Martha Douglas

Enslaving the Home

Martha Martin grew up the daughter of Robert Martin—Congressman and one of the richest enslavers in North Carolina, claiming more than 800 African American people as property. The enormous wealth accrued from forced labor afforded Martha a robust education and access to some of the most powerful suitors in America. Among them was Stephen A. Douglas of Quincy—a fast rising star when he married her at her father’s North Carolina slave labor camp in 1847.

The Martins also oppressed and enslaved Black people at their Mississippi slave labor camp, which they offered to Douglas as a dowry. Douglas declined because of the political implications, but Martha claimed as inheritance the Mississippi slave labor camp the following year. Neither Stephen nor Martha ever lived there, but Stephen was an active participant in its maintenance —including supervising the violent oppression and sale of enslaved people. Their situation presents a stark image of an antebellum white enslaver’s conception of home as a remote location where most residents were claimed as mere chattel property.


Object label:

A Letter from Mississippi

A letter to Stephen A. Douglas from Martha’s Mississippi slave-labor-camp manager detailing the violent methods used to control and oppress enslaved people.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Letter Transcription:

Martinsville, Miss. Jan 25th 1853.

My Dr Judge.

Yours of the 4th Inst. has been recd. I was vary glad to hear from you & that you will be hear soon or at least this spring. it is vary nesesary that you should come as soon as you can. I find that I can not do any thing towards administering in your name. the best way is for you to come & administer on the estate. & and put me in possession with sefishent power so that I can protect your property. Buckley has stoped me again from all roads & pass ways to the lower plantation. I have nough to do my pasing by skifts up & down the river. though mr Goode tells me that the Injunction is still in forse & and I shall make the attempt to morrow to pass again on the road though they for bid any one passing. I understand their grounds is that they is no proper representive here to answer for the estate & thare fore they shall be no passing. the above throughbly causes me a grate many disadvantages pleas to come as soon as you can.
Buckley is Chancelor him self. thare for our biziness would have to be taken before chancelor Scott of Jackson whitch would gaive us more troughble & expense. thare for I must do the best I can & let every thing by still until you come. he Run as a states man states rites man & against paying the union bank bonds &C. against 4 other small Lawyers that was union democrats except one was a whig. thare fore the weeke party of this district elected Buckley. I have not had any opertunity of shiping the crop yet but think I will soon.
I am geting on vary well with my work. I think I have got the best oversear I have had yet. some of the negroes has bin troughblesome lately Nezer drew his ax on the oversear & driver & has run a way the oversear set my dog on him that I have trained for negroes he cut him nearly in 2 with his ax.
Mrs Branch of Gorgia the sister of Mrs Martin has sent her negroes hear by her yougest son & sonen Law Mr Morris. to settle them in this neighborhood or to sell them as they think best & they have concluded not to settle them but to sell them & is vary
anxious to trade them to you as tho negroes begs them to so had to trade them to you as you have their relations. 2 of them are sisters to Joe & Julia one of them has 6 Children the other has 7 makes 15 in the 2 families & then one likely youg wooman besides makes 16 in all and all vary likely. your negroes also begs for you to by them. they say for the sake of selling them to you to be with their relations they would take any of your negroes in place of theirs. I would think this to be a good arrangement. they are willing to have theirs & yours priced by any 2 or 3 disentered rested men that would be good Judges of negro property. you owns the mother Brothers & sisters of the 2 wooman that has 13 children this would be all of Yeakes family. I think this would be a good arrangement for your children as you can have the power to act for your children same as your self after being appointed gurdend. as it is likely they will [crep] them in the neighborhood afiew weeks they want you to wright them as early as possible, they boath apear to be fine men. John Broash has bin dead abote 2 year that use to live on this place. Mrs. S & children joins me in our best regards
Jas Strickland


JAN 27

Hon Stephen. A. Douglas. U.S.S.
Washington, DC

Via New Orleans

Martinsville, Miss

James Strickland About your plantation

Jany 28/53

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