American History in the Jane Walker Letters



  • California Gold Rush (1849-1850)
    Eleven letters were written by or about Fayetteville citizens who traveled to California in 1849 and 1850 to prospect for gold during the California gold rush. Together, these letters offer many insights into how these prospectors lived, how they mined for gold, and about their hopes to achieve financial comfort for themselves and their families back home. Letters #14, 16, 18, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 31, 32.
  • American Mercenary Soldiers (Filibusteros) in Mexico and Central America (1850-1860)
    In 1855, Jane Walker's son James William Hawkins sailed from San Francisco with a small mercenary army on the ship Archibald Gracia with the intent of joining forces with General Juan Alvarez in Mexico in his fight against General Santa Anna. James was captured by Santa Anna's forces, and was held prisoner in Mexico City for 9 months. He was repatriated to the U.S. in 1856, but arrived in New Orleans mortally ill with yellow fever, and died at Charity Hospital.

    Thirteen of the letters are about James's capture and death, and about Jane Walker's participation in the long legal effort afterward to obtain reparations from the Mexican government for the mistreatment of the prisoners from the Archibald Gracia. Letters #42, 55, 56, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 67, 68, 71, 89.

  • The Civil War (1861-1865)
    Three of the letters relate directly to the Civil War: letters: #48, 50, 51. The first was written by Jane's son, Martin S. Hawkins, the day before he was killed on the Confederate side at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Christian County, Missouri, on August 10, 1861. These letters offer insight into the experience of soldiers and their families during the war.
  • Pre-Civil War South and Emancipation
    Thirteen letters reference various aspects of southern life during the pre-Civil War era and after emancipation. Several discuss the considerable loss of economic status for some families following the war. Letters #12, 13, 20, 30, 31, 32, 33, 38, 40, 47, 49, 52, 54.
  • Other historical events mentioned in the letters:
    • President Andrew Jackson's bank veto – 1832 (letter #2)
    • Construction of the turnpike in Kentucky – 1839 (letter #4)
    • First telegraph wires in Vicksburg MS – 1850 (letter #18)
    • Bounty land for veterans of the War of 1812 (letters #20, 21, 65)
    • Tennessee bank failures – 1857 (letter #43)
    • Relations with Indians (letters #22, 23, 24, 98)