On Family Values


Fergus Bordewich's incredible Bound For Canaan reaches its apex in the story of Dangerfield and Harriet Newby. Dangerfield Newby was freed by his Scottish father. He went North working to save enough money to buy his wife and children out of slavery. Here are the letters of Harriet Newby to her husband in the summer of 1859:

April 11 1859 

Dear Husband,

I mus now write you apology for not writing you before this but I know you will excuse me when tell you Mrs. gennings has been very sick she has a baby a little girl ben a grate sufferer her breast raised and she has had it lanced and I have had to stay with her day and night so you know I had no time to write but she is now better and one of her own servent is now sick I am well that is of the grates importance to you I have no newes to write you only the chrildren are all well I want to see you very much but are looking fordard to the promest time of your coming oh 

Dear Dangerfield com this fall with out fail monny or no money I want to see you so much that is one bright hope I have before me nothing more at present but remain your affectionate wife 

P S write soon if you please 

April 22 1859 

Dear Husband 

I received your letter to day and it give much pleasure to here from you but was sorry to - -- of your sickeness hope you may be well when you receive this I wrote to you several weeks a go and directed my letter to Bridge Port but I fear you did not receive it as you said nothing about it in yours you must give my love to Brother Gabial and tell him I would like to see him very much I wrote in my last letter that Miss Virginia had a baby a little girl I had to nerse her day and night 

Dear Dangerfield you Can not amagine how much I want to see you Com as soon as you can for nothing would give more pleasure than to see you it is the grates Comfort I have is thinking of the promist time when you will be here oh that bless hour when I shall see you once more my baby commenced to Crall to day it is very dellicate nothing more at present but remain your affectionate wife. 

 P s write soon

August 16, 1859. 

Dear Husband. 

your kind letter came duly to hand and it gave me much pleasure to here from you and especely to hear you are better of your rhumatism and hope when I here from you again you may be entirely well. I want you to buy me as soon as possible for if you do not get me somebody else will the servents are very disagreeable thay do all thay can to set my mistress againt me Dear Husband you not the trouble I see the last two years has ben like a trouble dream to me it is said Master is in want of monney if so I know not what time he may sell me an then all my bright hops of the futer are blasted for there has ben one bright hope to cheer me in all my troubles that is to be with you for if I thought I shoul never see you this earth would have no charms for me do all you Can for me witch I have no doubt you will I want to see you so much the Chrildren are all well the baby cannot walk yet all it can step around enny thing by holding on it is very much like Agnes I mus bring my letter to Close as I have no newes to write you mus write soon and say when you think you Can Come. 

 Your affectionate Wife 

Dangerfield Newby was killed on October 17th in Harper's Ferry, after being frustrated in his attempt to purchase his wife and children out bondage. These letters were found upon his person.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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