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
Northern Alaska Expedition of Lieut. George Stoney, Photograph Album
Lot # 324 - Northern Alaska Expedition of Lieut. George Stoney, Photograph Album
Ca 1884-1886; 32 albumen photographs in red photograph album (approx. 9.5 x 8 in. images mounted back-to-back on 14 x 11 in. card stock, bound into album). A South Carolinian and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (1875), Lt. George M. Stoney first traveled to arctic Alaska in 1883 in connection wi... > Item Details
Archive of the Ralph Cairns 1912 Mt. McKinley Expedition
Lot # 326 - Archive of the Ralph Cairns 1912 Mt. McKinley Expedition
Lot of 740+ items, primarily photographs and celluloid negatives, related to Ralph H. Cairns, the organizer and leader of an expedition party that attempted to climb Mt. McKinley in 1912 with the backing of the Fairbanks Daily Times newspaper in Alaska. Cairns was accompanied by Martin Nash and Geor... > Item Details
Early Iowa Archive of Dr. Wm. S. Robertson
Lot # 50 - Early Iowa Archive of Dr. Wm. S. Robertson
An extensive manuscript and photographic archive of Dr. William Stephenson Robertson (1831-1887), a professor of theory and practice of medicine and of clinical medicine at Iowa State University, consisting of 1900+ pages of medical reports and lectures, most handwritten by Robertson, the doctor's d... > Item Details
Early Store Ledger Books Featuring Simon Kenton
Lot # 44 - Early Store Ledger Books Featuring Simon Kenton
Lot of 5 account and ledger books. Samuel J. Waters Account Book, 1796-1797 and 1841-1855; ca 260pp in two sections. Although the owner has not been identified, the present account book provides a valuable record of economic activity in early Kentucky. The book is divided into two clear sections, ... > Item Details
S.J. Morrow Stereoview of Prisoners at Fort Keogh, M.T.
Lot # 264 - S.J. Morrow Stereoview of Prisoners at Fort Keogh, M.T.
A portrait of Prisoners at Fort Keogh, M.T., with Morrow's Yankton, D.T. imprint, sitters potentially identified as Chief Spotted Eagle at left, Chief Rain-in-the-Face (?) at center, and Chief Hump (?) at right. In the autumn of 1880, a large group of Sioux exiles, led by Spotted Eagle of the Sans A... > Item Details
Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley Cabinet Card Photographs
Lot # 389 - Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley Cabinet Card Photographs
Lot of 2 shoulder-length portraits of Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, both with Stacy's Brooklyn, NY studio mark on recto. > Item Details
Pair of Coat-Size Confederate Staff Officer (CS-36A1) Buttons
Pair of Civil War Kentucky State Seal Buttons
Lot # 198 - Pair of Civil War Kentucky State Seal Buttons
Lot of 2 buttons, including one coat-size Kentucky (KY-1C) with b/m of Extra/Quality; and one coat-size Kentucky (KY-1C variant) with b/m of Superior /Quality (rmdc) and attached old browned ink tag reading Ky state guard button. > Item Details
Captain John C. Jamison, American Line Steamship <i>New York</i> Archive
Lot # 225 - Captain John C. Jamison, American Line Steamship New York Archive
Photo album 11 x 14 in., missing covers, plus loose papers covering the "naturalization" of the New York in March 1893. First part has 18 images ranging from 4 x 6 in. to 7.5 x 9 in. of the New York in the harbor and the flag-raising ceremony in which the British-made vessel was "naturalized" as an ... > Item Details
Cabinet Card of Geronimo, Chiricahua Apache
Lot # 290 - Cabinet Card of Geronimo, Chiricahua Apache
By George A. Addison with imprint on mount and ink identification on the back, Geronimo Medicine Chief. From Maud. He wears a Plains-style feather bonnet with horns and a trailer and holds a second bonnet. Maude Adkisson (1873-1930), a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, became the first superint... > Item Details
Archive of a Floating Photographer's Gallery  1869-1880
Lot # 21 - Archive of a Floating Photographer's Gallery 1869-1880
of itinerant artists G.W. Gibson and John Matthews of Parnassus, Pennsylvania. Includes two photographic albums containing 116 tintypes and loose cartes de visite, as well as group of related family correspondence. Little is known of the partnership of Gibson and Matthews; they are unlisted in Rie... > 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
Civil War & Confederate Southern State Seal Buttons
Lot # 205 - Civil War & Confederate Southern State Seal Buttons
Lot of 8 Civil War buttons, including the following: three coat-size South Carolina (SC-16A) with b/m of Van Wart. Son & Co.; one coat-size South Carolina (SC-15A) with b/m of H T & B/Manchester; one coat-size Georgia (GA-4A1) with b/m of Horstmann & Allen/NY (w/sunburst rays); two coat-size Georgia... > Item Details
First Edition of <i>The House</i> With Tipped-In Illustrated Letter from Eugene Field
Lot # 84 - First Edition of The House With Tipped-In Illustrated Letter from Eugene Field
Field, Eugene. The House. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1896. 16mo in green cloth boards, gilt front, spine and top page edges, 268pp. Tipped in note 3.5 x 4.5 in., Chicago, Nov. 27th, 1893. Written on the inside of an envelope addressed to Fields, as he points out in the note: Good God, my chi... > Item Details
Two Illinois CDV Albums Full of Military Cartes
Lot # 158 - Two Illinois CDV Albums Full of Military Cartes
A combined 25 unidentified military views in both albums including 5 officers and 20 enlisted men, many with Springfield, IL backmarks and revenue stamps. The 4 x 5.5 in. leather album appears to be an untouched family compilation containing 24 cdvs and cdv-size tintypes including a 2nd lieutenant... > Item Details
Quanah Parker and Wife Cabinet Photograph by Sink, Vernon, TX
Lot # 277 - Quanah Parker and Wife Cabinet Photograph by Sink, Vernon, TX
Portrait of Quanah Parker, the famed Comanche chief, and one of his seven wives, Tonacy identified in pencil on verso as Tunice, with Sink's Vernon, Texas imprint on recto. Quanah Parker (ca 1845-1911) was the son of Peta Nocona, a Comanche chief, and Cynthia Ann Parker, the daughter of a settler wh... > Item Details
John Adams Signed Land Grant
Lot # 60 - John Adams Signed Land Grant
12.75 x 14.25 in., [Washington (DC)]: 12 May 1800, military bounty land for John Blair of the Virginia Line of the Continental Army, to William Lytle, assignee. Signed by John Adams as President (1797-1801), and Timothy Pickering as Secretary of State. Framed and glazed in early birdseye maple frame... > Item Details
Early Matted Albumen of 44th New York Volunteer
Lot # 164 - Early Matted Albumen of 44th New York Volunteer
A 6 x 8 in. oval of an unidentified private under original 8 x 9.5 in. square paper mat, annotated on verso in old ink, Sept. 1861/F. Co. 44th N.Y. Vols. The nameless young volunteer wears the regiment’s early blue trimmed red semi-Zouave uniform inspired by Elmer Ellsworth. Alternatively known as... > Item Details
Turner Ashby Promotion to Captain, Signed by Henry Wise
Lot # 76 - Turner Ashby Promotion to Captain, Signed by Henry Wise
1p, 7.75 x 9.75 in., partially printed appointment for Ashby as Captain in the second Regiment of Cavalry of the 5th Brigade and 2d Division of the Virginia Militia and dated 3 August 1859. After serving in Congress from 1833 to 1844, Wise was appointed as minister to Brazil for the next 3 years. He... > Item Details
Myles W. Keogh ALS, October 2, 1864
Lot # 336 - Myles W. Keogh ALS, October 2, 1864
4pp, 5 x 8 in., on Artillery Headquarters, Military Division of the Mississippi letterhead. To his sister Ellen in Ireland. Accompanied by a spurious envelope to his brother, Tom, printed for 1st Cavalry Division HQ, Army of the Potomac. In the letter, Keogh tells his sister of his exchange along wi... > Item Details
ITEMS 1-20 of 20
SKIP TO PAGE: