1832: Elizabeth (Peabody) Leavenworth to Frances Augusta Leavenworth

This letter was written in 1832 by 23 year-old Elizabeth Manning (Peabody) Leavenworth (1809-1841), the wife of Abner Johnson Leavenworth (1803-1869). Datelined from Charlotte, North Carolina, Elizabeth informs her sister-in-law, Frances (“Fanny”) Augusta Leavenworth (1812-1892) in Waterbury, Connecticut, of their efforts to start a Young Ladies Seminary in Charlotte. The couple were in Charlotte until 1838 when they relocated to Virginia, remaining there for the rest of their lives.

Abner, Elizabeth’s husband, was an 1825 graduate of Amherst, a student of theology at Andover, and a licensed Congregationalist preacher. After preaching a few years, he and Elizabeth came to Charlotte—then still called a ‘village’—but growing in population due to the North Carolina gold rush which was very active in that part of the state at the time (leading to the establishment of a U.S. mint there in 1837).

The letter was mailed through the U.S. postal system with a CHARLe N.C. CDS and the applicable 25 cent unpaid rate (a lot of money at the time). The writing is extremely small in places in order to fit the text on a single page (and therefore avoid a double rate).

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]


Charlotte, North Carolina
July 23rd 1832

My dear Sister,

Your letter of June 28th was received more than two weeks since and be assured, words can convey but a slight impression of the pleasure it affords me; neither am I able to tell you how much Abner’s heart was rejoiced on finding the (almost) unexpected communication in the office for according to his usual practice with my letters, he came in with it opened in his hands & in answer to my numerous enquiries and solicitations, pretended that it would be just as well for me to wait a half an hour before I read it or knew from the hand of what friend it came. However, the hue of sunset in the paper made me believe it was from you & as I was not mistaken in this, he did not long refuse to gratify my impatient desire of seeing it.

The truth is, dear A., I had thought sometimes and with no small regret, that the prospect of a correspondence between us was getting o be rather dark. I did not flatter myself that the few hasty lines I wrote you by Mr. Brown could really claim an answer—far from it. The thoughts of those hurried scrawls which I sent to you & Mrs. Kingsbury which were mere apologies for letters, have given me some mortification. But I have been hoping all the while that your sisterly affection would secure for us some long letters if you only took into consideration the pleasure you might confer by so doing. You love home too well, I am certain, not to be sensible that were you removed eight or nine hundred miles from it, frequent accounts from dear friends would be very acceptable.

I was glad to hear that you at last succeeded in making a visit at Milford, after having it in contemplation so long. I know you must have experienced much enjoyment with sister L. in the society of that place. I think it is remarkably pleasant.

We have now become generally acquainted with the people of Charlotte as well as many families in the country within fifteen miles of the village & I do not know that our experience has contradicted the first impressions we received of their kindness & urbanity of manners, while at the same time, for reasons which date their existence within the last week, I think we shall find ourselves more attached than ever to great numbers of them—especially if we remain in the place a considerable time. I will endeavor presently to give you some explanation of my meaning.

We have about sixty-three pupils in our school. This number does not include several individuals that have been under our care & were called away unexpectedly. The present session is very near its close and we are therefore just on the eve of an examination which will take place on the last two days of July. We shall then have a vacation of two months. I am not able to say decidedly where we shall spend it—probably not in Connecticut. We did intend to go among the Alleganies in the western part of North Carolina but I suppose that it now doubtful, Your brother has within a few days received an invitation to supply the Bethel congregation with preaching a society who worship about fifteen miles from this place though he has not yet replied in the affirmative. I think he will accept it. If he should, we shall reside in the family of some individual with whom we are already acquainted. Two gentlemen we have met with belonging to that society live in the banks of the Catawba which would probably be pleasant situations & are said to be healthy.

One of the greatest evils we have encountered in school has been delay in the arrival of books from New York which we were waiting to use. Some French & Latin books that were wanted five months ago reached here a fortnight since & a set of globes have just been received at the academy which have been detained nearly three months, we know not how, on the way from Charleston, South Carolina to Charlotte. Abner says they have got here just as the fifty-ninth minute was added to the eleventh hour.

Our pupils are of various ages—from the little ones just leaning to spell, to the youth of eighteen; following pursuits differing as widely—from Webster’s Spelling Book to Euclid. Of course the variety makes our classes numerous & the work of instruction more laborious. In regard to our prospects here, those interested in the cause of education have subscribed a sum between fifteen & eighteen hundred dollars to prepare the Academy buildings for a Female High School, but as this is insufficient, it is still problematical whether we remain in Mecklenburg.

I wish, if I have not already trespassed upon your patience, to give you some idea of the state of religious things in this village which have recently assumed a very cheering aspect.The Presbyterian congregation have continued as usual to enjoy preaching one sabbath in three from Mr. Morrison of Sugar Creek & occasionally sermons from your brother on the intervening  sabbaths. Within the last five weeks, a weekly prayer meeting has been held which seemed to call forth some interest & was well attended. A week ago a protracted meeting commenced under the ministration of two evangelists from South Carolina. They labored in Charleston & Columbia during the late revivals in those places & came here professedly to do good. This is now the ninth day that there has been preaching constantly & it will be continued two days longer. Much excitement has been felt from the first & we trust the Spirit of all Grace has blessed the truth to many hearts.

It is thought that sixty have already become the disciples of Jesus Christ & others are anxious to obtain pardon and peace through him. Among the former is the editor of the newspaper published in this place & five or six of our scholars as we have reason to hope. The meeting assembles many people from the country & those form a part of the number who have received this great blessing at the hand of God. I presume so large an assembly never worshipped together before in Charlotte as were to be seen yesterday in the church grove. I imagine the church would not have held more than a third of them & therefore, as is very common in this region, a rough pulpit & seats were prepared under a thick shade of trees near the meetinghouse.

You requested me to speak particularly about our health. I do not know that this climate has hitherto produced any unfavorable affect upon your brother. He has grown poor since last winter which he says is usually the case in the summer season. I know that he is somewhat worn down with the labors of school & am ready to welcome vacation, now so near at hand, that he may get rested. I perceive that preaching is by no means less exhausting to him in this climate than it was at the North. My own health is very good.

Tell Father I was much obliged to him for making the prescription which he gave us in one of his letters at my request. Your brother did not know I had asked for it until he read it in Dr. L’s hand writing. He amused himself at me for having done it, and that was all he would do about it, so I think we must conclude that any inconvenience he may suffer from the pain in his breast must be very slight. Indeed, I think it has never troubled him before or since the time I was writing as I did then frequently hear that neither Mother nor Mrs. K. have been well. Now that I am on the subject of health, I am reminded of your remarks about the cholera which has since appeared in New York. You may well suppose we suffer much anxiety on account of our friends in New England at this time. All we can do is to leave them with submission in the hands of God.

I would here adduce this as an additional argument & that our letters from Connecticut may be frequent. It is peculiarly consolatory now to hear that our friends are in good health from their own pens. I hope we shall soon have letters from Mrs. K and from Elisha and you must never plead any excuse for silence in future. I am indebted to Mrs. T. for a letter & my answer should have preceded this in the order of time but we thought it probable we should get another letter from Waterbury sooner by sending one there instead of waiting in silence. Do not let us be disappointed. You did not say anything about Frederic. Will you give love to him from Uncle A. & Aunt E. and tell him I should have written to him before this if I had not been so much occupied teaching scholars, some older and some younger than he is. Please to presenting respects to Mr. & Mrs. K. Our love to Father & Mother is Mrs. Kinny to each of whom with yourself I am under obligations of gratitude which I never can forget.

Excuse your sister for tiring you with so long a letter. Yours, E. M. L.




1848: Mary Elizabeth (Woolsey) Hubbell to George Henry Hubbell

This letter was written by 65 year-old Mary Elizabeth (Woolsey) Hubbell (1783-1858) who lived with her daughter, Alida Livingston (Hubbell) Taylor (1812-18xx), and son-in-law, Royal William Taylor (1808-1879)—a merchant in Fort Wayne, Allen county, Indiana. Mary was the widow of Wolcott Hubbell, Jr. (1778-1841) and the daughter of Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey who served as an aide to Governor George Clinton in the American Revolution and afterwards as a Major General in the New York State Militia.

Mary wrote the letter to her son, George Henry Hubbell (1818-1906) who was a law clerk and farmer in Trenton, Grundy county, Missouri. A biographical sketch states that George left his home in New York State in 1835 when he was 16 and became a student at Marion College in Marion county, Missouri. After three years he left college and relocated to Howard county where he taught school, studied law, and was licensed to practice in 1841. He made his way to Grundy county a few years later where he was elected clerk of the Circuit and County Courts in 1847—a position he held for many years. During this time he also purchased a farm in Grundy county two miles outside of Trenton.


Fort Wayne, Indiana
November 28th, 1848

My dear George,

Why do you not write? I have been waiting long, long for a letter. The last letter was to [your sister] Alida, all about Ohio and the days and scenes of your early youth. We thought your memory held good considering the long time and many changes through which you have passed. I want to hear from your family, how the little boys grow and improve, if William Woolsey goes to school and how you are getting along. You ought not to confine yourself to writing closely in the office. I hope you have someone to assist you [in the clerk’s office]. And how is your dear wife? I suppose as industrious and smart as ever. Oh how I wish it was nearer that I could visit you. If I was some dozen years younger I would attempt it, but it is too much for me now. If I could go all the way by water and had you to accompany me, I think I would risk the fears, fatigues, &c. but it is vain to think of it. You must try to come here and bring all with you.

Alida accompanied Mr. [Royal] Taylor as far as Oswego [New York] when he went for goods in August. She had a delightful visit at your Aunt Platt’s. She went with your cousin Catharine to see Mrs. Hauskins, another cousin, both your Uncle Henry’s daughters. Their father died in March in Press Isle where he had resided some years. Alida was absent about four weeks. I kept house—quite a change for me.


The Beecher Family. Rev. Charles Beecher (standing 2nd from right) was married to Sarah Leland Coffin (1815-1897) in 1840; he served as pastor of the 2d Presbyterian Church in Fort Wayne from 1844 until 1851.

Mr. [Charles] Beecher spent the summer with us. His family left in May to visit their friends & Mrs. Beecher, being in poor health, he went for them late in September so we had a good visit from him and enjoyed his society and family prayers very much. He is lovely—a perfect gentleman. Nothing stiff or formal. A holy, humble man. I can sit down and talk with him as I would with my own son. He is a close student and his sermons are very interesting.

A young lady—niece of Mr. Taylor, and a gentleman from Rome, New York—a connection of Mr. Taylor’s here three months, Maria too, so you perceive we had a large family. Two clerks, two girls, and Mortimer—Mr. Taylor’s nephew who lives with us. We have plenty of room. House all completed. Mr. Taylor’s business, I believe, is good. He made well on his wheat last year and has been buying all the fall and shipped it all off. He is now going to commence the pork business again but “what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul.” I wish that he thought more of another world. He is kind and what is called moral, but nit religious.

[Your brother] Wolcott [1825-1866] is still in Toledo in whole sale store. Gets 600 salary, a [    ] furnished room and [   ]. He is said to be an excellent clerk—steady and faithful. He has been up twice on a collecting tour this summer and will spend most of the winter in traveling for the firm. I went down [to Huntington, Indiana] to [your brother] Alfred’s [1816-1886] soon after Alida returned. Stayed four weeks. Alfred and family had a great trial of sickness fever and relapsed twice. He is now pretty well but very think. His business is good, He said you sent him a paper.

[Your brother] Woolsey [b. 1810] and family are well. [And your brother] Charles and [his wife] Mary and all were well last we heard. Do write soon.

Tonight there is to be a great procession—torch light illuminations in the houses of the victorious. We expect to light up every window. I suppose you and the good Whigs of your county are rejoicing. ¹

Have you enlarged your house yet? Made improvements? Alfred has a great variety of fruit trees and strawberry and has added two rooms to his house. There has been many large brick houses and stores built since you were here. Maria teaches in the Seminary. She is patient and lovely as ever and is much liked as a teacher. Alida joins me in much love to you and yours. I think of you a great deal and love you all and pray that the blessing of the Lord may rest upon you.

Your affectionate Mother, — M. E. Hubbell

¹ The Presidential Election was held on 7 November 1848 but General Zachary Taylor’s victory as the Whig Candidate over the Democratic candidate, Senator Lewis Cass, was not confirmed until weeks later.


1807: Melancthon Taylor Woolsey to Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey


Melancthon Taylor Woolsey (1782-1838)

This incredible letter was written by 25 year-old Melancthon Taylor Woolsey (1782-1838) who was born near Plattsburg, New York—the son of Gen. Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey (1758-1819) and Alida Livingston (1758-1843). After studying law for a time, he entered the Navy as a Midshipman on 9 April 1800. His first assignment was the frigate Adams in which he made a cruise to the West Indies in 1800 and 1801. He served briefly in the Tripolitan War just before its end in 1805. In 1807, newly promoted Lieutenant Woolsey received orders to return to the United States aboard the U.S. Frigate Constitution where he was put to work developing a code of signals for the Navy at Washington D. C.

Woolsey was later a hero in the War of 1812 and went on to an honorable career in the US Navy.

In this lengthy letter, written to his father, Woolsey chronicles in great detail his land excursion to the top of Mt. Etna on the island of Sicily just before returning to the United States from the Mediterranean. We learn from the letter he was joined in the excursion by Doctor John Ridgely, an assistant surgeon who had traveled to the Mediterranean on board the the USS Philadelphia but was captured when she foundered in October 1803 and was held captive until June 1805. Just prior to returning to the United States, Ridgely served as US Charge d’Affaires at Tripoli.

There are frequent references to the writing of Patrick Brydone who visited Sicily in 1770 and wrote reverently of Mount Etna. Clearly Woolsey had familiarized himself with Brydone’s work prior to making the trek up the mountain.


On board the U.S. Frigate Constitution at Sea
August 25th 1807

My dear Father,

I now begin a letter the receipt of which will announce to you my arrival in the United States. We left Malaga yesterday for Gibraltar where we will take in our stock of provisions and water and probably sail immediately for home.

I have not written you since the first of May last [but] be assured, my dear Father, that want of opportunity alone has been the cause of this long silence. It might, however, be necessary to give you a relish for my letters. Indeed, when I look at the list in my log book and calculate on a successful conveyance of only part of my letters, I cannot but think you must have had a surfeit of them.


Latigo, or mule litter

On the 19th of May the Hornet arrived at Syracuse from Tripoli and in her Doct. [John] Ridgely, late surgeon of the Philadelphia and who since the release of the prisoners of that ship has acted as American Charge D’Affairs at that Regency. He intended going home with us but when we were at Leghorn last, he could not let slip the opportunity of landing there to make the tour of Italy. On the 23rd of May, I obtained leave at once for a few days to accompany Doct. Ridgely to Mt. Etna. On the morning following, I joined my fellow traveler on shore before sunrise. After a hearty breakfast, we were mounted in our Latigo [see mule litter]—this is a curious vehicle calculated for the extreme rough roads of Sicily. It is only  large enough to contain two persons vis a vis and is born by two mules on shafts like a sedan chair. We had two men to take care of the mules, one of them alternately riding the leading horse and driving and driving the hindmost one with a long stick. My servant followed behind on horseback. Thus equipped we set out with our little caravan anticipating some fatigue but more than equivalent pleasure. The morning was extremely fine which with the novel way of traveling (at least to us) more than compensated for the ruggedness of the roads & the apparent danger we often encountered in passing them. It has often been remarked that a sailor tho’ he can with the greatest composure hang suspended by a single rope at a ship mast head in a tempest, yet cannot without his blood’s freezing look down a precipice. I experienced the truth of this remark in the sequel on the road when the path happened to turn abruptly round a corner of the most inconsiderable gulf, our latigo of course hanging over it. I was always in dread less the shafts or some other part of the gear might give way and throw us headlong down.

About 9 o’clock we passed Augusta leaving it about four miles on our right. This town is most pleasantly situated built on an island—formerly an isthmus—that forms the northwestern extremity of the Bay of the same name. It was formerly a place of some note but like all other cities of the Island—Palermo & Catania excepted—are going rapidly to decay. Its number of inhabitants does not at present, I should suppose, exceed ten thousand. About noon we arrived at the top of a small mountain immediately at the foot of which the Plain of Catania begins and here our multeers desired us to alight—the descent being rather dangerous in the Latigo. From this height we had a full view of the whole plain of Catania groaning under the weight of its fruits terminated by the venerable Etna whose hoary head appeared just peeping above clouds which enveloped a part of his upper regions. The beauty of this prospect added not a little to our already high anticipations. Immediately at the foot of the hill there is a hamlet consisting of two or three dwelling houses, a chapel, & a large granary or barn & here we first broached our provision pannies [?] The Hamlet affording us nothing but a small table to eat off of, a couple of brown earthen trenchers & a tumbler. While we were dining, the poor peasants among whom were two or three buxom daughters of Ceres crowded round the door and were extremely officious in assisting the Excellenzas to water &c. Had it not been owing to the smallness of our table, we would have asked them to regale with us; we however made up for this breach of politeness or rather humanity by leaving our whole stock of provisions (except one bottle of port) on the table & I’ll answer for it the poor devils never in their lives before made such a meal of solids notwithstanding they inhabit a land flowing with milk & honey. You must know my dear Father that the little Tlybla [?] is but a few miles from this place. I have tasted of its honey but do not think it any way to be compared with that which is produced in the Island of Minorca or which is made from the honey dew in America.

About two o’clock we were again on our march. We had now quite a different road to travel on, there not being even the most trifling hillock betwixt us & Catania. In our way, we passed through many of the richest wheat fields I ever saw and in many of them the reapers were already at work. We arrived about sunset at Catania and put up at the Elephant Hotel, called so from its fronting the square ____igatha in the middle of which is a fountain and an immense lava statue representing that animal with an obelisk of Egyptian granite on its back. This square is the resort of all the beau monde of the city every in their carriages. We had a letter of introduction to Cavalier Landolina—one of the Knights of Malta—from his nephew Cavalier Landolina & one of our very good friends of Syracuse. We were too much fatigued to dress and deliver it in person and therefore sent it with our address. In the meantime we strolled about a little incognito.


The “Square of the Elephant, Catania, Sicily,” engraved by J. B. Allen after a picture by W. L. Leitch, about 1840.

The first thing we visited was the Cathedral of St. Agatha. The building is very magnificent but remakable for nothing peculiar to itself except its being the repository of the sacred veil of St. Agatha. Among the paintings that adorn its inside we were shown a large birds-eye view of the great eruption of 1669. It is roughly painted but it is said is a very correct representation. It certainly conveys an awful idea of that astounding convulsion.

In the evening Cavalier Landolina called on us at our lodgings. We found him a very polite, communicative old gentleman. After a few minutes conversation, we began the plan of our expedition and before supper was over, it was completely formed. We were to discharge our Latigo, leave my servant at Catania to take care of our baggage, and keep possession of our room and the Doctor, a guide, & myself to set out by daylight for the top of the mountain on mule back. According to this plan, we mounted our beasts before sunrise, the guide carrying on his plenty of provisions, wine &c. We found that our good friend Landolina had sent us a letter of introduction to the family of Sig’r Gemelare at Nicoloni [Nicolosi?] (about 12 miles up the mountain) who he said the evening before were amatures of the mountain.

The morning was very clear and fine but the summit of the mountain was a little obscured which made us fear it would continue so the next day. It was near noon before we arrived at Nicolonia—a small village at the upper edge of the La Region Culta or fertile region & twelve miles from Catania). Our road lay over the roughest country I ever saw. In fact, the greater part of the way you are obliged to crawl step by step over fields of lava still in its roughest state.

In our way up the mountain we had frequent opportunities of observing the wide difference between the inhabitants of this region (particularly about half way up it) and those in the low parts of the island where they are extremely indolent & filthy in their persons and generally of a sallow complexion. But the inhabitants of the mountain—particularly the women—are a fairer complexion, dress plain and neat, and are the most industrious people in the world. We frequently met them carrying large bundles of linen (of which the middle part of the fertile region produces in abundance) on their heads, over this rough road, barefoot & at the same time knitting stockings &c. We met with a very polite reception from the family of Sgn’r Gemielarno. His two sons young men of superior self-acquired educations were extremely attentive.

After a short rest (our anxiety to see all not permitting us to remain long in our place), we set out accompanied by the younger brother to visit Mont Rose—so called from its red appearance. [Paper torn] from this mountain that the great eruption of 1669 issued and laid waste all the country between it & Catania, destroying a part of that city. It is an exact conical figure. Its base I should suppose about four miles in circumference & its perpendicular height not more than eight or nine hundred feet. Its sides are covered with small cinders and ashes which giving way under foot at every step rendered our ascent extremely difficult and tiresome. However, after stopping five or six times to take breath, we at length reached the summit from whence there is a prospect that a thousand times repaid us for the fatigue we had undergone in this essay of mounting & I do not know whether it was the exercise, the change of air (not much cooler but far more salubrious), or my raptures at wonders with which we were surrounded, that had removed in a great measure a distressing sciatic in my right hip with which I had been almost a cripple since the severe gale of wind we experienced in the Gulf of Tunis in the month of March last.

The Crater on Mont Rose was [paper torn] to descend without some danger & more fatigue. We computed its circumference at about three-fourths of a mile. About a mile below this mountain lies the beautiful little mountain of which was once a volcano. It is of the exact semi spherical figure and its crater the same shape inverted. It is covered both inside and out with grass of the richest verdure interspersed with the bleak fields of lava by which it is surrounded. The immense torrent of lava that issued from Mont Rose and swept everything before it in its way to the sea bore with all its force against this delightful little mountain. The prospect is so fine from the top of Mont Rose that two of my brother officers and a midshipman not long since returned to Catania after having visited it imagining that the great crater of Etna could not so far surpass it as to recompense for the trouble and fatigue necessary to encounter in going there.

Next to Mont Rose we visited the Grotto de Colomba or Pigeon Cave. It receives its name from harboring a great many birds of that species. This grotto or cave appears to have been the crater of a very ancient volcano covered nearly to its summit by lavas that have probably been vomited from volcanoes which lie higher up the mountains. At the bottom of the grotto (which is not very difficult of descent) there is a cavern of about 15 feet diameter from whence it is said there sometimes issues tremendous blasts of cold air. It is also said that people have paid dearly for their temerity in descending down this cavern for supposing that they saw infernal spirits they have lost their senses. SR. Gemelaro, however, did not know a single instance of the kind & as for myself, I am disposed to give very little credit to it.

After returning to Nicoloni & taking a heart dinner, we set out on our journey upwards accompanied by the oldest son of Sr. Gemelaro. We were now six in number. Doct. Ridgely was mounted on a large cork pannier containing two large flasks of wine. Young Gemelaro had on his mule two kegs of water. Our Catania guide carried the provisions & spirits, & I sat on a large sack of coats. We had besides a guide well acquainted with the top of the mountain (in the service of Gemelaro who carried firework, a hatchet to cut wood, & walking sticks, & our muleteer (who we dubbed Cyclops, not for his knowledge of the mountain but for his having but one eye) brought up the rear with a long stick to spur on the mules.

We went about a mile out of our way in order to see the Convent of St. Nicola which lies about a mile & a half above Nicoloni. It is a neat building with a long avenue of pines before it. Unfortunately we had not time to pay our respects to the Holy Father who there mortify the flesh with whatever the upper part of the Region Culture affords. After about two hours traveling over scorching fields of lava and cinders, we entered the borders of the woody region, or Region Silvosa, and here we alighted under the shade of a large oak to refresh ourselves with the cool & fragrant breezes with which this delightful region is impregnated, and to wash down the dust we had inhaled on our way with a little Nicoloni wine, which by the by (tho not know in Catania) I think the finest flavored of any I ever drank. Before we mounted again, I put a thick cloth on over my summer jacket.

As we ascended the woody region, a change of climate was percepted at almost every step. At the lower part of it we found the large oaks (with which this Region is thickly wooded) in full foliage and the leaves less forward as we ascended until we arrived at the upper part of it, where the buds were just making their appearance. We found the road much better in the woody region than that we had already passed for instead of crawling step by step over rough beds of lava & in the scorching sun at the risk of our necks, we were now traveling under the grateful shade of spreading oaks on a rich soil covered with herbage interspersed with a variety of beautiful flowers. We had an opportunity of discovering the depth of the upper stratum of earth in this region—in many places our road lying immediately along the banks of torrents whose beds of the most ancient lavas were in some places not less than perhaps thirty or forty feet below the surface of the soil. What an idea does this convey of the great antiquity of the mountain—especially when we reflect that an age is hardly sufficient to form a strata of earth capable of producing the smallest vegetation.

It is now 138 years since the great eruption of Monterose and in the whole course of that destructive torrent there is not the least appearance of a shrub or even a blade of grass, the garden of the Benedictines of Catania excepted, & I believe the earth that covers the rock of lava in that is brought from some other place. It was not in my power to procure the natural history of the mountain of Catania. Young Gemelano, however, informed us that the woody region abounded in porcupines, hedgehogs, wild boar, and that on the north side of the mountain there are a few deer but that the breed of the latter are nearly extinct. Of the feathered race, he says there is a great variety some of which have the most melodious notes. We had the misfortune to see none but a little bird resembling very much the canary, one raven, & heard the melancholy note of cuckoo at a distance.

About an hour after sunset we arrived at the Casad neve or snow house where we put up for the night. It is a very little stone or rather lava house about six miles up the Region Silvosa built by the Prince of Paterno (to whom the whole of the deserted region belongs) for the accommodation of the snow carrier. It was our intention when we left Nicoloni to have above the Philosopher’s Tower where the young Gemelaro’s truly amatures of the mountain have erected a small house large enough for the accommodation of eight or ten persons, but before we reached the snow house who they had sent the day before to see if their house was in order he informed us that it was blown full of snow and that the door could not be got open. This was no small disappointment as we began to anticipate a great deal of pleasure lying round a warm coal fire all night.

After securing our mules to the trees, we went to see the Spelonia Capriole or goats grotto of Mr. Brydone, now the Spelonia del Inglise or English Grotto. Perhaps the original name was changed from his having slept there. We found nothing more ruinous in it than any other shelving rock which could shelter twenty or thirty goats. For a great distance round both this cave & the Casa de neve, the bark of the oaks is peeled off & the names of the many persons whose interest or curiosity has brought them high cut on the bare wood. Ridgely & myself followed the example.

The snow house stands on the brink of a pretty steep hill from whence there is truly a sublime prospect. The City of Catania, the town of Nicoloni, and the many villages and delightful villas between them, Monte Rose with the whole course of its lava bordered by beautiful orchards, gardens & wheat fields appear almost at your feet. Casting the eye a little further you behold the east and south coasts of Sicily with all their indentures. Even the harbors of Syracuse & Augusta were plainly to be seen & we thought we could see the Temple of Minerva in Syracuse.  We sat on the ground before our door with our eyes riveted on the enchanting scene until after sunset.

When Ridgely went to visit a neighboring lava, young Gemelaro began to cut wood for our night’s fire, I to gather dry oak leaves for our bed in baskets we found in the house, probably left there for that purpose, & our guides hearing the bleating of goats a little way down the mountain to the westward had already gone in search of milk. About dark they returned without having been able to get us any. We built a large fire in the middle of the house round which, seated on our saddles, & panniers, we made a comfortable [paper torn]. You may be assured after such a days work we did justice to the deviled fowls and broiled mutton &c. we cooked ourselves on the coals. After supper, wrapping ourselves up in our great coats, we laid down on our bed of leaves, keeping the poor cyclops adding fuel and stirring the fire. A little boy a mile or two off having heard from our guides that there were two Excellenza’s at the Casade neve who had sent them in search of milk, brought us a large kettle full of it about nine o’clock. Ridgely & myself got up, took each a hearty drink of punch, put the remainder in our empty wine flasks, paid the little boy well for his trouble, and went to bed again.

A little before midnight, imagining that we had overslept ourselves and fearful of not arriving time enough at the top of the mountain to see the sunrise, we saddled our mules and after muffling ourselves up in great coats & handkerchiefs about our ears and taking each a hearty drink of raw brandy, we began again to ascend. The night was perfectly clear and the air piercing cold. To our no small regret we had no philosophical instruments with us. After traveling at a very slow rate for upwards of an hour, we arrived at the boarders of the Region Scoperta—or deserted region—where the road began to be more rugged & difficult of ascent. Our beasts, fortunately, were very sure-footed for we left it entirely to them to choose their way along the edges of some precipices which at that hour appeared deep & gloomy. We had not proceeded far in this region when we heard a number of voices behind us. We knew we were far above the inhabited part of the mountain and consequently began to be under some apprehension that a Banditi had dogged us from the regions below. Ridgely & myself felt ourselves in a very awkward situation as Sign’r Gemalaro who said the sulfurous smoke at the top of the mountain would tarnish the guilt on our swords [and] had advised us to leave them with him until our return. The poor people below were under the same apprehensions for us & sent one of their guides to see who we were when we learned that they were four English Sergeants of the troops stationed at Catania. We shortly after joined company and traveled on together sometimes riding, at others walking, both to relieve our poor beasts & keep our feet warm.

Our road became now pretty steep but not near so difficult of ascent as Mr. Brydone describes it. The large fields of moss we crossed afforded an excellent footing. About two o’clock we arrived at the house of the young Gemalaro’s which is about two miles from the very summit of Etna. Here we alighted & with the coals we had brought with us made a fine fire round which we drank the remainder of our milk punch, probably the first ever drank st the same elevation above the surface of the earth. We had now three or four hours wait to see the sunrise which was the object of our early departure from the Casa de neve. After resting ourselves a few minutes, we ran out to the edge of the plain on which we were to collect of possible something of a night prospect at this elevation; but altho the sky was perfectly serene, our sight could not penetrate the profound darkness in which the great world at our feet was enveloped, and the ground on which we stood appeared like a stage floating in an immense void independent of it. The cold was too intense for a long contemplation of this sublime prospect of nothing. We therefore returned to our fire and seating ourselves in the ground around it, waiting impatiently for returning day, all the time imagining that it was far from here Mr. Brydone saw the sunrise. In the meantime, our attention was wholly taken up with the great crater above us, every now and then discharging vast columns of smoke & ashes, which ascending to an immense height would float gradually with the wind, the heavy particles falling on us like a drizzling rain.

At length the dawn appeared when we again took our lookout post and now, my dear Father, I have come to the part of my narration of which for me to undertake giving you a description dressed off in its proper colors would be truly attempting the chariot of the sun. Indeed it would be a task for the inspired pen of the immortal Milton. Mr. Brydone’s description, as far as I am capable of judging, I think elegant and altho he modestly apologizes for want of language to describe fully the sublimity of the prospect or its affects on his imagination, yet no one after seeing the sunrise from the top of Etna will attribute his apology to an excess of modesty. I give it to you in his words—-

“But here description must ever fall short, for no imagination has dared to form an idea of so glorious & magnificent a scene [paper torn] is there in the surface of this globe: any on point that unites so many awful & sublime objects, The immense elevation from the surface of the drawn as it were to a single point without any neighboring mountain for the senses and imagination to rest upon; and recover from their astonishment in their way down to the world. This point or pinnacle raised on the brink of a bottomless gulf, as old as the world, after discharging rivers of fire, and throwing and burning rocks with a noise that shakes the whole island. Add to this the unbounded extent of the prospect, comprehending the greatest variety and the most beautiful scenery in nature; with the rising sun advancing in the east to illuminate the wondrous scene. The whole atmosphere by degrees kindled up and shewing dimly & faintly the boundless prospect around. Both sea & land looked darkly confused as if only emerging from their original chaos; and light and darkness seemed still undivided, till the morning by [paper torn] advancing, completed the separation. The stars are extinguished and the shades disappear. The forests which but now appeared black and bottomless gulfs from which no ray was reflected to shew their form or colors, appeared a new creation rising to the sight, catching life and beauty from every increasing beam. The scene still enlarges and the horizon seems to widen and expand itself on all sides; till the sun like the great Creator, appears ion the east and with his plastick ray completes the mighty scene. All appears enchantment & it is with difficulty we can believe we are still on earth. The senses unaccustomed to the sublimity of such a scene are bewildered and confounded; and it is not till after some time that they are capable of separating and judging of the objects that compose it.”

After feasting our eyes on this magnificent prospect till nearly half an hour after sunrise, we set out for the cone of the crater now called as the whole mountain formerly was Mongibello which is derived from Gibel el nan or mountain of fire—the name given to it by by the Saracens when they had possession of the island. After crossing a bed of very rough lava we had good footing on the snow until we nearly reached Solfaterra about one quarter the way up. This is a most curious place. There are a great number of fissures in the snow fifty yards in length and not more than three or four feet wide from whence there is a thick cloud of smoke a little impregnated with sulphur constantly issuing. The ice in many places has formed I cannot tell how over these to the thickness of many feet, the under part of which constantly thawing by the warm vapor from the chasms leaves an extensive arch from which the great icicles are abundant, that from from above look like so many crystal columns. In some places where the holes are smaller, the vapor more confined and consequently hotter, it has thawed quite through & in the middle of the field of snow you see a large column of smoke rising up. The whole of the sides of Mongibello are covered with immense round rocks & stones thrown from the crater. Some of these by uniting all our strength we sat in motion when they rolled down to the bottom of the cave with most tremendous crashing.

After resting at almost every ten steps, we at length reached the brink of the crater on the south side. If there is a place or situation in this world that can at the same time make man feel his littleness or elevate him above his nature, it is here. On one side he sees the whole world enriched as it were by all the beautiful hand of its creator with unclouded seas, scattered islands, rich plains, rugged mountains, smooth lakes, meandering streams, thick forests, and in fact, all the climates with all their rich variety laid as it were at his feet. He feels himself God, casting his eyes. On the other side his head swims at looking down a bottomless gulf raging with eternal fires and sometimes vomiting ruins of liquid flame overwhelming in its course poor feeble man with all his vain possessions. At the same time reflecting that the slightest excavation would tumble him headlong down this dreadful abyss, he blushes at his own insignificance.

At first we laid down, just peeping over the edge of the crater—not daring to trust our feet as a fall either way appeared equally fatal. Ridgely at length, summoning resolution, stood up and putting one foot over the brink said that at least he had one foot in the crater. The moment I saw him, shuddering at his perilous situation, I involuntarily caught him by the coat and dragged him with force on the ground by me, at the same time reminding him of the fate of the Philosopher Empedocles who you know it is said threw himself in the crater that the world might believe he was taken up to Heaven. I think this a very improbable story & am more willing to believe that speculation led him too near the brink from whence he accidentally tumbled in. After becoming a little more reconciled to a sight which at first gave us all the vertigo, we ventured to crawl round the crater to the west side from when we saw apparently at no great distance all the north coast of Sicily, all the Sipari islands, the fare [?] of Messina, all Calabria, and the coast of Italy to a great extent & directly at the foot of the mountain on this side stands the little towns of Bronte & Paterno—the latter surrounded by lava. We could neither see Messina or Paterno; the high mountains at the back of them intervening. We could not see the Adriatic Sea beyond the mountains of Calabria. Mr. Brydone of course fibbed a little when he said he saw the sunrise [paper torn] the sea for he visited the mountain at the same time of the year we did, when the sun had of course nearly the same declination. I very much doubted whether it was seen to rise clear of St. Maria which forms the Northeastern boundary of the Gulf of Toronto even in the winter solstice.

The great crater, I imagine, is not less than between two miles and a half and three miles in circumference The south and east sides are perpendicular or rather hang over the great mouth of the crater or chimney of Etna which cannot be less than fifty yards in diameter. The west and north sides go shelving down to the crater round the foot of a small volcanic mountain formed by a recent though very inconsiderable eruption. This mountain whose head is just at a level with the brink of the crater at present, only emits sulfurous smoke. Ridgely unfortunately inhaled a little of it and was nearly suffocated. While we were on the brink, there were several great discharges of smoke & ash & our guides said they saw stones. We, however, did not. A minute at least before the smoke made its appearance, we heard a rustling noise underneath us. After the first impression of terror had a little worn off, taking a bottle of liquor in my hand, I discarded about forty down the crater where up to my ankles in ash almost hot enough to burn my boots. I poured out a libation to Vulcan & next to St. Agatha to withhold her wrath against us infidels until we should safely reach Catania. I assure you, my dear parents were not forgotten for I drank a bumper to their health before I ascended to my companions with the bottle. You may be assured they did not follow my example in pouring out libations.

We found some large stones on the south side on our way back again that by a little labor we loosened so that they fell into the mouth of the crater. After they disappeared about five seconds we heard a noise resembling that of a heavy cannon at a great distance & we counted five of the noises doubtless the stone bounding from side to side on its way down to the bottom of the mountain, each one more faint & at a greater distance of time apart. Before we set out on our return down the mountain we seated ourselves on the ground to take a farewell look of the sublime and extensive prospect which presented itself to our view. The first thing that presented itself to us was the Desert region or Frigid Zone where eternal fires & snows have fixed their abode and which is so perfectly sterile as not to afford sustenance to anything that lives, moves, or has a being. This region is immediately succeeded by the woody region or Temperate Zone of about the same extent (eight miles) forming a girdle of the liveliest green quite round the mountain making a very pleasing contrast with the regions in separates. The small conical & spherical mountains occasioned by the many eruptions of Mt. Etna are more numerous & exhibit a greater variety of colors in this than in the other two regions. I think I counted 180 of them in the southern sides sides of the mountain only looking directly in their craters. The fertile region or Torrid Zone came next in view. It extends at least twelve miles from the woody region and is charmingly diversified with everything that population & extreme fertility in the most delightful [paper torn] can render interesting to the beholder. It is bounded by the sea on the east or southeast and by the rivers Aleatana and Semetus which meander beautifully at the foot of the mountains on all the other sides. Casting our eyes a little farther we behold the extreme and fertile plain of Leontini variegated like a rich carpet with different colored fields. Nearly in the middle of it stands the city of Leontini on the bank of the lake.

….described whatever I have seen. The ancient theater, Bath & Rotunda, the place where the lava of 1669 scaled the city walls, the church & convent of the Benedictines. The Prince of Biscani’s museum and theatre & the library of the University &c.

On the evening of the 27th, we hired an open boat rowed by four men to carry us to Syracuse. The stern sheets were covered with a good awning and in the bottom of the boat were beds for us to lay on. About eleven o’clock we set out accompanied with the best wishes of our worthy friend the Cavalier. We arrived at Syracuse about seven o’clock in the morning.

On the 11th of June we sailed for Messina where we did not arrive until the 15th. We staid but three days at Messina. I spent almost the whole of my time with your cousin, Capt. Muerson [?] & feel very much indebted to him for his attentions. He is paymaster of the 81st Regiment of foot and was in the battle in Calabria last summer.


Palermo in the early 19th Century

We sailed from Messina to Palermo where we arrived on the 21st and on the 25th sailed again for Leghorn. During our stay at Palermo I spent what time could be spared from duty in viewing the city and its environs. Palermo is the most populous and best planned city in the island. The two principal streets are at right angle with and intersect each other and intersect exactly in the middle of the town & from the Ottagono, a large square from whence can be seen the lower gates of the city. The small streets in each quarter of the city run parallel generally with the great streets of which they are bounded. The houses of Palermo are mainly of stone which gives the city a heavy appearance. The lower stories as in all the other cities I have seen in this part of Europe are appropriated to stops, stores, stables, &c. The population of Palermo since it has become the residence of the Court, I think is about two hundred thousand. The marina is the most extensive and most pleasantly situated of any I have yet seen in this part of Europe.

…resort of all the gay of the city every evening carriages. We would have rather walked but as we certainly should have rendered ourselves either extremely mean & poor in the eyes of people whose customs would have been broken through. We equipped our servants in a decent livery and putting two behind each carriage paraded the marina every evening during our stay. The roads about Palermo are the best I ever saw, Both to the west & east of the city & along the sea shore there are a number of noblemen’s [illegible] visited those to the eastward at a place called Bagheria about twelve miles from town.

The continuation is under another cover or rather will be for the next conveyance.

— W. T. Woolsey

[Poem, My Native Land]


1853: Mary Elizabeth (Woolsey) Hubbell to George Henry Hubbell

This remarkable letter was written by 70 year-old Mary Elizabeth (Woolsey) Hubbell (1783-1858) who lived with her daughter, Alida Livingston (Hubbell) Taylor (1812-18xx), and son-in-law, Royal William Taylor (1808-1879)—a merchant in Fort Wayne, Allen county, Indiana. Mary was the widow of Wolcott Hubbell, Jr. (1778-1841) and the daughter of Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey who served as an aide to Governor George Clinton in the American Revolution and afterwards as a Major General in the New York State Militia.

Mary wrote the letter to her son, George Henry Hubbell (1818-1906) who was a law clerk and farmer in Trenton, Grundy county, Missouri. A biographical sketch states that George left his home in New York State in 1835 when he was 16 and became a student at Marion College in Marion county, Missouri. After three years he left college and relocated to Howard county where he taught school, studied law, and was licensed to practice in 1841. He made his way to Grundy county a few years later where he was elected clerk of the Circuit and County Courts in 1847—a position he held for many years. During this time he also purchased a farm in Grundy county two miles outside of Trenton.

What makes this letter most remarkable is a mother expressing disappointment in her son’s decision to pursue law, rather than the ministry, and more importantly, his decision to embrace slavery in Missouri. “If you still persist in advocating that diabolical system, I shall soon go sorrowing to my grave,” she wrote.


Fort Wayne, [Indiana]
September 7, 1853

My dear George,

I have been expecting a letter from you or your wife or dear little William. I wrote the 2nd of June but suppose you have not received it. I was disappointed that W. did not see any of you and have been in hopes you and your oldest son would visit us this fall but you say nothing about it.

I feel very lonely today, Alida left us yesterday for New York. Mr. [Royal W.] Taylor accompanied her as far as Toledo and will be home in a day or two. Your sister is going with her cousin and Mr. & Mrs. Hoskins who live at Seneca Falls. She will reach there tomorrow. They will visit the City, the Crystal Palace, the Public Gardens and wishes to increase her variety of plants &c. They will visit their Uncle Sidney at Newark, then to Old Louisborough—the home of your honored ancestors. Mrs. Tracy and your Aunt Mary live there. Mrs. Tracy may have some of her grandchildren with her. The house is large and once was the residence of one of the best and happiest families in Massachusetts. But alas, where are they? The grave yard joining their garden where the old, mouldy, weather-beaten tombstones will tell. One fair cousin was buried there this spring—Frances Tracy. [She was] highly gifted and accomplished [but the] the reverse of fortune from opulence and ease was too much for her tender frame. She went South as a private teacher in a gentleman’s family. She never complained. Her nerves were shattered and a fever ended her life. Mrs. Tracy is very inform. Alida wishes and will if Mr. Hoskins consents to go to Champlain to see her uncles Silas and Julius, their wives, and some cousins.

Frederick Hubbell, son of Silas, died with inflammation on the brain this spring. He was a pious, excellent man—a lawyer of good standing [and] has left a very interesting wife and children. Martha Magat has left her husband and moved to Chazy near her Father. I wish you could see her relatives in that quarter. [They] commenced law when young men and poor, the county new and unsettled. Now they are rich, honored or beloved. They have both been elders in Presbyterian churches for many years and entertain their friends cheerfully & pleasantly.

Your Uncle Loring when home last year said if I had not gone, I might have been as good and happy as my brothers. He is a very unhappy man. He has all the polish and elegance of manners that a man of the world who has traveled so much has, and when alone with Alida and me would tell us some of his trials. He cannot come North. His wife, her attachments and property, are all there. In his last letter to me he says he feels it a duty to read the Bible with his two boys verse [   ] and pray with them. He wishes them to be protestants. Their mother is a set Papist. I expect to write soon and shall tell him to repent, have his heart right with God. He did not ask me or anyone what course to take—the bible will tell him.

We had a delightful visit from your brother Charles. I have a hope he is a Christian. He has not made a profession yet. He says he reads his bible every day and with his family attends the church regularly. He is very sociable and intelligent. Nothing light or frivolous. He has such a good opportunity to improve in new York. He attends all the lectures he can—scientific, religious, &c. Maria went to visit her parents the 11th of July and has not returned yet. We expect her this week. She is like my own child. We all love her very much.

Do write soon. I thank your dear wife for the pretty box. I have it full of daguerreotypes. I wish I had hers and yours. I have bought a book to send you and have one for Mary, useful in raising a family of dear little ones. Oh how much wisdom and patience a mother needs. Oh how deficient I have been and how sinful to neglect the immortal part.

And now my dear George, I must tell you I have been greatly disappointed and grieved that you chose the law instead of the ministry. You never would have gone to Quincy College if I had not have urged it. My sole wish and prayer was that you might be converted and educated and preach the Gospel. Oh what a day of rejoicing when I hear of your conversion. I then thought my prayers were heard and the Lord would make you one of his ministers. But such a distinguished blessing was not for me to enjoy. Then you wrote me you intended the law should be only a stepping stone to the pulpit. Herein again I have been disappointed. My dear Mr. Lathrop who now sleeps in the dust but whose spirit rejoiced in light, always said Mr. George Hubbell ought to be a minister. I do not think it was pride or vanity in my great desire to have you a preacher of the Gospel and to hear your eloquence spoken of and your name extolled among the multitudes of DD. No, if I know my heart, it was that sinners might be turned from darkness to light and that you might be instrumental in saving souls.

And what makes me heartsick is that you think so favorably of slavery. Twenty years has wrought a great change in your feelings and views. If you live, what will 20 years more do? You have now but one slave. Woolsey was told that you was going to build a house and have your girl married in order to propagate the race. In 20 years if the Lord permits slavery to last so long, you may have a number of immortal beings to dispose of and to increase your wealth. They may be heirs of heaven at last but kept in ignorance and the probability is they will be lost. Slavery is a sin and those who have slaves will suffer by it. [Upon] they or their children the curse will fall. “Oh my soul, come not thou into secret and to their assembly mine honor be not thou united.” [Genesis 49:6]

We had in our paper here a few weeks since a notice of a poor negron burnt alive. His crime was great but what influences and bad examples had beset before him. Had his master taught him the fear of the Lord, prayed for him, and pointed him to the Lamb of God, he might have been saved. I have written very plainly and in love to you and your dear family. I have been greatly disturbed since I have learned of your plans so that I could not sleep and have been very unhappy and sincerely regret you ever left New York. I suppose it will do no good but I have freed my mind in telling you how I feel. If you still persist in advocating that diabolical system, I shall soon go sorrowing to my grave. When here you said you would like to live here, but you would lose your girl, you could have kept her as we do bound girls, [   ] her till of age, then pay her wages. We keep two good girls and have no trouble with them [   ] and faithful. I was hurt at the time to think you had rather isolate yourself from all that love you so dearly than to give up one little slave. I can say no more and you will say it is enough mother, and with your poor Uncle Loring say it is too late now.

I was sorry to hear you was cheated again. I had some hope you would leave the state if you failed getting that office. I will not trouble you on this subject again. I have told you all my heart. I will pray and sigh and mourn. It’s all that I can do. I am sorry your dear little George has been sick. Oh how I want to see him. I think him so sweet and handsome. May you realize your fondest expectations as regards your children. May they early be brought into the fold of Christ. I suppose they have been baptized in His name and pray that the inward and spiritual grave will be given. Maria returned Saturday evening the 10th. I was supposed to see her. She went to Boston, New Haven, New York, and had a delightful time of it.

I feel Alida’s absence. She is so lively and pleasant. Mr. Taylor is very kind. ______are all well. Love to your dear wife and little ones and remember you are one of my most precious ones. Your affectionate—mother

1859: Edward Biddle Latch to Carrie Latch

3346253c-9afb-4e73-81a4-a1ce4803de03This letter was written by Edward Biddle Latch (1833-1911), the son of Gardiner Latch (1792-1835) and Henrietta Wakeling (1801-1882) of Mlower Merion, Montgomery county, Pennsylvania. Edward served in the US Navy from September 1858 to November 1878. He rose in rank to chief engineer.

Edward wrote the letter to his younger sister Caroline (“Carrie”) Biddle Latch (1835-1931). He also mentions an older sister, Isabella (“Bell”) A. Latch (1826-1871).


U. S. Steamer Atlanta
At Sea
January 17, 1859

Dear Sister Carrie,

I will merely head your letter today while I have out the pen ink and paper and finish it by degrees as I find something to say.

Wednesday the 19th. Made the harbor of Rio de Janiero. The scenery here is the most magnificent I ever saw, as a handsome port. The palm of beauty lies between this and that of Naples. Here we are lying  at anchor and almost surrounded by mountains and islands, all covered up with luxuriant vegetation so that even the rocks are blooming with verdure, which relieves their wildness to that degree which enhances the grandeur of the scene. Among the carious mounts there is one called Lord Wood’s Nose from its presenting the features of a man lying down and from its resemblance to Lord Wood—an Englishman. It was named after him. Here is a sketch of it as it appeared about twenty-two miles at sea [sketch]. Another mount—a solid mass of rock—rises at the entrance of the harbor and is called the sugar loaf. This is one view of it [sketch]. It is of considerable height. The town presents a very handsome appearance—many of the buildings being very fine, among which latter I see the Insane Asylum—a long buildings fronting the water’s edge and surmounted with a dome. It is of the style of the Blockley Insane Asylum.


Latch’s sketch of a Catholic Cathedral in Rio de Janiero (1859)

The churches are very fine but the style is pretty much the same with all that I can see from the ship. They each have two steeples as per sketch and are of the Catholic persuasion as I informed you in Bell’s letter. There is a great deal of shipping done here and you may see men-o-war of all nations lying off the city while the merchantmen are hauled up to the wharves for convenience of receiving and discharging their cargoes.

It is raining quite smart now and no matter how grand a scene may look, a smart shower gives it the horrors for the time being. There is some little thunder with it and present appearances indicate that it will continue for some time.

I sent my washing off this afternoon consisting of four dozen and four pieces for which I will have to pay nearly five dollars. The washerwomen understand how to charge. The city looks quite pretty this evening owing to the lights being in full blast. The city being built on a very mountainous district, makes them appear to full advantage. In the foreground there are several rows of closely studded lights while the background is illuminated promiscuously and relieves the monotony of appearance which would otherwise exist.

Thursday 20th.  The first thing this morning I did was to go up to the United States store house and see about the coal for the ship. It is situated on an island and from it you have a fine view of the surrounding scenery. There is a very large garden attached to the place in which are orange trees loaded with their fruit—also fig trees, cocoa nut and a number of others whose name I do not know. There are also handsome flowers of various colors. The foliage is of the deepest green. I took breakfast with the gentleman in charge of the stores after which we went on coaling the lighter—a boat something like those on the canals. They are filled by darkeys who carry the coal in baskets which they balance on their heads. The lighters when full are towed to the ship and the coal hoisted in.

I saw a large monastery situated by itself among the mountains. They are plenty in this country. There is a chime of church bells now ringing which reminds me of Philadelphia somewhat as there are several chimes there.

The weather is very warm today although there is a little breeze. I expect that it will get cooler as we get farther south. We are in about 22 south latitude. It is rather hard on paper collars asa the perspiration causes them to dissolve.

I have not been on the shore yet so I cannot give you a description in this letter of how the city looks when you are in it but the streets are very narrow. I understand a great fault with the cities in South America and more especially as the climate is warm all the year round. This is the summer season for this part of the continent. By the time we get to Montevideo it will be pretty well towards the fall of the year down there. They have very nice pears there and other fruits which one gets in the temperate zone.

I saw some queer little animals along the shore this morning. They resembled Lilliputian lobsters. They eat with two claws which they conveyed to their mouths alternately presenting a picture of voracity truly astonishing. Just imagine somebody eating sugar plums first with one hand and then with the other and keeping it up for some time. Then you can form some idea how these creatures looked feeding.

But to change the subject and talk about something else. Is Miss Frailey married to the Doctor? or does sentimentalism still exist between them? How are the Misses Gamber? Are there any singing schools this winter in Blockley or adjacent places? Give my respects to all the ladies generally and ask Ann and Maggie Hansell if they recollect the day we went after blackberries. Be particular and call her Ann as she appreciates the name so much and also ask her is she remembers seeing a building being pointed out to her notice on that day. I remember it yet even though my memory is a little short. This sheet is nearly full and I have scarcely room left to sign myself in magnificence.

Your good-natured but very poor to do in the world brother, — Edward B. Latch, U.S. N.


1825: John P. Watson to Rev. James Smylie

This letter was written by John P. Watson (1789-1873) who married Mary Thompson (1805-1829) in Amite county, Mississippi. Watson was born in North Carolina. Shortly after marrying Mary, we learn from this letter that John Watson relocated to Pine Ridge in Adams county, Mississippi. Mary died there on 25 March 1829 and is buried in the Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church Yard. Mary was the daughter of Alexander Thompson (1771-1824) and Eunice Strickland (1776-1845).

John wrote the letter to Rev. James Smylie—“the 1st Presbyterian minister who settled permanently in Mississippi, & continued laboring as an evangelist from 1805 to his death in 1853. He was educated in Guildford Co, North Carolina by Dr. David Caldwell & Licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Orange in October, 1804.”

Addressed to Rev. James Smylie, Pine Grove, Centreville P. Office, Amite county, Mississippi

Adams County, Mississippi
October 24, 1825

Dear Sir,

Suffer me to drop a few lines to let you know how times pass with John P—-. In the first place I have to say that since the first day I came o Pine Ridge I believe my health has been improving. I may say that myself and little family has not been a day sick since the time we got over the fatigue of coming here. Our little son is a [   ] little red-headed boy. His name, if you know it not, is Samuel William. Although we were so much blest with health, our neighbors has been a good deal afflicted though I think not in proportion to the population here as I have known this, with the exception of of Washington and Natchez. I believe they are on the mend both in Washington & Natchez.

You have heard no doubt of the death of Samuel Postlewait, Dr. Ferguson, and Mrs. Hunter, Dr. Foster, with many others. Mr. Hunter bears his trials well. He seems to take it as though it was for some wise purpose for good good. People in the neighborhood are generally well. I believe I had rather live up here than down in Amite. In all probability I will stay here another year. People are more friendly here than there, set apart connections. I am better satisfied that I expected to be before I came. My prospects for a good crop were as flattering as I ever saw. About 1/3 or 1/4 of cotton rotted which will clip me short of what I should have made. I have gathered 90,000 of cotton. I think I have 50,000 more to gather. Great complaint of rot except at James Bisland’s.

Your Mother-in-Laws and McCowns quit crops expecting Witherspoon’s bailing? Did you not find it with Capt. W. Jackson? The particulars expecting Witherspoon’s killing his wife and what has become of him? The particulars about my friend Dr. Smith. What his health has been and what doing and why he has never answered my letters? The health and welfare of your Mother [    ] Nathaniel and family, John’s children. Your own family including Jared Robison? I expect Moth-in-Law is quite uneasy about us. If you will have an opportunity of seeing her, word please. Let her know we are all well. If you had your improvement on your land here? My impression it would be more to your advantage. If I know how you and my friend Dr. was, I would have something to say to you both about some of the Ladies of Adams county. This may be out of season. I say no more about it, only I have one apiece picked out for you. With this, I conclude my respects to all who may enquire after J. P. Watson

To Rev’d. J. Smylie

N. B. Please inform Dr. A. [  ]. I think he is out of gear some way. He has never answered my letters. You will please answer my questions and send me the news of the neighborhood. I am yours with regard and esteem. — J. P. W.




1800: Thomas Tillotson Letter


Thomas Tillotson (1750-1832)

This letter was written by Thomas Tillotson (1750-1832)—an American patriot. In 1776, he was commissioned as a First lieutenant in the Maryland Militia, and served during the American Revolutionary War. He was appointed by Congress as a physician and surgeon general of the Northern Department of the Continental Army in 1780, and served until the close of the war. Afterward, he settled in Rhinebeck, New York and engaged in the practice of medicine.

A Federalist, he represented Dutchess County in the New York State Assembly in 1788. In 1790, State Senator Anthony Hoffman died, and Tillotson was elected to fill the vacancy. He was a member of the State Senate from 1791 to 1799, and served as a member of the Council of Appointment in 1791. He was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the 7th United States Congress in 1800, but resigned on August 10, 1801, before Congress met to become Secretary of State of New York. He remained in this office until March 15, 1806, and again from February 16, 1807 to February 1, 1808. He died in Rhinebeck on May 5, 1832 and was buried in the Livingston family vault in the cemetery at the Dutch Reformed Church in Rhinebeck.

In this letter, Thomas Tillotson offers to use whatever influence he might have with the State Legislature in Albany to make some adjustments favorable to his acquaintance—the purchaser of some lands acquired from the State of New York in what was called the Oneida Purchase. In 1788, the Oneidas ceded most of their six million acre homeland to the State, reserving only 300,000 acres for themselves.

It is not stated to whom Tillotson wrote this letter nor have I been able to determine the recipient’s identity based on the content. Tillotson was well-connected in the political community of his time. He is known to have corresponded with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, for example.


Rhinebeck [New York]
November 29, 1800

Dear Sir,

Your favor of this month from Utica is come to hand. I propose passing a week or two in Albany towards the first of March next when I shall with pleasure give you any assistance in my power towards rectifying any advantage the State may have taken of you in adjusting your Oneida purchase.

When I use the word assistance it can only mean by way of conversation with some of the members for anything further would be beyond my powers. Whilst with these members of the Legislature—as one of them—some attention will be paid and opinions; but as soon as that connection is dissolved, the influence ceases to exert itself. New members come in with new prejudices and new objects and former services are forgotten. I mention this thing to heed you that little estimate should be placed on the exertions of one circumstanced as I am however desirous I may be to serve you.

I have waited to hear from you on the subject of the Charlotte lands. Ere this I supposed the sale for quit-rents had taken place and that you would have sent a person (or come yourself) to have examined the Mills. I have sold a farm for the purpose of having some money ready to comply with such engagements as I might be induced to make. If the exchange should be made and I could get the one-forth together at one or other end of the patent, I might be able to make better payments than first contemplated.

You will have some business probably at New York this fall or the coming winter. Call on me and I will accompany you to the Mills where you can form some opinion of their value, or of their capability of being rendered valuable. Perhaps such a visit independent of your New York business might not prove a disagreeable one. You need not feel any apprehensions from Democratic inhospitality. I am yours with great respect &c., — Tho. Tillotson



1829: Sidney K. Howard to Capt. Francis Donaldson

This interesting letter was written by Sidney K. Howard (1803-1849)—a grocer, auctioneer, and ship captain of Portland, Cumberland county, Maine. He was married on 6 August 1827, to Chloe Dimock Donaldson (1809-18xx), the daughter of Hugh George Donaldson (1757-1812) and Hannah Doane Hatch (1771-1820) of Falmouth, Cumberland county, Maine. Sidney wrote the letter to his wife’s half-brother, Francis (“Frank”) Donaldson (b. 1795) who was then the captain of merchant vessel named the “Exchange.” Frank had long been a seaman, having been a Nantucket whale man in the early 1820s.  Chloe’s sister, Phebe Butler Donaldson (1812-1848) is also mention in the letter; she must have been residing with the Howards in Portland. And finally, another half-brother of Chloe’s, William Snow Donaldson (1805-1854) is mentioned.

Sidney appears to have been a businessman in Portland, offering a commercial retail outlet for bulk goods returned from distant southern and West India ports. His advertisements indicate he sold wine, rum, sugar and molasses to name a few items. He seems to have had his hand in more than one business at a time. In 1827, notices were posted in Portland papers announcing the dissolving of two separate partnerships—one with Ezra Kingman, Jr. in the firm of Howard & Kingman, and another with Marshall French in firm of French & Howard. Sidney continued his grocery store under his own name after that. In 1833, Sidney became the captain of a steamer named the “McDonough” that ran regularly between Portland and Boston, with an occasional trip to Bangor.

Addressed to Capt. Francis Donaldson of Brig. Exchange of Portland, New Orleans

Portland, [Maine]
March 28, 1829

My Friend & Brother,

Sister Phebe has just handed me a letter to carry to the Post Office for you which reminds me of the duty of writing to you also. The task is pleasant and would have been performed while you was in New York but I really did not find time; and I now almost fear that our letters will not reach you, it is so long since you left New York.

The enjoyment of friends is seldom realized until we are absented from them and although our acquaintance is somewhat limited, yet I cannot but join in the anxieties of Chloe & Phebe about you while absent.

We hear of frequent disasters at sea, and read numerous accounts of piracies committed near the island of Cuba and in the vicinity of the Gulf of Mexico; and sometimes feel apprehensive that you may either be overtaken by the one, or fall into the unmerciful hands of the other. Still, while we imagine the terrors of a tempest and shudder at the cruelties of the pirate, we hope you may have escaped them both.


Article appearing in the Boston Statesman, 16 May 1829

There are two vessels missing from this place, supposed to have been destroyed by pirates near the Havana. One of them was spoken very near Havana, bound in. The Statira is one, and a brig belonging to George Willis commanded by Capt. Weeks. One brig from Boston was taken & one from New York, and all hands murdered. As soon as [President] Jackson heard of it, he ordered the U.S. Ship Natchez [an 18 gun sloop of war] to sail for Cuba in 24 hours notice at farthest. I think this will be a feather in his cap.

Business has been extremely dull in this place the past winter. We have had three successive snow storms—have had six feet of snow—good measure. Nearly fifty failures have taken place since you left. I hold on yet & hope to. Have lost by them this winter over $1,000 but this cannot be helped. The old woman says, “you must not cry for spilled milk,” and so say I.

I received your letter enclosing $50 which I paid to Mr. Gold’s brother & took his receipt therefor. He wanted the money to pay a man he owed, I believe. Money is plenty in our Banks, but very little in circulation. Little business doing in anything new except West India business & that is hardly worth pursuing. Molasses is selling here for 25½ to 26 cents. They get $26-28 for lumber & give 2 bits for molasses. Sugar is also low—good for $8 & some left. I should not advise you to purchase any on your own account.

Case’s brig Drom, Capt. Rice, was capsized in one of those great snow storms within 30 miles of Nantucket and Capt. Rice was the first man who perished, & that too within thirty miles of his wife. She was at Nantucket. Two of the crew were carried into Boston. Hanson & Jewett’s brig Niagara was also lost—crew saved.

We had a fire a few days since which consumed Quincy’s boarding house & one man from New Orleans. No important news to write.


Ad in Portland Advertiser, 14 April 1829

Yours with esteem, — S. K. Howard

I forgot to say that Hugh McLellan is elected Colonel of the Gorham Regiment in consequence of being a Jackson man. He is almost crazy about it.

Mr. M. Sellars’ family are well excepting Josiah, he having fell & broken his leg! Elizabeth & Hugh were in town today. I hope you will write us when you arrive at New York. Your brother William is at Washington. We do not hear from New Bedford but our Falmouth friends were all well by our latest advices from there. — S. K. Howard

Will the Post Master in New Orleans be kind enough to return this to New York if the Exchange shall have sailed?


1846: William McIntyre Fletcher to Asa Fletcher, Jr.

This letter was written by William McIntyre Fletcher (1823-1904), the son of Asa Fletcher (1781-1862) and Lydia Heywood McIntire (1781-1858) of Moscow, Somerset county, Maine. William wrote the letter to his brother, Asa Fletcher, Jr. (1813-Aft1880). He wrote the letter from Pembroke, New Hampshire, where we learn he had recently closed the select school he had been teaching.

William married 1st, Lavinia Rowley (18xx-1856), and 2nd, Mrs. Sarah Ann Spittle. Lived in East Boston. Children George (b. 1854) and Lavinia (b. 1861). By the mid 1850’s, William had settled in East Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked as a ship carpenter or “ship wright.”

William’s letter contains a paragraph devoted to the wonder of mesmerism—a relatively new pseudoscience not yet well understood, that included an element of clairvoyance, among other things. If we are to believe William’s tale, his subject (a “young lady”) was able to travel from one village to another in Maine along a road quite familiar to him (but not her) and she was able to describe the scenery as they passed it with remarkable clarity and accuracy.

[Note This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published here by express consent.]

V0011094 A practictioner of Mesmerism using Animal Magnetism

A practitioner of mesmerism using animal magnetism on a woman.


Pembroke [Merrimack county, New Hampshire]
April 11th 1846

Dear Brother and friends,

I take this opportunity to write you once more and to let you know how I am getting along, whether you want to hear or not. I should think from your not writing that you did not much care about hearing from me but I shall trouble you this once. I had a very good success in my school last winter and gave general satisfaction. I calculated to have made a visit home after I closed my school and should have done so had not some events transpired over which I had no control that hindered me from so doing and I should have been extremely happy to have visited my friends in old Moscow, and in fact there is no place on Earth that so many endearing recollections cluster around as ones native place And when fond recollections reverts to the bygone days were I, in all the innocence of youth, used to roam over the hills of my native country and used to enjoy the society of my young associates, the tear of sorrow will intrinsically flow to think that it is possible that I never shall see those places in this world. Be that as it may, I am resigned to the will of Providence.

Tell Mother not to trouble herself too much about me for that will do me no good and herself a great deal of harm, but I have to confess that I trouble myself too much about her for I think there has not a day passed over my head since I left home but I have thought of her and her welfare. When I shall be at home is unknown to me. I have commenced a great undertaking of late and if I accomplish it, it will take me a number of years. I don’t see fit to let you know what it is at preset but you will find out  some day. I do not know where Amos is now but I suppose that he is somewhere in Massachusetts and likely you know where he is better than I do.

Write to me without fail as soon as you receive this for you must know that I want to hear from you for I have not heard a word from any of my friends in Moscow since last fall. Now write me all the news; write how business is down there and how much damage the freshet has done, and all about the young folks. Let me know what Andrew is up to this spring and if Albert is married and all the rest of the nonsense that you can think of for I have lonely hours enough [and reading letters is] the best way I can fix it.

I have got the art of Mesmerism and practice it where I am. I have a young lady that I put to sleep and she will tell anything. She went with me the other night down East—as they call it—and she described every house from Bingham village up to yours as well as I could. She even told what kind of trees there were before Mr. Beker’s house and she described our buildings as well as I could myself, and better too. She said that you or Father had got a new store. When you write, I want you to let me know if it is so or not. She said that Mother was a knitting in the corner with glasses on and Father was a talking and she said that you was a reading in a newspaper and Elizabeth was rocking the cradle and I thought that she told a very reasonable story—especially the last part of it.

Now write and fail not the very day you receive this for if you do not, I am afraid you will forget it and if you do, will not hear from me again till I hear from you. Direct your letter to Pembroke. So I remain your true brother and friend till death,

— William Fletcher, Pembroke, N, H.

Excuse bad writing for I was in a great hurry. Give my best respects to Albert and Andrew and Susan and all enquiring friends.

1838: Joseph William Briggs to Harmony (Gilmore) Briggs


Joseph William Briggs, ca. 1870

This letter was written by Joseph W. Briggs (1813-1872) to his wife, Harmony (Gilmore) Briggs (1818-1886). The couple were married on 8 October 1836 in Geauga county, Ohio.

Joseph W. Briggs was born 5 July 1813 in Clermont, New York, the son of Rufus Briggs  (1779-1816) and Nancy Haye (1774-1821). He was left an orphan at an early age and was raised by his uncle George Nixon Briggs who later became the Governor of Massachusetts. He learned the harness maker trade but applied his native mechanical genius to the invention of a stitching machine that he patented in 1838. The machine was said to be the first using a grooved, eye-pointed needle that made a lock stitch.

Later in his career, Briggs received an appointment by Postmaster General Montgomery Blair and charged with the responsibility to establish a free home mail delivery in Cleveland. Having done this, he was later appointed to a postal job in Washington to establish the same system nationally. It appears he had proposed the original idea of establishing home delivery during the cold winter of 1862-1863 after observing women shivering in line outside the post office waiting for letters from loved soldiers. The idea was not original, however; Philadelphia is known to have had a home mail delivery system prior to the Civil War.

[Note: The Western Reserve Historical Society has a collection of Joseph William Briggs Family Papers spanning the years 1862-1948.]

Addressed to Mrs. J. W. Briggs, Painesville, Ohio
Care of C. W. Briggs
Postmarked Buffalo, New York

Buffalo [New York]
May 5, 1838

Dear Wife,

I am now in the Great City of Buffalo and do not know how long I shall stay here. They think well of my machine and I think that I will sell to some of them in this place. I came in town yesterday and have not seen the gentleman that was in Painesville to buy this state of me. ¹ I have been a visiting this week. I have been to see an aunt that I never saw before—my father’s sister—Aunt Olive Purdy. She is a fine old lady and has a large family of boys and girls and Uncle Simon and all the rest want to see you and little Harmony too.

I have sold a number of rights but have not taken much money yet but as soon as I do, I will send you some post haste. Take good care of little sister. Kiss her for me forty times a day and be a good girl yourself and be careful of your health which is the staff of life. I shall go East and will be home in two or three weeks, I think.

Write to me the first thing you do and tell me how you get long and all about the times and people. Give my respects to all Mr. Smith’s family & kiss Vienna for me and I will write to you again in a few days.

Direct your letter to Buffalo. I am well and feel fine. Yours husband, — Jos. W. Briggs

To his wife, Mrs. Harmony Briggs

¹ In the 1830’s, products were often sold by agents representing the company. These agents purchased exclusive rights from the manufacturer to sell their products in a given region. These agents might then sell the products themselves or hire traveling salesmen to go door-to-door demonstrating their wares.