While recently browsing through some old issues of Itawamba Settlers magazines, I happened across letters written by Elizabeth Britts in 1889. I almost kept going since the Britts name was unfamiliar to me, but another name leaped out from the page: Patience M. Clayton. Wow! Excited now, I saw yet another familiar name: Nathan Clayton. Double Wow!
The first letter, dated May 28, 1889, Fayette County, Alabama, was from "your devoted daughter" Elizabeth Britts to "dear Mother" Patience M. Clayton, and Elizabeth apparently had not seen her mother for some time. What Elizabeth didn't know when she wrote the letter is that her mother died in July 1886, probably in Lee County. Patience's gravemarker at Priceville Baptist Cemetery is pictured above.
Patience M. Clayton, and her husband Thompson Clayton, had ten children, and I had accounted for all of them except Elizabeth, their oldest child. The last record I had of Elizabeth was the 1870 census when she was enumerated as a single twenty-two year old in the household of her parents in Itawamba County. I cannot locate her in the 1880 census and have been unable to find her or her husband and sons in later censuses so still I do not know what happened to her - when she died or where she is buried - unlike the other nine children.
The second letter was written to Elizabeth's brother, Nathan Clayton, from his "loving sister" and has the same date. Apparently, Elizabeth sent both the letters to her brother and asked him to forward the letter to her mother if she was "yet alive." Her brother was my great-great grandfather, Nathaniel M. Clayton, and Elizabeth was aunt to Queenie Victoria Clayton Davis, my great-grandmother.
Sundra Malcolm of Eugene, Oregon submitted copies of the letters to the historical society's magazine, and they were published in the Fall 1992 issue. How she came to possess the letters is not known, and I do not know her connection to the Clayton family.
The letters, though they contain some grammatical and spelling errors, indicate an educated family for the time. Usually when someone from that generation in the Deep South can read and write, it generally indicates that their parents were literate as well. Elizabeth was born in South Carolina, probably in Spartanburg County, about 1847, and moved as a young child with her family to Georgia, then Alabama, before locating in Itawamba County. That many moves in the rural south, fairly typical for the time, on the early frontiers of our country, often did not lead to an educated family, and the fact that Elizabeth could write reasonably well seems to show that she learned from her parents as opposed to in a schoolhouse. One should also remember when reading old letters that many words were written as they sounded without the importance we place today on correctly spelled words.
Stay tuned. I'll post the letters tomorrow!