Southwest Virginia Campbells

Website Created By Phil Norfleet

Home Biographies Essays Memoirs Personal Letters Wills


Letter of William Campbell of Santa Clara County, California to His Sister, Jane Campbell of Adams County, Illinois

Introduction by Phil Norfleet

The original of the following letter is in my possession and was obtained from the papers of my great-grandfather, John W. Norfleet (1833-1922) of Moniteau County, Missouri. He apparently obtained the letter from his mother, Margaret Campbell Norfleet (1803-1872), the younger sister of William Campbell (1793-1885) of Santa Clara, California.  A digitized copy of the original three page letter is provided at the hyperlink.

Wm Campbell Letter - Digitized Facsimile

I also include a transcript of William Campbell's letter.  For the sake of clarity, I have edited William’s letter to correct his spelling and some of his punctuation, both of which are atrocious, even by my low standards! Otherwise, the letter is presented exactly as written.

The letter, among other things, describes the trip William Campbell took to Illinois and Missouri to search out a location for a new farm. In the Spring of 1839, he and his family emigrated to Saline County, Missouri where he acquired a farm, which he successfully worked for a period of seven years. I have provided explanatory information regarding the various people mentioned by William Campbell in his letter through the use of footnotes.

Transcript of the Letter

To: Mrs. Jane Campbell [1]

Clayton, Adams County, Illinois

Muhlenberg County Ky, January 6th 1839

Dear Sister,

I got home the 18th of November and found all well, but at this time Sally [2] is laid up very bad with the rheumatic pains; the rest of the relations is all well. I have not saw Brown since I came home and I do not know how Mrs. Campbell is. I got to Mother’s [3] the fourth day after I started from your house, her [she] was well. She looks old and frail but is in good health & has enjoy[ed] general good health since she has been in that country. Sister Betsey [4] looks as well as I ever saw her; sister Margaret [5] had three children when I was there and has the fourth before I got home. She is so large & fleshy that you would not know her. Robert [6] was gone to the South with a drove of mules. Thomas [7] lives with mother, James [8] lives 70 miles from Mother in Saline County, he has four children & all daughters. When I got to Mother’s I found Margaret Jane [9] there but she was married the next Thursday to James Finley. [10] I went home with Tom to Saline County, 60 miles from Mother’s. I was better than two weeks at James’s & Mother’s.

I am well pleased with that country but I think that the Illinois is the best and if I was able I would prefer the Illinois; but in my situation I will go to the Missouri. I can get as good land as there is in the state at the government price, in as beautiful prairie as you ever saw in the Illinois 180 miles from the Missouri River on Blackwater, a good navigable stream for deconging [decongested?] navigation. I expect to move in the Spring. Ann and Joseph Lovell [11] will go with me. I would have written before now but Joseph and Ann had not determined what they would do. I want you to write to me next Spring as soon as I get out. I will start in April and if you can go to see Mother’s. Next Fall you must come and see me; I will be 70 miles from Mother’s near James Borough. Mother would be glad to see you. If you do not go to see her, you will never see her as she will hardly ever leave home that far.

John [12] is living in Greenville but talks of moving if he can sell. Charles [13] is at the same place in Hopkins. Beard [14] has moved from Elkton and settled on the road half way from where I live to Greenville. The prospect looks bad for a living, what Robertson is doing I do not know. If I do not write before I move, I will write as soon as I get to the Missouri. If I never see you again in this world I expect to meet you in Heaven where our troubles will be over. Ann, Margaret & Sally is all professors of religion.

Agnes joins with me in love to you & David and all the children.

/Signed/ W. Campbell 


1. Jane Campbell (1799-1861) is the oldest sister of William; in 1819 she married Captain David McCord Campbell (1794-1882) in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. David belonged to a different branch of the Campbell family and was a Captain in the Kentucky militia. In 1830 David and Jane moved to Clayton, Illinois where they ran an inn for many years. David McCord Campbell appears to have been the second cousin of Abraham Lincoln (on his mother, Nancy Hanks, side of the family) and at least one source has reported that Abraham Lincoln occasionally stayed at the Campbell’s inn. Sometime in the late 1850’s, David and Jane moved to Linn County, Kansas where they both are now buried. They had seven children, five sons and two daughters.

2.  Sarah (Sally) Campbell is William’s eldest daughter by his second wife, Agnes Hancock. In 1841 she married Asa Wallace Finley. They both accompanied William on his trip to California in 1846.

3.  The mother of William was Margaret Campbell (1774-1853). At the time of this letter, she had recently become a widow; her husband David Campbell had died in early 1838.

4.  Elizabeth (Betsey) Campbell was a younger sister of William Campbell; in 1829, she married William R. Givens in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. In about 1831 she and her husband, along with William Campbell’s parents David and Margaret, relocated to Callaway County, Missouri. William Campbell’s mother, Margaret, died in the Givens home in 1853.

5.  Margaret Campbell (1803-1872) was a younger sister of William. In 1832, she married the Reverend Abraham Norfleet (a Methodist minister) in Callaway County, Missouri. Margaret and Abraham had five children: three sons and two daughters.

6.  Robert Campbell was a younger brother of William. In 1831 he had accompanied his parents, David and Margaret Campbell, when they relocated to Callaway County, Missouri. On 14 May 1835, he married Mary Ann Allen. In 1852 Robert and his family emigrated to Oregon; they traveled part of the way in the wagon train led by Benjamin Campbell.

7. Thomas Campbell (b. 1816) was the youngest brother of William. In 1831 he also relocated to Callaway County, Missouri with his parents. On 25 September 1839 he married Martha West, daughter of Thomas West. Thomas Campbell and his family accompanied William Campbell on the 1846 trek to California.

8.  James Campbell (b. 1806) was a younger brother of William. In 1829, he married Sarah G. Bell; after Sarah’s death, he married Margaret Almirs Finley in Missouri about the year 1832.

9.  Margaret Jane Campbell (1820-1852) was William’s eldest daughter by his first wife, Sarah McNary.

10.  James Washington Finley (1813-1865) was the brother of Asa Wallace Finley, who accompanied William Campbell to California in 1846. In 1852, James Finley and his wife Margaret Jane, also went to California, traveling in a wagon train led by Benjamin Campbell.

11.  Ann Laurette Campbell (1817-1891) was the second daughter of William Campbell by his first wife, Sarah McNary. In January 1836 she married Ira Joseph Lovell (1811-1898) in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Subsequently, they moved with William Campbell to Saline County, Missouri in 1839. In 1852, Ann and Joseph Lovell went to California in the wagon train captained by Benjamin Campbell.

12.  John Campbell (1795-1875) was a brother of William. Like William, he operated a tannery in Greenville for many years. Unlike William, he remained in Muhlenberg County, dying in 1875.

13.  Charles Campbell was a younger brother of William Campbell. In 1839 he apparently was living in Hopkins County, Kentucky. Unfortunately, I know virtually nothing about his life.

14.  William Beard married Sally Campbell in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky on 24 October 1829. I am uncertain as to the precise relationship of this Sally Campbell to William Campbell of Santa Clara.