1834: John M. Roberts to Chatham Hooe Simms

This letter was written by John M. Roberts who was admitted as a West Point cadet from North Carolina in 1832. He was dismissed from West Point later that same year — a dismissal that left him embittered towards the academy as we learn from this letter written two years later in which he referred to it as the “Point of prejudice and monarchical principles.” We also learn he had a particular vengeance against a former instructor named Harris whom he called a “damned red-mouth Yankee.”

For a time, before and after his appointment to West Point, John served as the postmaster at Buffalo P. O. in Lincoln county, N. C., which he called his “home.”

He may have been the same John M. Roberts who was enumerated in the 1860 US. Census in Vallejo, Sonoma county, California. It is believed that he returned to his native state and served as a militia officer in the North Carolina home guard during the Civil War.

Roberts wrote the letter to his friend, Chatham Hooe Simms (1814-1890), the son of Ignatious Robert Simms (1783-1852) and Harriet Middleton (1793-1851) of Charles County, Maryland, later Kentucky, and finally Jacksonville, Illinois. Like Roberts, Simms was admitted as a West Point cadet from Illinois in 1832 but he clearly did not graduate either. Chatham took up residence in Jacksonville, Morgan County, Illinois, where he became a merchant and later (May 1840) married Anna Margaret Prosser.


Addressed to Mr. C. H. Simms, Jacksonville, Illinois

Buffalo, Lincoln county, North Carolina
August 14. 1834

Dear Simms,

In reply to yours which I received some considerable time since, my apology for not writing sooner is I have not been at home but I am now at home and expect here to remain for some long time.

You are under a misapprehension as it regards Rich and myself living together. I live in Lincoln county, North Carolina, and Rich lives in Sumpterville, South Carolina but we keep up a regular correspondence and I sent him your letter which you wrote me. He is studying medicine and expects to attend the lectures in Philadelphia this winter.

I think you mentioned something about coming to Charleston, South Carolina, this fall. If you do, I hope you will give your friend J. M. Roberts a call and I will take the greatest pleasure imaginable in carrying you through our mountainous country and showing you our fresh, health[y], good-looking girls, and perhaps you may be almost persuaded to take one to Illinois — or perhaps you would like this poor, rocky country well enough to settle here for life.

As to myself, I am unsettled and expect to remain so for some time. I haven’t the slightest expectation of permanently settling myself in this county without taking a route through the western counties and examining for myself to my perfect satisfaction and then if I can see the girl that I can repose that confidence which a man should have in a lady before entering into conjugal life, then I will settle down for life. And if not, I will endeavor to crawl along through life in the most satisfactory manner I possibly can — and at the same time endeavor to watch my post as well as possible if the storm is not hard, and if it is, I will cry out, “Carry arms, sport — shoulder arms — dismissed,” and leave the world for those who are more useful to themselves and country than J. M. Roberts is.

My old friend Simms I should like very much to see the time at hand when you and me could be together and talk over old times. Just think of the time when you and me would walk out on Saturday evenings and get apples and chestnuts and talk about our sweet homes and dear relatives and good old parents. I sometimes regret to think that I did not stay at West Point merely to show to the people that I could stay. But you may think I could not have stayed if I had have so minded. But I think — and ever have thought — and ever will believe — that I have as much natural surge as old Ninny Harris ¹ or any old damned red-mouth Yankee like him. If I had to steer the same course again, I guess I would give some of them red-mouthed Yankees hell before I left the Point of prejudice and monarchical principles.

I am appointed General [of militia] and expect to review this fall and display some of my military knowledge to the good people of my county.

Write me without delay and tell all the particulars and if you intend to marry shortly and what you are doing, and if you think as good a looking fellow as I am could marry to an advantage in your country as not. So farewell, my good old friend, for awhile.

— J. M. Roberts

¹ There were no other classmates by the name of Harris at West Point at the time so my hunch is that Harris was an instructor at the academy. An 1825 graduate of West Point named Nathaniel Sayre Harris returned to the academy as an assistant instructor in tactics in 1832. He was from New Jersey — a bonafide Yankee. Perhaps he had a confrontation with Cadet Roberts that caused his dismissal. Harris resigned from the army in 1835 and pursued a career in the clergy.


Griff View All →

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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