“I Hope You Will Be Successfull in Your New Home and Luck Well”: Letters of a Black Family in the Early 20th Century, Part IV

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

This is the fourth installment of a five-part series on the Jarrett family letters at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Today we return to the story of the Jarretts, a farming family in the small town of Shiloh, Georgia. The Jarrett collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society consists of five letters to Homer Clifford Jarrett (1882-1959) from family members, primarily his mother Julia. The fourth letter was written on 17 July 1907. Below is a complete transcription. As before, I’ll retain misspellings but add sentence and paragraph breaks for readability.

Julia Jarrett letter to Homer Jarrett
Letter from Julia Jarrett to Homer Jarrett, 17 July 1907

Shiloh Ga.
July. 17, 1907

Mr. Homer C. Jarrett.

Dear son

I received your letter some time ago. This leaves the family well. Hope when this reach it will find you the same. I just received a letter from Claud. It stated that he was well.

People are slow on crops. We just started back to hoeing the second time Monday. The cotton is looking fine. Corn crop is slow. It is not going to be much corn made this year down here.

I dont think we all went to the district meeting last Saturday and Sunday at Shiloh Ga. It was helt at the A.M.E. Church. It was nice times up thair. On Sunday Shack Barney and Shurn Copeland got in fuss. They shot at one and other. Shurn shot at Shack 3 times. Shack shot at Shurn 2 times. But not one got hurt. Shurn is under a hundred dollar [barn]. They hasent got Shack yet but say they is going to have him.

Homer you must be a good boy and try to prey. The people is got to be so bad nowadays. I hope you will be successfull in your new home and luck well. Grandpa is well and sends his best regards to you often speakes of you. Lizzie sends love to you and many sweet kisses. Charlie eyes is something better. He is plowing evey day. Generous is gone back to cooking again. He is not at home now. Sister Cora and family is well. Brother Wilson and family is well.

I hasent got any ink this time. I will try to get some the next time I write you.

So good bye

Your mother
Julia Jarrett

We’ve met most of the family before. Homer’s brother Claud and sister Lizzie have figured prominently in our series so far, and Grandpa, Charlie, and Wilson have made appearances. Cora, another sister, was married to a man named Levi Whitehead, according to online genealogical sources. I don’t know who Generous was, but it’s a great name!

The handwriting of this letter differs from that of the first three. I believe Claud had previously transcribed for his mother, but since he was away, someone else took over the job. I can only guess who the new transcriber was, but I wonder if it might have been Julia’s young daughter Lizzie. We know she was (or at least had been) in school, and in July 1907 she would have been nine years old.

I hit a number of frustrating dead ends researching the details of this letter. I couldn’t find an African Methodist Episcopal church in Shiloh, but it may have closed, moved, merged with another church, or changed denominations. Today, there are more than 500 AME churches in Georgia alone. I also didn’t locate any contemporary accounts of the confrontation between the two men, Shack Barney and Shurn Copeland, and I couldn’t confirm the meaning of “barn” (or “barm”) in this context. I assume it meant bail or a fine.

But details aside, this letter touches on several interesting themes, particularly the precariousness of the Jarretts’ income from their cotton and corn crops. We also see Julia’s concern for her son Homer, so far away from home—concern not just for his physical, but also his moral well-being.

One thing I like about this collection and other family letters I’ve seen at the MHS is that they really give us a sense of how people talked to each other in their everyday lives. This is something that doesn’t come through as strongly in formal correspondence. Phonetic spellings tell us how Julia pronounced certain words: “helt,” for example. It’s almost as if we can hear her voice. I also love the expression “luck well” instead of “have good luck.”

Homer had been moving steadily northward over the course of the previous two years. By 1907, he had reached New England, and this letter is addressed to him at Farragut House, a resort hotel in Rye Beach, N.H., where Homer was presumably working. Farragut House, according to the 1907 publication New England Vacation Resorts (p. 67), was the largest and priciest hotel at Rye Beach, accommodating 300 guests and costing $5.00 a night. The building has since been torn down, but you can find picture postcards of it online.

In my next post, I’ll be concluding the story of the Jarrett family. I hope you’ll join me!