Appalachia Heritage Profiles of Mountain People

January 1870

January 23 1870 andrews nc

Several months ago, Peggy, a Blind Pig Reader, asked me if I’d be interested in reading a letter that had been handed down through her family. It seems to have been written to folks who lived in my county near the town of Andrews. Peggy said reading W.C. Penland’s Civil War letters reminded her of the letter in her possession.

The letter was written by Susan Lunsford and her husband, Mat Lunsford. Susan was Peggy’s Great Great Grandmother’s sister. The letter touches me on so many different levels. Give it a read and see what you think.


January the 23 the 1870

Dear father and mother i this evin seat my self to drop you a few lins to let you no that we are all well at present hopin my few lins will come safe to hand and find you all enjoyin the same blessin and to let you no that I have got a fine boy I call him Jousep Henry after his Granpap Pendergrass he was borned October the 4 1869.

Whet is 20 cents per bushel corn is 3 dollars a bushel we have got 69 bushels of corn. We have kild one hog that wade 3 hundred and 48 pounds at 18 teen months old an one we didn’t way and I got one to kill that will go about 2 hundred and fifty and got 18 hogs left We have 2 cows one will have a calf in March the other I don’t know when we have settled down her to stay 2 years or longer if we want too but I git more and more dissatis fide ever day if I was back in ole north Carolina I never would say Mat less move again. tho we have plenty to do us this year and plenty more comin on for another year but what satisfaction is it to me if I ain’t satisfied and all that dissatisfides me is to want to see my old father an mother and can’t I want to see you all I want you all to writ as soon as you git this letter not one but all

Susan Lunsford

Margaret I want you to write to me one time if you pleas if you hant for got that that you ever had one sister called Suzy. Nin and forn and rocksy and lasy all drop me a few lines I would take grate pleasur in readin a few lines from you all tell Jissy Baldwin and Joy to write to me I will send pap and mother a stran of little francis hair I send the girls some scraps of our dresses but if you have forgot my name look at the top of the letter I will write you my name in full I will close so no more at present only I remains your child till death I still remains you sister so good by to you all from Susan Leunsord to her ole father and mother to her sisters all so

A few words from Mat to let you no that I am well and well sadisfide and tryin to do the best I can suzy has got dissadisfide here lately she sez she would be sadisfide if she could sho nanny and pap her fine boy the resen I am satisfied I recken is am so much like the … ???… Bill an his family is well we live about half mile apart we have rented land and both work to gether this year we have sod ten bushel of wheet and hay all it makes free of rent 30 achorks (acres) of lan to tend in corn four acres to tend in tobacco you might not think hard of me for not ritin no sooner for we was a while that we did not no wether we would go on or stay her as soon as we got our minds settled we had to build our cabins to move in too I thought it would be no use to rite till I got settle we have made a contract for 2 year I would like for sum of you to come and see me next fall I will send you a way bill to come by if you node the situation of the country you would be willing to leave north Carolina tomorrow. Susan hole study is on the friends that is left behind it is true I would like to see you all but my mane study is to do the best I can for my self and family I pass off the time at work through the day at nite I nurs my too baby for pleasure so I take up no time in idles I will close for this time so no more at present only remaining your son till death. From M.M. Lunsford to his father and mother write soon and fail not.


What I liked about the letter:

  • The similar phrases used by the Lunsfords and W.C. Penland– “at present only remiaing your son till death”, “I this evin seat my self to drop you a few lins to let you no that we are all well at present hopin my few lins will come safe to hand and find you all enjoyin the same blessin”, and “I will close so no more at present only I remians your child till death.”
  • I love how Susan gives them a hard time about not writing her. She tried to shame them into writing her by calling out their names, and she even went so far as to say she’d write her name at the top of the page just in case they have forgotten it! She must have been a spitfire.
  • I like the contrast between what she writes and what her husband writes. Through his words you can feel the determination that he is going to make it for his family. And from her words you can hear how much she misses her family and her North Carolina home.
  • Susan missed her family, but she mostly wished they could see her boy that she was so proud of. She tells them she will send a stran of little Francis’s hair. Makes me wonder if she sent the hair and if her family passed the little strand around and talked of how they missed little Francis and of how there was a fine baby boy named Jousep Henry who they might never see but would love from afar.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in 2010.


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  • Reply
    Sunshine Smith
    February 5, 2019 at 12:47 am

    Have Pendergrass relatives who may have been in this area about this time. Like a voice from the past. Will be interested in researching them and seeing how little Jousep Henry, Francis, Mat and Susan got along.

  • Reply
    February 12, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Hi Tipper,
    Glad Pap’s home. Hope hes doing well. I agree with you about Susan, she seems like a firecracker. Bet she was a hoot to be around.
    Reading her letter got me to wondering about taking trips in those days so I did some research on horses and buggies in those days.
    Seems a well conditioned horse pulling a wagon could average 10 to 20 miles a day, depending on terrain and weather (assuming it means stopping at dark?). I can see now why folks didn’t visit much in those days.
    A 200 mile trip would take about 10 days at 20 miles per day. A person who farmed for a living or had a ranch, it would be hard to take that much time away from it to visit, not to mention the weather elements you could encounter in that length of time? Possibly turning your trip into an even longer trip?
    That, in comparison to how it is today (being able to go 200 miles in 3 to 3 1/2 hours) is mind blowing but I still sometimes envy those folks who lived in those days- it seemed like a much more laid back way of living, without the headaches of modern day life, though Im sure they had their own brand of headaches.
    Towns were fewer and far between in those days as well, so a long trip like that would mean a lot of camping under the stars, which sounds fun, but Im sure had its dangers.
    Amazing what a hundred and fifty years will do. Take care and hope Pap gets well soon.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    January 31, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Glad to hear Pap got well enough to come home. Praise and Thank God!!!
    I got teary eyed reading Suzy’s letter, where she’s saying she’d written her name at the top in case they forgot her, I was thinking she really might be feeling that if it’d been a long time between letters, and what a sad thing that would be for someone so far away.
    Prayers everyone has a safe happy week.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Susan’s letter of homesickness ties right in with Pap being in the hospital. No matter how good the nurses treat you, it is always such a happy time to actually leave and return to the sweet warmth and familiarity of home. Love of family is one of the greatest gifts God can bestow on us. The closeness of the family along with prayer will do wonders to speed Pap’s recovery. You are truly blessed!
    For a time we tried to place my Mother in long term care, but her pleas were overwhelming. My sister and I searched within the family for a low 4W drive Mom could easily step into. We then lit out in a bad snowstorm to bring her back home to her familiar room with her personal belongings. I have never seen anyone so happy to be home.
    Anytime I read or hear of a person missing home it reminds me of the years I missed my beautiful mountains. Perhaps that is why I am so totally dedicated and appreciative of the wonderful world we call Appalachia. Youth is wasted on the young was so true in my case, as I could hardly wait to get away.
    I find the price of corn amazing for those days. I suppose there was always a big demand for the cornmeal to make cornbread. I guess they had the law of supply and demand even back then. I enjoyed the letters, and do wonder if Susan was ever able to see her family.

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    January 30, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    Tipper, So glad Pap is back home. Hope he will rest and get strong again. Although he is not a Indian and I am, we have an old saying which is, ” Old Indians never die they just fade away”. Love and happiness to all in Christ.
    Peggy Lambert

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    January 30, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    I have often wondered at the courage it took for people to move away from family in times when travel was so hard they knew they might never see them again. Even today I would not ever want to live far from family.
    I’m glad to hear good news of Pap. Praying for him and all of the family.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Enjoyed reading the letters and taking a step back in time. So glad to here that Pap is home and feeling better!

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    January 30, 2016 at 11:33 am

    I like all the same same things as Tipper about these letters. The similarity to the Penland letters is striking–the formal opening and closing, the lack of punctuation and capitalization, and the inconsistent phonetic spelling that is still quite readable. These two letters are very expressive and telling. The custom of sending a strand of hair and snippets of dress fabric is fascinating. I enjoyed Susan and Matt’s earthiness that, I suppose, comes with being subsistence farmers–the status of the cows, the age and weight of the hogs to be butchered, and the grain price report. I’m perplexed at the 20 cent bushel of wheat vs the 3 dollar bushel of corn.

  • Reply
    John Faircloth
    January 30, 2016 at 11:32 am

    What a delight to read. These are the “primary sources” for understanding what life was like for those who have passed on. I note that the comments concerning life in North Carolina in the 1870’s. I know from other families I have studied, that the Civil War left the economy in great distress for years to come. Families were still struggling to piece things back together while bearing a heavy burden of grief after the death of their strongest young people. A great many in western North Carolina left the state during this period, hoping to find better prospects .
    Keep those old letters. Preserve them and share them with those who work on your family tree.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 30, 2016 at 10:36 am

    There is something special about true-life words across the generations. A friend of mine just this morning sent a message about his great-grandmothers little 3″ x 4″ journal notebook from 1967.
    Our ancestors were usually un-sophisticated in terms of how widely traveled or knowledgable about other places and people they were. But to me the true-life glimpse shows once again the truth of what the Bible says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” As you say, Matt’s issue was doing the best he could for his family. For Suzy it was connection with her extended family. And of the two, Suzy was closer to the mark. But truth is, we mostly all order our lives thinking like Matt. It comes, I reck,on, fr,om being clay.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 30, 2016 at 10:26 am

    I’m glad you all are home and Pap’s doing better. I couldn’t help but tear up some as I read Peggy’s letter from her folks. It reminded me of W.C. Penland’s words of honesty and longing for family back home. I enjoyed this alot…Ken

  • Reply
    January 30, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Love the letter! My husband and I both have information, pictures, and letters from our families about ancestors who fought in the Civil War. They are real treasures!
    Great to hear Pap is home. I’m sure he is delighted! Continuing prayers for healing and comfort for all of you.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 30, 2016 at 9:52 am

    Tipper–I enjoyed the writing and homesickness from yesteryear but best of all you note at the end indicating Jerry is back home and feeling better.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    January 30, 2016 at 9:41 am

    Pap’s returning home is wonderful news! Still sending prayers his way.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2016 at 9:23 am

    What do you mean Pap got to come home? I didn’t know anything was wrong…If you alerted your readers, it must have been during the time you had issues with your server and the daily post wasn’t reaching us all. Praying he will continue to improve!
    My oldest aunt kept a journal that was found when she passed away. I was blessed to be able to keep it in my possession for several months, allowing me time to read every word more than once. The sentences, spelling and punctuations were written much like Susan and Matt’s. With a lack of education, she had quiet a vocabulary and spelled the words exactly as they sounded. It’s amazing how those misspelled word are so easy to read.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 30, 2016 at 9:20 am

    So glad to hear that Pap is home and continues to feel better…Tell him that if we could scry into a crystal ball, we would do our best to conjure up an early healing, life renewing warm Spring….but guess we will have to depend on the ole ground hog February 2nd for his Spring prediction.
    In the meantime we faithfully depend on the good Lord for Pap’s continued good health…and of course Spring will arrive in it’s appointed season.
    Like you Tipper, I saw the same similar phrases in this letter…One other thing that caught my attention was the word “study”….My Grandmother used to use that term a lot…for instance…”I’ve been studying on taking a trip.” Which she never did…unless we picked her up and brought her home with us for a visit. ha Or she would say, “I’m studying about me a new garden patch!” Now then, that “study” would come to pass by Spring…ha
    Thanks Tipper,
    Enjoyed this post…

  • Reply
    eva nell mull wike, PhD
    January 30, 2016 at 8:05 am

    OK TIPPER! Between your wonderful post and your comments , I am now unable to see through my tears! I was the cryingest child in our family of ELEVEN CHILDREN! Now you know me! Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 30, 2016 at 7:57 am

    Tip, I like that the words are spelled the way they sound and there is no problem reading it that way.
    You can sure hear the longing for family in Susan’s words as well as the pride for her new boy.

  • Reply
    colleen Holmes
    January 30, 2016 at 7:34 am

    Thank you. I enjoyed the letters and hearing of lives and loves past.

  • Reply
    Carol Reid
    January 30, 2016 at 7:34 am

    Old family letters are a real treasure.
    We can hear their voices and get a feel of life long ago. So very different from today when we post pics and communicate in a blink of an eye.
    Some things change but messages from the heart remain the same.
    Thank you for sharing with us, Tipper.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 30, 2016 at 7:23 am

    The poignancy and homesickness of Susan Lunsford seeps through the lines of her letter with heavy pathos. To be homesick “for the hills” is a real and daily longing for the life, family and friends left behind. But in the lines of her husband is that determination to “live up to the contract” and work hard to make life good for his family. In these letters are two very present and ongoing values of our Appalachian heritage: The love for home and family (and missing them when one moves away); and the determination to make the best of a given situation. Enjoyed re-reading the letters. And I’m so grateful that Pap is home and feeling better. I hope he “takes it easy” and improves daily!

  • Reply
    Donna Wilson King
    January 30, 2016 at 6:45 am

    When I was helping clean out my great-aunt’s house after she died, we found an envelope with a lock of auburn hair in it. On the envelope, she had written, “my mother’s hair.” It was especially touching because her mother had died suddenly of the “apoplexy” when my aunt was 8 years old. There must have been something special about a lock or strand of hair.
    I really loved the last two words in the letter…fail not. I’m sure their life was hard with all the back-breaking work of living in 1870. But, what encouraging words. Fail not.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2016 at 6:42 am

    That letter is just jam-packed full, isn’t it? So much information about daily life and joys and longings and determination. I hope that family did well and had a long, (mostly!) satisfying life together.
    SO GLAD to hear Pap is home! I’ve left comments on recent posts but the internet seems to have me pegged as an outlaw again, as my comments never appeared. But I’ve kept you and yours in my thoughts, Tipper, and especially Pap. Hope he’ll be feeling 100% better now!

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