This letter was written by War of 1812 Veteran, 74 year-old James Edmondson Barroll (1789-1875) of Elkton, Cecil County, Maryland. This letter pertains to the arrest of his son, John “Leeds” Barroll (1830-1866), the publisher of the Kent Conservator newspaper, on 17 April 1863, for the re-publication of an article that was judged to be treasonous. ¹ Barroll and the author of the original article, James L. Downs, were arrested and taken to Fort McHenry ² where they were treated as traitors, not allowed visitors, and never even informed of the charges against them. They were transported immediately to Harpers Ferry and then marched to Newtown, Virginia, where they were released and informed that if they dared cross Federal lines, they would be treated as spies.
The letter was addressed to Leeds wife, Eleanora Keene (Horsey) Barroll (1835-1905) who had, by the time of this letter in 1863, three living children: John Leeds Barroll (b. 1856), Hopewell Horsey Barroll (b. 1859), and Eleanora Lennox Barroll (b. 1862).
In a subsequent letter written much later (27 December 1864), James E. Barroll told a friend that his son Leeds was “hurried off to prevent interference by me to get him released, robbed of his carpet bag & his small sum of money” and taken to “Dixie where he knew no one.” We learn from this 1864 letter that Downs, the editor of the St. Mary’s Beacon, “was liberated (permitted to return), without Leeds accompanying him, although the latter had been deported for merely copying the obnoxious piece of the Beacon’s. The secret of the release was Downs got off by bribery.” James E. Barroll added, “I have proof of this. He [Downs] paid $50. I wish I could have known this in time for Leeds to have joined him in returning. I would cheerfully have contributed; but I suspect Downs never took office in Dixie [while] Leeds did, poor fellow, to escape starvation & could not return during the war without the additional consent of President Davis. There is no principle in law to hold an accessory after letting off the principal—but I suspect his holding office under Winder [in the mail service at Richmond] is the why and the wherefore of his detainer.”
For those readers with the patience to read it, there is a scholarly honors thesis posted on-line under the title, “A power unknown to our Laws”: A Study of the Effect of Federal Policies on Border State Unionism in Kent County, Maryland 1861-1865, by Brandon P. Righi of Washington College (2007). It provides an excellent setting as background to this letter.
Holly Hall, Elkton, Maryland
21 April 1863
My Dear Madam, Mrs. Leonora Barroll,
Kind-hearted Doct. [Peregrine] Wroth was good enough to address me a letter dated Friday [April] 17th about the hurried arrest of poor Leeds for copying a piece [in his newspaper, the Kent Conservator] from a St. Mary’s [Beacon of Leonardstown, Maryland] paper which our despots held to be treasonable. This letter never reached me until 6 o’clock Saturday evening. I had received my papers & other letters in the morning but this never came to me until the last train for Baltimore had left here three quarters of an hour. No train goes south on Sunday. I took the first train that stops here on its way through on Monday, 18th, half past 10 A. M. I suppose poor fellow he was hurried off without $5 in his pocket and without decent clothes and no overcoat even.
I started for the purpose of seeing him & trying to get him released on his parole, becoming his security that he should suspend the publication of any more objectionable matter and should report himself whenever required to do so to the man of unpronounceable name—the stench of which from its similarity in sound to another animal is more offensive to me than Beast Butler—under a penalty to me by failure to do so of some thousands. This was the belief here by everybody such would be the course and he soon released. Failing to get him released, I wished to see him at all events and supply him with money and clothing.
When I reached Baltimore & on my way to the Mansion House [at the corner of Fayette and St. Paul Streets] to deposit my bag and on to Mr. [Orville] Horwitz‘s office [at 38 St. Paul Street], I was stopped by Mr. John S. Gittings and Mr. [D. C. H.] Emory of Queen Ann’s [County] who told me that this infernal monster—worse than the [Louis] Legendre, [the] butcher of Robespieree’s reign—had hurried the poor boy off early on Sunday morning before any friend could see him. I could not believe although I called & got a [Baltimore] Sun where I saw it so stated.
I went to Mr. Horwitz and urged him to go with me before General Skunk [Robert Cumming Schenck]. He declined as being of no use as Leeds was gone beyond recall, that no one would go with me in my state of feeling, that I would be arrested and have my property confiscated. The villains (I hear in the city) are inaugurating this reign of terror in all the border states and mean to confiscate all who do not take their vile oaths. I wanted to brain the monster Skunks [Schenck] and let him know he was starving three little children under 7 years of age dependent for support on their father’s daily labor with such assistance rendered by their friends.
I intended going over on Tuesday to Chester Town but I reflected I should find the town filled with people and I should be annoyed by everybody forcing underived talk with me in a very bad state of mind; indeed, I found this too much the case in Baltimore where even at the dinner table where were two officers an unwilling conversation was forced on me and I expressed myself most bitterly upon the vile monster Skunk [Schenck] & [Hamilton?] Fish for forcing a poor boy with neither money in his pocket nor clothing proper on his back on such short notice before a friend could render him the slightest assistance, deporting him hurriedly to Dixie where he is unacquainted with a human being as far I know, leaving his children to suffer. I denounced them as the vilest scoundrels and hoped as retribution was certain their evil prototype would broil them well for it hereafter. I hardly can repeat here what I did say. Suffice, my friends advised me and my landlord concurred in thinking I had better return home which I did on Monday evening. They arrest anyone for the slightest pretext and no friend can see him & off he goes without preparation at once to Dixie.
I wish you to reflect upon the following proposition and announce to me your wishes before I go down to Chester Town. A few days will men the roads and the crowd will vacate your town. You and your children shall have a home with me and come here to fare with the rest of my family. If you do this, the rented house will be given up and I suggest the furniture be sold and the Press which is my property be sold by Judge Chambers or if he thinks it too small business for him, then by Josey [ ], the friend of Leeds. When turned into money, shall be expended upon clothing for yourself and children and will relieve me at so much. The house rent and pork &c &c saved by your coming here would go far in clothing. I do not insist upon this. I leave you free agency. If you have thought of any plan or your friends in Chester Town have suggested anything you can do to help yourself and you wish to remain, you will want the furniture and I will still pay the rent, find the pork, and do what I can but I cannot undertake to support entirely another family not living in this with me, Here, house rent will be saved and I hope always to have enough of good food & my chief expenditure would be clothes.
Whatever Leeds wished you to do—if he said anything to you—I wish you to observe. Reflect, make up your mind, & let me know when I will come down. Of course I expect to pay for the moving and will hire someone in Chester Town if you conclude to come.
George Vickers, Esqr., has just sent me his check on the Farmer’s & Mechanic’s Bank of Chester Town for $46.26 which comes opportunely. I have endorsed payable to you and hope it will relieve you until I come down. (Here enclosed.) The Bank will give you the money for it by endorsing your name under mine. Believe me feelingly your friend and that of your children, — James E. Barroll
Thank Doct. [Peregrine] Wroth for his friendly letter, consult him and Judge [Ezekiel Foreman] Chambers and young Mr. [Joseph Augustus] Wickes, your husband’s friend. Please suggest to them for me. I claim the furniture by a receipt if not by a bill of sale prepared by George Vickers who then acted for me. I claim the press having paid for it $260. I gave Leeds the use of it & made him sign a receipt to give it up to me when I called for it. If anybody contests, I can find this paper by a search among numerous unassorted receipts which may take a little time but I know I have it. I have mentioned this in a letter to George Vickers just written in acknowledgement of his check. Mr. Vickers knows the furniture & press are mine; also the law books & book case, tables, and chairs in the office.
I mention above names to you as advisors as they are friends your husband relied on. Show them this letter. I hope no one will touch this propery & it must not be done without a lawsuit in my name.
Enough for both of us at present on this painful subject, — James E. Barroll
I feel much the sad infirmities of old age and I find it hard to write with the facility of younger years. God bless all our old friends in Chester Town. One is worth a thousand new ones in this age of ? Wroth, Chambers. & the Wickes are worth all the rest.
¹ An article appearing in the Trenton State Gazette on Friday, 24 April 1863, under the heading, Freedom of Speech and of the Press, reads: “J. Leeds Barroll, Esq., editor of the Kent County (Md) Conservator, and James Downes, Esq., editor of the Leonardstown (Md) Beacon, have been arrested and sent South beyond the Federal military lines by order of Gen. Schenck, on the charge of publishing an alleged disloyal article, criticizing the system of arbitrary arrests now prevailing in Baltimore. If the Administration imagines that it is strengthened by the commission of these outrageous violations of the Constitution and laws of the United States, we presume it will follow up, through its military agents, the work of suppressing free speech all over Mr. Lincoln’s dominions, Very good; it is the last hair that breaks the camel’s back, and by and by the President may discover that he is not Napoleon, nor yet Emperor of the United States, and that his arbitrary acts may recoil upon his own head. — Newark Journal.”
Yet the Newark Journal published the following: “J. Leeds Barroll, Esq., and Jas. Downes, Esq., were open disunionists; they did not disguise their sympathy with the rebels, or their hatred to the lawful government of the Union; they did all in their power to stir up discontent in Maryland and to induce the people to resist the government and laws. Under such circumstances, we are at a loss to understand how they could have been treated more mildly. They have been sent to the people whom they admire, and can now give their personal aid to that cause they have advocated and defended. We could spare some more people of the same kind—they would do us infinitely less harm, in the ranks of the rebel army than they do now in the stirrers-up of sedition and treason to loyal states.”
² The Fort McHenry Prisoner Records indicate that “J. L. Barrall [Barroll] was registered on 17 April 1863 as a “political prisoner.” He was further identified as an “Editor, Kent County.”