A mere 139 years old, it dates barely four years after the War Between the States. It is full of family news and comments on Reconstruction-period North Carolina.
Today Potts (or Pott's) Creek meanders through the peaceful countryside of Cleveland County, North Carolina, near Kings Mountain, intersecting with US 74 (the Shelby Road) not too far from the old El Bethel Methodist cemetery burial place of the letter writer.
Nine years earlier in 1861 he had children aged six, four, and two, a pregnant wife, and a job as a mechanic, possibly at a grist or cotton mill, or even at the box manufacturing company owned by his brother. Then "Davy" Whisnant enlisted and became a Corporal in the Confederate "Cleveland Guards." By 1863, he had been wounded both at Chancellorsville (in early May) and at Gettysburg (in early July). Who knows what other action he saw.
Perhaps Gettysburg ended his soldiering days; at any event, he would be home in 1865. Another daughter was born that year, and in this January of 1870, after bragging about his one-year-old son ("the brag baby east of the Rocky Mountains"), he ironically refers to himself as "a disenfranchised rebel in all of its various moods and tenses."
Davy, the younger brother of Phillip Sellers Whisnant (grandfather of Eugene and Edna) was responding to a letter from the Collins sisters of Cherokee County, Georgia. Most likely they were his sisters-in-law, who had moved there from Cleveland County. He imparts the sad news that his oldest, Addy, aged 14, had died in September 1869 during an epidemic in the county and that typhoid was still around. [Mary Adeline Whisnant is buried near her father at El Bethel.] After listing about a dozen mutual acquaintances who had succumbed, he suggests some common remedies of the time:
"the less physic the better. Keep the bowels open moderately, drink freely of black snake root tea, cold water on the head when the fever is high and use spirits freely when the patient is in collapsed stages is about as good treatment as I can recommend; as a preventive use whiskey, garlic & gum Feotida combined.”Davy also reports that the two oldest boys are attending school, and he would send their younger sisters, "but it is too far," probably too far to walk for five and seven-year-olds. Wightman is good at arithmetic: " that is proverbial: with the Whisnants if they could make bread by figures, they would never perish." No wonder there are so many engineers in the family!
Of his own circumstances, Davy reports he is building a new mill "as the Old one has nearly give out it may be completed so far as I am interested under the Sheriffs hammer," but he doesn't expect completion before the fall. The previous summer was dry enough that "corn is scarce with us selling at $1.25 cts per bushel, wheat from $1.50 to $2.00 per bushel."
Reporting on the rest of the county, Whisnant says,
"Field hands can be had from $8 to $12 per month. Freedman [the Freedman's Bureau] has played out - no man [or?] account is the universal cry here. They will perish here, for work they won't and steal they dare not do, for fear of the Ku Klux, who have become a terror to evil doers in this country. - Though we are cursed with high Taxes and will be until we can get a new hearing, which will be at the next election in this state. Then the carpet baggers will have to go under."Davy also mentions emigrants' leaving by railroad for Arkansas because rail travel is so cheap ("$10 or $12 to Memphis") and predicts that the rail will be completed to Shelby that year "but may never be completed to Rutherfordton."
Three years later, David D. Whisnant would die at 47. Whether it was lingering effects of his wounds in the War or another epidemic of typhoid that took him, his self-deprecating and ironic view of life makes it seem almost like yesterday.