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“My Master Has Sold Albert to a Trader”: Maria Perkins Writes to Her Husband, 1852

One of the principal tragedies of slavery was family separation. In this letter, written in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1852, a woman writes to her husband about the sale of their son, Albert, to a slaver trader. Maria and Richard Perkins, who were owned by different masters, were already separated, but now Maria Perkins was witnessing the complete dissolution of her household, both people and possessions. She attempts to salvage at least her marriage by asking her husband to convince his owner buy her. Most slaves did not know how to read and write and this letter, in Mrs. Perkins' own handwriting, is unusual. This letter first came to light in 1929 when Yale historian Ulrich Bonnell Phillips published it in his Life and Labor in the Old South, and it remains in his papers.

Charlottesville Oct 8th 1852

Dear Husband,

I write you a letter to let you know of my distress my master has sold albert to a trader on Monday court day and myself and other child is for sale also and I want to you let hear from you very soon before next cort if you can I dont know when I dont want you to wait till Christmas I want you to tell dr Hamelton and your master if either will buy me they can attend to it know and then I can go afterwards.

I dont want a trader to get me they asked me if I had got any person to buy me and I told them no they took me to the court house too they never put me up a man buy the name of brady bought albert and is gone I dont know whare they say he lives in Scottesville my things is in several places some is in staunton and if I should be sold I don’t know what will become of them I dont expect to meet with the luck to get that way till I am quite heartsick nothing more I am and ever will be your kind wife Maria Perkins.

To Richard Perkins

Source: U. B. Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1929), 212