“Send me word . . .”


I recently arranged and described the papers of Cynthia Beverley Tucker Washington Coleman, a member of the prominent Tucker & Coleman families and co-founder of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (known today as Preservation Virginia).


Portrait of Cynthia B. T. W. Coleman, Special Collections Research Center

The collection is comprised of (but not limited to) correspondence, financial/legal papers, writings, and artifacts. It covers a multitude of subjects, such as familial relationships, friendships between and among women, births, deaths, social conditions of Williamsburg and surrounding areas in the 19th century, the College of William & Mary, education, and slavery.

While processing the collection, I constantly came across letters or documents I found particularly interesting and insightful, but none made an impact on me the way one particular letter did.  On September 15, 1875, a gentleman named Joseph Gray composed a letter to Cynthia. In it, he inquires about specific people and wonders how “all the old heads of Williamsburg” are doing.  But what struck me was the last sentence of the letter’s front side; “Please to Send me word How old I am and what year I was Born.”

Why did I find this statement particularly powerful? Because Joseph Gray was born a slave and served Cynthia’s family, and he was asking for basic information most of us know about ourselves.  Please find Joseph’s letter below.

Front side of Joseph Gray's letter (MS00007/Box 1 Folder 21)

Front side of Joseph Gray’s letter (MS00007/Box 1 Folder 21)


Back side of Joseph Gray's letter (MS00007/Box 1 Folder 1)

Back side of Joseph Gray’s letter (MS00007/Box 1 Folder 1)


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