1861: Lizzie Fisher to Sister Nancy

This letter was written by a woman named Lizzie Fisher from the village of Bement in central Illinois. She wrote the letter in January 1861 to her sister whom she called “Nan.” We know from the letter that her husband’s name was William (“Will”) Fisher and that they were in the process of building a house in Bement. If they resided in Bement at the time of the 1860 census, I can’t find them.

My hunch is that this couple came to Illinois from the mid-South — probably Kentucky or Tennessee — and that Lizzie’s sister resided there or, more likely, beyond the Red River in Texas. There were Fisher’s in Greene county, Illinois, who were probably relatives but I can’t make the connection.

In any event, the letter reveals a keen and rising resentment towards the abolitionists who were viewed by a fair portion of the Illinois population as agitators. Though such sentiments were commonplace in central and southern Illinois, it is hard to find letters that express these sentiments so forcefully.


Bement, Illinois
January 6th 1861
Sunday night

Dear Sister,

I received your letter several days ago but has neglected answering until now. Indeed, I have nothing important to write — only my boy will soon be walking if he keeps well. I tell you, he is a fine little nephew. Will is bragging on him now. He thinks him the finest boy in the State.

Well, Nan, we have got our other house about done — that is, all except plastering. But I hope we will not have to stay here among these Black Republicans much longer. But there is no telling how things are going to terminate. There was an old abolitionist here the other day. He thinks the negroes ought to have their liberty and he thought we might give them some country to live in Texas. He said [it] would suit them very well. I felt like he ought to be in Texas a short time himself. I didn’t know but he and Will would fight before they got through though they did not. They say here that if they get to fighting, they will have the negroes to help them and if any of the white men here attempt to fight against them, they will hang them. Now don’t that show what they are. But let us hope for the better.

We had rather a dull Christmas. Nothing interesting or amusing except we had an oyster supper here Christmas. I was at the old Baptist meeting the Sunday before but the preacher was not there.

I am sure I should love to come and see how Pa looks behind the counter. Suppose he looks very spry. I want to call on him as soon as it is convenient and those pieces you set me are all very nice. I should like to have my dress but I am real uneasy for fear you will wear it out. Tell Mother to not let you. And Clarinda & Alida, I am under many obligations to them for their kindness in my absence. Perhaps you all think of the absent ones occasionally.

I think Diny & Add’s dresses very nice. Tell Virgy to be sure & send me a piece of hers. Just ask Joe why he don’t write to us and Bleas, I expect him to write every mail if he has not forgotten how. And Hadie had better write to his little nephew and Alph (astounding) — I don’t know what to say to him.

Will went to town the other day [and] bought me two new dresses. I will send you some of the pieces.

Well, Nan, it has been one week since I commenced writing this. Then my hands have been so I could not write and are but very little better and but little prospect of getting better.

We also received a letter stating that Joe was gone out on an Indian excursion and that that blackhearted abolitionist was encamped on Red River and I have been very uneasy ever since but I sincerely hope ere this time Joe has returned home, and I hope they have had the good luck to get Montgomery and his men. ¹ I have heard so much of him that it makes me shudder to think of him getting any of you in his power. It seems to me that I could assist in kindling the fire to consume him. I fear the consequences should there be war between North and South. What is to become of us all? For my part, I can safely say if the Abolitionist don’t kill us, we will find a stopping place the other side of Red River. But I hope for a satisfactory compromise that will be permanent and then every abolitionist that crosses the line — kill him like you would a sheep killing dog. They are getting saucier everyday. They — all that talk here — hear what we think of them. Will makes them mad occasionally by telling them what they are doing and what he intends to do if they go to fighting. If possible, we will go to Texas this fall though you need not say anything to anyone for it is uncertain. Times are harder — if possible — here since Old Abe’s election than ever. The banks have failed [and] every man has lost money — that is, if he had any.

Priscilla Davis is dead. Left two little children. The last word from Greene County I heard that Uncle Jim Taylor was not expected to live. Typhoid fever is his disease.

Hope you will write soon and often. If Will was at home, he would have done this writing himself but he has gone to Monticello and I stole a march on him, but my hand hurts so bad I shall leave off scribbling. My love to all.

Yours, — Lizzie Fisher

¹ This may be a reference to James Montgomery who led a company of “Redlegs” stealing and liberating Negro slaves.

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