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Letter relays news from Wrightsboro

Lewis Smith, the treasurer of the McDuffie Museum board, has given special attention to relics of the early Wrightsboro community northwest of present-day Thomson. Smith and his wife, JoAnn, are among the volunteers staffing the museum since the recent departure of museum director Jenny Lindsey Clarke.

One relic, a letter dated Feb. 9, 1815, relays news from that Quaker neighborhood in Georgia to a larger Quaker community in South Carolina.

Smith wrote the information below for the 2011 Wrightsboro Homecoming. The letter, also on this page, is edited for space limitations.

"What a lovely, interesting letter! This was the way educated people used to write, at a time when they didn't have TV, radio and the internet to distract them. All the words on my transcript are found in a dictionary. I know; I had to look up about 20 of them. Also, the spelling in the typescript is what is in the letter. I did not change any variations of spelling. They spelled Winsboro with one 'n' back then; we spell it with two today. And there are other differences. Now, let me say a few other things about the letter.

"First, this letter was written Feb. 9, 1815, during the War of 1812. The war ended Feb. 18, 1815, nine days later. To help you with a sense of time: the Battle of New Orleans was fought only a month before the letter, The Star-Spangled Banner was written only five months before, and Dolley Madison saved Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Washington less than six months before. I believe the war date and being on the wild frontier of western Georgia contributed to the 251/2 cents postage, which would normally have been about one penny in an established town.

"Second, the frequent use of the word 'friends' and the fact that this letter was sent from Wrightsboro (a Quaker settlement) to Winnsboro (another Quaker settlement) makes me believe that the writer was a Quaker. The history books tell us that the Quakers left Wrightsboro from 1807-1809, but surely they all didn't leave. Quakers today meet in Aiken, Athens, Columbia and Atlanta. The Aiken meeting is the first and third Sundays of each month. They started their first Sunday meeting today at 10 at a member's house. You can get meeting details, such as the location, from the Internet if you would like to attend a meeting.

"Third, it seems obvious that Mr. Kennon, the writer of the letter, is a physician. He says that 'My partner in the practice accepted a place in the medical department of the army,' and that 'the season was unusually sickly during the fall.' Weren't they then the doctors of the settlement? Was his partner a Quaker? If so, did his sense of patriotism overcome his Quaker beliefs of nonviolence? Or, by serving in the medical department, did he believe that it was his humanitarian duty, and not a military duty, and it was therefore consistent with his Quaker beliefs?

"Fourth, I find it amazing that a letter written in the backwoods of Georgia in 1815 contains a sentence which states in part 'The electric fluid passes not with greater celerity thro its conductors...' Electric fluid, of course, refers to electric current; and celerity means speed, as in acceleration. It was only in 1752 that Franklin flew his kite, and it was in 1800 that Volta invented the electric battery. But it was long after this letter that Ampere in 1820 confirmed the relationship between electricity and magnetism, that Faraday in 1821 invented the electric motor, and that Georg Ohm in 1826 gave us the relationship between power, voltage, current and resistance. And 65 years later, Edison invented a light bulb that would last 40 hours.

"And lastly, I want to commend the writer on his writing skills and his excellent vocabulary. In those days, if you were educated at all, you were well educated, and if you weren't, you probably couldn't read or write. Our author was definitely well educated, and in this letter written in the ordinary course of the day, he shows his love and affection for his fellow Quakers in Carolina. Near the end he says, 'I would much rather live where I could frequently see you.' But he says that won't happen until they're together in Heaven, and then they shall mingle their voices in singing 'Worthy is the lamb that has died,' the song of JoAnn's devotional."

Web posted on Thursday, September 01, 2011

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