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
Nevada Senator William M. Stewart Presentation Silver, Plus
Lot # 36 - Nevada Senator William M. Stewart Presentation Silver, Plus
an archive of Senator William M. Stewart items, including a leather wallet with a 1905 inscription, a Mexican woven coin bag and its letter of documentation, photographs of the senator and a CDV of Jefferson Davis, a miniature on ivory of the senator, with leather case, a personal letter to Mrs. W. ... > Item Details
Mexican War Poem Printed in Mexico
Lot # 118 - Mexican War Poem Printed in Mexico
1p, 6 x 8.5 in., in Spanish, Ya Le Tocan a Santa-Anna. This song was collected in Vera Cruz by David Hoyt, along with many other examples of political and cultural material. Hoyt spent three years in Mexico, arriving in the middle of the war and staying for a couple years after with the troops that ... > 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
Silas M. Holmes (1816-1901), Portrait  Miniature
Lot # 28 - Silas M. Holmes (1816-1901), Portrait Miniature
American. Includes a miniature on ivory, a half plate ambrotype, and a letter written by Mrs. Silas Holmes' brother, Charles Van Tine. The miniature is a ca 1830s watercolor on ivory, unsigned, in an oval, brass pendant frame containing hair; 2.5 in. high x 2 in. wide. The lot also includes an anon... > Item Details
F.J. Haynes Stereoviews Including Ft. Totten, North Dakota
Lot # 345 - F.J. Haynes Stereoviews Including Ft. Totten, North Dakota
Lot of 7 stereoviews from F.J. Haynes Northern Pacific Views Series, including the following: two rare views of Ft. Totten, Devils Lake and Vicinity, numbered 960 and 974, including an image of the building used as Officer's quarters at Ft. Totten from 1867 through 1890. Initially, the fort policed ... > Item Details
Civil War Archive of Capt. Henry T. Dudley, 15th and 20th Massachusetts Infantry
Lot # 165 - Civil War Archive of Capt. Henry T. Dudley, 15th and 20th Massachusetts Infantry
POW. Capt. Henry T. Dudley Papers, 1861-1906. 143 letters (134 war-date, nearly all soldier's letters); 26 documents; Memoir of experiences in 20th Mass. (manuscript and 13p. typescript); 12 post-war diaries (mostly 16mo or 32mo diaries of Lucy Dudley); 95 photographs Memorabilia including cribbage... > Item Details
Edward Curtis Orotone of Theodore Roosevelt
Lot # 35 - Edward Curtis Orotone of Theodore Roosevelt
An orotone portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, signed by Curtis in the lower right corner of negative, 7.5 x 9.5 in. (sight), framed and glazed, 10.25 x 12.5 in. This portrait was taken in 1904 when Curtis was invited to Theodore Roosevelt's family estate at Sagamore Hill, New York to photograph his fam... > Item Details
Tex Cooper's <i>101 Ranch</i> Photographic Archive
Lot # 391 - Tex Cooper's 101 Ranch Photographic Archive
Lot of 85+, including 80+ loose-leaf silver gelatin photographs and real photo postcards believed to be part of the personal collection of 101 Ranch Wild West performer and actor, Tex Cooper (1876-1951), measuring 2 x 2 in. up to 7 x 9.25 in. The collection features images of the following: Tex Coop... > Item Details
CSA General Basil Duke, 1909 ALS
Lot # 188 - CSA General Basil Duke, 1909 ALS
2pp, 5.75 x 9 in., Louisville, 17 Jan. 1909. Addressee unknown. My dear Colonel, I was much gratified by your letter containing a quotation from one written you by Lieut. Russell, and what he says is especially pleasant, not only as expressing the spirit of a gallant soldier, but as illustrative of ... > Item Details
Jefferson Davis at Savannah, Georgia, Chatham Artillery Centennial, 1886
Lot # 160 - Jefferson Davis at Savannah, Georgia, Chatham Artillery Centennial, 1886
Anonymous albumen photograph of Jefferson Davis at the Chatham Artillery Centennial, May 3, 1886. Image size, 4.5 x 7.9 in. mounted on 7 x 10.5 in. cream board. With inked manuscript inscription on recto Hon. Jefferson Davis at Savannah, Georgia, May 1886 (Chatham Artillery Centennial) Addressing t... > Item Details
Civil War Diaries of Laban J. Brown, 109th NY Infantry, and Wife, 1865
Lot # 176 - Civil War Diaries of Laban J. Brown, 109th NY Infantry, and Wife, 1865
Lot of 2. Organized at Binghamton, NY, the 109th New York Infantry served uneventfully as part of the 8th Army Corps guarding railroads in Maryland until the spring of 1864, when they were suddenly thrust into the thick of the Virginia campaigns, never straying far from Petersburg until the end of t... > Item Details
James-Younger Gang CDVs
Lot # 379 - James-Younger Gang CDVs
Lot of 6 cdv portraits of members of the James-Younger Gang taken after the raid on the First National Bank in Northfield, MN on September 7, 1876. The lot includes a postmortem portrait of Charlie Pitts, and images of Jim, Cole, and Bob Younger, each identified in ink below the image and with C.W. ... > 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
Cabinet Photograph of Apache Al-che-say and His Band
Lot # 292 - Cabinet Photograph of Apache Al-che-say and His Band
Marked in the negative, Al.che.say / Chief of the White Mt. Indians & Counsel. Marked on mount, barely visible under the print is the imprint for, H. C. Cutler & Co., Photographers. Cutler, however, is not the photographer. Probably by A. Frank Randall or George Ben Wittick. This is likely a gro... > Item Details
Quarter Plate Ambrotype of Armed New Hampshire Graybeard
Lot # 132 - Quarter Plate Ambrotype of Armed New Hampshire Graybeard
An unidentified older volunteer with steely eyes and gray flecked goatee at attention with M1842 musket. The ubiquitous brass insignia on his kepi spells out NHV, but the company and regiment are unreadable. > Item Details
William Tatem Collings Archive
Lot # 396 - William Tatem Collings Archive
A remarkable collection of material related to the life of Professor William Tatem Collings, also referred to by his Wild West nickname, Buckskin Charley, consisting of 25+ photographs, a pair of wooly chaps, a pair of Sioux beaded hide moccasins, 15+ newspaper clippings covering Collings' accomplis... > Item Details
Half Plate Daguerreotype of Regiment of Mounted Rifleman Enlisted Man
Lot # 329 - Half Plate Daguerreotype of Regiment of Mounted Rifleman Enlisted Man
Wearing the M1839 pattern hat and a later style frock coat; he wears trousers with a single large stripe at the seam. At his waist is the rare M1849 Rifleman's knife made by Ames under contract expressly for the Regiment of Mounted Rifles in 1849 along with a civilian pepperbox revolver. He holds a... > Item Details
Half Plate Ambrotype of Five 10th NYSM Pards
Lot # 130 - Half Plate Ambrotype of Five 10th NYSM Pards
Plus a cased (trimmed) post-war cabinet card of five civilians one of whom is said to be a "son." The early war ambrotype depicts two rows of unidentified, presumably 10th NY militia, privates wearing eight-button grey fatigue jacket with black slash cuffs, a common antebellum-era style also favore... > Item Details
Exceptional Abraham Lincoln Funeral CDV Album
Lot # 33 - Exceptional Abraham Lincoln Funeral CDV Album
Containing 97 cartes, all but 15 pertaining directly to Lincoln, his funeral, and the Civil War. An extraordinary gathering, containing no fewer than 25 cartes of the funeral by Carbutt, Fassett and Witt Includes the following: Columbus, OH (3); Chicago, IL (10), featuring a numbered series of 8 Ca... > Item Details
William Stone, 128th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Grouping
Lot # 196 - William Stone, 128th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Grouping
Lot of 11 items identified to William Stone, who served in the 128th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, enlisting at the age of 42. The collection includes the following: a carved chain, approx. 6 ft. long, with a finely carved hook at each end, the larger hook carved William Stone, and the other with an ... > Item Details
ITEMS 1-20 of 20
SKIP TO PAGE: