Item #7903 [Autograph letter, signed, from a Georgia politician trying to convict the man who helped an enslaved woman escape.]. William Hansell, oung.
[Autograph letter, signed, from a Georgia politician trying to convict the man who helped an enslaved woman escape.]

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[Autograph letter, signed, from a Georgia politician trying to convict the man who helped an enslaved woman escape.]

Milledgeville, [Georgia], 14 January 1830. 3 pp. in ink on bifolium (9.5” x 7.75”), address on p. 4. CONDITION: Very good, minor loss to margin at seal.

A detailed letter from a Georgia lawmaker quietly trying to put a case together against a man for taking a female slave to New York—and freedom.

This letter, from William Young Hansell to Archibald Russell Spence Hunter, provides a synopsis of the situation around a (former) slave named Katy and asks Hunter’s advice and help in pursuing legal action against “Mr. Burritt of this place,” who conveyed Katy to New York. Hansell did not at first realize that Katy had escaped:

I was confined with sickness at that time in the country, and when I returned to town a day or two afterwards, found she was gone, but supposed that you had sent for her, and never thought of any thing to the reverse until I heard from your son in October. I have ever since been pursuing the enquiry…

Hansell notes that the stage book records “Mr. Burritt, Lady, & Servant” on the same day that Katy left, even though “it is well known that Mr. Burritt has no servant of his own or any one hired.” Having discretely confirmed through another channel that Katy is now in New York, “pass[ing] as a free person,” Hansell is intent upon charging Burritt “of the crime of inveigling.” He writes that “We want only one witness now to convict him,” and asks for Hunter’s help in the case, and in bringing the stage driver as the last witness:

I understand on enquiry, that his name is Harrison, and that he is now driving on the line between Augusta & Columbia S.C. or Columbia and Camden. Would it not be right and proper to make some extraordinary effort to get him here? With his testimony not a doubt can exist of the conviction of the man for the theft…I leave it with you to say whether you will prosecute this man [Burritt] for so daring an outrage on the laws of the Country…

The letter closes with Hansell’s expression of confidence that Hunter will pursue the case, and with the information that “Our Superior Court will sit here the 4th Monday in February next.”

William Young Hansell (1789–1867) was born in Brunswick, Virginia, but spent his adult life as a lawyer and politician in Milledgeville, the longtime capital of Georgia. He served under General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812, and the two remained friends until Jackson’s death. By the time this letter was written, Hansell had been elected to his first of two terms as Milledgeville’s mayor, and in five years he would represent the rump council of Cherokees involved in the fraudulent Treaty of New Echota. Although Hansell was instrumental in raising the price at which the council sold Cherokee lands, the overwhelming majority of the tribe was against the treaty altogether, and with good reason, since it provided the legal basis for the Trail of Tears. Hansell appears on the treaty as a witness. He later served as a State Representative to Baldwin County.

Like Hansell, Archibald Russell Spence Hunter (1783–1844) was born in Virginia and served in the War of 1812. He spent the first part of his career in Powelton, Georgia, but by 1840 had relocated to the town of Huntington—named for him—in Cherokee County, North Carolina. There, he maintained an entire commercial center, with a post office, a store, an inn, and a ferry. This “complex was a center of activity during the preparation for and execution of the forced Cherokee removal” (Riggs, p. 125), and at least 300 Cherokee people were forced to cross the Hiwassee River by his ferry.

A rich letter outlining private investigations into the “theft” of an enslaved woman, written by a Georgia lawyer who was later involved in the 1835 treaty that led to the Trail of Tears.

REFERENCES: Riggs, Brett and Lance Greene. The Cherokee Trail of Tears in North Carolina: An Inventory of Trail Resources in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon, and Swain Counties (Santa Fe, New Mexico: 2006).

Item #7903

Price: $1,800.00

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