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Made In Chicago: Newberry Library

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A letter from Washington Hall to his wife, Jemima. (Credit: Steve Miller/WBBM Newsradio)

A letter from Washington Hall to his wife, Jemima. (Credit: Steve Miller/WBBM Newsradio)

CHICAGO (CBS) – The Newberry Library is full of stories.

“We were really excited to find these,” said Martha Briggs, curator of modern manuscripts at the Newberry.

“Because slave letters are very rare.”

They are letters from a slave named Washington Hall to his wife Jemima. They were in Missouri and they had different masters. And Jemima’s master went to Illinois, so she went too. But then, she was given her freedom.

Briggs reads an excerpt from a letter from Washington Hall, dated June 18, 1836: “I am very lonesome here. Knowing that it would restore me to my original state of happiness, I wish you to return. I want you to comply with your promise and not forget me as I am sure I can never forget you.”

“It’s a very sad story,” Briggs said. “Jemima stayed in Illinois, as far as we know. We don’t know whether she and Washington ever saw each other again.

“She had to choose between marriage and freedom. And she chose freedom.”

Briggs says the Newberry, 60 W. Walton St., has 1.5 million manuscripts.

“We have over two miles of shelf space filled with this kind of material. So there are a lot of stories to be told.”