1861: D. L. Gates to Sister

I have not been able to determine the identity of these correspondents; the surname appears to be “Gates” or “Yates.” The state from which the letter was written is also not given but the content suggests it was mailed from the midwest as the author refers to sending letters “back East” and the author also speaks of families being driven from Missouri through their state. This leads me to believe it was Fairfield, Wayne County, Illinois.


Fairfield [Illinois]
August the 2d 1861

Dear Sister,

I now sit down to answer your kind and welcome letter which we received about a month ago. We are all well at present, hoping these few lines will find you enjoying the same blessing. You doubtless will think strange of my not writing before but to tell you the truth, I have not had money enough for the last two months to buy a postage stamp until yesterday. Rosette went to town and sold some butter and got a dime’s worth of stamps. The times here as regards money matters is the worst I ever knew. In fact, it [is] almost impossible to get money for anything.

But for all the hard times in money matters, we can get anything we want to eat or wear reasonably low as regards provisions as you will see by the following prices: flour is worth one dollar & fifty cents per hundred barrel. Corn is worth a bit, that is 72 & ½ cents per bushel, Potatoes 20 cents & wheat is 40 cents per bushel. Pork six dollars per hundred that is. Clear molasses from 40 to 60 cents per gallon. But will be cheaper soon as people are beginning to make sorghum molasses. We have enough cane to make four barrels, I think. We shall commence making ours this week. I have ten acres of corn planted. Had four acres of wheat, have ¾ acre potatoes, one and a half acre of sugar cane and a good garden of vegetables. We will kill four hogs & one beef so that with the exception of flour, we will raise about what we will want to live on this year. We milk four cows this summer and raised four calves. We have 17 turkeys, 13 geese, and I don’t know how many hens. Eggs are 3 cts. per dozen in store pay. I think my corn will yield from 40 & 50 bushels per acre. Crops of all kinds come in good this season. Fruit is plenty and cheap for this country.

Now I will tell you how many letters I have written East this summer — one to you, one to Diantha, one to father, one to Lorin, one to Abel. In all, five letters before this, and I have received one from you and one from Lorin. I received one from Lorin last winter bringing the sad intelligence of the death of our Cousin Elias and bringing Lorin’s Ambrotype. Tell Abel that I got a letter from Missouri concerning his land tax. I enclosed the letter and sent it to him. Have not heard from him since. Now I love to write letters to my parents, brothers, & sisters. It gives me great pleasure. But recollect love also to read as often as I can the lines that are penned by those hands I have grasped with great affection in days that are gone never to return.

Missouri Refugees Coming into St. Louis in 1861

While I look with regret at the agitated state of our country and the awful consequence of the war that is now raging and almost brought to our doors, I must say that my heart is pained within me. Several young men with whom I have been acquainted have been home to their friends a lifeless form and buried with military honors. Families are driven by hundreds from Missouri and traveling through this state in order to escape the vengeance of those that are in rebellion to our government — some selling their property at ruinous rates, others leaving it unsold and at the mercy of their enemies, others seeing their burned before their eyes. I have to think when I hear stories of their trials that mine is a easy fate compared to theirs but it is all bad enough for us all.

I must draw to a close for want of room. Tell Lorin to write and have father write and tell Diantha to write and all write and let me hear from you often. — D. L. Gates

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