Mar 24, 2022 - Sale 2598

Sale 2598 - Lot 11

Price Realized: $ 2,375
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 2,500 - $ 3,500
(SLAVERY & ABOLITION.) Catharine Elbert. Letter from an enslaved woman to the girl she had helped raise. Manuscript letter to Miss Martha Doolittle in Springfield, MA. 3 pages, 10 x 7 3/4 inches, on one folding sheet, with postmarked address panel on final blank; minimal foxing to second leaf. St. Mary's, GA, 2 February 1849

Additional Details

"My dear Matty, Your old Moma was delighted & very grateful to get such a nice kind letter from the family she had received so much kindness from & gratified that you should remember her with so much affection as to write to me. I should be very much pleased to be with you for a little while & see how comfortably fixed you are, but that country is too cold for me. I had rather be here where we do not need so much wood & warm clothing & shelter from the cold. It would be bad for my old painful limbs. . . . I miss the many little acts of kindness you children were always doing for me."

After passing on an armful of local gossip (a Dr. Curtis "drove his whole family out the other night & beat his wife"), Elbert then reports on the family's pets which were left behind in Georgia: "I have got Sport & he is fat & contented with me & I love him for his Master's sake. The cat I have not got." She doubts the quality of northern hired labor: "Your 'help' as you call her must look very smart in your nice kitchen with her nice apron & silk shawl, but do not think your victuals are any better cooked than I could do with my crippled foot & crokus apron. Anyhow, they do not love you better than I do & shall ever remember the kindness of you all to me. . . . From your old Moma, Catharine Elbert."

Elbert's correspondent is easy enough to trace. Martha Doolittle (1836-1906) was the daughter of Yankee flour merchant Alfred Doolittle. Martha and her siblings through 1848 were all born in Georgia, and then another girl was born in Massachusetts in 1850. The Doolittles are listed in the 1840 census with 3 enslaved people, including one female aged 36-54. This all fits the narrative that Elbert could have served as Martha's caregiver for much of her childhood, and that Martha might have written to her shortly after moving to the north.

Our letter author Catherine Elbert may be the Catherine sold in 1812 along with her three children to a trustee of Harriet Ann Elbert, as cited in Tara D. Fields, "Human Bondage: The Buying and Selling of Africans in Camden County, Georgia," page 35. We cannot verify whether she had enough education to write this letter in her own hand.