Mar 24, 2022 - Sale 2598

Sale 2598 - Lot 12

Price Realized: $ 5,250
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 3,000 - $ 4,000
(SLAVERY & ABOLITION.) Dinah Browning. An enslaved woman's letter to her former master. Manuscript letter to John Browning on one page, 9 3/4 x 7 3/4 inches; lacking integral blank, minor foxing and wear. Columbia, AR, 2 May 1858

Additional Details

Browning writes from Columbia, a fading Mississippi River town in southeastern Arkansas near the Louisiana and Mississippi lines (it was abandoned to river erosion in the 1870s). The letter is written in a tidy, educated hand, which would be remarkable for an enslaved person--or possibly the letter was written out at her request by her new owner.

The first part of the letter makes a simple request of her former owner John Browning: "My dear master, You will confer a favour on me by handing this letter to Mr. Levi Sykes and his sister Polly, and you will confer a favour on your old servant, Dinah Browning."

The remainder of the letter is addressed to "Mr. Levi Sikes & Miss Mary Sykes": "My dear master & mistress, I am now settled, also Daniel who is with me. I like the country very well, but have not had very good health. Neither has Daniel. We are on a cotton plantation in Arks., four miles above Columbia on the Mississippi River & belong to Samuel R. Walker. I would like that Miss Polly would see that Mr. Vincent Browning delivers over the things that I left with him to my son Lemick. You will please write me so soon as you receive this, address to the care of Mr. Samuel R. Walker. . . . Please say how my sister is, & my husband's brother, also all the balance of my acquaintances. I have had no trouble, only sickness. I have no room to complain of my living at all. Respectfully, Dinah Browning."

The persons named from her old life can all be found in the 1850 or 1860 census of Russell County, in the western part of Virginia. John Browning (1793-1878) was a fairly well-off planter, as was his son Vincent Browning (1821-1865). Levi Sykes (1807-1860) is listed in 1850 as a white farmer with no real estate; his son was a laborer. He was quite possibly an overseer or farmhand for the Brownings. His sister Polly Sykes (1812-1878) had a modest $1000 of property in the 1860 census. The slave schedules for 1850 note 6 enslaved people in John Browning's possession, but just one adult--a 24-year-old mulatto woman, quite possibly Dinah. That matches with one of the 11 enslaved people listed for Samuel R. Walker in the 1860 census, a 35-year-old woman. We have been unable to trace Dinah Browning's life after emancipation.