The Letters of a St. Simons Island Plantation Mistress, 1817-1859
Publication Year: 2002
Anna Matilda Page was reared with the expectation that she would marry a planter, have children, and tend to her family's domestic affairs. Untypically, she was also schooled by her father in all aspects of plantation management, from seed cultivation to building construction. That grounding would serve her well. By 1842 her husband's properties were seized, owing to debts amassed from crop failures, economic downturns, and extensive investments in land, enslaved workers, and the development of the nearby port town of Brunswick. Anna and her family were sustained, however, by Retreat, the St. Simons Island property left to her in trust by her father. With the labor of fifty bondpeople and "their increase" she was to strive, with little aid from her husband, to keep the plantation solvent.
A valuable record of King's many roles, from accountant to mother, from doctor to horticulturist, the letters also reveal much about her relationship with, and attitudes toward, her enslaved workers. Historians have yet to fully understand the lives of plantation mistresses left on their own by husbands pursuing political and other professional careers. Anna Matilda Page King's letters give us insight into one such woman who reluctantly entered, but nonetheless excelled in, the male domains of business and agriculture.
Published by: University of Georgia Press
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Written in the heyday of King Cotton, the letters of Anna Matilda Page King of St. Simons Island, Georgia, contain much of what makes a good novel. Money, politics, love, pain, power, death, honor, and longing are ongoing themes in more than one thousand letters Anna wrote to her parents, husband, and children between 1817 and 1859...
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While I have tried to preserve Anna King's voice and the idiosyncrasies of her style, I have throughout this volume imposed certain changes in order to make her thoughts more accessible and her words flow more easily for the reader. I have inserted breaks in the form of paragraphs where it seemed clear to me...
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The Golden Isles of Georgia form a barrier against the sea along the state's nearly 150-mile coastline and include the islands of Ossabaw, St. Catherine's, Sapelo, St. Simons, Jekyll, and Cumberland.1 Beginning in the sixteenth century, Creek Indians migrating from the mainland to the coast following seasonal patterns...
August 29, 1817, to February 9, 1847
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To Major William Page Tho I have not yet received an answer to my letter written some weeks since, I trust that tomorrow's post will favor me with as lengthy an epistle, as your first; be assured that I am not a little proud, to think, that your letter to me, is more lengthy than that has been yet, received from you. It again becomes my turn...
May 23, 1848, to April 11, 1850
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My dearly beloved husband On Sunday I had the happiness to receive your most welcome letter of the 14th Inst--wanting just one day of being a month after the last letter I had received from you, as that was the 15th of April. I[t] does seem passing strange what does become of your letters. If those curious Post Masters would but send them...
June 23, 1851, to May 16, 1852
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My dearly beloved Mallery I thank you my good son for your affectionate letter of the 13th. But for your consideration I should not have heard from any of you beloved ones at the North. I had a very kind letter of the 14th from Mrs Jaudon--which (but for your letter) was calculated to make me uneasy about your sisters--as she expressed much uneasiness...
June 7, 1852, to November 15, 1852
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My dearly beloved Lordy From dear punctual Malleys letter of the 29th Ult. which I received yesterday I rejoice to hear you were both well at that time. Tootee had a long letter from Georgia & we both had letters from dear Butler, & I one from your dear Father those from the two latter were up to the 3d May. How grateful I am to God!...
July 4, 1853, to November 25, 1854
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My dearly beloved Lord We have not received a line from you since your letter from New York after your return from New Haven. I know you are too apt to procrastinate--still in these days of disaster both by land and water you must not think it exacting if I require one letter...
January 20, 1855, to December 1, 1857
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My own dearly beloved husband Our daughters have gone to the Theater. I am alone this evening I cannot be more profitably or more happily employed than in writing to you. You must make every allowance for the irregularity of my writing blotted words & crooked lines...
January 6, 1858, to August 10, 1859
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My own dear Floyd Your affectionate letter of the 29th Ult was received yesterday. And a very sensible letter it was dear Floyd.1 I am indeed thankful to perceive you are now sensible of the necessity of close application to your studies and appreciate the efforts your parents have used for your obtaining a good education. Much valuable time has been lost...
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Anna's world was crumbling around her. By 1858 the estate was in debt to her Savannah factors for approximately $10,000 and Thomas Butler King appeared no closer to returning to Retreat and joining forces with his wife to either make improvements in the existing homestead or move their planting operations elsewhere...
Appendix 1: The Page-King Family of Retreat
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Appendix 2: The Bondpeople of Retreat
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Page Count: 492
Publication Year: 2002
Series Title: Southern Voices from the Past: Women's Letters, Diaries, and Writings