A letter can be a symbol of memories. A scent of cologne or perfume hinted on text from the writer to pass to the reader. In some cases, it's a piece of vital information that must be delivered as a means of communication. Enter the tale of John Boston, a slave in Maryland. The year was 1862. The month, January. The Civil War in full action with the beginning of the year authorizing President Lincoln to launch extensive and aggressive action towards the Confederacy. General McClellan later ignored this order, the President grew impatient and by April of the same year the battle of Shiloh was born. While the Civil War created a new type of modern weaponry (such as repeaters and submarines) the telegraph, war photographs, and most importantly letters were a means of communication-especially to slaves whom were often punished for knowing how to read or learning to read and didn't have access to modern technologies.
A letter alone could not be reliable, but could probably be intercepted. For this possible reason, slaves had coded language to speak to each other because of illiteracy, and the punishment comprehension of reading and writing carried for them. Spirituals and songs translated into hidden meanings. Quilts were used for navigational position with the underground railroad. Lanterns, signs, and other pieces of debris might be used for the underground railroad in a certain manner by a window, path, or trail. What John Boston used, however, was a handwritten letter to his wife. In this letter, he tells how he found refuge in a New York regiment via Upton Hill, Virginia. His wife Elizabeth Boston was currently remaining in Owensville, Maryland. All he wanted was to be free, and reunite with his family.
His letter was intercepted and forwarded to the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. No one knows if his letter was ever read by his wife, as there is no evidence of this.
“My Dear Wife it is with grate joy I take this time to let you know Whare I am
i am now in Safety in the 14th Regiment of Brooklyn . . . this Day i can Adress you thank god as a free man I had a little truble in giting away But as the lord led the Children of Isrel to the land of Canon So he led me to a land Whare fredom Will rain in spite Of earth and hell Dear you must make your Self content i am free from al the Slavers Lash . . . I am With a very nice man and have All that hart Can Wish But My Dear I Cant express my grate desire that i Have to See you i trust the time Will Come When We Shal meet again And if We dont met on earth We Will Meet in heven Whare Jesas ranes . . .”
—From John Boston’s letter to his wife
Envelope to his wife.
I hope she received the letter. From the National Archives I was able to bring you these images to you in honor of Black History Month.