This letter was written by Robert F. Wooding, believed to be a son of Robert T. Wooding (1792-1856) and Mary Kent (1795-1867) of Pittsylvania, Virginia. He was probably born in the early 1820s and we learn from the letter that he had a brother that preceded him to Florida Territory. Robert doesn’t reveal the nature of the mistreatment he endured from his father and Nat Wooding, but whatever it was drove him to abandon Virginia and journey all the way to Florida Territory by foot — a distance of some 700 miles.
Robert wrote the letter to his friend, Langhorne Scruggs (1824-1901), the son of Drury Langhorne Scruggs (1798-1838) and Rhoda Ann Whitehead (1801-1883) of Pittsylvania, Virginia. Langhorne married Mildred (“Lettie”) Ward Bennett (1838-1929) in 1859.
Robert is not shy about telling his friend back home how he feels about his relatives. He said he loved his mother and sisters, but “if any the rest of my relations should happen to ask about me, tell them that they may kiss my ass and commence at Nat Wooding first.”
Addressed to Langhorne Scruggs, Competition, Virginia
Marianna [Florida Territory]
April 21st 1844
My dear friend,
I now take this present opportunity of writing to you for the first time since I left Virginia. Before I go any further, I will inform you that I have no news worth writing more than to let you know I received your letter some time hence and were glad to hear that you were well. You wanted to know how I were getting along and what I were doing. I will now commence and give you a full history of my life ever since I have been in Florida.
I got to Florida the 20th day of December 1842. When I landed in Marianna, I found seventy-five in money was every cent I had in God’s world. My brother loaned me twenty-five dollars. Then I had nothing to do so I commenced keeping store for George W. Tillinghast ¹ for my board. During that time I met with Thomas Williams of Virginia and he owned the land across Chipola River at Marianna and the bridge got washed away and he put in a ferry flat and agreed to give me fifteen dollars a month to attend to it and I done so until the sixteenth day of July last.
Langhorne you know, and if you don’t know I can tell you, when I got where my brother [is], I were nearly coward to death for I felt like some poor orphaned child that had no father nor mother for I had walked every step of the way to Florida. How many days I were on the road, God only knows, for I don’t. Many a nights did I stay out and could hear nothing but the noise of the owls and the howling of the wolves. I often look back and though about home and say to myself that I never would be able to complete my journey, but when I would reflect and reflect and look back and think how mean I believe I were treated by my father and Nat Wooding, I would shoulder my kit and swear damnation to my soul if I didn’t go or die in the attempt. Langhorne, my mother I love. My father will I forgive him? No never, so long as my blood’s hot. Well as I were going on to tell you what I were doing, I will now finish.
The sixteenth day of July last I were so steady and attentive to my business that Thomas Williams told me he would give me the ferry until Christmas for what he owed me which was about seventy-five dollars and I agreed to take it. During that time I associated with nobody and nobody associated with me. Every now & then I could hear it whispered about by some of the young men that I were too fine a fellow to be keeping ferry. Some said I had been well raised and some said I hadn’t. So I wasn’t caring no way for the way I were making money was a right.
Now I will tell you something about my heats. I were taken down sick the 10th day of last August and I haven’t enjoyed one day’s health since. Langhorne, if you will believe me, I have had eight attacks of the bilious fever since I have been in Florida and the chill and fever every other day now. If I could have my health in Florida, in ten years I could make just as good a fortune as I should want, but it is the sickest place that God ever made. Every foreigner that came to Marianna last summer and stayed any length of time died except myself and I come so near it that it’s bound to take me this summer. Last Christmas the ferry was let out at the highest bidder and I rented it for four hundred dollars and give George W. Tillinghast for security for the four hundred dollars and also my bond and security for five hundred dollars for faithful attendance and all for all accidents that should happen at the ferry. I also have a small grocery on the bank of the river. My stock is whiskey, tobacco, segars, cheese and crackers. I attend to the grocery and employ a young man by the name of Jones to attend to the ferry from Halifax County, Virginia. Langhorne, if I only can save and stand Florida this summer, I won’t ask King George to be my duty.
I must come to a close saying to you be sure and write to me all the news in old Virginia, who has died, and who hain’t, who married [and] who ain’t. Be sure to go to see ma and [give] my best respects to her and tell her I think very hard of her not writing to me. Give my love to all my sisters and if any the rest of my relations should happen to ask about me, tell them that they may kiss my ass and commence at Nat Wooding first. Give my respects to sis and all the young men — Tarpley White,² and Jed and Ned Carter — and tell Kit to kiss my ass and go to hell for me. Be sure and write.
— Robert F. Wooding
Give respects to Sam Lace
¹ George William Tillinghast (1803-1860) was a native of Fayetteville, North Carolina. He married Mary Ann Chapman. The 1850 census shows George as a merchant.
² The 1851 Mercantile Directory for Pittsylvania County lists Tarpley White a dry-goods dealer. He was a colonel in the militia, a planter, and a merchant.