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James Woodrow, uncle of Woodrow Wilson


The Wilson Family was caught up in the great American Civil War in many ways. Some of the more mundane occurrences during the war often go unnoticed in history books, which is why this letter is particularly interesting. Dated from Glasgow, Scotland on 6 April 1864, the letter was written by Alex Henry, (an uncle by marriage of Janet Woodrow Wilson) to her brother, James Woodrow who lived in Columbia, South Carolina at the time. The letter reveals that Thomas Woodrow, Jr. of Chillicothe, Ohio, the beloved brother of Janet Wilson and James Woodrow, had sent funds to their uncle, Mr. Henry, back in Scotland, for the express purpose of purchasing clothing and other goods in Great Britain on behalf of the family living in the American South. Mr. Henry suggests it would be prudent to divide the shipment into more than one part, since it would have to make it through the blockade of Southern ports in order to reach the Woodrows and Wilsons in South Carolina and Georgia. The shipment would first go to Nassau, and then be placed on blockade running ships.

Alex Henry was married to Sarah Williamson, younger half sister of President Wilson’s maternal grandmother, Marion Williamson Woodrow. The letter illustrates the international reach the American Civil War had, and that the Woodrow Family remained in touch with their relatives in Great Britain some for decades after their immigration to the United States in 1836.

See below a transcription of the letter from Alex Henry to James Woodrow. The original is in the James Woodrow Collection held by the John Bulow Campbell Library at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia. Transcription by Erick Montgomery, Historic Augusta, Inc.

Glasgow 6th April 1864

My Dear Nephew

I feel great pleasure in informing you that I received a letter on the 4th inst from your Brother Thomas of dates 14th Decr/63 Janry and both dated from New York 20th March with a Bank Draft on Liverpool Value £120 to be used in getting the things most necessary you wrote for, to me Oct 3d 1863. The Bill I send for acceptance and shall lay it out to the best advantage for you. Perhaps it will be best to send the goods by 2 or 3 vessells so as give a better chance of getting all. It would be improvident to send all in one Vessell, what a disappointment and loss it would be if the vessell was caught running the Blockade. It will take a few days to get the various articles Bob packed and sent to your friend Mr. Murdock in Manchester but no time will be lost. When all is Bot I shall send you an Invoice of the goods and statement of cash accounts. I am only affraid that some of the goods may not be Suitable but shall avail myself of all information I can obtain for suitable goods. I will here give you an extract or two out of your Brothers letter.

“I entered into a dry goods Store in 1839 as clerk and four years after that commenced business and have ever sense been making a good living and accumulating a little surplus. I have also during that time had the great satisfaction of being able to assist my Brothers & Sisters. The war promises to be a long one. The South in my opinion cannot be subdued by Army and the North will not probably give up the control for some years.” Your Brother put off from time to time waiting for the gold to go down, but it has been gradually advancing and just determined when in New York to wait no longer.

He says he will only make this general remark upon your memorandum it would be well to get things that are durable rather than fine, the most necessary and useful first. If the venture shd. succeed I would like some months hence to remit to you a Similar amount to be expended for my Sister and family. They have not intimated that it is needed but it can do no harm.”

I hope this will find you and family and all friends well though perhaps your wardrobes be scanty. It would give universal pleasure if this bloody and cruel war was overruled by a merciful providence was put an end to and peace brought about on principles of justice and righteousness this what our ministers __oray for here and all the people say (not ___bly) Amen. I am happy to say all at home are tolerably well Aunt Sarah is just recovering from a severe sore finger (whetlow) was confined to Bed about 10 days the pain was very great but is now able to resume her place in domestic affairs Williams health is fair though his eyesight is still very dim Jennie is now engaged to a very excellent young man who is a Watchmaker and Jeweller on his on account and is to be married beginning of June Robert is still in a Warehouse in Town and was lately advanced to the salesroom from the counting house.

My Implant still sticks close to me and still obliged to use my staff. I rather think it will keep by me till my change come then farewell to all complaints. John I think I mentioned had gone to Sea. I hope by this time he is in Madras. I withstood his going to sea till I saw it was best to let him have his own way and committed him to the care of our Heavenly Father who cares for us all.

Your Brother suggest Insurance but leaves it to my own Judgement, I understand the risk runs from 75 to go __obt which is altogether out of the question in my approbation, will on what you found says regarding the Rules and Insurance to Nassau and shall do my very best to have them sent you and hope they will all arrive to your satisfaction. Aunt Sarah, William, Jeanie and Robert joins in kind regards to Mrs. Woodrow, yourself, family and all friends.

I am
My Dear Nephew
Your affectionate
Alex Henry

I acknowledged to your Brother his letter and Draft. A. H.

By the by I forgot to mention I sent you twice a lot of pieces of stationary &c &c & will enclose a 3d in one of the cases of goods.