When Washington, N.C., was occupied by Federal troops, 1862-1865, many townspeople became refugees while others remained at home and coped with shortages, fears, illness, and other problems of living in an area occupied by the enemy. Martha [Gregory] Brown left her home in Washington to join her husband George H. who was a Confederate officer serving in the Tarboro area. Correspondence between Martha, her family, and friends, as well as letters from her husband before she joined him, provide a unique picture of people in the midst of changing times, the chaotic conditions of war, and the uncertainties of refugee living.
The major portion of the correspondence is between Martha; her husband; her mother, E. L. Gregory; and her sisters, Bettie Havens, Jennie Warren, and Frannie Bryan. The letters, except for the ones from Mrs. E. L. Gregory and Bettie Havens, originated from Salem, Greenville, Pactolus, Louisburg, Wilson, Hendersonville, and Tarboro; cities to which these families fled during the occupation of Washington.
Refugee topics discussed include the scarcity of food and clothing; smuggling of goods and mail; pain of separation from home, friends, and family; illness and treatments; troop movements; costs of food, clothing and lodgings; coping with death of family members; education; making over old clothes; and reminiscences of former times.
Since Mrs. E. L. Gregory and Bettie Havens remained in Washington, N.C., during most of the occupation, their letters reflect life under Union rule. They contain reports of destruction of the Washington port (April 1862); confiscating of homes, livestock, and supplies; smuggling of goods and mail; runaway servants; church services and home prayer groups; coping without servants; the influx of Negroes and troops to Washington; and reactions to Yankee occupation. These letters also mention the restriction of movement in town and the difficulty of leaving Washington and returning; planting food in flower gardens; doctoring sick children and wounded soldiers; the desire to get children away from negative influences; and fear for lives and homes. Strong religious convictions are evident throughout the letters.