This letter was written by 20 year-old Catherine (“Kate”) Elizabeth Fulkerson (1832-1903), the daughter of Abram Fulkerson, Sr. (1789-1859) and Margaret Laughlin Vance (1794-1864) of Abingdon, Washington county, Virginia. She wrote the letter while teaching a select school in Estillville, Tennessee, in the midst of the 1852 Presidential Campaign. Kate was working as a teacher at Martha Washington College when she married the widower, Floyd B. Hurt, in December 1864. [See Unique Wedding Feast] Though Kate was born in Abington, her father was enumerated in Grainger, Tennessee, in 1840 and 1850.
In the letter, Kate refers to their brother Isaac Fulkerson (1829-1889). She also mentions “Sam” whom I believe was their brother, Samuel Vance Fulkerson (1822-1862). Sam was a colonel in the Confederate army. He served with the 37th Virginia and was killed on 28 June 1862 at the Battle of Gaines Mill.
Kate wrote the letter to her younger brother, Abram Fulkerson, Jr. (1834-1902). Abram, Jr. graduated from the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington in 1857, where he was a student of Prof. Thomas Jonathan (“Stonewall”) Jackson. According to his records at VMI, he had a reputation for being a prankster and wore an “outlandish collar” on his cadet uniform: the collar being the only part of the uniform not covered under regulations. After graduation, he taught school in Palmyra, Virginia, and Rogersville, Tennessee, until the beginning of the American Civil War when he entered Confederate military service in June 1861 as a Captain of Co. K, 19th Tennessee Infantry Regiment at Knoxville. His was the first company of volunteers organized in East Tennessee. He was elected as Major of the 19th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. He was wounded in the thigh and his horse was shot from under him at the Battle of Shiloh and was reassigned in the resulting reorganization to the 63rd Tennessee Infantry after recovering from his injury. He was elected as Lieutenant Colonel of the 63rd, and was later promoted to full colonel by President Jefferson Davis on February 12, 1864.
Addressed to Col. Abram Fulkerson, Abingdon, Virginia
September 4th 1852
By commencing at the top of the page you see I intend writing a long letter, tho I have nothing to write that from its originality or force of expression will benefit you ten years hence. I am not in a letter writing mood, but “God being my helper,” I will try and proceed.
I am getting along tolerably well, “I thank you,” and am still very much pleased with teaching school. I have four or five little boys going and for their size, I think some of them are equal to Rev. W. A. L. Blackburne, Brigadier General Albert Cleveland and Col. Abram Fulkerson, Jr. I will give you one instance of some of their feats. Yesterday I had some of them making figures on a slate and told them they must make figures and if they made pictures, I would whip them. They did very well awhile [but] at last one of them brought up his slate with a mammoth representation of a man on it with the head, body and legs stuffed full of figures. I do not think you could beat the ingenuity and device of that boy.
Nearly all the male portion of Estillville have gone to Kingsport today to hear the Hon. [James C.] Jones & [William] Cullom. Sam & Mr. McIver went over there last Thursday to hear the Electors of the State speak. Are you for [Winfield] Scott or [Franklin] Pierce, or are you neutral?
Sam has been on the sick list for three or four weeks and he concluded a few days since that he would rest a few days and not study much. Some days he would be pretty well but if he would study half a day right hard, he would scarcely be able to sit up. He seemed pretty well for the last day or two. I was fearful it would terminate in something serious but I think now it will not. There has been a great deal of sickness in this county. Flux has been the prevailing epidemic tho it has in a great measure subsided. I hear of no new cases for a few days. There has [been] no cases in town but some persons were frightened almost to death whilst it was raging so in the country. For awhile, they would eat no vegetables or fruit of any kind and they all wore asafoetida around the neck. I think there has been enough in school to cure one thousand chickens of the gapes. I did not try any of their preventives but eat what I pleased and as much as I wished.
We get plenty of apples and peaches. There is a great deal of fruit in this country. I have not had the pleasure of eating — or helping to eat — but three watermelons this year. I expect you and Balfour have had some fine times eating large cool watermelons when you would come in from your toil at noon. Do you invite your female acquaintances to participate? I expect you have had Miss Mary P. and Hetty Z. down to see you.
I went to camp-meeting not far from Kingsport last Sunday. We had quite a pleasant trip notwithstanding it was fraught with adventure. As we went over, I was thrown from my horse but was not the least hurt. I changed horses and got over safely, heard three sermons preached, took dinner, saw some of my acquaintances, and made some acquaintances from Kingsport and vicinity, and then started home. As we came home, Miss Emma McIver’s horse stumbled and she jumped off in the creek. Sam had to jump in and lead her out. She got very wet for the creek was tolerably full. We came to the Holston Springs and staid all night. There was no company at the springs except those that staid from town and three Southern gentlemen. I was very sorry I did not get down there whilst Mr. Preston was there.
Tell Eliza I received her letter and that I wrote to her a day or two before I got it. How is Eliza & the Dr. progressing towards the matrimonial market?
Saturday night — the gentlemen have returned from the speaking. Some of them seem to be very much disappointed in [James C.] Jones. They say neither of them did anything except to recapitulate the “whig slang” (that they see in pamphlets and papers everyday) and tell a few false-hoods.
Mr. Livingston & McIver spoke of going to Abingdon tomorrow. I will send this letter by them if they go but it is a little uncertain about their going. Mr. McIver is a very clever man. He has been very kind to me. I never would have been any distance out of town since I have been here if it had not been for him.
Have you been at Aunt Caty’s since I left? Don’t you think you could keep house and let Mother go there before cold weather? I have seen Miss Emmeline Waterman two or three times since she has been down. She has not gone home yet but was at Mr. Draper’s near Kingsport yesterday.
I have not heard a word from [brother] Isaac since he left Rogersville [Tennessee] altho he promised to write. You must write and tell me all the news and if you get any letters, tell me all that is in them.
Sabbath morning — this is a pleasant, bright, calm and beautiful Sunday morning — a pleasant breeze stirring and nothing to break the holy stillness except the chirping of the grasshoppers and crickets who seem to say that yellow-seared Autumn is approaching. This morning reminds me of the many Sabbath mornings I have spent in Tennessee at our old home. Abe, I never expect to spend as many days of pure unalloyed happiness as I have spent at that old place, altho there would be nothing there to attract a stranger and it is true my life has never been spent basking in the rays of a pleasant sun without a cloud to dim the horizon. Yet it was there I spent my early childhood when my spirits were elastic and buoyant, when I could look on the bright side of everything and could see a ray of light gleaming through the darkest cloud. But a “Change has come o’er the spirit of my dream,” and I can only look back with pleasure — or to quote the words of [Samuel] Woodworth:
“How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood
When fond reflection presents to them to view.” ¹
You will be tired before you get through this I know so I will stop and go to Sabbath school. Sam seems very well this morning and spoke of going out in the country to preaching. Give my kindest wishes to all my relations. Tell Mother to write soon. I am anxious to hear from home again.
Your affectionate sister, — Kate E. Fulkerson
¹ These are the opening lines from a poem by Samuel Woodworth entitled, “The Old Oaken Bucket.”