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Title: Letter from J.B. Mitchell to Ruffin H. Thomson, December 20, 1866: Electronic Edition.
Author: Mitchell, James Billingslea, 1844-1891
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Amanda Page
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 25K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-05-24, Amanda Page finished TEI/XML encoding.
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Ruffin Thomson Papers (#3315), Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: Letter from J. B. Mitchell to Ruffin H. Thomson, December 20, 1866
Author: Mitchell, James Billingslea, 1844-1891
Description: 4 pages, 4 page images
Note: Call number 3315 (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Chapel Hill and Vicinity
Education/UNC Enrollments and Finances
Education/UNC Student Associations
Examples of Student Writing/Letters
War/Civil War
Personal Relationships/With Students and Friends
Editorial practices
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 5 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Transcript of the personal correspondence. Originals are in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved.
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Letters, words and passages marked as deleted or added in originals have been encoded accordingly.
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For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

Mitchell reports to former student Thomson that approximately 75 students are enrolled and that Chapel Hill, NC, has undergone many changes.
Letter from J. B. Mitchell to Ruffin H. Thomson , December 20, 18661
Mitchell, James Billingslea, 1844-1891

Page 1
Chapel Hill N. C.
Dec 20h/66

Dear Ruff

A few days ago I was gratified by the reception of a long letter from you. I had long since reckoned your name on my list of confirmed delinquents but if you will promise to do better in future I will erase it. It does seem as you say there is a strange fatality attending our correspondence for your letter in reply to mine from Columbus has never reached me. I am pained to see you so much disposed to melancholy because I am in the same condition myself & consequently unable to offer consolation. I cannot say that I percieve any light ahead. Those old wiseacres who during the war were always crying out, "Never mind Boys, keep a good heart. You know the darkest hour is just before day" have disgusted me with hope. I believe the only way to be happy now is to content ourselves with the old aphorism that "whatever is, is right"2 and endeavor to make the best of it. To day I know I am comfortably seated in a pleasant room before a cheerful fire, and outside all is cold & disagreeable the ground being covered with snow & sleet. I can remember the time when it was different, when I had nought but the ground for a bed and rocks for a pillow, and in this I percieve a blessing. But the blessing ends here and my limited vision is incompetent to pierce the thick darkness further. The future of the South is to me a mysterious horror and I decline to contemplate it. My imagination has not even yet shaped my own future but awaits

Page 2
the development of events. In College I am persuing an irregular course which comprises all the studies of the Senior & Junior classes with the exception of the Latin & Greek. Having but one year to employ here I thought I would during that time approximate finishing the whole course as nearly as I could. The inconveniences of an irregular course which before rendered it objectionable I now regard as reccommendations. Not wishing to enter into the struggle for College offices and distinctions the isolation which it affords, freeing me as it does from the boring calls & interruptions consequent upon such contests, is particularly agreeable. I am boarding at Dr. Malletts and occupy the office in his yard. All the Doctor's professional books remain in the office furnishing me an excellent opportunity if I were so inclined to learn something of Medicine. My present intention however is in favor of "the Law" though I have not yet fully decided upon that point. Next May I shall turn my back on College walls forever, & I allow myself the intervening time to arrive at a final conclusion. You desired me to give you some details in regard to this old place and I shall endeavor to do so. But I am puzzled to know where to begin. I suppose however, you would like most to know first if the old Ξ Chapter is yet alive.3 I am sorry that I am unable to answer you in the affirmative. Embarrassed by paucity of numbers & the scarcity of new material she was obliged to discontinue. We thought it was better she should die with honor than live in disgrace, rather than place the badge of Δ.Ψ. upon an unworthy member we surrendered our existence. There are now only two Clubs in College Ζ.Ψ. & Χ.Φ. As usual in such cases College politics set them at varience and they are at daggers' points. The number of students in College is very small

Page 3
not more than seventy five. Many of them have been soldiers and consequently are not very remarkable for orderly behavior. Of the old students there are only two besides myself. Will Reeves you no doubt remember. He was from Tennessee, in our class and your section. Jim Wall was in the Junior Class & ran for marshall against Josh Wright . I was not acquainted with him before but I like him now very much. Will Rencher graduated last June, delivering the valedictory. The old corps of professors are still retained and all look as well as ever. They are always glad to hear of their old scholars & take great pleasure in tracing their whereabouts. Old Gov. Swain during one of his lectures to us last session in speaking of Judge Ruffin mentioned your father & yourself & gave us the reason why you were called Ruffin . In the village there has been considerable change. Mrs. Hargraves' dwelling, Mr. Carr's store and Loader's large tailoring establishment adjacent to it, have been burned to the ground.4 Loader himself has for sometime been keeping a boarding house and running the hack line between this place & Durham. Old Mr. [Charles P.] Mallett has left his book store & gone to farming. His store is now the Post Office. Benton Utley 5 possesses the largest dry goods establishment in town & occupies the stand formerly owned by Mr. Mickle 6 whose circumstances were so much reduced by the war that he was unable to continue his business. He (Mickle) is the only one of your Creditors I have yet been able to see. He at first presented me the account with the first endorsement, but I told him I thought that probably you would be better pleased to have him make the estimate for himself and he then added the second.7

Page 4
Old Mr. Mallett is absent from the Hill & will not return in less than a week hence. Wayne McDade has not been living here for some time. He resides at present in Wilmington. I have not been able yet to find out the amount of the accounts with the Di Society, but I will do so as soon as I can. If you paid your account you would be entitled to a diploma it is true, but the Society has been so poor since the war that it has been unable to purchase them and I cannot therefore ensure your getting one. And now in regard to money which you have sent me I sincerely assure you that you would have pleased me much better by keeping it in your own pocket until more prosperous times. I had forgotten that you were in my debt. I am glad that Willie has become acquainted with you & I hope you will like him. He is a boy of a warm heart & an affectionate disposition & I love him earnestly. But he has his faults which I very much deplore viz, a violent temper & loose notions in regard to the truth of the revealed religion. The former I have no doubt age & association will correct, but the latter I fear the studies of his Profession are not calculated to remove. When religious convictions have not been firmly fixed in ones mind by long habit or right reasoning the investigations of Physical Science have a tendency to produce skepticism, and upon Willie who has not enjoyed the advantages of a liberal education I am apprehensive of the result. I am no Christian myself yet I believe in "the plan of Salvation" as firmly as any Divine, and it seems to me any man would be miserable who did not. The thought of annihilation is a horrible conception to me and I had rather exist in eternal punishment than die & be nothing. Now Good Bye, and let me beg you to lay aside some of your constitutional tardiness and gratify with an earl[y] reply—Your old friend

Please send me a Catalogue of the New School of Medicine8


1. Ruffin Thomson Papers, SHC. A second hand has written "[1866]" in pencil in the upper right corner of page one of the letter.

2. Alexander Pope, Essay on Man I, x (1733).

3. The Xi Chapter of Delta Psi was founded in 1854 (Battle 1:vi).

4. Margaret Barbee Hargrave (d. 1863) operated a boarding house that faced Columbia Street between East Rosemary and Franklin Streets. John W. Carr bought a lot on the northeast corner of Columbia and Franklin Streets in 1846. He built a house at this location, renting the upstairs rooms to students. He also erected a general store just east of the house (Vickers 59). Robert Loder had emigrated from England in the 1840s and with William Watson established a dry-goods store near the corner of Franklin and Columbia Streets. The store, stocked with military clothing, caught fire in mid-January 1862, and the fire spread to Carr's store and the Hargrave boarding house before it could be contained (Vickers 65).

5. Benton Utley had operated a dry goods store unsuccessfully in the early 1830s. He married Martha Hilliard, Nancy Hilliard's sister, and the couple helped "Miss Nancy " run the Eagle Hotel, which offered board to students. Utley's post-war dry goods business also must have failed because he and his wife together with Hilliard left Chapel Hill to operate the Exchange Hotel in Raleigh. When the hotel went under in 1872, the Utleys and Hilliard returned to Chapel Hill.

6. Andrew Mickle's generosity toward his neighbors during the Civil War bankrupted him. Though inflation raged after 1862, "Mickle refused to raise the price of his stock, even though the cost of replacement greatly exceeded his list prices" (Vickers 60). He kept the financially strapped community of Chapel Hill going but emerged from the war deeply in debt. His business and residence were sold at public auction in May 1867. Neighbors and relatives paid off the lien against the residence at the corner of Rosemary and Hillsborough Streets and conveyed the title to Mickle's wife Helen Norwood Mickle. Andrew Mickle was named magistrate of police in 1870 and, in 1875, bursar for the University. The Mickles remained in their house until 1882, when they moved to Texas to live with their son Joseph (Vickers 60).

7. Enclosed in Mitchell's letter is a one-page itemized statement of what Thomson owed merchant Andrew Mickle. The statement includes charges from July 1860 through January 1861 that total $90. Mickle ends the statement with the endorsement that"owing to our Misfortunes I am willing to take what Mr Thompson may think right." Evidently at Mitchell's urging, Mickle added a second endorsement: "It has been suggested that I had better fix the amt I am willing to take in settlement of the above claim, I will take Sixty five Dollers and recept in full."

8. The postscript appears along the right margin of the fourth and final page of the letter.