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War and Peace in America 1853-1868: Letters and Journal of Jacques Martin

Publication date not yet set

Translated from the original French

Jacques Martin, a Swiss citizen, arrived in America in 1853, with the idea of working in the textile industry. After a year spent traveling he decided instead to buy a small farm in Indiana. In 1861 he volunteered to fight for the Union.

Excerpts

Owensboro, Kentucky, Feb. 5, 1854 All the servants in the hotel are slaves; they are gay and quick, they talk, laugh and sing all day, and seem happier than their masters. Yet I cannot laugh when I see them. Their faces often look just as intelligent as those of the whites around them, and I cannot believe that they are really happy, especially when they are alone and compare their fate to that of white people. Their good cheer could well be that of soldiers, showing off and apparently indifferent to everything, who sing and then blow their brains out a minute later. I don't like thinking of anything that reminds me of their condition.

For instance, I was reading the ads in a Louisville newspaper the other day. I was amazed at all the business for such a new town. But when I saw that besides the salt pork and flour there were horses and Negroes for sale, I threw the paper away. Similarly, there are many pretty farmhouses, but the sheds for the blacks ruin the view. They are like barns. Well, I guess it's none of my business, but if I don't want to see any slaves, all I have to do is stay in the free states like so many others; there's no lack of space there. Still, I admit I enjoy hearing people say that one of the main reasons the Bonharbor mill failed was that they used slave labor.

Jan. 28, 1865 Finding my moustache glued to my blanket by the ice one morning, out of curiosity I put the thermometer by the head of my bed; it was 17 degrees below zero. We have to cut our bread and our milk with an ax, and put it into the coffee to make it melt.

 August 12, 1857
The land is changing before our very eyes, the forest is disappearing on all sides, and with it, the half-Indian
hunters who can't hold out any longer. The Americans, who don't like regular work, are leaving, one after the other, and are being replaced by good German farmers from Ohio and Pennsylvania, hard-working, thrifty and rich.

December, 1854 An old bachelor is something so strange that most people around here know me not as Martin, but as the farmer without a wife... It would doubtless be very convenient not to cook the soup, wash the dishes and often my clothes ... but if these are all the benefits I expect from a wife, I admit honestly
that I can't take one that way, as one takes a dog to be a watch dog or a horse to plow.All this led me to play a joke, good or bad? I don't know.
Everyone preaches marriage to me, some by conviction, others in
recommending to me a niece or a cousin as a most excellent person. When I went to a farm, the girls would push out a chair for me and had all sorts of attentions for the farmer who had no spouse, but one hundred seventy-five acres, two horses, and four cows. All this finally annoyed me, and one day when Cramer, a real newspaper, broached this subject with me again, I told him with great sang-froid that I had a wife in Europe but that I'd left her. He didn't fail to gossip, and now I'm known as a married man who abandoned his wife. The uncles and cousins don't talk marriage to me any more, and when I go into a house where there are girls to be married, they look at each other with a very funny expression, a bit as if they had drunk castor oil or aloes, and leave me alone.

Sept. 17, 1857 The newspapers confirm the big news of the day: the stockholders of the Swiss colony have approved their agents' purchase of all the land downstream from Cannelton. They bought 20,000 acres in all, including 4,000 on the banks of the Ohio, where they plan to build their town ... These immigrants are a kind
of white socialist ...

Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nov., 20, 1863 We've had some rough days since the battle lost at Chickamauga, almost nothing to eat, our clothes worn out, no blankets or coats, no tents, despite the rain and frost... . Nothing is comparable to the cries of joy given by the whole army at the news of the election results. It was ten o'clock at night and everything was quiet. Suddenly unrestrained hurrahs woke us and the news arrived: a majority of 70,000 in Ohio, 15,000 in Iowa, 50,000 in Pennsylvania; the army went mad with enthusiasm.

Murfreesboro, Jan. 4, 1863 We have been before the enemy constantly; the weather has been bad, often cold, we are without tents and often without fires, we have often had to fight... At the first free moment I had, I went to find and bury our slain comrades, which we did last night by moonlight.... Ten days ago we were about four hundred; yesterday we drew rations for two hundred ten men; so far we have counted a hundred and fifty-one dead and wounded ...

Murfreesboro, Jan. 9, 1863 Dear good Mother, I must not hide it from you, this war is costing a lot of blood and we aren't supported by the North as we should be. Our regiments are melting away and aren't being replaced ... We aren't discouraged... but we consider
ourselves more or less as sacrifices.

December, 1863 ... our rations are growing fatter. Recently we were also given pants and jackets ... I would never have thought that the human body could withstand what we have endured. We have often had very bad weather, heavy frosts, and my whole wardrobe consisted of a cap, one light and worn jacket from which I ripped out the lining long ago to clean my rifle, a shirt, one pair of pants and solid shoes... . An old sack ... served me as bed, coat and raincoat for six weeks... What has tormented me most are the lice.

June 30 to July 7, 1867 I had hardly taken up my pickax and my book again before I again had to put them down for a few days. Old Cramer, who greeted me so well and helped me when I came to the region, has no one at home now but his sick wife and a younger son. His eldest son died a long time ago, the second is employed at Rockport, and his daughters are married; he can't work any more and he needed workers to work on his farm. But day laborers often quit just when one needs them most, everyone having his own land to cultivate. So he wanted to hire a man by the month, and looked for a week, offering eighteen dollars with laundry and food. He found no one. Then he went to Tell City, and to Cannelton, where there are people out of work, but they were craftsmen, too proud and too awkward to work in the country.

Finally he found a young and robust Negro whom he hired for eighteen dollars a month, and with whom he returned home last Monday. On the way, he stopped at an inn, where, in passing, he had a glass of beer with his new worker. The innkeeper, indignant, went to Fulda, where he related with horror that Cramer had (in his inn) drunk with a Negro who was going to work for him. The people of Fulda resolved not to suffer what they called such an outrage to the community. They visited all the houses for miles around and gathered together forty or fifty individuals, willingly or by threats. At night there was a meeting, they named a captain, and the company, armed with horns, casseroles, whistles, rattles, and other harmonious instruments, came to give an infernal concert, at eleven o'clock at night, to poor old Cramer, almost seventy years old, and whose wife is sick. After this overture, they made him come out, and the captain notified him that the people of Harrison gave him forty-eight hours to send back his damned Negro, and that if by that time he hadn't left the region, they would take him by force, if he was still in the township, and take him to the border.

Cramer asked them to let him stay at least until the crops were in, at which the lieutenant of the troop answered that the crops could rot where they stood, but that the damned Negro would be seized by force at the given hour and taken out of the township. John {Rimert told me this story when he came back from the sawmill Tuesday night, and he added that these people were determined to execute their threat the next day, and that the troop would be even more numerous.

Early Wednesday morning I was at Cramer's, whom I hadn't visited
since my return from Europe, and offered him my services. You are the first, he told me, who has dared or wanted to come to me as a friend since Monday. At my arrival, he dismissed the Negro, who, forced to leave the house, trembled with fear and was afraid to appear on the road in the midst of an enraged population. I asked
Cramer to keep him, telling him I wanted to go get advice
from the judge at Santa Claus, and to bring some men to protect him or bar the road to these villains, if they dared to return. But Cramer was so frightened that he didn't want to agree. I have never forgiven myself for not following my first impulse, but too much imprudence and reasoning have sometimes led me to act in a way to make me reproach myself later. If harm had come to this black, I never would have pardoned myself, anymore than if, able to save a drowning man, I didn't.

So I brought this Negro home to comfort him, for terror had made him sick, and he was vomiting violently. Then I went with him to consult the judge, and to look for work for him. I left him in a safe place while the judge and I went to Cramer to find out the exact
facts. In the afternoon I brought the black back to my house. It was a big holiday for the Catholics, they were making music, setting off firecrackers, and the bells at Fulda were chiming. The Lord bishop had come to confirm the children. Many people I met asked me where I was going with this damned black. I said I was
taking him home where he would be protected.

The story was soon known everywhere, and made quite a fuss in
Fulda. Six old soldiers offered me their services, and Jack Hehr of the 32nd went to Fulda on reconnaissance....

July 4 The business of the black has ended happily; people make
fun of those who were punished, and they themselves quarrel and reproach each other. The same week a Negro was murdered in the middle of the day in the streets of Evansville, just for being black ...
Those who helped me did it from personal friendship rather than from love of justice... . The Negro must stay in his place, that's the common refrain ... as if the place of us all is not on earth and soon below it.



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