This week’s post concludes Zebulon B. Vance’s undated letter to friend, John Evans Brown. For those who missed the initial post, click here. Vance writes Brown following the South’s surrender — the official end of the Civil War, May 9, 1865. At the time of the writing, Vance is on parole. Brown is living in Sydney, Australia.
Thanks as always to Pack Memorial Library’s Special Collections, North Carolina Room for its assistance.
Zebulon B. Vance wrote John Evans Brown:
Trade begins feebly to resume its channels and a beam of hope begins again to reanimate our long tried and suffering people. Our loss in men was very great. Seven tenths of the spirited and educated young men of N.C. fell in this struggle. Many old families are almost extinct in the male line. …
But I have dwelt long enough perhaps on this sad picture. After the surrender I came to this place, where Mrs. Vance had fled when Raleigh was evacuated, and sat down. In a few days I was arrested, sent to Washington City and lodged in prison. I remained there only two months when Mr. President permitted me to return home on parole. So I am here, a prisoner still.
Mrs. Vance during my confinement was seized with hemorrhage of the lungs and came near dying. She is now, however, after much suffering, mental and bodily, restored to her usual health. We are living very poorly and quietly, as I can do no business until I am pardoned or released from my parole. We have four little boys, Charles (10 years old), David (8), Zebby (3), and Thomas (3). The two oldest go to school, are studying geography, etcetera. I keep in excellent health, though trouble and anxiety have left their mark on me. I am getting very grey.
There are indications that the radical abolitionists — the South being excluded from representation in Congress — intend to force perfect negro equality upon us. The right to vote, hold offices, testify in courts, and sit upon juries are the privileges claimed for them. Should this be done, and there is nothing to prevent it, it will revive an already half formed determination in me to leave the U.S. forever.
Where shall I go? Many thoughts have I directed towards the distant Orient where you are. The idea is so possible at the least that I would be thankful to you for any information germane to the matter. Climate, soil, water courses, Government, population, etcetera, are all eagerly enquired after here.
What could I do there? Either in Australia or New Zealand? As a lawyer, grazier, merchant or what not? What would it cost me and how would I go to get there? What could I do when I sit down at the wharf at Sidney [sic] with a wife, four children and perhaps “nary red”? Tell me all about it. Should those things happen which we fear, my brother Robert (who was a Brigadier in the Southern Army) and I will go somewhere.
At present there seems to be no prospect in the stability of the govt in Mexico or vast numbers of our people would go there. Quite a lot have gone any how, your father wants to go to you, but I don’t encourage him…
If you ever get this and will answer it, I will promise you faithfully that another five years shall not elapse before I write again. When released from my bond I think of going to Wilmington, N.C., to practice law if I don’t leave the country. The mountains were torn and distracted by this war, being almost the only part of the state which was not thoroughly united. The State of Society there is not pleasant, and I don’t think I shall ever return there to live.
Murder and outrage are frequent and the absence of civil law encourages the wickedly inclined. Mrs. Vance and my mother (who is with us) beg to be kindly remembered to you. I feel at liberty also to add my own most respectful regards to Mrs. Brown and beg that she will accept them though from an unfortunate, subjugated rebel.
With every wish, and sincerest prayers, for your health, happiness and prosperity in your new and distant home, believe me my dear John, Most faithfully and unchangibly your devoted friend.
Zebulon B. Vance