|Course:||“Rise and Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
"The times here are very hard" wrote James Henry Edmonds to his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Blackwell, in April 1842. James and his wife, Betsey Blackwell, had moved to Cooper County, Missouri in the late 1830s from Virginia, with Octavia, Betsey's sister, and her husband. James' letter in 1842 was one of several written by him, Betsey, and Octavia to the rest of the Blackwell family, who remained in Fauquier County, Virginia. In these letters, they described their new lives in Missouri and enquired after their greatly missed relatives and friends.
James and Betsey did not fare well in Missouri at first and James had to write to Elizabeth Blackwell in 1842 to ask for money. He described how he had to buy everything on store accounts because he had no credit, and as a result, store owners charged him more than the normal price. James had sold three of his horses to pay for the journey to Missouri and his remaining horse had gone blind, further impeding him from making enough profit to buy some land. Reflecting on his misfortune, James advised Elizabeth to "tell everybody that wants to come here not to come if they have no money." In another letter written to Elizabeth Blackwell, her cousin, Sarah, also described the challenges of moving to Missouri, saying that "in this new country Virginians have to encounter many hardships and undergo many privations...all who are well situated in Virginia had best stay."
The Blackwells were one of many thousands of families who moved to Missouri in the nineteenth century. As described in "Westward Expansion", immigration began on a large scale after the War of 1812 reduced the Native American threat and as reports of prosperity in Missouri spread across the country. The letters do not explain why the Blackwells moved to Missouri, but usually immigration was motivated by economic reasons and possibly the Blackwell family was too big for them to all remain in Virginia. However, the Blackwell family would not have been the very poorest in society, for as James' description suggests, it was not possible for the poorest to move. The trip was costly, so the Blackwell family must have been relatively wealthy to be able to get to Missouri in the first place. James' letter also demonstrates that not all were immediately successful when moving to the new land.
Missouri settlers from the Old South brought with them the values of the society they had left behind. This meant that religion and slavery came to dominate Missouri life. Octavia wrote to Elizabeth in 1848 telling her that "we are not in a heathen land but we have preaching and praying in abundance." Betsey described in 1842 going to a church in Missouri and feeling delighted, as it reminded her of home. The Blackwells' views on slavery are not clear but it seems that some blacks, who could possibly have been slaves or servants of the Blackwell family, travelled with them to Missouri. Octavia included in her letters messages from "blacks" to their family and friends in Virginia.
Immigrating to Missouri posed challenges for the new settlers but life did not change drastically. Life still centred on births, marriages and deaths, with all three consistently mentioned in the Blackwell's letters. In addition, the health of each family member was still a main topic of conversation in the letters. Even though the Blackwells could not see each other frequently, family ties were still strong. Each letter contained a plea that their relatives in Virginia write back to them with all their news.