This letter was written by Harriet Elizabeth (Joyner) Burton (1808-18xx) to her husband Rev. Robert Oswald Burton (1811-1891) — a Methodist minister from Campbell County, Virginia. Elizabeth was the daughter of Col. Andrew Joyner (1785-1856) and his first wife, Temperance Williams (1784-1834). Rev. Burton was the son of John Hudson Burton (1799-1821) and Margaret (“Peggy”) Macon (1800-18xx). Rev. Burton and his wife resided at Poplar Grove, the home of his Col. Joyner, near Roanoke Rapids in Halifax County, North Carolina, until he built his home — called Wyandoke — on nearby property. In 1843, when this letter was written, he was serving as the Presiding Elder of the Washington District in the North Carolina Conference.
Elizabeth’s younger sister, Temperance (“Tempe”) B. Joyner (1825-1880) was married to Wiley Jones Eppes (1811-1879) who added the note at the end of this letter. Wiley was the son of Senator John Wayles Eppes (1773-1823) and his second wife, Martha (“Patsy”) Burke Jones (1798-1862). Sen. Eppes’ first wife was Maria Jefferson, daughter of President Thomas Jefferson. Sen. Eppes’s tobacco plantation — called Millbrook — was located in Buckingham County, Virginia.
Addressed to Rev’d Robert O. Burton, Plymouth, North Carolina
Poplar Grove [Roanoke Rapids, Halifax County, North Carolina]
November 28th 1843
My dearest husband,
It is with pleasure I seat myself this bright and beautiful morning to hold (by letter) “communion” with my dear husband (thanks to him who first invented letter writing) and more to that kind Providence who has blessed us with faculties whereby we are enabled to communicate in absence our sentiments to those we love. And so painful as are our separations, it is some alleviation to receive and enjoy these messengers of love and unchanging affection. My dear husband, you cannot conceive how much I miss you, and how often in company even when most cheerful, my thoughts wander from present scenes to him who is far away and dearer to my heart than “all the world besides.” The poet has said “absence makes the heart grow finder.” I cannot say that is absence, but this I know, that your society is dearer to me than ever and each new expression of affection and concern for my happiness seems to bind you yet closer to my heart. Did I not know that the path of duty (particularly to God) is the path of safety and happiness, to be separated from you so much would be intolerable. But I know that He who has promised, is able to make all things work together for ____ to stem that ___ Him. Is not this a consoling promise? I trust my heart is becoming daily more and more humbled under a sense of my own unworthiness and God’s great mercy and goodness to me. For this, I pray daily, and desire to be confirmed to his image and the assurance that in the hour of despondency I have the aid of your prayers, is encouragement to me to persevere.
I hope you reached Plymouth in safety and without experiencing any inconvenience from the rain. I felt much anxiety about you and regretted that I had not prevailed in you to take the buffalo robe. It would have been such a protection in bad weather. I hope your time has been pleasantly and profitably spent and pray that you may be an instrument of good to many souls during your absence. Since you left, I have received a letter from Dr. McCabe directed to you, but being you know one of Mother E’s daughters, I of course opened it. His object was to know whether there was any vacancy in your district that he could supply. He mentioned that you were a man that he had obtained a recommendation to the Va. Conference, but finding they were full, he had turned his thoughts to this and wished to hear from you immediately so as to make arrangements. I wish it was so he could come here, but as some have complained already of three married preachers, a fourth would be death to them (do not mention this). A letter also from Mr. Buage saying he could not take charge of the colored mission this year owing to his not being supported, and he intended moving directly to Burke to work a gold mine. No other news of importance.
The party from Hillsboro returned last Saturday. Col. Hubard and Mr. Jones with them, both paying their devoirs to Sallie — all kindly inquired after you — and regretted very much not seeing you. Cousin Mary, Eliza, Col. Hubard, and the three Mrs. Eppes left yesterday for Virginia. My brother Willie [Wylie], Tempe [Temperance] and Sallie leave next Thursday week. This parting is a sad business, but I console myself by thinking it all for the best. Tempe and Sallie send a heap of love to you and the Dr. his best regards to his “brother Jefferson.”
Mother has been quite sick since you left, confined to her bed for several days. But is much better today [and] able to sit up a little and I hope will soon be quite well. Tempe goes this evening to see Aunt Pope & _____ Harriet. They are all beseeching me very much to go over with then to Virginia. Suppose I turn tenant and go, what say you? Brother Willie [Wylie] says you _____ from all the family a very cordial invitation to go and carry me to the party the last of the month. It would be party enough for me to be quietly seated in our little room alone with you. My heart would then experience more of real enjoyment than when in the midst of gayety and excitement. I have been very obedient since you left — walked every day — and have no doubt but what I am benefitted by it. I shall anxiously expect a letter from you tomorrow for when you are away, my chief pleasure is in hearing from you so do write often. I shall write again from Washington.
Mi___ and Miss Dolly join in best love. Miss Dolly says tell you she is no better than when you went away. Perhaps I may go to Mr. Hustins next week. Do not be uneasy. I shall not go alone. My love to all my friends & acquaintances. I hope you had time to call and see Aunt Pope. And now, farewell my dear husband, and may God bless you is the prayer of your devoted wife. Please write soon and often. I am almost ashamed to send this but I know you will excuse it, so goodbye.
My valued friend & brother,
Allow me in this way to express the regret I experience at not finding you at the old stand on my arrival. I regret still more that we shall have to leave before you return, and must say to you that I would afford all the inmates of Millbrook the highest pleasure to see sister E. & yourself there as soon as you return, for we shall have much gaiety in that region, and as you are a man ____ & your wife a cardinal and del___ B___, it is fair to presume that you both have determined not to take life so methodistically for the future. As a further inducement I will inform you that I have been much concerned recently in regard to our old friend Pusy. he has been too much abused and I hope you will unite with me in inviting him to Bu___ and to establish an Apostolic Church where we shall be allowed the high privilege of weary Cardinals, Bishops, &c. This else recognized by the Apostles — your wife is a warm advocate of the plan. So come over this winter and we will arrange the matter. In the meantime, with best wishes for your health, happiness, and prosperity, believe me yours truly, — W. J. Eppes