much desired Letter arrived on the 4th day of Novemebr lat which gave to me the mournful information of the death of your wife it was with tearful eyes & a trobing hart [sic] that I read its solam [sic] centents while my wife & John with Margret listened with deep attention to the woes of a bereved [sic] husband. ...I feel like Rachel who refused to be comforted because they [Rachel’s children] ware [were] not & you the most disalate [sic] of all pasing [living? in] a Foreign Land bereft off [sic] all you [sic] relations in life… I can not comfort you as the Jews did Martha & Mary when they lost Lazarus els[e] I would have hastened my steps to you & mingled my tears with one who is bound to my hart with a thousand ties…
Two good letters.
Description: [1851 and 1861 St. Helena Island Autograph Letters Signed to Dr. Robert Stephenson, Summerfield, Ohio].
St Helens [island of St. Helena], Nov. 19. / 51. pp. 9 x 7¼ inches. Bifolium with postally used envelope. Folds; letter separated at one fold; fair. [with:] St. Helens [island of St. Helena], Nov. 12th / 61. [1½]pp. 9 x 6½ inches. Bifolium. Fold lines; lacking lower half of second leaf; good. Both letters with condition issues but darkly engrossed and easily legible.
1. Young R. Stephenson’s aunt was his uncle’s second wife. History of Noble County, Ohio… (Chicago, 1887).