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Primary Sources – The Beating of Jim, 1835
The document recreated below is a letter written by two people, Rebecca Cameron and her son, Paul. They both
wrote to Duncan Cameron, Rebecca’s husband and Paul’s father. The letter concerns a series of events that
took place on the Cameron plantation in North Carolina that involved one of Duncan’s slaves named Jim, and
an overseer at the plantation named Mr. Nichols. This letter is fascinating for many reasons, primarily because
it sheds some light on the complexity of owner-enslaved relationships.
Things to consider: 1) According to the letter, what were the implicit (unsaid) rules of conduct at Cameron
plantation; in other words, how were the different people expected to behave to one another? 2) What rights did
Jim have, if any? 3) Why did Jim, Mr. Nichols, and the Camerons take the actions they did? 4) How might the
events described matter to the rest of the slave community at the plantation?
Rebecca Cameron to Duncan Cameron, April 26, 1835
Rebecca Cameron: "I am truly concerned my beloved Husband to have such distressing intelligence to
communicate to you. On Friday Mr. Nichols and Jim had a difference. Nichols whipped Jim and at night Jim
came over to see Paul. After talking some time with him, Paul told him to go home and conduct himself well
and that Mr. Nichols would not trouble him again. Accordingly Jim [went] over early on Saturday morning and
soon met with Nichols, who gave him a blow on the head which fractured his skull, and what is most
astonishing before we breakfasted the poor fellow had walked over here alone. We sent up to Hillsborough
immediately for a surgeon. Doctor Webb came down and prepared him last night, and says he thinks he will
recover. God grant that he may for many reasons." [After she concluded the letter, on the bottom of the page is
one word, in Paul's handwriting: "Over.”]
Paul Cameron to Duncan Cameron, April 26, 1835
"On the other side my mother has informed you of the brutal transaction at your Brick House plantation. I use
the word brutal, because it is the only word that will express the conduct of Mr. Nichols towards Jim. Mother
has stated the facts. I will go a little into detail. After tea on Friday night Jim sent into me to go out to the gate,
where I found him. He told me that he had been most unmercifully whipped by his overseer, and wished me to
see his skin. It being dark, I carried him down to Luke's house, where I became satisfied that he had been
severely whipped, tho his skin was but a little broken. I told him to return home, and submit himself under all
circumstances to his overseer and that I would go over the next day. The next morning (Saturday) before
breakfast, someone told me that Jim was here with a very bad wound upon his head. As soon as I saw him I
went up to see Uncle, who came down at once, and pronounced him a dead man. Luke was sent at once to
Hillsboro, and Dr. Webb arrived here about 5 o'clock, so he had daylight to perform the most painful operation
that I ever witnessed. From external appearances he could discover no fracture, but Webb was satisfied from
what I told him of the case that there must be one, and upon laying bare the skull about three inches above the
lips of the wound we discovered the fracture, one that the Dr. said must have destroyed life had the operation
been delayed to the next day. After the operation and last night, the Dr. thought the chances for life very
doubtful, but when he left us this afternoon, he thought with great care he might be saved. The dressing is not to
be removed until Thursday, as Dr. Webb is to return and spend Thursday night with him. "About 11 o'clock on
Saturday, Nichols came over to the shop. I met him in the lane, and received from him an account of this most
unfortunate affair. I give it to you in few words. It seems that they met in the yard about daylight on Saturday
morning. When N. said to Jim, 'I suppose you went over to see your master last night.' Jim said that he did.
'What did he say to you.' 'That is my own business, Mr. Nichols.' Thereupon Nichols uttering some harsh and
angry words got hold of a part of a rail and as Jim was walking off from him, his back turned, he gave him the
blow, which brought him to the ground! But [one] blow was given. The poor fellow has lost immense quantities
of blood from his mouth and nose. I feel a deep solicitude that Jim should live. First on account of his
thoughtless overseer! And tho he has ever been a bad and ungovernable slave, I have ever felt a great regard to
him, in as much as he was your first servant and the gift of my grandfather. He is anxious to live, and doubt will
not be very patient, which is all important."
The Beating of Jim, 1835 Analysis
1) According to the letter, what were the implicit (unsaid) rules of conduct at Cameron
plantation; in other words, how were the different people expected to behave to one
2) What rights did Jim have, if any?
3) Why did Jim, Mr. Nichols, and the Camerons take the actions they did?
4) How might the events described matter to the rest of the slave community at the
The numbered paragraphs are answers to the questions from the reading.
From the letter, some conduct was to be observed in Cameron plantation. One of
these conducts is that workers were supposed to work with no questioning, and they are
not to quarrel with another person except to Nicholas. This is clear in the letter when
Paul claims that Nichols hit Jim after understanding that he had visited Paul last night.
Another code of conduct is that workers should not have any differences with their
seniors. According to Rebecca, the differences between Nichols and Jim lead to Nichols
whipping Jim. This later resulted in many complications.
One of the rights that Jim has is the right to live. Paul indicates that he feels deep
anxiety that Jim should live. This shows that the right to live for Jim should be
observed. Another reason that Jim has is the right to medication. After being attacked
by Nichols, Jim is taken to the hospital by Paul for treatment, which shows that it's his
right to get treatment.
HST 130 ANALYSIS
From the information given in the letter, Jim could have taken the action of
reporting Mr. Nichols to Paul, for he felt being humiliated. Besides, that was the only
action he could take since Mr. Nichols was his senior. Another reason for his act was
because he had trust that Paul would be of help to him and would help in solving
differences among them.
Mr. Nichols took the action of whipping Jim, for he felt that Jim had underrated
him. Another reason would be that he could little expect any subordinate to have the
courage and urge with him, for he was their overseer. The act of Nichols giving Jim the
blow was attributed to the fact that Jim has reported him to the boss. That makes
Nichols upset, which is clear from the letter, for it is indicated that he utters some harsh
and angry words.
The Cameron’s wrote the letter, for it was their responsibility to ensure that all
workers are treated well. Their main aim was to notify Mr. Cameron on the issues as
they take place on the farm. This would help in maintain good morals. The reason why
Paul took Jim to Luke's house was to confirm the mistreatment upon him.
This event matters a lot to the rest slave community at the plantation in that it
gives an indication of how their overseers treat them. Furthermore, it raises the alarm to
the management to check on the mistreatment within the farm. Consistently, individuals
HST 130 ANALYSIS
are informed that any act that they might take would result in a significant loss. From
this event, the relationship between the overseers and they're subordinates will be
reinforced for respect among individuals who will make the critical principle. Besides,
other slaves are assured that their bosses mind their concern. This has been outlined by
Paul's act to write a letter to his father as well as taking Jim to the hospital.