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John Pinckney Catlett Letter, 3 April, 1858

Envelope for John Pinckney Catlett letter

This letter was from John Pinckney Catlett 1828-1902 to James Lafayette Catlett 1835-1880.  Both men were from Sevier County, Tennessee.  At the time the letter was written, John had moved to Moffetsville in Anderson County, South Carolina and he was writing to his brother back in the Fairgarden community of Sevier County, Tennessee.

I do not have a copy of the original letter.  Rather, the original letter was sold on eBay, and the individual selling the letter posted some abstracts from the letter.  The only image posted on eBay was of the envelope.

It has been difficult to determine the history of the Catlett family in Sevier County, and this letter is an important piece of evidence because of its identification of John Pinckney Catlett and James Lafayette Catlett as brothers.  It's certainly possible that "Dear Bro" was a term of endearment, but the simplest interpretation is that the two mean literally were brothers.  Given that they were brothers, we can make an informed guess as to whom their father was.

There were four Catlett men in early Sevier County:

  • John Catlett, 1783 - 1862
  • Richard Catlett, 1794 - 1837
  • Benjamin Catlett, 1797 - 1834
  • Samuel Catlett, 1798 - 1888

Conventional wisdom is that the four men were brothers, sons of Reuben Catlett.  I do not know what the basis of this conventional wisdom is.  For example, I don't if there was a family bible or a will or a deed or something similar that ties the four men to Reuben Catlett.  John, Richard, and Benjamin apparently all were born in Virginia (this is proven for John by the 1850 and 1860 censuses), and Samuel was born in Tennessee (this is proven by the 1850, 1860, 1870,and 1880 censuses).  If these four men really were the sons of Reuben, it suggests that Reuben moved from Virginia to Tennessee about 1797/1798.

This is a folded lettersheet. There's three pages of writing, on a single large
sheet of folded paper, from J. [?] Catlett to "Dear Bro'.
The dateline is Moffettsville SC Aprl 3d / 58 [1858]. The letter was
posted to Mr. James L. Catlett of Fair Garden, E. Ten.

Some abstracts: 

"I recd your letter on yesterday which I was very happy to receive & to hear
that you had good Luck in getting your stallion you never wrote whether
he was a rig [?] or a full stallion."

"I hatted to hear of you not getting any money of the county [?] if
Mr Alexander dose collect that  ...."

"I think I had better not send it by mail for fear of looseing it but I tell
you Gold is hard to get  the Banks is in a situation that Gold is hard to get."

"Bill swaped his race horse & got $175 to boot & sold for $200 to
Mr. Lattimore at Lowndesville  a very large Iron Gray  he wants a match for him."

"D.J. Tucker is keeping his horse he has got 3 or 4 more & has more promised
he wants you to send his Blood & a full pettygree has improved him very much."

"Oh yes I must tell you about my Negro Trade. I bought a Boy at Nanslow [?]
sale on last Friday 14 [?] years [?] old & stout boy almost big enough
to plough. I gave $760 for 12 mo after date with Int. from date."

"Cotton is worth about 71 cts  Negros sold very high  Boys brot $990 at 16 years
& Negro Girl with an child $1300 to $1600 & so on.
When Joel writes about that woman write to me. She would suit
Ma in the house & tavern [?] the field."

Most of my Catlett research efforts have focused on the next generation - putative grandchildren of Reuben Catlett, trying to associate each grandchild with the correct father.  It's an ongoing process, and I'm never by any means sure that I have it all worked out correctly.  In any case, John Pinckney Catlett and James Lafayette Catlett were of the generation to have been grandsons of Reuben Catlett, and the fact that they were brothers allows us to work out that they were sons of Richard Catlett.

We determine that Richard Catlett was the father of the brothers John Pinckney Catlett and James Lafayette Catlett by a process of elimination.  Namely, we eliminate the other three possibilities.

  • John Catlett the son of Reuben had a son John P. Catlett 1830-1859 (possibly also named John Pinckney Catlett).  The evidence is the 1850 census entry for the family in Sevier County, where John P. Catlett age 30 appears as the apparent son of John Catlett age 66.  John P. Catlett 1830-1859 and who died and was buried in Sevier County couldn't be the same person as John Pinckney Catlett 1828-1902 who lived most of his life in South Carolina.  Therefore, John Catlett the son of Reuben was not the father of John Pinckney Catlett and James Lafayette Catlett.
  • Benjamin Catlett the son of Reuben had a son James P. Catlett 1820-1894.  Benjamin died before the 1850 census. The evidence for James P. Catlett is therefore the 1850 census for Benjamin's widow Nancy Loveday and the 1850 census for James P. Catlett himself.  The evidence is indirect.  In 1850, Nancy age 50 was enumerated in the household of her son William Catlett age 33, next door to a household of one with Henry Catlett age 24 next door to another household of one with James P. Catlett age 30.  By the time of the 1860 census, James P. Catlett was no longer living next door to Nancy, nor even in the same civil district.  I wish the evidence were stronger that James P. Catlett were the son of Benjamin, but I still find it convincing.  Therefore, Benjamin Catlett the son of Reuben was not the father of John Pinckney Catlett and James Lafayette Catlett.
  • Samuel Catlett the son of Reuben had a son Rev. James E. Catlett 1834-1887.  The evidence is the 1850 census for the family, where James Catlett age 16 appears as the apparent son of Samuel Catlett age 52.  Therefore, Samuel Catlett the son of Reuben was not the father of John Pinckney Catlett and James Lafayette Catlett.

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This page last edited on 11 Sep 2011.