Letters donated to Cape Fear Museum show rare look into slavery

Letters donated to Cape Fear Museum show rare look into slavery
The letter revealed that one of Bettencourt's slaves had been caught on a ship, fleeing to New York. (Source: Cape Fear Museum)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The Cape Fear Museum now has two letters that provide a look into slavery in New Hanover County in 1849-1850.

According to the museum, Jason Schalfer used the letters as a teaching tool for students in his social studies classes. The Schalfer family offered to donate them to the museum, which was approved Feb. 3, 2020.

One of the letters was written by the mayor in Norfolk, VA to William C. Bettencourt, a slave owner in New Hanover County. The letter revealed that one of Bettencourt's slaves had been caught on a ship, fleeing to New York.

The letter goes on to explain that George Walker and a companion snuck onto the boat three days before it left Wilmington. They were discovered when they ran out of food and water and made themselves known to the ship's captain.

The captain turned around and took the schooner back to Virginia to hand the men to the authorities.

The letter to Bettencourt requested he go to Norfolk to prove ownership of Walker and to tell the owner of the slave, Thomas, he was also in custody.

The letters document, in detail, what the men took with them. It seemed Walker was more prepared and was described as intelligent.

The second letter donated to the museum was from Walker to his master asking for forgiveness, though it is unclear whether it was dictated or if he wrote it himself. It follows the rules of polite letter writing, asking about Bettencourt's family.

The second letter donated to the museum was from Walker to his master asking for forgiveness, though it is unclear whether it was dictated or if he wrote it himself.
The second letter donated to the museum was from Walker to his master asking for forgiveness, though it is unclear whether it was dictated or if he wrote it himself. (Source: Cape Fear Museum)

There are many unanswered questions surrounding the letters, but the Schalfer family donation allows the museum to show a rare example of a piece of writing that documents an enslaved person’s experiences in their own words.

Click here to read more from the Cape Fear Museum: http://bit.ly/2S1NwdF

Copyright 2020 WECT. All rights reserved.