Item F 4536 - Letter of Tom Elice [Ellis] to Mary Warner

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Letter of Tom Elice [Ellis] to Mary Warner

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ON00009 F 4536

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  • 1854 (Creation)
    Elice (Ellis), Tom

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1 item of textual records

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Biographical history

Tom Elice was a slave from Pendleton County, Kentucky, who fled to Canada, arriving in Chatham, Ontario in 1854.

Information from the donor states that Tom lived on the Rhodum Ellis farm, near Peach Grove and the Licking River. This area, in the north-eastern part of the state, is close to the Ohio River, near well-known access points for the 'underground railroad' leading slaves from Kentucky to the free states of Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. The Ellis farm, founded in the 18th century by Rhodum Ellis of Virginia, would have been owned by William and Betsy Ellis at the time the letter was written. The 1850 Slave Schedule for Pendleton County lists nine slaves owned by the William Ellis household, of whom three are noted as 'fugitive from State'. Slaves were un-named, but generally took the name of their original owner.

Tom Elice's letter to Mary Warner mentions a reunion with others 'from our part of the country', in particular a Mrs. Hopday [sic].. The Slave Schedules confirm that the Hobday and Warner families were also slave-holders in Pendleton County.

Tom Elice's letter was written from Chatum [Chatham], Canada West. In it he asks Mary Warner to write him in Windsor, suggesting that he had just arrived in Canada and was planning to settle in Essex County.

Custodial history

Nellie Marshall, great-granddaughter of Tom Ellis' owners, William and Betsy Ellis, held this letter with other family memorabilia. She gave the letter to her grandson, Tim Rovenstine at an unknown date. Mr. Rovenstine donated it to the Archives of Ontario in 2003.

Scope and content

Item is a one-page letter in manuscript ink on blue wove paper from Tom Elice (or Ellis), a runaway slave from Kentucky, to Mary Warner.

Mr. Elice's letter expresses both the excitement of his freedom and the pain of leaving his loved one behind. He writes of his new country, tells of catching up with mutual friends from home, and mentions that 'the girls' have joined the Methodist Church. He asks to be remembered to his former owners, William and Betsy Ellis of Falmouth, Pendleton County, Kentucky.

Written from Chatham, Ontario, the letter appears to be a reassurance of safety after a journey via the 'underground railroad' through Ohio and Michigan, so-called 'free states' that nevertheless were bound by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, requiring all law enforcement officials to return runaway slaves. Bounties were posted on Tom and his six fellow fugitives, according to donor information.

The misspelling of the Ellis name suggests that the letter was written by someone else.

For a more detailed description, use this link to the Archives of Ontario's descriptive database:

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The letter was previously folded in thirds, then in thirds again. Tears along folds have been repaired with adhesive and the entire document laminated.

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This letter is available in digital format.

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Please use digital copy.

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Record is in the public domain. There are no restrictions on reproduction for research and private study. If you wish to use other than for research and private study, submit a Request for Permission to Publish, Exhibit or Broadcast Form.

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For a more detailed description, use this link to the Archives of Ontario's descriptive database:

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Added Apr/12.

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