A couple of years ago, I ran across this entry in a search of the digital Collections Catalog of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture:
I recently requested the letter, and when the good folks at the Virginia Museum returned from pandemic exile, I received a copy of the two-page note. I had hoped to find that Queen Bruce had lived in Wilson County, but now conclude that she did not. Rather, her home was Halifax County, Virginia, and she had been enslaved by the family of Anne Ruffin Sims’ husband. I post the letter here, though, to clarify for other researchers.
Here’s a transcript:
Newark N.J. 5th 23rd 188[illegible] Letter from old family nurse to Mrs Sims
Mrs. A.R. Sims
Dear Miss Annie it affords me much pleasure in penning you these few lines to inform you of my health I am well hoping to find you all well I heard from you through Ellen Hicks and was glad to head that you was well and had not forgotten me for I often think of you and wish I could see you although I am surrounded by all the comforts of life but I must say I have never realize there is any place like home Miss Anna please give my love to Old master and mistress Miss Birdy and the rest Theoderick from me with his best wishes to the Colonel and master Jno. Sims Please except my best love for your self Mas William the baby kiss the baby for me my love to Master Jno. Sims tell him I expect to come home next year and I want to cook a nice dinner for him and his wife my love to miss Eliza and her family Excuse my short note and please write to me and let me hear from you soon I remain your Humble & Obedient Servant
Queen Bruce, 152 Howard St., Newark, N.J.
Wilkins says give his love to Master Willie and Master Johnny if you please
Anne Cameron Ruffin was born in 1861 to Dr. John Kirkland Ruffin and Susan Tayloe Ruffin. By 1870, her family was living in Wilson, where her father opened a medical practice. Anne Ruffin married William Bailey Sims in Wilson in 1883. Their oldest child, William Howson Sims, born 1886, may have been the baby to whom Queen Bruce sent kisses. William B. Sims’ father was also named William Howson Sims and owned a large, old plantation and called Black Walnut and more than one hundred enslaved people in rural Halifax County, Virginia. He is likely the “old master” Bruce referred to in her letter. John Sims was the brother of William B. and son of William H. Sims; Eliza Broadnax Sims Timberlake was sister and daughter.
In the 1870 census of Roanoke township, Halifax County, Virginia: Wilkins Sims, 43; wife Queen, 38; and children Jannah, 13, Odrick, 8, and Morriss, 13. During the following decade, the family changed its surname from Sims to Bruce. Joanna Bruce, 18, daughter of J.W. and Queen Bruce, died 15 June 1877 in Halifax County, Virginia. Theoderick Bruce, 22, son of Joe and Queen Bruce, married Lucinda Coleman, 19, on 29 December 1881, in Halifax County, Virginia. One year-old Theoderick Bruce died 10 July 1886 in Newark, New Jersey. Morris A. Bruce married Catherine Jackson in Newark, N.J., on 1 October 1893. In the 1895 Holbrook’s Newark, N.J., city directory: Bruce Morris Albert (c) driver, h 373 Halsey; Bruce Theo K (c) letter carrier, h 215 Court; and Bruce Wilkins (c) h 55 Broome. In the 1903 Holbrook’s Newark, N.J., city directory: Bruce Queen, wid Joseph, h 131 Broome. Records for Newark’s Woodland Cemetery show the burial of Queen Bruce, colored, age 72, who died on 9 February 1908.
Newark, N.J., Woodland Cemetery Records, 1895-1980, online database, http://www.familysearch.org.