Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice

    Description

    John W. Phelps Autograph Letter Signed. Three and one-quarter pages, 7.75" x 10", Fort New Smyrna, Florida Territory, March 6, 1839, written to his sister, "Miss Helen M. Phelps" of New York. Phelps, a future abolitionist, tells Miss Phelps that while she was "perhaps shivering over a somber coal fire, we are here by a bright rose wood one, eating oranges and snuffing the odor of the jessamine. An orange grove near by is beginning to fill the air with the perfume of its blossoms." He continues the letter with news about the punishment of a drummer boy and a five-year-old "Fifer's boy."

    Phelps graduated from West Point three years earlier and was assigned to an artillery unit in Florida Territory to take part in the Seminole Wars. Toned paper with smoothed folds and remnants of the red seal still on the address panel. Also on the address panel is an early postmark from Augustine, Florida Territory.


    More Information:

    John Wolcott Phelps (1813-1885) was born and died in Guilford, Vermont. In the seventy-two years between those events, he not only witnessed change, he also worked and sacrificed to create it. Following his 1836 graduation from the U.S. Military Academy, Lieutenant Phelps was given command of an artillery regiment and ordered to Florida Territory to take part in the Seminole War. He later served throughout the Mexican War under Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. In the late 1850s, Phelps was a member of the Utah Expedition. That expedition, the largest U.S. military exercise between the Mexican and Civil Wars, was sent to Utah to suppress a possible revolt from the state's large Mormon population.

     

    At the outbreak of the Civil War, Phelps, an abolitionist, was quickly promoted to brigadier general and, while serving under General Benjamin Butler in early 1862, was instrumental in the capture of New Orleans and its environs. He was soon stationed seven miles outside the Southern city at Camp Parapet, which quickly became a refuge for fugitive slaves. After large numbers of slaves had arrived, Phelps organized the men into three regiments, drilled them, and asked General Butler to supply them with 3,000 muskets, 225 swords. Butler refused and ordered Phelps to enlist the fugitives in manual work, but Phelps refused and remained adamant in pressing the U.S. military into using former slaves as soldiers, not as unskilled labor. After Butler failed to act, Phelps resigned in disgust on August 21, 1862, the same day the Confederate government declared him an outlaw for his actions.

     

    But thanks to Phelps' efforts and the course of the war, changes came quickly. Over the remaining months of 1862, President Lincoln's thinking -- propelled forward by men like Phelps -- changed so much that in his January 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, he not only freed Southern slaves, but he also made known intentions to enlist those freedmen in the U.S. military. Two years later in the spring of 1865, 179,000 black men were serving in the U.S. military.

     

    Following his resignation, John Phelps retired to his Vermont home. In the 1880 presidential election, the American Party nominated the sixty-seven-year-old veteran, whose platform included justice for American Indians.



    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2011
    13th-14th Tuesday-Wednesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 581

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    VIEW BENEFITS
    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
      winnings 
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2020 June 7 Arms & Armor, Civil War & Militaria Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    We had a wonderful time in New York during the October 2013 Historical Manuscripts auction that featured my mother’s papers collected during her tenure as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s secretary. In fact, the entire experience from beginning to end has been a pleasure.
    Howard Ballou,
    Brandon, MS
    View More Testimonials

    HA.com receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source: Similarweb.com)

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search

    Recent auctions

    2019 November 14-16 Space Exploration Auction Featuring The Armstrong Family Collection Part IV - Dallas
    2019 November 14-16 Space Exploration Auction Featuring The Armstrong Family Collection Part IV - Dallas
    REALIZED SO FAR $2,566,976