Description

    Prather Family Archive, containing over fifteen letters concerning slavery and the antebellum politics of Missouri, Kansas, and Kentucky. All letters are dated between 1835 and 1858, with the majority written in the 1840s and late-1850s.

    Colonel Isaac Prather moved from Kentucky to Nodaway County, Missouri, in the early 1840s. He quickly accumulated 3,000 acres, along with numerous slaves. Other branches of the Prather family were left behind in Kentucky or moved to the Kansas Territory. As residents of border states and territories just prior to the Civil War, members of the family engendered strong opinions about slavery, and this archive of letters exemplifies those opinions. For example, in September 1858, J. G. Wilson of Kentucky wrote the following to his cousin in Kansas, James B. Prather: "The course of the Southern people will drive all northern rational men into the ranks of the black republicans. They see that the Southern people without any sort of regard to have formed themselves into one Solid body of Slavery fanatics. . . . [You and I] are as different as day & night - as far apart as the Poles."

    The letters also show the ambivalence within individual family members on slavery. J. G. Wilson owned slaves, but argued to another cousin in Kansas, Basil Prather in May 1858, that slavery should be ended: "I have no hesitation in saying that I have no scruples in owning Slaves Situated as I am among Slaves & slaveholders & in a state where it is already established without any aid of me or without my desire but my principles would compel me to vote slavery out of any territory in the Union. My principles would not extend it but my very gradually diminish it until there should not be a foot of Slave territory in the face of this broad Earth. Policy is one thing & Principle another. I am governed by the latter, no matter when it [?]. You say I talk like Horace Greely I wish I could!" Earlier in 1857, Wilson had tried to convince James B. Prather that slavery would not last: "Involuntary slavery is in direct antagonism to the first great law of Nature - Equality -- & cannot withstand the Enlightenment & Civilization of the 19th Century. The Negro, among the Saxon race can never aspire to a station so high, but place him in the land God gave him."

    These letters also contain information about the politics of Bleeding Kansas in the late 1850s; local Missouri politics; Kentucky election results; antebellum presidential politics; Mormon activities in Kansas, Missouri, and Utah; slave prices in Kentucky; and the growth of St. Louis in the 1840s. All letters have usual folds. Foxing on many letters.


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    October, 2010
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