Sometimes a document raises as many questions as it answers. The letter below was found in a file that otherwise contained Samuel Williston’s business receipts from several years surrounding 1870. We are not even sure of the writer’s name. My best guess is F. A. Cannon, but it could also be Gannon. As can be seen in the facsimiles at the bottom of the page, the C or G in the author’s signature is drawn differently than any other capital C or G in the document. If any reader is expert at handwriting analysis, please feel free to jump in.
One surmises that the writer might be a former slave. He is a railroad worker in Georgia; he has had some education, until the “Legislature countermanded the order.” In the post-Reconstruction period, many Southern States, including Georgia, actively sought to end the federally mandated programs benefiting African Americans that were imposed following the Civil War. But we don’t know for sure. A small number of African Americans enrolled at Williston Seminary as early as the 1870s (see The Center of All Days). We do not have Principal Marshall Henshaw’s response to the letter. The fact that it was saved with some of Samuel Williston’s financial records suggests that Henshaw might have referred the request to Williston, who sometimes assisted needy students out of his own pocket.
But for whatever reason, F. A. Cannon never attended Williston Seminary. Could his age have been a bar to his enrollment? A student already in his mid-twenties beginning a course of study would have been unusual. We may never know.
Here is a transcription of the letter, followed by a reproduction of the manuscript:
McIntyre Central Rail-Road
Wilkinson County, Georgia
July 24th, 1870
Prof. Marshall Henshaw
After having noticed your publication which offers a liberal opportunity to indigent young men to obtain a good education, I wish to make some enquiries concerning the cost of board &c. I think you stated in your publication that board could be obtained at cost – please write me what will be considered cost of board there, whether the first cost of the provision or what it will cost to prepare it for the table. I was a student that received some of the benefits of the State Aid. I remained until the Legislature countermanded the order which was done last July since which time I have been teaching but finding myself somewhat deficient in Greek Latin & Geometry &c I would like to enter a good school next year that will be cheap in board tuition books & clothing. While I was a student under the State Aid I boarded in bachelorum, but I did not like the mode of living. I procured board by that means at about 7 or 8 per month. You will please tell me what it will cost to pay my expenses at your school one year & what plan I may pursue to enter &c. I guess I shall have some money christmas after paying my expenses for this year. Please let me know what you can do for me whether I can obtain the advantages of your bonus or not. I can obtain any certificate of morality you may require. My age is about 25 which seems very old to go to school but at the same time I feel the need of about 5 years hard study if I were only able to get it. Respectfully,
F. A. Gannon
N.B. Please give me the best advice as regards my condition and the opportunity offered to obtain education, &c.