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Friday, January 31, 2014

A Family Letter From a Voice of the Past Part 2

Continued from last week's post - Focusing on the remainder of the letter from M.C. Bates to his nephew,  Dr. Joseph H. Downing :

Madison states that he wondered who was the father of Joseph Bates (as I learned prior to reading this letter, Joseph  was a father of a Revolutionary War veteran),  and where he came from to America.  He supposes that this family had gone into the wilderness area of Virginia a bit before most new settlers, as there were American Indians in the area, and they were forced to head back to the east where European settlers were more prevalent.  Madison goes on, "we know that James Bates was born in Prince Edward County in 1764.  We also learn from the Revolutionary War records the James Bates, first son of Joseph, was listed among the soldiers from Halifax County.  So, we are justified in concluding that the ancestral home of the Bates family was in Prince Edward and Halifax Counties and in that region." Now, if I wanted to find if Madison's conclusion has some basis, I'd check the databases on the website for the New England Historic and Genealogical Society website,

Let's take a look at the second page of this letter :

Madison Bates writes that there is no doubt that the above mentioned James Bates had a son, also named James Bates, who served with the Virginia troops for three years.  I am not sure that this is correct but I believe that NARA  and Fold3 just might have something that could confirm or disprove his theory.  Fold 3, found at, is a fabulous website that has a main focus on military records, but other valuable items are also on this site.

Immediately after this statement, Madison writes that he is not sure of any resource to confirm this military service.  He refers to the daughter of Dr. Downing, who apparently is involved with the DAR, and is interested in this research.  Could it be that Dr. Downing originally wrote to his uncles in Illinois, on behalf of his daughters research for the DAR.  Probably. He supposes that James Bates, both father and son, could have served in the military during the Revolutionary War, but that they would not be in their direct blood line.

Madison changes subjects at this point in the letter.  He's glad to have this opportunity to communicate with his nephew, and to learn of the good health and prosperity of the family.  Dr. Downing must have mentioned having some discouraged feelings in his life, but Madison replies that it is a common feeling.  "Perhaps it is better for us that it is so, lest we might neglect to prepare for the life to come after this is over, a life that I have no doubt will be better than the one we live now", writes Madison Bates.

He signs off as " I am as ever your uncle, M. C. Bates".

Madison Bates, author of this letter, passed away 16 years after he wrote to his nephew, Dr. Joseph H. Downing.  His is buried in the Cherry Grove Cemetery in Knox County, Illinois.

Dr. Joseph H. Downing, born 1856, passed away in 1942, and is laid to rest in Circle Mound Cemetery, in Rising City, Butler County, Nebraska.

One can only wonder if these two men ever communicated again, and if any further correspondence revealed that either of them were able to answer their questions from this letter.

This letter was such a neat find.  To hold a letter written in 1911, over 100 years ago.  Wow.

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