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History Corner By Pat Ross & Fran Snead

March 01, 2018

Spotlight on the Southside: “World War I Letters Found”

By Pat Ross and Fran Snead

Dear Sis Frances,

                Will write you a few lines.  How are you getting along?  Are you going to school pretty regular now?  The meat sure was fine and I went for it.  The hash line is picking up some .  How is everybody getting along?  I’ll write the rest some time soon.  I am well and hope all of you the same.

                The quarantine is to be lifted and everybody is wanting a pass home and I don’t expect any of us will get to go for a while yet.  Has Charles ever been in yet?

                I got the sweater that Hattie knit me and it is the thing.    I’ll close. Answer soon.

                                                                                                                Your Bro


The above letter written January 18, 1918, along with three other letters, was written by a World War I soldier named Samuel Quincy Powell and was found in a book that was donated to the Friends of the Library.  The Friends of the Library is an organization that works to support all of the libraries in the Blue Ridge Library System, as well as the Bassett Historical Center.  The “Friends” collect donated books which they resell at low costs to book lovers of all ages raising money to help the local libraries and the BHC.  Betty Scott was working in the basement of the Martinsville Library where the Friends have their headquarters and was organizing books.  She was going through a book that had been recently donated when she discovered an old, slightly discolored envelope between its pages.  After examining the envelope, she quickly discovered that it was stamped 11 January 1918 from Columbia, South Carolina Jackson Branch and that the envelope was addressed to a Mr. Chapman Powell of Mocksville, North Carolina.  After reading all four letters tucked away inside, Mrs. Scott brought the envelope and letters to the Historical Center hoping that we would be able to find out something about the person who wrote the letters and the family to which they were sent. 


After doing some digging, it was discovered that Chapman Powell’s brother Samuel Quincy was stationed at Camp Jackson at that time, as Camp (Fort) Jackson had opened in 1917.  We, then, had to assume that it was Samuel Quincy who addressed the envelope to Chapman as he signed his letter “Your Bro”.  However, inside of the envelope was also a letter to his father, James R. Powell, one to his mother, Mary, and one to his younger sister named Sarah Frances. 


Chapman and Samuel Quincy were two of the children of James Ransom Powell (son of William Haywood Powell and Mary Emaline Robertson Powell) and Mary Catherine Dwiggins Powell.  Along with the youngest Sarah Frances, other children in the family were Hattie and William.  James Ransom Powell married Mary Catherine Dwiggins on 28 April 1891 in Davie County, North Carolina.  As far as this Powell family has been followed, they lived in either Calahaln and/ or Mocksville, both in Davie County, while Samuel Quincy later moved to Guilford County. 


James Chapman Powell, to whom the envelope was addressed, was of medium height, of slender frame, had blue eyes, and had light colored hair.  He was exempted from the draft because of a crippled ankle.  All of this information was stated on his Draft Registration card.  But, in using the website Find a Grave, he was cited for having military service in World War I, but no source for this specific information was provided.  Samuel Quincy Powell was also of medium height, had a slender frame, had blue eyes, and had sandy colored hair, seemingly very similar to his older brother.  He was employed by Duke Power Company and was 18 years of age on his World War I Draft Registration.  He married Virginia F. Carter on 26 December 1937 in Davie County.  He was born on 24 December 1899, and died on 12 March 1986 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  His wife Virginia was born on 15 June 1907 and died on 11 September 2001.  They had one son, Samuel Quincy Powell, Jr., who passed away 15 October 1983 in Greensboro, North Carolina.


Below is the letter that he wrote to his brother dated January 16, 1918:


Dear Bro Chap,

                Your letter of the 8th landed here today.  I got the box yesterday eve and the SOB’s seen how bad they could mash it up but the grub was all there and the medicine was ok.  I am in trim now.  I eat coming and going.  They are cooking better and giving us more and they deal it out and they have to take what they give them now.  I taper off on what they give me from home.  I have my uniform now.  I have done swapped blouses twice and I am going to swap again for I am picking up like a hog but I fell off a lot at first.  You spoke about the address.  It is like this 17th Company, 5th Training Battalion, 156 Depot Brigade.  But I hear tomorrow night they are going to raise the quarantine and if they do we will soon sign us to a company and may transfer us to some other camp.  Do you mean that you got your notice or just the questionnaire to fill out?  I have not got a chance to fill out one yet.  I am here and don’t aim to fool much with it for I am here and got no hopes of getting out at all and aim to get out.  Have always had that in my mind and don’t study anything else but you stand as good chance as I would want about being a farmer and crippled up like you have been.  You deserve getting out if any of them boys get out by having something about getting out.  And you don’t want to foul any time.  What all are you doing now?  How is old Smootie along now?  Is he cussing any?

                I got a letter from ____ today and he says it’s some cold up there now.  The weather is moderating here since I have got plenty of rags on.  They give me an overcoat, three sets of underwear, five pairs socks, a couple of shirts and blouses and pants and a hat and pair of gloves.  I am hooked up very well.  I am going to send in some junk soon.  As for news I don’t have any.  Have they sent any more boys since I left?  Tell me about how the war news is and all the fun around there.  I haven’t seen Stokes since last Friday but I got a letter from him this week.  They sent out sergeant and two more fellows this eve over where Stokes is.  When I get out I am going to see Stokes.  They never done anything to him put in as kitchen police a few days.  He told me that he never felt better and for me to send his mail to him and I sent it on.  I don’t know where Grady is for they don’t come back here when they get out of the hospital.  They send them to another company.  I saw Jack Allison this eve.  We went on a seven mile hike this afternoon and I think I’ll sleep good tonight.  I see Holt about every week.  Tell all the P.C. hello for me.  I’ll close.  Answer soon.

                                                                                                                Your Bro


Believe it or not, these letters were found one hundred years to the week from when Samuel Quincy Powell wrote them to his family!  There has to be something for that!  We thank people like Betty Scott for not only finding lost treasures such as these, but for her part in keeping the history alive!  Sometimes we at the Center can’t explain why things are brought to us, or sent to us; why they are found at a certain time, why they were in a book from another state or how someone from another area or state find us.  We can’t explain this, but we do know that things that are brought to us are someone’s history or history that belongs in this area and it was meant to be donated to the Historical Center so that we can share these items with our patrons as we preserve the family and local history of this particular area. Thanks to all of you who help us each and every day to do this.  

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