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A former slave’s angry letter to his former owner claiming his daughter, 1864

Feb 29, 2012 By Abraham

In early 1864, Spotswood Rice, a former slave from Missouri, enlisted in the Union Army. Later that year, he came through his former home with 1,600 other soldiers. When he was still on the way, he sent this confident and angry letter ahead to his former owner, Kittey Diggs…

(I left his spelling as is, but I added punctuation to make it easier to read.)

I received a leteter from Cariline telling me that you say I tried to steal…my child away from you. Now I want you to understand that mary is my Child and she is a God given rite of my own. And you may hold on to hear as long as you can, but I want you to remembor this one thing — that the longor you keep my Child from me, the longor you will have to burn in hell and the qwicer youll get their…

I want you to understand, kittey diggs, that where ever you and I meets we are enmays to each orthere. I offered once to pay you forty dollers for my own Child, but I am glad now that you did not accept it….

My Children is my own and I expect to get them, and when I get ready to come after mary I will have…powrer and autherity to bring hear away and to exacute vengencens on them that holds my Child. You will then know how to talke to me — I will assure that — and you will know how to talk rite, too….

I have no fears about geting mary out of your hands this whole Government gives chear to me and you cannot help your self.

Unfortunately, there’s no record of how this tale ended.

Read the unabridged and unpunctuated version. Read more of Spotswood Rice’s letters.

RelatedA former slave writes to his former owner requesting his backpay


    1. Tristan says:

      Haha, YES! Honestly though, the movie “Taken” should be renamed to “Liam Neeson Kills Everyone in France” lol.

  1. Erica says:

    Sadly, given the laws of that time, the daughter was property either way. Without knowing details, it may be optimistic to assume she’d be better off with her father.

    1. Paperchaser says:

      Erica, American history isn’t a speciality of mine, so I’m asking you in all frankness to provide examples of female slaves who were worse off after their liberation/with their families than they were as a white person’s legal property.

      And not just one, either. A sufficient number of examples of a such a situation to demonstrate that you’re talking about something common enough to give you some sort of basis for stating that in a situation wherein we don’t know any details, it might be better for a girl to be owned by a white person than to be with her biological family.

  2. Valerie Craft says:

    In the 1870 Census there is a “Spotsford” Rice living with his family in St Louis, MO. The family includes an 18 year old named Mary. No relationships are given, but this is likely a daughter. In the 1880 Census the family is listed again, this time as “Spotswood,” with a daughter named Mary (now married and named Bell).

    1. Bettina says:

      A big thanks to Valerie- ever since years, oops, a decade ago I watched Ken Burns’ documentary I have remembered the letters being read out and wondering how the tale ended and wishing that this father was reunited with his child. Thanks- you just shed some happy light on this:)

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