[Ed. - Written Saturday, October 30, 1858…a letter to Zebulon McLaurin (21 years old at the time)…from his father, John C. McLaurin (47 years old at the time)…Zebulon was John C.’s oldest son…Zeb was a freshman at the University of Mississippi (founded only ten years before in 1848)…a little over a month after the date of this letter, Zebulon would die of Typhoid Fever…presumably, this letter was one of Zebulon’s possessions that would have been returned to his father upon his death… -- Tom Gardner]
Simpson Co. Mississippi
Oct 30th 1858
Zebulon Dear Son
I should have written to you soon after you left but when Duncan returned he said you were not going to stay at Oxford if everything did not suit. Consequently, I waited to know where to write. And some two or three letters have been received in the neighborhood; your mother one, and the Doctor one.
You stated in your mother’s that you had done very little in the way of studying. I hope you have by this time made all the necessary arrangements and have got fairly under way and will apply yourself with all possible diligence. The way is open for you and it is for you now to make good the opportunity. And you must apply yourself or time and money will effect nothing. You should not let anything else draw your attention nor in any way disturb your studies. You should come up to the expectations of your friends, and disappoint those that wish you would fall behind some that have taken a course in that institution without much gain to themselves or satisfaction to anyone. And although you have come in contact with young giants in intellect and may seem at first to be greatly your superiors, let it not for one moment daunt you, but rather, take courage and contend nobly for the prize. You are now far away from home and friends, hence the many restraints that seemed to linger round you, you have past their bounds. But recollect there is one eye that sees you; And you should always look to your heavenly father to guide you through this life’s rugged steeps, and if you put your trust and implicit confidence in him, he will do thee good all thy days. In your studies, he is a great teacher and a never failing friend. Look to him, for it is he that giveth and it is he that taketh away, and he giveth liberally to all that asketh. Indulge me now while we hold a pleasant talk, and I speak the more freely to you knowing that you will hear me and may I not say that I know you will listen to my words. And you know that I want you to do well and to succeed in all your undertakings. And you have the greatest assurance that if you look to him you never will fail for he says seek first wisdom of me and I will add all things unto you. He will keep you from temptation and he will be a present help in every time of need. If he is for you, who can be against you? But to turn to another theme.
Zebulon, you should now begin to form those traits in your life that give tone and character to a great man, that will place you on a level with all men of elevated character, that there may be none who may see you but will be bound to say “there is my equal”. You should not be vain or haughty, but be friendly and sociable. And if you expect to come up to this mark, you must apply yourself to your Books. And the more you see others strive, the more you should strive. There is a great work before you to do. Shall it be said that you were not competent to the task? Though it may be great, you can if you will; may I ask you, “will you?” I know with health and the blessing of God, you will. I hope the day will never come for me to see that I will have to acknowledge that my son failed because he would not apply himself. You can. You will. Shall I be disappointed? Shall those of your friends, and you have some warm friends behind who is looking anxiously forward to that day when you shall have finished your course of studies, for some development. Oh, do not disappoint them by not coming up to their expectations. If they should be disappointed, let it be that you have went far beyond their expectations. You have a talent, will you suffer it to lie buried without improving it? Why should you, though many would rejoice if that should be the result? I might refer you to thousands who have made themselves (and as we say) had a hard row to weed, but it is true. Turn to those men’s lives and learn a lesson. See how they labored and toiled and never gave up until they gained the mastery. They commenced to succeed, and that was their motto. There is a great moral in all this, and it is for you to improve upon them, because you have the advantage. You have the lights that has gone before. With all that you are endowed with, you are living in an age of light and improvement. Search for wisdom. You find her, for she is precious, better than gold or riches. You have entered a class higher than some would have you enter, but we shall call no names. It can be from no other cause than that they fear that you may or will come off with some honors. Drink deep at the fountain. Never cease until you have gained the prize. It is within your grasp. Shall you fail? No, never. You must. The conditions upon which you are going is rather peculiar and many are saying that your Uncle expect to make something out of you from these considerations. Should you not exert yourself to the utmost? You should let them know that you are incapable of disappointing one who puts such an estimate on your talents. You are not traveling the road to fame alone. There are thousands on the way; and some are bound to fail. Some, for the want of applying themselves; some, because they were not competent to the task and broke down. And what must I expect of you?
I want you to keep this letter and refer to if you should begin to lag or tire by the way and to make you look to God to help you in the way you should go. But to your studies, there is many things to draw you off and to attract your attention. But you should never allow yourself to be drawn from your studies. That should be the pole star as long as you are there. Surmount all difficulties that may come in the way. Those books you have is the work of some man; are you not able with the advantage you have to go through and accomplish some great work? There is not a possibility of your failure, if you will try. Now will you not? I know you will.
Zebulon, I have reversed the common rule in this letter. I have left the things that relate to the family for the last. We are all well at this time and have not had any sickness since you left. Hugh [Zebulon’s younger brother, age 20 at the time of this letter] has been very sick again, worse than he was the first time. I carried the doctor out to Wilson’s on Thursday, and I brought him home on Monday following. He went back this morning; he lost three weeks. The doctor’s children has been sick. Duncan’s children has all been sick. And Hugh is pretty sick, cold. All the rest of our relatives and friends, all well. Nothing new or of great importance has taken place since you left. Doctor Lauchlin has had three or four spells of chill and fever; was some better the last we heard. My crop is not good, neither corn nor cotton. I have not ginned any cotton yet and have gathered but little corn. John E. McNair beat Stine [?] 1950 votes. McMillian [?] beat Sturges [?] 1000. Walker beat Banks 50. May beat Lenn [?] 22 votes.
Zebulon, I must come to a close. Direct your letters to Hugh, Rockport, Copiah Co. Miss. Write a full account of all things in relation to your class.
I ever remain your aff[ectionate] father,
/s/ J. C. McLaurin