Autograph Letter Signed. To [Septimus] Cabaniss, Huntsville, Alabama. 3pp.+ address leaf.
Horrific description of slave mistreatment by an angry young widow, complaining to her trusted lawyer of Eaton, the brutal overseer he had hired: Worse yet, Eaton’s wife, using three slave children to bring her wood and water, had punished one 8 year-old girl for her “impertinence”, whipping her with a cowhide; the little girl had run to Mrs. McClung, “with the blood running from her arms in more than a dozen places."
“He whipped Matt last week cruelly, he deserves to be punished but not in the manner in which it was done, from his neck to his waist, his shirt was bloody and… the skin on his back was cut in places as broad as his two fingers. This is too shocking to be tolerated.” Eaton had told her he had “threatened to give Matt three hundred lashes if he punishes him again, but I did not imagine for an instant he would do it. I thought he meant to punish him severely but not barbarously...…The negroes are very much afraid of Mrs. Eaton knowing that they tell me anything…”
Mrs. McClung assures her lawyer, “I did not think you would shrink from doing what was right however unpleasant it might be.” She would have upbraided the overseer herself, but “I am afraid of my own temper. I know you can tell him without giving offence which of course is best if he is to remain here…”Mrs. McClung had just been widowed at age 29. Her late husband, a Southern grandee who was 20 years older, had been leader of the state legislature, nearly elected Governor and US Senator; he had been married twice before, to the Georgia Governor’s daughter, then to a relation of the Governor of Virginia. Margaret, who had just given birth to her third child, was left with a large farm and some 30 slaves, her estate being managed by Cabaniss, a leading Huntsville lawyer who became so close to the McClung family that one of Margaret’s grandsons would be named for him. He probably sympathized with the young widow’s sentiments, since, a few years later, he represented another client, a wealthy bachelor, who wished to free his slaves – many of whom were his biological children – and leave them some of his 8,000 acres of plantation land to be auctioned off so that they might be established in a free territory. The will, contested by the client’s relatives, took more than 35 years to settle, the freed slaves ultimately receiving just enough of the legacy to be comfortably resettled in Ohio and Kansas. As for Mrs. McClung, she never freed her own slaves. Her eldest son served in the Confederate Army and her youngest later married a relative of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.