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Mrs. Lawrence Lewis to Mayor Harrison Otis (Boston, Massachusetts), October 17, 1831


Born “Nelly” Custis, Mrs. Lawrence Lewis was the granddaughter of First Lady Martha Washington.



Dear Sir,

        I hope you will pardon my appeal to you, in consideration of our long acquaintance, & of the momentous & vital interests of which I am about to treat. The dreadful events of Augst [sic] last in our State, the want of confidence & insecurity produced [p. 260] by those horrors, compel me to address you. To a wretch outraging the Laws of God & Man, to the Editor of the “Liberator”—one of  your community,—protected by your Laws, we owe in greatest measure this calamity. His paper is widely circulated even in this Town. Think you not that the blood of the innocent, the helpless, will be required of those who suffer such inflammatory publications to issue from their community, without the slightest check of fine or imprisonment. I think he merits Death—you would pronounce sentence of Death, on an Incendiary who would fire your City, throw a match into your powder magazine. Is not the Editor of the Liberator an incendiary of the very worst description — He inculcates insurrection, murder, cruelty, & baseness, in every shape. The most lenient are as frequently the victims, as the most rigorous, & even more frequently; since nine times out of ten, a negro loves those best who are least indulgent – fear not principle governing the far far greater part. Our whites unhappily evince too much fear of these wretches – they can never succeed in subjugating the Whites, but our young & lovely females, infant innocence, & helpless age will be their victims – it is like a smothered volcano – we know not when, or where, the flame will burst forth, but we know that death in the most horrid forms threatens us. Some have died, others have become deranged from apprehension, since the South Hampton affair. Can you reflect on the instrument employed for our destruction – that we may trace the train as far as Boston, & not use your efforts to arrest its course, to make an example of the Author of evil. Your Southern Brethren incurred this curse by no act of their own, they are endeavouring by degrees, & consistently with their safety, & even existence, to remove it. Suffer them to do what they know to be best, & let [not] their Eastern, & Northern Brethren from a false principle of Philanthropy, make the blacks miserable, discontented, & rebellious, & force the whites to exterminate them. I have been assured by several Gentlemen who have visited the devoted district, that should the blacks attempt to rise there again, they will be exterminated; the excitement is so great. We cannot leave our State, our only means of subsistence is here, we cannot dispose of our property to any advantage. We must therefore risk the horrors that may be impending. I have never appeared to fear them, & I will not, [p. 261] but I cannot feel secure or happy now, I confess. My darling children & grandchildren are dearer to me than life. Mr & Mrs Butler, & their lovely son, will go to Louisiana the 1st Novr., I expect & fear. My son & his family reside in Fredk. County where I shall go with Angela he last of Novr, for two months, after which we shall reside again at Woodlawn [near Alexandria]. My family unite with me in respectful regards to yourself & family & to our other tried Boston friends. . . .

                                                      Respectfully your friend

                                                                                                E P Lewis



Samuel Eliot Morison, The Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis, Federalist, 1765-1848, Volume 2 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), 259-261.

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