Southwest Virginia Campbells

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Letter of David Lee Campbell to His Father, David McCord Campbell of Adams County, Illinois

This letter is part of a collection of Campbell family letters preserved at the Genealogical Forum in Portland Oregon. David Lee Campbell (1824-1900) is a son of David McCord Campbell (1794-1882) and Jane Campbell (sister of William Campbell of Santa Clara CA) of Adams County, Illinois. At the time the letter was written, David Lee Campbell and his brother, James (1826-1910), had removed to California to seek their fortunes in the gold fields. However, finding that gold prospecting was not quite as lucrative as they had been led to believe, they soon went to work for their uncle Charles Campbell, brother of William Campbell (1793-1885) of Santa Clara County, California.

I have chosen to include this letter because of the rather candid and frequently disparaging comments that David Lee Campbell makes concerning his Campbell relatives in California. Where possible, I have further identified people mentioned in the letter through the use of explanatory footnotes.

To: David McCord Campbell

Clayton, Adams County, Illinois

San Jose, California, Oct 1, A. D. 1851

Dear Father,

In my letter to Brother I have written about California etc. Edward stated in his letter to me that the owner of the Southwest of twenty one will not agree to confirm the sale. I am very sorry, he thinks the other place will be compatible by and by. If I could go home now and we could consult together, and after weighing the collateral circumstances, then could find that a removal to California would add to our profit and advantage we could then come next summer. But I do not believe that I could come next year. As things now are I must have my money first.

If a man was settled here and had a good number of friends of the right kind he might do very well, in fact the worst difficulty now is to get land of good title and in a good location. I have been nowhere but in San Jose Valley and know but little of other valleys. I have heard of many other places that I suppose are nearly as good that could easily come at if we were there. I could find small valleys in the mines where a person could make money. But it would be rather a rough life to live. People here are not like they are in the States.

I believe Uncle William [1] is honest, he has a wretched wife [2] which tends to keep him under the weather. Uncle Charles [3] has been very kind to me apparently and he thinks he has done wonderful well for me, but I could not stand his pride and arrogance. [emphasis added by editor] He supposes that the world is divided off in classes and those who won’t work, dress fine & make a show are the first class. He thinks that his family are too good to work and too pretty and smart to be classed with working people. I generally say what I please to them. I tell them that if I knew as little as they do and had to depend on a Negro to live I would go on the county at once. They have always appeared kind to me and the family are wonderful anxious to have us move out.

Cousin Benjamin [4] is a very clever, honest good fellow I think. [emphasis added by editor] He is going to Missouri this fall and may come to see you. If he does live fine, don’t be uneasy, Mother can get a better meal in a half hour than they ever seen in California. Cousin David [5] farmed with us this year. He is a lazy prod, ignorant, good for nothing, dishonest scoundrel, and we have no doubt lost a thousand dollars by him this year. [emphasis added by editor] People here all have large views of there own importance and think because they have come to California every person ought to reverence them.

You must do the best you can. Go ahead with all your might and when we return we can settle on what to do. Brother writes that he will get some calves this fall. The first of July I sent you $200 on Page & Bacon of St. Louis and I hope you have it before now. You must write when you get it. If you should not get it let me know so that I could arrange with the Bank here to get the money.

My throat has hurt me but little since I came here and I hope it will now get better. I do not know how long I will stay here, possible until I start home.


/Signed/ D. L. Campbell


1.  William Campbell (1793-1885) of Santa Clara County, California.

2.  William Campbell’s third wife, Kiziah McKutcheon (d. 1856).

3. Younger brother of William Campbell of Santa Clara.

4.  Benjamin Campbell (1826-1907), son of William Campbell of Santa Clara by his second wife, Agnes Hancock.

5.  David Campbell (1825-1912), eldest son of William Campbell of Santa Clara.