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W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library Manuscript Collections

Guide to the Ninian Duncan letters MSS.1819


University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 35487-0266

June 2010


This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit 2010-06-21T13:14-0500

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Collection Title:

Ninian Duncan letters

Unit ID:



University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama


0.1 Linear feet (3 letters)




Three letters Ninian Duncan of Baltimore, written during the summer of 1861. The letters each discuss the growing hostilities between the North and South.

Scope and Contents note

This collection consists of three letters, with accompanying envelopes, addressed to Duncan, a fragment of a fourth letter, which contains no evidence as to its recipient, and a glassine envelope containing the crumbling remains of some grape leaves picked at the site of George Washington's tomb. The earliest of the three complete letters is dated New York, 5 May 1861 and was written by somebody perhaps named OMackrey (the signature is not clear). The only allusions it contains to the sectional crisis that was then erupting in war are the comments "What a sad state of things has come to pass. The excitement for the past month has been awful," and, near the close of the letter, "I hope things may take a speedy change for the better." The second letter, chronologically, is dated 6 May 1861, and was written from Mt. Zephyr, Virginia (close to Alexandria) by one E. Courtney, Jr. Courtney had fled from Baltimore to Mt. Zephyr with a Zeb Ward, whose home was there, following the fracas that had occurred there on 19 April 1861, when southern sympathizers attacked troops from the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment marching through the city. Courtney leaves no doubt that he was somehow involved in that incident: "You must know," he wrote Duncan, "that I am 'a fugitive from justice,' and with another exile, Zeb Ward, have been rusticating here on his place since Monday last, when we left Balto. at the break of day, and fled from the grasp of the Grand Jury. Of course, you know well enough what we fled from, and my only course was to leave town or else suffer the trouble of an arrest, trial, and perhaps conviction." He later added that "If no action is taken in the 19th [of] April cases, I shall maybe come back to Balto. pretty soon, but if any severe action is made, I shall with Zeb go to Richmond and enlist in the Confed. Army. Jove! Sir, you don't know how glorious I feel when I think that I am out of the United States and when I see the gallant Confederate Flag flying over me, and reflect that I am living on the soil of, and under the protection & jurisdiction of Jefferson Davis, Ye Gods! I feel like standing on my head and kicking for joy!" Courtney also praises his surroundings and the food, but complains that Mt. Zephyr's isolation is such "that a fellow can't visit and flirt with the farmers [sic] pretty daughters. Shame, ain't it? Accompanying this letter and envelope is another of the latter, filled with crumbling wild grape leaves that Courtney states were "plucked from the 'Tomb of Washington.' At the end of the letter he drew a picture of the Confederate flag. The third letter was written on 30 May 1861 by another [exile] who fled Baltimore after the 19th of April incident, a George H. Davis, who had taken refuge at his childhood home, Taneytown, Maryland. Like Courtney, Davis was clearly a Confederate sympathizer. Although he admitted that "Darkness and gloom still continues to hang over our country like a death pall, and I regret that I am unable to see in the future any ray of hope of an early settlement of the difficulties now surrounding us," his following sentences left no doubt as to his allegiance: "I had hoped that each day might bring some evidence of a peaceful solution to our national troubles, or that our Southern Confederacy might be recognized by some Foreign Power. The developments of the last few days [presumably the British declaration of neutrality, which was issued on 13 May] have well nigh banished this hope, yet still I cannot be persuaded that England & France will not yet interfere in [sic] our behalf-Whatever union sentiment I may have entertained heretofore, I can assure you that all such feelings have been banished." It must therefore have been a disappointment to Davis to discover that "this part of the State is strong for the Union, in fact it is almost unanimous." The collection also contains a fragment of a fourth letter, which contains no information to whom or when it was written. It instructs the recipient "Write me at Harrisonburg Va immediately[,] Your Bro Adam" and inquires as to the arrival of an earlier letter from him.

Processing Information:

Processed by

John Beeler, 2007

Preferred Citation:

The Ninian S. Duncan letters, W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library, University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama.

Acquisition Information:

Donated by Wade Hall, 2005

Biographical/Historical note

Ninian S. Duncan was evidently an employee or partner in the firm of Dugan and Jenkins, commission hardware merchants of Charles Street, Baltimore. Three of the four letters in this collection are addressed to him, care of Dugan and Jenkins.

Letter from O.Mackrey Box 6648 Folder 1819

Letter from George H. Davis Box 6648 Folder 1819

Letter from E. Courtney, Jr. Box 6648 Folder 1819

Box 6648 Folder 1819

Letter from O'Mackrey, New York, New York, to Ninian S. Duncan, Baltimore, Maryland, August 5, 1861

Letter from George H. Davis, Taneytown, Maryland, to Ninian S. Duncan, Baltimore, Maryland, May 30, 1861

Letter from E. Courtney, Jr., Mt. Zephyr, Virginia, to Ninian S. Duncan, Baltimore, Maryland, May 16, 1861

Letter from Adam, Harrisburg, Virginia, to Brother, circa 1861