Lot 52    

Antebellum Love Letters Between a Virginia Plantation Owner and a Young Widow
2009, Winter American History, Dec 9
Littleton Waller Tazewell Wickam and Elizabeth Peyre Laurens Love letters, 1853-1854; 27 letters. Letters 20-24 are unique in terms of postal history.

Tazewell, Peyre, Laurens, Ashby, Litteton: the names alone evoke plantation culture in the antebellum south. This collection of 27 letters comes from a courting couple in antebellum Virginia who between them sported all those names (and more!). Born in 1821 into privilege and enormous social connection, Littleton W.T. Wickham was the son of the distinguished Constitutional lawyer John Wickham and was named for one of his father's closest friends, L.W. Tazewell (who had represented Virginia in the Congress and Senate and as governor). A graduate of the University of Virginia, Wickham built a successful legal practice in New Orleans, but after the death of his first wife, Eliza, in 1850, the spent more and more time in the Old Dominion, eventually returning to live there shortly before the Civil War.

Wickham's business affairs demanded regular travel between Virginia, New Orleans, and Charleston, placing him in an odd situation when he began courting the widow Elizabeth Peyre (Ashby) Laurens in 1853. This collection includes nearly twenty letters written by the couple during their extended courtship in 1853-1854. Written in increasingly intimate style, at times joking, at times deeply longing, the letters offer wonderful insight into the rituals of courtship among two experienced courtiers. Whether joking about sending slipper through the mail -- a sign of intimacy, no doubt -- or musing about their separation, both Wickham and Laurens maintain a delicate balance between decorum and desire.

In a typical letter, Elizabeth chides Littleton for saying that she might actually prefer a letter to his visit in person: "No indeed," she writes, "but next to seeing you what could give me as much pleasure as having from you. To see before me, traced by your own hands those words so precious to woman's heart, I love you, coming from the one most dear to her. And when I feel that you are away, and I am lonely, I turn again to your letter, and my heart is cheered by the pleasure it brings. So do not deem it a foolish fancy of mine, which is not to be indulged...." [Elizabeth to Littleton, September 29, 1854]

Two weeks later, she rues the fact that without Littleton around, she has little interest in going out and socializing: "I have neither the inclination or energy to walk without you. I do go sometimes when I know that I require it, but not for pleasure. Now that you are away I would rather sit in my own room, thinking of you Darling until again I fancy myself sitting near you with your arms around me, and again, I hear the quick beating of your precious heart. And although I know alas that it is but a delusion of fancy, it is not sweeter to me than to commune with you in spirit, than to sit in the presence of others." [Elizabeth, Oct. 17, 1854]

Littleton's letters are equally passionate and he fulfills his end of the courtship in grand Victorian (and Southern) fashion: "My dear Lizzie you asked me if in your absence I should miss you. Miss you? I could enjoy nothing without you. The glorious views in the passage of the Blue Ridge were insipid because you were not their to participate in the pleasure, and this moment just arrived from my journey, my first thought is to talk to you and tell how I miss, how I love, how I long for you...."

The collection includes a small number of letters in addition to those between Wickham and Laurens. Among these is a series of five letters regarding the sale of the Richmond estate of Wickham's mother, Elizabeth Selden McClurg. In addition to a long account of bottling up and distributing the wine in the cellar of the estate, the most interesting letter is one from Wickham's oldest (half-)brother from Hanover Court House, May 1854, noting that the estate had netted nearly $56,000 at sale -- $11,000 higher than the highest estimate. In discussing the dispersal of the estate, William Wickham writes revealing about another class of profitable property: "The servants I have mostly disposed of on reasonable terms, according to their own choice, & I was glad to be able to do so. Tom I have told to look for a situation among respectable persons, & that I should require no pay for his services. His good conduct & his attention to his old master entitle him to this indulgence. Shall he be in want, from age or infirmity, he must be provided for. I would have done the same for Mary, but of her own accord she got a man named Robert to buy her for $200. I thought it best to let her decide for herself. She has probably purchased herself in his name."

One note in the collection summarizes Civil War service in the 20th Battalion Virginia Artillery, their surrender under R. S. Ewell at Sailers Creek, and six weeks imprisonment at Point Lookout; and the collection also includes a partial essay on the passing of the Old South and birth of the New South, written after about 1898. Both of these items are worn, with the latter separated into six pieces and incomplete.

A superb collection revealing the intimate practice of courtship among the plantation elite of Virginia. Well written, cultured, and insightful, the letters are in fine condition with comparatively little wear, except as noted. Most letters are folded sheets with stamps and postal markings or include the envelopes.
Sold: $1,116.25
Price includes
Buyer's Premium
      Ask a Question

All Images

don't miss

an opportunity to bid. You can't win if you're not in.

sign up to bid

what's it worth?

ask the experts

sell your item

start selling
John Pierce Folding Knife,
Lot # 211 - John Pierce Folding Knife,
5.25" spear point blade with stag handles. Marked John Pearce Sheffield. > Item Details
L.A. Huffman Photograph of A Buffalo Family
Lot # 371 - L.A. Huffman Photograph of A Buffalo Family
A hand-colored photograph titled A Buffalo Family, North Montana Prairies 1879 and signed in ink by L.A. Huffman along lower margin, 7.5 x 9.75 in. (sight), framed, 8.5 x 10.75 in. > Item Details
Davy Crockett Composition Based on Playbill
Lot # 92 - Davy Crockett Composition Based on Playbill
St. Louis, 1881, oil on canvas with applied jigsaw work. A contest was held in New York City in 1830 for the best original comedy, it was won by James Kirke Paulding for his play titled "Lion of The West;" it was a satire on Davy Crockett and played in 1831. The name later changed to "The Kentuckian... > Item Details
<i>New York Times</i> Lincoln Assassination Newspaper, April 15, 1865
Lot # 31 - New York Times Lincoln Assassination Newspaper, April 15, 1865
Complete original 8pp Civil War newspaper, the New York Times, dated April 15, 1865. Prominent front page headlines begin with: AWFUL EVENT / President Lincoln Shot by an Assassin. The Deed Done at Ford's Theatre Last Night. THE ACT OF A DESPERATE REBEL.... Featuring one of the earliest accounts of ... > Item Details
California Gold Rush Archive
Lot # 349 - California Gold Rush Archive
Jonathan Warner Family Collection, ca 1840-1885; approx. 175 items. With roots in Connecticut, the family of Jonathan Warner had moved westward by the 1840s to settle in Jefferson (Ashtabula County), Ohio, though they were drawn inexorably westward. In 1847, a relative in Chester, Conn., said it al... > Item Details
Log Cabin Hunting Scene Oil Painting
Lot # 93 - Log Cabin Hunting Scene Oil Painting
oil on canvas. A naive depiction of two men landing a bark canoe in front of a log cabin, housed in gilt oval frame; 25 x 21.5 in. (sight), 31 x 24 in. (w/frame). AUCTIONEER'S NOTE: It has been called to our attention that this painting bears a striking resemblance to a Currier & Ives print titled T... > Item Details
Wounded Knee Massacre Boudoir Photographs, by George E. Trager
Lot # 267 - Wounded Knee Massacre Boudoir Photographs, by George E. Trager
Lot of 2, prints 7.5 x 4.5 in. on boudoir mounts 8.5 x 5.25 in. The first shows the frozen body of Big Foot on the snow-covered battle field, Jan. 1, 1891. Marked in the neg., Big Foot copyrighted by the North Western Photo Co. Chadron Neb. with studio imprint on the back. The second view is mar... > Item Details
Black Tail Deer, Ute Chief
Lot # 261 - Black Tail Deer, Ute Chief
By Antonio Zeno Shindler, 1868. Albumen photograph 5 x 7.3 in. on mount 8.25 x 10.5 in. in mat. Black Tail Deer, also known as Pe-a-oh, was a member of the Ute delegation which came to Washington, D.C. accompanied by Kit Carson and Albert Boone, the grandson of Daniel Boone. The infamous treaty ... > Item Details
Uniformed Oil Portrait of Stonewall Jackson
Lot # 195 - Uniformed Oil Portrait of Stonewall Jackson
A 3/4 profile portrait of General Stonewall Jackson in uniform, reputed to have hung in the South Carolina capital building; 26.5 x 35.75 in., framed, 36.25 x 45.25 in. This painting appears to be based upon Jackson's Chancellorsville portrait, taken by a photographer from the Richmond Studio of Min... > Item Details
Rare Photograph of Red Cloud and Othniel C. Marsh
Lot # 227 - Rare Photograph of Red Cloud and Othniel C. Marsh
By Frank A. Bowman, January 22, 1883. Albumen photograph 6.75 x 8 in. in mat. Taken during Red Cloud’s visit to Marsh at Yale University. Red Cloud had met Marsh, a paleontologist, while the professor was excavating fossils in Dakota Territory in 1874. When Marsh returned East, he called attent... > Item Details
Quanah Parker Cabinet Card by Irwin & Mankins
Lot # 278 - Quanah Parker Cabinet Card by Irwin & Mankins
Silver gelatin, with Irwin and Mankins' Chickasha and Duncan Indian Territory imprint below image. > Item Details
Half-Plate Tintype of Civil War Era Fire Brigade
Lot # 20 - Half-Plate Tintype of Civil War Era Fire Brigade
Full-length portrait of 8 firemen from a New York Area Fire Co., with painted canvas backdrop and fake grass in studio. Each man wears badge with eagle on top and hats, which are standard New York regulation Fatigue style; 5 x 7 in., framed 6.5 x 8.6 in. > Item Details
General John W. Geary Civil War Letters, Plus Signed Promotion
Lot # 180 - General John W. Geary Civil War Letters, Plus Signed Promotion
David B. Hilt Collection, 1861-1862. 28th Pennsylvania Infantry; 10 items. This small collection consists of six letters regarding the efforts of a father, Samuel R. Hilt, to obtain a commission for his son David. The most notable thing about these letters is that five of them were written by Col.... > Item Details
25 Colorado Stereoviews by Jackson, Chamberlain, Thurlow, Plus
Lot # 348 - 25 Colorado Stereoviews by Jackson, Chamberlain, Thurlow, Plus
A group of 25 cabinet sized views by Jackson (10); Gurnsey (6); Thurlow, Morrison and Chamberlain (2 each); Nims (1); and three unidentified. Includes bird's-eye views of Webster, Idaho Springs, Manitou (four by various photographers), Georgetown, and Silver Plume, two street scenes in Denver, two... > Item Details
Early Sixth Plate Daguerreotype of Distinguished New Hampshire Politician Natt Head
Lot # 17 - Early Sixth Plate Daguerreotype of Distinguished New Hampshire Politician Natt Head
Shown here wearing a Mexican War period military coat as Drum Major of the 11th Regiment New Hampshire Militia, ca 1847. This daguerreotype was originally part of a group of images depicting the Head brothers said to have “come from the estate of the family of Nathan Head.” Another ambrotype of Na... > Item Details
L.A. Huffman Hand-Tinted Photograph of Buffalo
Lot # 370 - L.A. Huffman Hand-Tinted Photograph of Buffalo
A hand-colored collotype photograph titled Buffalo Grazing in the Big Open, North Montana, 1880, as indicated on typed label on verso, by L.A. Huffman, copyrighted 1913 in lower left corner, 8.25 x 13.5 in., matted, framed, and glazed, 20.25 x 24.25 in. > Item Details
Large Group of 4th Cavalry Missouri State Militia CDVs
Lot # 154 - Large Group of 4th Cavalry Missouri State Militia CDVs
Comprising 18 officers and 3 enlisted men, with 5 sundry civilians. Included are both of the regiments’ officer-casualties — Captain Blair and Lieutenant Dale — killed at Big Blue, Missouri in October 1864. Two other military views depict the regimental Adjutant Charles W. Bowman. The cartes sign... > Item Details
1846 Mexican War-Era <i>Illumination</i> Broadside
Lot # 108 - 1846 Mexican War-Era Illumination Broadside
a rare, illustrated Mexican War-Era broadside calling upon the populace in the Borough of Washington County, PA to illuminate their homes in honor of the recent US Army victories in Mexico. The broadside announces in bold lettering ILLUMINATION!! / Order of the Council! / Whereas numerous petitioner... > Item Details
Joseph Arthur's <i>Blue Jeans</i> Chromolithograph
Lot # 94 - Joseph Arthur's Blue Jeans Chromolithograph
a chromolithograph poster advertising Joseph Arthur's play Blue Jeans Will Never Wear Out, printed in bold lettering across the top of the poster, featuring a depiction of the Great Saw Mill Scene, printed by the Enquirer Job Printing Co., Cincinnati, OH, 26 x 40 in., framed and glazed, 30.5 x 44.5 ... > Item Details
<i>Grand Canyon of Arizona</i> by Thomas Moran (American, 1837-1926)
Lot # 311 - Grand Canyon of Arizona by Thomas Moran (American, 1837-1926)
Chromolithograph on paper, housed in original frame with original plaque; 25.5 x 34.5 in. Lot includes Underwood & Underwood stereoview of Thomas Moran perched over the Canyon. > Item Details
ITEMS 1-20 of 20