DescriptionRobert and Zerelda James: Four Rare Handwritten Letters from Jesse's Father to His Mother. Three pages, dated September 24, 1841, addressed to "My Dear Beloved Z.E.C." Written from Georgetown, and addressed to Zerelda in Kentucky. Apparently Zerelda had taken something Robert said in their last meeting to mean he wished to break off their engagement and this impassioned love letter seeks to reassure her. He writes "oh no, for be it otherwise, and I hope it (their engagement) is one, which will never be broken." He assures her "I have been in the company with a great many young ladies, since I saw you last...but there were none of them who can compare with you, because you excel them far as the eagle soars in the atherial [sic] sky the jenus(?) on earth." Apparently Robert felt that their misunderstanding may have led Zerelda to consider other options: "I have heard that you were on a visit at home some distance from home and as one of your company Mr. Graves had gone with you." He despairs, "I fear you have forgotten our pledge." He continues, "I greatly fear that you will come to the conclusion that two years are too long to wait for me before you marry. I assure you that if you will wait that length of time...I will never forsake you."Apparently Zerelda prevailed in this "negotiation", as the couple were married just three months later, on December 28, 1841.
The second two page letter is dated April 14, 1850, shortly after Robert had left his family to try his luck in the California gold fields and to preach to the miners. He writes from "Old Fort Kearny", the jumping off point for his wagon train headed west. "We will start tomorrow or the next morning across the plains...one team of four wagons have left there for California, and we will be the second. There are a great many wagons on the other side of the river who are making preparations to start. We are told that there are 400 wagons between this and St. Jo on their way up here..." He closes touchingly: "Zerelda I must close by saying to you train up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and live a Christian yourself. Give my love to all inquiring friends...and kiss Jesse for me and tell Franklin to be a good boy and learn fast. I must close by saying live prayerful and ask God to help you train your children in the path of duty. Fare you well." It is interesting that he signs his letter "truly yours." Apparently the ardor between the two had cooled, as there is no romantic content to this letter, unlike his 1841 missive, which he signed "Your affectionate lover."
Three pages, dated May 11, 1850, from "New Fort Kearny on our way." The trip may have been taking a toll on Robert, as his handwriting is not as small and precise as in the previous letters. The first leg of the trip had been difficult due to cold and unseasonable snow. The Missouri River was high and their wagons were separated on either side of the river. He talks of accident and injuries and describes himself as "tired and fatigued." However, Robert apparently still found the time and energy to "hold worship in some of our tents every night and most of the company partake and are determined to worship God on the plains..." He advised Zerelda that he will not be able to communicate for some time now, and that she should direct future letters to "Robert James, Sacramento City."
The last letter, two pages unfinished or incomplete, is written from Sacramento City, California on July 19, 1850. "I reached the gold diggings of this country the 14th of this month," he writes, "and on the 15th Hangtown and examined her digging and washed one pan of dirt out of which I extracted 40 cts. of gold." He sought out others from Clay (Missouri) and found some to be in good health or recovering from illnesses. "...but alas many of them are numbered among the dead." He lists eight who have died, including "...Jesse Baxter the son of old man Baxter...[who] was drounded [sic] and the others died with Diarea [sic]." Most of the rest of the letter is devoted to a fairly detailed account of the wagon train, describing a difficult journey with much sickness, although most recovered. "Regards myself the Lord supported me amply, notwithstanding the arduous task I had to endure in waiting on the sick or tending to my team. I have not been sick a day since I left..." James' luck would quickly run out in California, though. Just a month later, on August 18, 1850, he would die in the Hangtown camp (later known as Placerville) of cholera (the 'diarea" he wrote of earlier).
These four letters, each page approximately 7.625" x 9.75", are of extraordinary interest and important to the serious student of James family history. They are in generally good to excellent condition, all very legible, with some typical age browning and minor deterioration along the fold lines. Small holes on two of the letters caused by the hot wax seals.
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