The Huntington Library–in San Marino, California, by Pasadena–has scanned and made public a small collection of papers from the family of Roderick McGregor. This is the younger Roderick, son of Nathaniel M. McGregor and Susan Euphemia Mitchell, and grandson of John Smith Magruder, who in 1820 changed the surnames of his children to McGregor in the mistaken belief that Alexander Magruder the Immigrant was a member of Clan Gregor in Scotland. I have written elsewhere on this site about Nathaniel’s brother, the first Roderick McGregor, and other members of the family, and of those they enslaved. (See John S. Magruder & McGregor Slaves, under Slavery’s Legacy.) The elder Roderick lived on and farmed their father’s plantation in Prince George’s County, MD, while Nathaniel was a businessman in Washington, D.C.
The heart of the Huntington collection is a group of family letters from 1860-1862 (+ one each from 1857 & 1864). By that time, the elder Roderick had died and Nathaniel’s family was living at the plantation. Nathaniel himself went back and forth between “home,” as he calls it in the letters, and his official residence in a business district of Washington, D.C. Nathaniel’s son, the younger Roderick, was attending the brand-new Maryland Agricultural College, now the University of Maryland, and his absence from home occasioned the exchange of numerous letters with this father, mother, and siblings. The few surviving letters are deeply interesting, containing snippets of family life, with mention of a few of the family’s enslaved laborers, house servants, and runaways (including some identified elsewhere in family wills and estate papers). Here, too, are the various anxieties of wartime–approach of the war, efforts to find a political compromise, Union troops in the neighborhood, closed bridges and check-points, unrest among the enslaved, and, finally, a prediction that the plantation will yield no harvest as slaves begin leaving and Emancipation approaches.
We learn, too, that Roderick was nearly killed in some sort of accident in 1857; that one of his sisters was thrown from an overturning carriage; that his mother Susan (who had given birth ten times, with seven living children aged 12-31) was often unwell; that one young woman in the family’s social circle was “the most affected creature” ever seen; that the parents were religious and worried that Roderick was not; that Nathaniel generally frowned on the theater, but allowed his daughters to attend an adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy; and that Uncle Alerick (another of Nathaniel’s brothers, a school teacher) “has recovered from his frolic.” Sadly, we never find out what that frolic included, only that a man of his age should have known better.
I am working on updates to Magruder’s Landing, and will include some excerpts and analysis of the contents of the letters, but in the meantime you can read them yourself, right here: McGregor Family Correspondence.
Names in the letters include: Nathaniel Mortimer McGregor; his wife Susan Euphemia Mitchell McGregor; their children Helen Woods McGregor Ewell (Roderick’s oldest sister, married to her first cousin, John Smith Magruder Ewell), Margaret Eliza McGregor (married to her first cousin John Ridout “Ridy” McGregor, son of Alerick McGregor & Martha Potts Key); Susan Euphemia McGregor; Isabella “Bell” McGregor (later married to Thomas Somerville Dorset); Roderick Mortimer McGregor (later married to Margaret Elizabeth Bowie, d/o Richard Bowie, a relative); Agnes Woods McGregor (later married to Thomas Trueman Somerville Bowie, another relative); John Francis McGregor (later married to Frances Ellen Wallace); Susan E.M. McGregor’s brothers William Mitchell and John Mitchell (Uncle William & Uncle John); John Ridout “Ridie” McGregor; various neighbors and acquaintances; enslaved men Jack Bowie, Ned [Dodson], John Henry, George, & Sam; enslaved woman Bity or Bittie.
The collection also includes some later family material (up to the 1980s), a photograph of Roderick, and two of his report cards from the MAC.