EARLY MARRIAGE (July 1854-June 1856)

William and Mary set up housekeeping in Sparta, TN at first apparently boarding with a family named King. They corresponded on five occasions over the next two years when Mary went home to Spencer to visit her parents. It was during this period that their first two children, Edwin and Lucius, were born and William obtained a license to practice Law. A letter Mary received from her mother, Elizabeth Billingsley Carnes, is included in this collection.
At some point after February 1856, William and Mary moved to Pikeville, TN, the hometown of Mary's mother, and William opened a Law practice. It was also during this period that Mary's parents moved to Knoxville where her father became president of the University of Tennessee.

King's Palace Wednesday night Dec. 20/54

My dear Mary,

For the first time, I believe, while bearing the existing relations, do I address you through the pen. How much more pleasing would it be to communicate what I have by conversation. How I wish you were here in our room! I have an excellent fire. Don't you wish you were here in order to escape those chilling mountain winds to which you are exposed? The weather has turned to be so bad, I am afraid you will not come down this week.

Mag, and I had a very cold side on monday. We did not, however, stop to warm at all. We arrived at Sparta between twelve and one o'clock. After entering my checks, I rode down to Mother's. I found her still very sick, though apparently better than when I left her last sunday. I heared from her this morning -- "she was much about the same". I do not know now certainly when I shall go to see her again. I am afraid the next news will be that she is worse. How sorrow I am for her; she suffers so much.

There is much enjoyment anticipated during Christmas times by some of the people at Sparta. On Christmas night the Sons of Temperance will have a supper. On wednesday following the Free Masons take dinner to which are invited all Mason's wives daughters (if single) and sisters. I wish you could be here. Will you come? If you have any notion of leaving me I wish you would tell me so now as it will be a favorable time to marry again.- - - - - - - - -

Just as I finished the last sentence Mr. King came in my room and talked till it is now past 9. I can't write much more as I have to carry it to the office. It is so late and cold I would not carry it to the office if it was to any body else. But as I desire to hear from you I will write that you may. - - - - I have an opportunity of getting some chairs - - - very good chairs I think. They are worth $2.50 per set. I want you to write whether you have bought Campbell's chairs or not or whether you will buy them. - - - Mrs. King seems to be doing well. I hope she may continue so doing. Mr. King seems quite cheerful this week - - - thinks of going to Shelbyville during Christmas holidays.

I think I will be up towards the last of the week. Do not be disappointed, however, if I do not, since, it is uncertain about getting a horse. I have a tolerable bad cold and "it is getting better".

But I must close. I am afraid Shackleford will be a bed when I go now. You will not fail to write to

Your affectionate husband

W.J. Hill


Sparta Dec. 27, 1854.

My Own Mary,

I want to drop you a few lines that I may communicate to you some things that I have not opportunity, otherwise, to communicate. And, first, I took the dimensions of our house, which are as follow, viz. the front room is 13 by 14 feet. The new room is 14 by 16 feet i.e. 14 ft. from E. to W. and 16 ft. from N. to S.

The Spartans have had and are having an extraordinarily exciting Christmas. The Masonic festival was numerously attended. We had a very fine dinner; prepared by Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. Miller. You were inquired about by many both males and females. I did want you there so bad! You would have enjoyed it so much. But, you are among those you like better; and are, therefore, happier; and your happiness is my pleasure, (provided you do not stay away too long.) I do not think I could be at all happy unless you were about. You know I could not. Do not think, however, that I am complaining because you are away now. I want you to write to me - - - pray for me, and come when you get fixed.

Your own loving husband

W.J. Hill

I wish you would engage some irish potatoes for seed, if in your power. I can never think of it when I am up there. There are none to be obtained in this country. Also tell Campbell to get us a puppy (a pointer). He told me he could get me one at Pikeville if I wanted it. I do not know whether I told him I wanted one or not. I will be obliged to him very much if he will get one for me. A dog is a very useful animal, especially among children; to say nothing about minding the pigs and geese out of the house. With these timely suggestions I again subscribe myself

Your affectionate husband

W.J. Hill


Sunday morning March 18, 1855

My dear daughter

I fear you are some uneasy on account of your father not getting to Sparta yesterday. He started yesterday morning early and went as far as the Cany fork but could not get over. He intended to cross in a canoe but it was on the other side and he could not make any one hear. He expected to cross in a canoe and then get a beast if he could. If not he was going to walk. Caincreek was also past fording and he was compeled to return home. I hope you will understand his not going, and not be uneasy. They are all gone to church. I am not very well and did not go. Joseph got home from the doctor yesterday. He crossed Rocky at old Esq. Yorks at a very shallow ford. The doctor sent for Sophia. They expected Lucies would hardly live until she would get home. She was almost frightened to death, for we had not heard that he was sick. His disease is scarlet fever. Joe was there from Thursday until yesterday. We do not know what the consequence will be.

Our lives are one continued cene of pleasures and disappointments. What a wise arraingement in providence. How kind our heavenly father is in thus arraingeing every thing for our ultimate good. The world perhaps would have a greater hold upon us if every thing was just as we could wish. We would almost forget that we are mortal. We should always recognize the hand of God in every dispensation of his providence and endeavor to be the character that can claim the promise that all things work together for our good. It is now after twelve - - they will soon return from church. I have felt to-day that it is profitable to commune with my own heart.

Sunday night

Old Mister Watson and brother Lankford was here this afternoon. Brother Watson appears to be a very intelligent christian. I trust we spent the evening profitably--the conversation was all of a religious nature. Mr. Uhlrich was here until after nine. The girls have been reading and singing all evening--they all seem contented and happy.

Monday morning

Brother Huddleston returned yesterday from Rocky river - he said little Lucies died Saturday night. Joe says they take it very hard - they have my sympathy. I know by experience it is a tender chord. Elly has the fever too, but I don't know how sick she is.

I baked you a great big cake in my big pan but could not send it. I was so sorry. Some of the boys gave Will a piece of home made sugar and he said he would rather sent it to you than to eat it his self. The children are all so anxious to see you but I do not know when they will have an opportunity. Mr. and Mrs. Livingston have gone to housekeeping. They occupy the house where Bentlys lived. I don't know how they are pleased for I have not cauled on them yet but intend to shortly.

Monday night

Mr. Clemance and Sarah came this evening and as I will have an opportunity of sending what I have written I thought I would finish it up. You will perhaps think you are getting the Spencer Journal but it is not the original, it is only an extra number. Your father told me to say to you that he would be there the third Sunday in April if he is not hindred by the high waters or something else unavoidable. I want you or Mr. Will one to be sure to write at least once a week if it is only a short note. I want to hear so much from you.

Ever your mother


Amanda says if you can send up them things she will work them at odd times. All send love to you all. Netty is just gone to bed. She says tell you good night. the bell has rung for nine. they are all gone and going to bed. I have not this much before I could not tell when. farewell for awhile.



Br. Bk. of Tenn at Sparta

June 27, 1855

My Beloved Mary

I was very much gratified to get your letter last night, informing me of your continued improvement. I was very uneasy about you, lest your walking to meeting on sunday evening might injure you. I desire very much that you may continue to improve. You know that I am very anxious for you to return. All the people seem to be desirous for you to get home. They are constantly inquiring about your health - - when you expect to come home, etc.

I am doing about as usual when you are gone. I gave out my clothes this morning to have them washed. I must brush up for the Masonic dedication, next saturday. There is a succession of exciting public meetings and public speakings to come off here. Masonic dedication next saturday. Candidates for representative, Monday. Celebration of the 4th of July, Temperance lecture by P.S. White, lecturer for the State, on 9, July.

The political excitement is no greater than it was previous to the debate. I expect it (the excitement) has moved to the country. The know nothings seem very cool. I do not think that the result suited them. From what I can hear Johnson made a considerable gain. A great many of his (Gentry's) own party have taken a stand against him. Many of the know nothings look like they were ashamed and I think many will withdraw. The candidates are both fine speakers. I think they are both eloquent. I was deceived in Johnson in that respect. I had heard that he was rather dry. But he had a powerful effect upon the crowd. I saw and heard of old persons that shed tears like children. His manner is rather grave - - he did not tell a single anecdote - - but he almost forces conviction. Gentry is more facetious - - his speech abounded in spicy anecdotes - - calculated to attract and please the people. His speech was made up in showing the dangerous tenets of the Roman Catholic religion and the corruption of the ballot box, occasioned by naturalized foreigners. He hoisted a considerable Scare-crow; but when examined it proved to be all "fox-fire and moonshine". Gov. Johnson showed very plain it seems to me, that the know nothing party would not affect any reformation. That the platform was composed of resolutions, which both the whig and Democratic parties had always been in favor of, with the exception of the one relative to foreigners and Roman Catholics holding office, and they do not want the constitution altered, hence its object is simply to vote against roman catholics, and foreigners as every one, almost, has been inclined to do always. If the number of years previous to naturalization be extended however far it will not remedy the evil of which they complain. There is a difference between naturalization and the elective franchise, or right to vote. Congress has power to make laws regulating the former and the legislature of each state the latter. Ohio, for instance, lets foreigners vote before they are naturalized. Then altering the naturalization laws would not protect the ballot box from foreign influence. Then the only good any one can expect to do by joining or voting with the K.N.'s is to put into power a parcel of hungry office seekers who had despaired ever succeeding again with their old principles.

The above was written at Bank. As I came on home I stopped at Add Young's store with Dr. Renshaw and some others and, of course, K. Nothingism was introduced. Directly Jo. Snodgrass, Lossan Carrick Colmes and Mr. Young, and all that passed the street was attracted by the controversy, and I have just got home after a quarrell of three hours. They are not as much down in the mouth as I thought they were, or at least they put on a pretty bold front this evening. I feel very much disgusted at the course pursued by the party here. I never saw as much corruption manifested, in all my life to-gether, as has been developed by the agitation of this question. I can scarcely believe any thing I hear. One thing I still believe is that there is such a thing as truth and right, and give them their weapons, liberty of speech and open discussion and they will, eventually, triumph. I may be wrong on this subject, but I feel prouder today of belonging to a party that, in the main, takes a stand against this order, than I ever did. It shows what kind of stuff the party is made of that it will stand up and battle for what it considers to be right notwithstanding the strong popular prejudice against it.

But I must stop this, and ask you to excuse me for writing so much about politics. You are not enlisted in this so much as I am. I am glad you are not. I wish I could attend to my own business and leave these things to those who have less to do. I intend to try to do so more than I have done. If you were here I would stay at home more and hear less of the jawering in town.

The health of Sparta is very good. I am hopes after the rains which we have had, the streets and gullies having been cleaned thereby, that we will have no more sickness of consequence.

It is getting night and I have to get supper. I will stop lest I be too late again. I wish you could pick up little Edwin and step over and take supper with me. I shall not have anything very rare, but I could do better if I had you to direct me. I shall endeavor to be patient till you come. God bless you and Eddy.

Your affectionate husband

W.J. Hill


Sparta Sept. 30, 1855

Beloved Mary

I have been hesitating for sometime whether to go to meeting to-night or stay at home and write to you. The question was harder to decide on account of the report that Mr. Stewart is to be married to-night to Mrs. Cody. Indeed, it is only on account of this report that I have any desire to go to the Methodist church at all for I scarcely ever find their meetings either instructive or interesting, especially, when Mr. Hickman or Mr. King preaches. I went to preaching to day as much to "kill time" as anything else; and heard Mr. King give a very soothing, "Soporiferous" sermon. I need not tell you that I have prefered to stay and confer with you. I learned from Mr. Willie Brogdon that you had the luck to get your buggy tine broken on that rocky ridge, but the good luck of getting it mended again. I did not hear of it till late saturday evening. I have had no uneasiness about you; feeling confident that if anything very serious had befallen you I would have heard it. I have no doubt that you have arrived safely at your fathers and are enjoying yourselves very much. I should like to be with you, if practicable. I would have gone yesterday evening if I had not sold victoria. It would be very agreeable to exchange my present solitude for your society and the society of those with whom you are associated. Some, who know of no better a state, may be contented and happy, alone; but for me it is impossible. I don't think I ever missed you so much when you were gone as I do this time. I do not know the cause unless my attachment for you is growing stronger. I am satisfied that the affections need something around which to revolve. With my affections you of course constitute that centre. Hence, when you are gone there is something wrong. It is like throwing a wheel off of its pivot. But, it is best, perhaps, for you to leave me occasionally, as I will be prepared to appreciate your return. But this is enough of love sick material.

Well, I have nothing else to tell you I believe. I have done very well in the way of eating. I finished the biscuits you baked me, to-night. You ought to be here to see me pitch in to making up bread in the morning. When shall I look for you? Must I come for you? How did the horse do? If you want me to come for you send the horse by the mail boy. Do not come unless you think you can come safely. I had rather come after you than for you to run any risk.

Court broke friday and there is a calm in town now. The Fair commences next wednesday. Will you not come home and attend? I shall exhibit our beet, I think. I want you to write if you do come home before the letter could arrive. I have nothing else to write about. Give love to all and especially to Nettie and Edwin. And I have already told you often enough, "how well I love you".

Then Good Night

William J. Hill


Sparta Dec. 26 1855

My Dear Wife

I have commenced writing but my pen is so bad I reckon I have to say howdy and quit. But I have found another one that runs a little slicker. I received your letter last night which gratified me very much to hear that you (are) well and enjoying your visit so much. I should like very much to be with you if my business would allow it. You supposed that I was having a very dull Christmas. Not duller than I expected. I stayed at home and read nearly all day. I was not at all unhappy. I could have gone to town and joined the merry crowd - - could have gone to the grocery and got "fancy" - - yelped and hallored like savages, as some did who thought, perhaps, that their cup of happiness was full. But to me this would be no pleasure. I prefer pleasures which are not so sensual - - pleasures of a more calm and elevated nature. But I will cease writing for awhile to milk and make ready for prayer meeting after which I will give you a little more.

The church bell has not rung. There will be no prayer meeting to-night, I suppose. I am not sorry for it, because it is so cold that few would go and that few would be uncomfortable unless there had been fire made sufficiently long to warm the church. I supposed, however, that there would be more regularity in our meetings since we have made arrangements with Bro. Wm. Dinges to attend to making fires and ringing the bells. I expect Bro. Nelson has prevented him this evening.

But I was telling you how I have been doing. I have done as well as I could expect when you are absent. Of course I feel a little lonely. Still I am more than willing to forego this little inconvenience for you gratification. I have not found it necessary to cook any yet except roast some potatoes. I finished the bread you baked for me to day. I was a bout to get "my heart set" upon some mush this evening but finding that the pots would be rather troublesome to clean I turned my attention to roasting potatoes again. I think I shall see how some corn mush and ice cream will go in the morning if I am not too lazy to clean the pot.

The greatest misfortune that I have suffered since you left is that I either left the kitchen door open one day when I went to the Bk. or somebody opened it and the calf came in and eat nearly all the potatoes Sarah washed for me. Another inconvenience is, I can't keep warm of nights. May be I will get used to it. I shall not look for you at all but will wait patiently till you come. I expect you had better winter up there if you want meat to eat; for I have not been able to get any yet. I have been actively inquiring since you have been gone but cannot find the man that will bring it in. I can hear of there being plenty however. I expect I shall have to wait till you come home and take the horse and buggy and go after some. It is very bad to be upon uncertainties as we are at present. I think that I shall pursue a different course. I shall lay my plans, so far as laying in provisions are concerned, as if I expected to remain here always. I think the trouble would be less that way than to be always without.

There is a party to night at Mr. Colmes'. What a pity Amanda is not here to go with Mr. F. But, then, I expect she would get sick. Tell her, (if she has got well) that I want her to let me know when the next party is to be and I will write a note over to George - - towns(?) if that will keep her from getting sick. I am sorry that she does so. I don't think I shall feel like fighting for her any more unless she treats my old friend Mr. G. better.

It is pleasant to write to you after this manner but it would be more profitable to me to be reading, and so to you unless I had something of more importance to communicate so I will quit. First, tell Nettie that Eddie may keep her for a Christmas gift. And, finally, I want to know if you, in truth are so rude as to desire to "keep me for a christmas gift". Love to all the friends and may the God of Mercy bless you and Edwin.

Your husband

W.J. Hill

Sunday Evening Dec. 30, 1855.

Beloved Mary

I said a little too much in my other letter to you concerning not looking for you. I could not help looking down the road of an evening to see if any one was coming in a buggy drawn by a white horse. But I have not thought it probable that you would come the weather being so very unfavorable. Indeed I think it would be imprudent for you to come while it is so cold. I would, you know, be very glad to have you here. It seems that New-year will find us separated as we were last new year. I hope not, however. I should like for you to be here as I bought some pork and the lard is not cooked. But there is no danger of its spoiling while the weather remains so cold. It is frozen hard now. That last cold spell froze our apples and potatoes too, I fear, so that they will soon rot. I am sorry but can blame no one but myself. I hope that if we do not have potatoes and apples we will have something else that we can subsist upon.

We (I mean the people) have been wonderfully blest, providentially, in the year that is closing as we have had not only the necessaries of life but also the luxuries. We should endeavor to be thankful for these blessings considering them as a bounty, and not, therefore, sepine if we should not always have these luxuries.

Since writing the above I attended the bible class. I have now gone the round of Sunday exercises, Sunday school in the morning afterward the church meeting and Bible class in the evening. It is better for me to be thus engaged, particularly, as you are gone otherwise I would be lonely. The clouds are vanishing and the sun is shining out this evening very beautifully. I think the weather will probably admit of you coming home soon. It will be too cold to-morrow.

I have been interrupted here, to eat a few potatoes which I had put in the fire. While I was eating I remembered the narrative of "Gen. Marion feasting the English officer on sweet potatoes". How the officer would have ridiculed the idea of classing sweet potatoes with luxuries, as I intimated above. I still contend that they are a luxury to me at least.

I regret that I cannot relieve you from your "state of suspense". I have not had any word from Summer. I suppose that matter is settled. I expect we can do no better than to stay here. That is what I expect to do from existing circumstances. I cannot tell what may present itself. I suppose every thing will come right in the end. Be patient and hope.

I have not heard from my relatives since Friday; they were all doing very well except Sanderson's little son. His neck had risen, swollen, to an enormous size, then began bleeding, and continued until he had almost bled to death. His neck broke inside. Evaline Anderson (the widow) was married last thursday night to a Mr. Reagan, of Fentress County. He is of a good family, but has not given evidence of being much himself. He is young, however, being only 20 years of age. He came down about a couple of weeks ago to Mr. Denton's, who is his uncle, on foot with but few clothes and no money. Evaline gave him money, to buy his wedding clothes, and they were married without the knowledge of his friends. This shows recklessness on his part. I fear the consequences. Not much wonder though Evaline is so captivating.

Tell Amanda that I can defend myself for not sending Mr. Farriss. I sent Mr. Mitchell thinking that she prefered him from the run of her conversation after coming from the party down here. There has been a succession of parties here. Mr. Young says they have run it into the ground. Tell Amanda to come down with you again and we will try to marry her off before Christmas is entirely gone.

I have not been to see whether the buggy was done or not since thursday. It was not quite finished then. Glover seems to be pressed for something to eat. He came to me last week and said he had no money nor credit and no bread for dinner and wanted me to tell Jo. Snodgrass to let him have a hundred pounds of flour on Fathers credit which I did.

I will quit writing at present hoping that you may be able to deprive me of the privilege addressing you in this troublesome manner any more soon. I want to see Edwin's pig very badly. Love to all and especially to you and Eddie.

Your husband

W.J. Hill

Sparta Feb.24, 1856

Beloved Mary

There is nothing at this time in which I could be engaged that would afford me as much pleasure as writing to you. By far the most happy moments I ever enjoyed were spent in your society. I have, through life, I think, maintained more than an ordinary degree of contentment and "good spirits" but my enjoyments, since I became connected with you have been of a more enlarged and ample character than I ever before realized. And as writing is the nearest a substitute for you society, so the most pleasant employment at present.

I was much gratified to receive your letter on friday night. I was thankful to learn that you and Eddie were as well as you were. Nothing would have afforded me more pleasure than to have "pressed your temples". I trust your health will improve. I shall be able to serve you before long, I think. I shall remain with Bro. Morgan this week. I think he will be able to proceed alone after that. I should like to go to Spencer saturday evening, but if it not convenient for you to send a horse for me then I can go out Sunday. I will leave that matter to you. Brother Forsyth talks of going with me. He still talks of moving to Spencer. I wish he could make it out. I encourage him because I think it would be an advantage to his family.

I wish you would send a pair of saddle bags when you send the horse if you can for I shall have more than I can carry conveniently. Perhaps it would be as good a time to carry the buggy as we will find if you can send harness. I suppose I can bind the slaves up so as to carry it, or if you prefer the expression, to draw it.

Mrs. Thumer or rather Mrs. Rice has resigned her situation in Nourse Seminary. Marrying seems to disagree very, seriously, with female School teachers. Mr. King started in the hack yesterday to Nashville to procure another teacher.

John Bell, the lunatic, who made an attempt to commit suicide, was removed to-day to the poor-house. He will die, I suppose, in a few days. Brother Morgan went home last evening so I have been in my room alone to-day except what time I spent at Sunday School and at church meeting. Our meeting was very sparsely attended. Brother Nelson says he is almost in despair. It is truly discouraging. I am glad that we shall have opportunities of meeting and associating with those who (are) more in earnest on the subject of religion.

I must not forget to get our letter from the church. Jack Hall has not yet moved into our old home. He says he is waiting to have it whitewashed. If old Sister Pierson had not taken away her chickens it would have been whitewashed before this time.

I expect you had better wait till I come before you make a contract about a cupboard. There are some other articles of that description that I shall need, so by making a contract for all at once they may come cheaper.

Brother Morgan has not told me whether he will be able to pay me now or not. I do not make much calculations upon it. It would suit me very well if he could, as I promised to pay Shackleford before he went to buy his goods.

Brother Kuykendall wrote for me to send some chalk, I have not inquired whether there is any or not in town. I will inquire in the morning and if I can get any I will send it by the Mail Boy if he will carry it.

You will not forget to write me a long letter for Tuesday. It seems so long between mails. I shall be very anxious to see you before the last of the week. If I had a horse I would have been with you to-day. Kiss Eddie for me and accept the purest love of you husband.

W.J. Hill



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