Letter from Westly Townsend, An Empancipated Slave

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A few months ago, we blogged about a project funded by the NHPRC to digitize the Septimus D. Cabaniss Papers. This is a really fascinating collection, containing the personal and business papers of a Civil War era attorney from Huntsville, Alabama. In 1853, Cabaniss was employed by the wealthy, unmarried Samuel Townsend to draft a will that would allow him to manumit and leave property to a number of his slaves, many of whom were his children. Townsend was concerned because his brother Edmund had attempted to do the same thing, but his will had been held void by the courts upon his death. Samuel wanted Cabaniss to draft an air-tight document for his estate, which at his death in 1856 was valued at approximately $200,000, including 8 plantations totaling 7,560 acres and 190 slaves.

Cabaniss created the will so that it would provide for the emancipation and removal of the 40 slaves specified by Townsend to a free territory. Most of his property was to be auctioned and the profits placed into a trust to financially support the freed slaves and pay for their relocation to Ohio and Kansas, as well as their education.

Included here is a letter written by Westly Townsend, son of Samuel and one of the freed slaves. He was living in Ohio and going to school, learning to read and write. This letter to Cabaniss is the first time Westly has attempted to write letter to Cabaniss on his own, as he is just learning to write. Below the image is a transcription of the letter.

Read Alle Albany. Athens Co
June 2 1858
Mr. S.D. Cabaniss
Dear sir this is the fist time that I hav undertook to writ a letter to you if you can read it let me know it in your letter I often think of you all Mr. S.D Cabaniss I can read some of the words in your letters I try very hard to read an to writ I am putting all my time in school I am reciting in the spelling book and the Second reader an the Arithmetic
Westly Townsend

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