Sep 27, 2018 - Sale 2486

Sale 2486 - Lot 255

Price Realized: $ 9,375
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 4,000 - $ 6,000
"RICHMOND CANNOT BE HELD, AND IF ABANDONED, SLAVERY IS GONE" (CIVIL WAR--CONFEDERATE.) Smith, William. The Confederate governor of Virginia demands slaves for the defense of Richmond. Letter Signed "WmSmith" to Robert C. Davis. 2 pages on one sheet of Virginia Executive Department letterhead, 10 x 8 inches; minor foxing and wear, short separations at folds, integral blank apparently removed. Richmond, VA, 10 February 1865

Additional Details

As one of many last-ditch attempts to save the failing Confederacy, in December 1864 the governor of Virginia issued a statewide executive order to send 10% of each county's slaves to Richmond to labor on the city's defensive fortifications. The state's planters largely resisted this call. We know from another surviving letter from General Robert E. Lee that Governor Smith had recently received bad news about the slave requisitions--Lee's army had received only 502 of the required 5,000 slaves, leaving the city's defenses vulnerable to the imminent Union attack.
Offered here is Governor Smith's response to one of these recalcitrant plantation owners, who had apparently written to complain about the requisition. His correspondent was likely Robert C. Davis (1825-1877) of Rockfish in Nelson County, listed with a net worth of $36,200 in the 1860 census. The full text of this extraordinary letter is here transcribed: "Your letter of the 7th inst. has just been rec'd. It fills me with pain and surprise. At a time when the whole institution of slavery is in peril and it is to be decided in the next ninety days whether there shall be a slave in Virginia or not, every effort seems to be made to withhold them from the most urgent calls of the military authorities. What has got into the slaveowner? Let me tell you, and you can tell your neighbors, that unless slave labor to the full extent of the requisition is promptly furnished, Richmond cannot be held, and if abandoned, slavery is gone.
In response to your questions I have to say, that one in ten is called for and must be furnished; that it is the duty of the County Court, through its officers, to ascertain the number of slaves within the prescribed ages and not to take the report of those interested that all negroes within the county, no matter to whom hired, whether to the government or to railroads or other companies, are to be estimated and required to furnish their tenth. I have no power to order the County Court to reconsider their action. The law, inconsiderably perhaps, suppose the Court, representing the people of the county and dependent somewhat upon them, would be a safe reliance for the distribution of the requisition among them upon principles of equity and justice, and if they have neglected their duty, I have no power to correct it.
I have this day called the attention of the legislature to this subject and asked for additional legislation. Another impressment may soon be expected."