Chapter 4 - Letters between William M. Wheatley and Mildred Humes, 1857-58

William McCoy Wheatley came to Versailles, Missouri, in the summer of 1857. He and Mildred Humes met and courted at her family plantation Val de Moulin. At first they kept their relationship secret from everyone but Mildred’s brother Joseph, who carried letters between the lovers. William and Mildred were married in a double ceremony with Joseph in September 1858, and bought a farm in Johnson Co. In 1860, however, they moved to Pennsylvania.

Map

History

It seems that William came to Versailles to work as a bookkeeper. He seems to have apprenticed as a shoemaker in his father’s shop in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, and had already made one attempt to seek his fortune in the South: he had gone to work for the manager of an iron foundry in Rome, Georgia, but had had to leave with broken health as a result of a yellow fever epidemic. In 1857 he was 30 years old.

Mildred was 19, and lived with her family at Val de Moulin. Her father and eldest brother had died a few years earlier; she now had two elder brothers: Thomas (25) and Joseph (22), a younger brother James Edwin (Ed) (17), and a sister Mary Ada (13). Val de Moulin appears to have been a reasonably prosperous estate, with a substantial number of slaves.

William became close friends with Mildred’s brother Joseph (known as “Jose” or “Josie”), and it seems likely that it was through him that William and Millie met. We know nothing of their early relationship, except a tantalizing note by William anticipating the first anniversary of their first declaration of love:

[O]ught we not to celebrate our first anniversary at the cave, the spot where I first breathed my first, my fondest love? I loved you then, my darling, I loved you when you pressed my hand under the sycamore, but I love you better now.1

The date must have been late August or early September, 1857. The place must have been a cave near Val de Moulin, which Mildred had written about in a composition exercise at school in 1854. No doubt the occasion was some sort of picnic, which provided the lovers with their first opportunity to be alone.

Their relationship progressed very rapidly, despite the impediments that stood in the way of their seeing each other. It appears from that they found a way of leaving notes for one another in a portfolio; later, Josie acted as go-between. William had already planned to return to Northumberland to visit his family; perhaps he planned to return for good, and changed his mind after meeting Mildred. Shortly before he left in early October, he went to Mrs Humes and asked for Mildred’s hand. Her response was apparently positive, but not decisive: the couple still went to great lengths to keep their relationship a secret, and William solicited letters of reference from all his friends.

During his absence in Northumberland, he and Mildred wrote frequently, still using Josie as their go-between.

Notes to Chapter Four

  1. II.C.b.13 below.