1848: Aaron Nash to Millard Fillmore

letterThis is an 1848 letter from Aaron Nash (1783-1855) in Ballston Spa, New York to the comptroller of the State of New York, Millard Fillmore, requesting information as to the captivity of slave Nero Gordon (owned by New York State Militia and Revolutionary solder Col. James Gordon) after his capture with Col. Gordon and others by the British in 1780 during what was termed “The Northern Invasion of 1780.” Docketing on the letter by the Comptroller (or someone from his office) states, “nothing found.”

Nash, who served as Clerk of Court in Ballston Spa from 1813-1836, is known from other sources to have worked on trying to get Revolutionary War pensions for those who served but had not yet received their due. The period during which the letter was written was one in which the pension laws had been liberalized to some extent. In this regard, there were indeed precedents for slaves who had service in the Revolutionary War to receive a pension.

In his letter, Nash notes that he is making the plea on behalf of a child of Nero (Nero himself having passed away over the intervening 68 years). Based on the docketing, it is unlikely that the family received any money. However, there is very compelling evidence that Nero was in fact a prisoner of the British and was clearly deserving of a pension.


David Fiske’s 2016 Book chronicles the kidnapping of Free Citizens in America before the Civil War

The story of Nero’s experiences in 1780 and thereafter is extraordinary and was meticulous researched by David Fiske—the author of Solomon Northup: His Life Before and After Slavery, and a co-author of Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave, that readers will likely recognize as the title of the 2013 Oscar-winning movie. [See History Lesson: Nero, courageous slave from Ballston, authored by David Fiske and published on Feb. 10, 2013 in the Saratoga News; also, see repost in footnotes.] ¹ In 2016, Fiske also published a book entitled, Solomon Northup’s Kindred, the Kidnapping of Free Citizens before the Civil War.

Nero was likely freed by Col. Gordon shortly following his voluntary return to the Gordon household after a daring escape from captivity in Canada. He eventually left the household as a free man and built a family of his own in the area nearby. A gradual manumission law in New York State was passed in 1799, but it was not until 4 July 1827 that the last slave in the state was made free.

[Note: This letter was graciously shared by Richard Weiner by express consent for publication on this blogsite.]


Ballston Spa
April 6th 1848

Dear Sir,

Will you have the goodness to examine the (Revolutionary) Books, rolls, &c. of your Office, or in the Office of the Secretary, for the name of Nero Gooman who was sometimes called Nero Gordon & who was a slave at the time he was taken by the British at the Town of Ballston some time in October 1780 & with his Master, Col. James Gordon, conveyed to Canada and there continued a captive for some time. If his name is found in either office, I wish to be informed how long he continued his captivity. Nero & his wife are both dead, but one child of the family survives. Please send me a statement, not a certificate, or at least unless he was in captivity over 6 months, with the Bill of your charges & will see it paid.

I am respectfully your obedient servant, — Aaron Nash

To the Comptroller of the State of New York at Albany


¹ By David Fiske, posted 2/10/2013 in Saratoga News


James Gordon (1739-1810) was taken prisoner by the British with three of his slaves, including Nero.

“BALLSTON SPA — Slavery in New York State was legal until it was completely eliminated in 1827. Prior to that, some Saratoga County residents had owned slaves. The person who had more slaves than anyone else in the county was General James Gordon (he had owned as many as seven, and the 1800 Federal Census shows that he owned five at that time). Among Gordon’s slaves was the remarkable Nero.

Details of Nero’s life have largely been lost to history. Most of what is known about him concerns the October 1780 raid on the Ballston area during the American Revolution. Though a minor part of the War, accounts of this incident provide some information on Nero.

Gordon, at the time a colonel in the American militia, was a target of this raid. A force consisting of British soldiers and Native Americans, under the command of British Major John Munro, attacked Gordon’s house, located just north of the Mourningkill on Middle Line Road.

During the night attack, Gordon and a number of people at his house were captured and carried away. Among them were three slaves, Nero, Jacob, and Anne. (Another of Gordon’s slaves, Liz, ran out of the house, hiding in a field, where she cleverly escaped detection by tying a strip of cloth from her dress around the snout of a barking dog that threatened to reveal her hiding place).

The raiders rounded up other residents from the area, including Capt. Tyrannus Collins, Gordon’s near neighbor. All were marched under heavy guard toward Canada. Munro informed his troops — and the prisoners — that if his force were attacked, the prisoners were to be instantly executed. (A rescue effort had been organized, but was given up after Gordon somehow got a message out that no counter-attack should be undertaken.)

Nero did attempt self-rescue (probably before Munro’s threat had been made, but — if afterward — certainly an especially courageous move on his part). As the captives were on their way out of the area, Nero threw himself headlong down a ravine. Unfortunately, he banged his head on a small tree and was quickly recaptured.

All the captives were taken to Montreal. There, the whites were imprisoned and the blacks were sold to new owners. Nero was first purchased by Patrick Langan, who in December resold him for 60 pounds to John Mittleberger, a tailor. He did not remain Mittleberger’s slave for long, however, as he ran away from him in June 1781. Seeking the return of his property, Mittleberger placed an ad in a Montreal newspaper: “RUN away from the subscriber, the 27th of June last, a Negro man named NERO, 24 years of age, about 5 feet nine inches high.” Mittleberger offered a reward of 50 shillings, plus reimbursement for expenses incurred by anyone who apprehended Nero.

Nero was not found, though, as British Gen. Allan McLean (apparently not a fan of slavery) held him as a prisoner of war. Nero, along with another slave named “Dublin,” who had belonged to Ballston’s Capt. Bennett, escaped and headed south. Near Ticonderoga, they swam across Lake Champlain to its eastern shore (now Vermont, but at that time, still part of New York). The two men eventually reached Richmond, Mass., in the Berkshires. Exactly why they went there is not known, but genealogical researcher Beth Finch McCarthy has discovered that Tyrannus Collins had some connection with that town, and probably lived there for a while after his own imprisonment in Canada had ended. Nero may have heard about Richmond from Collins, either prior to the raid or during the trip to Canada.

Nero eventually returned to Ballston, and to Gordon, his old master. (Gordon had escaped from Canada with some other men, traipsed through the Maine woods, and reached Boston as the war drew to a close.) Gordon gave Nero his freedom, though the point at which he did so is not clear — one source says it was around 1782, but another says it was not until about 1802.

An article about New York officeholders who were slaveholders says that Nero went to work for a “Dr. William M. Scott.” However, books on local history do not mention a person with that name and title. There was an early resident of Greenfield named William Scott, who had been a colonel in the militia.

Census information and other sources indicate that he did own some slaves. Scott was the first supervisor of Greenfield and also served as a Justice of the Peace.

If Nero were a member of Scott’s household, either as a slave or a hired hand, it probably was not for an extended period of time. The 1810 Census listing for the town of Ballston includes a free man named “Nero Goman,” who is the head of a household consisting of five “non-whites.”

The 1820 listing for Ballston includes the name “Thomas Goman,” who heads a household of three “free coloured persons.” Thomas may well have been a son of Nero. Freed slaves often used their former owners’ surnames, or variations of them, so these men named “Goman” may have had a connection to General Gordon.

The year 1820 is the last that shows any evidence of Nero or his relatives in the Census, so Nero may have died by then, or, perhaps the family relocated. That Nero was a trusted member of the community is indicated by the fact that Judge George G. Scott, in a historical address given in 1876, relied at least in part on Nero’s retelling of the story of the Ballston raid.

It is regrettable that the past’s racial indifference, or even prejudice, has resulted in a lack of more specific information on the life of this courageous African-American.”



1833: Joseph Blount Hinton to Allen Grist

These two letters were written by 45 year-old Rev. Joseph Blount Hinton (1788-1872), antebellum state legislator, of Beaufort County and Raleigh, N.C.  Often labeled a “nullifier,” Hinton’s words suggest otherwise. He was clearly a trusted supporter of President Andrew Jackson, pleading with him in a February 1831 letter to run for a second term by writing him: “There is a moral power in your character and name too mighty for resistance…North Carolina will not go against you for anyone living.” In this same letter he acknowledged to the President that Calhoun was “once the favorite of our people, but not so now—he has fallen & Mr. Van Buren is rising.”

An article published on 14 May 1833 in the Easton Star (Easton, MD) states that a 26 April 1883 letter penned by Joseph B. Hinton to a friend in Maryland warned that, “…the South Carolina and Virginia taint is spreading in the upper counties of North Carolina….Great exertions are making in that section to discredit Mr. Van Buren and breakdown the administration….with fearful success. South Carolinians are passing through that county with medals inscribed ‘John C. Calhoun, First President of the Southern Confederacy!’…Some predict that that the last election for the President of the United States has happened. Slavery—the [Nullification] Proclamation—Tariff and Bank, are made the pretexts.”

Rev. Hinton was married to Margaret Dashiell (1798-1850) in February 1830. The Dr. John Wesley Potts (1813-1835) mentioned in Hinton’s letter was a half-brother of Hinton’s; they shared the same mother, Mary Ann Blount (1765-1806). Hinton’s grandmother was Sarah Bonner which probably means he was a distant relative of the Col. Bonner mentioned in this letter. Dr. Potts died in Little Rock, Arkansas, on 13 July 1835 [see interesting article regarding Wesley Hymnal belonging to Potts].

The content of the first letter pertains to the passage of measures in the North Carolina Assembly in support of Gov. David Lowry Swain’s promotion of internal improvements which did not sit well with most Democrats—including Hinton—who felt the Whigs would bankrupt the state. The content of the second letter centers principally on the vote in the North Carolina Assembly of an appointment for a Brigadier General’s position in the North Carolina militia. As usual, political considerations swung the matter in favor of one candidate over another.

The recipient of both letters was Allen Grist—a Whig planter who owned (by 1860) over 100 slaves, a naval stores producer, a sheriff and a senator from Washington, Beaufort county, North Carolina.


Rev. Joseph B. Hinton’s 1833 Letter with Political Cartoon ridiculing Clay’s American System

Addressed to Allen Grist, Esq., Washington, Beaufort County, N. C.

[Raleigh, North Carolina]
Monday night, [November 4, 1833]

My dear Sir,

W[illiam J.] Gaston was elected Judge of the [North Carolina] Supreme Court– vote 112 Gaston, Seawell 43, Blank 36. Gov. [David Lowry] Swain was also again elected Governor. Symptoms of opposition caused his friends to hurry on the election & even then about 50 blanks told him a tale he cannot misunderstand. If his schemes of debts—canals—roads—fail, he is done over & fail it must unless the people lose their senses.

The Conventional Committee reported today their plan to cut a ship channel from the Neuse [river] to Beaufort & a ship channel from Edenton to Norfolk., make a railroad from Tennessee line to somewhere on the Neuse—probably to Newbern. These are to be State[-funded] Works. She is to do them herself. And also a railroad from Halifax via Fayetteville to the South Caroline [line]. Besides these State Works, the State is to take 2/5th of stock in every other railroad & the other 3/5th to be taken by individuals. To pay for these works, the State is to borrow at once, five millions of dollars. And besides this, the Bank Stock—literary fund—vacant lands—are to be thrown into the fund. Our members of Congress are to be called on to cause the Indian Title in this State to be extinguished & these Indian lands to be ____ the common gulf. Men or members of Congress are to be required to pass Clay’s Land Bill ¹ & the money from that quarter is to go into the fund & one share of the surplus money in the Treasury of the U. S is to be applied & so used., & then borrow five or ten millions more if it should be needed to complete the grand South Sea dream.

By this time you will say they are crazy. They are so, and yet many of the first men in North Carolina for property & intelligence are here & say well done & will cling to the scheme as for life. Old Willis Alston ² in the Convention today predicted bankruptcy & ruin to the State if the Assembly adopted the project.

Mr. Shepherd’s wife’s death has delayed the action of the Bank Committee. He was a member & had views to submit.

The Nullifiers are here in great force & I doubt not doing all they can & probably not in vain. Yours, — Jos. B. Hinton

¹ Henry Clay introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate on 25 January 1833 that passed 24 to 20, which gave the US Government the right to sell public lands, the proceeds of which would be applied toward internal improvements—a platform of the Whig (or opposition party) in 1833.

² “Old” Willis Alston, Jr. (1769-1837) was 64 years old when he sat in the North Carolina Assembly and cast his vote against these internal improvement measures. He gave up his seat in disgust, turning it over to his friend John Branch, late Secretary of the Navy. During the 1832 Presidential Election, he campaigned against Martin Van Buren for Vice President and continued to be a voice for Nullification.

Addressed to Allen Grist, Esq., Washington, Beaufort County, N. C.

Raleigh [North Carolina]
Thursday, 5th December 1833

Dear Sir,

Your letter came to hand yesterday morning. Soon afterwards I showed it to Dr. [John Wesley] Potts [representing Edgecombe county] & Mr. Snow. I was detained at home for the first hour of the yesterday’s sitting of the [Legislative] Assembly. When I went down to the House, I found them in the act of balloting for Brigadier General [of the 13th Brigade] & [Richard H.] Bonner & [Hezekiah G.] Spruill of Tyrrell [County] in nomination. I am of opinion that this movement was the work of some persons of the House of Commons. Dr. Potts was talking with me at the moment & was surprised as were others of Bonner’s voters by the suddenness of the movement when it was not expected to happen for some days to come. The Dr. went in & distributed all the Bonner tickets he could. Pugh did the same in the Senate. Mr. [William Lee] Kennedy ¹ [of Beaufort] and the Tyrrell members were active against Bonner & for Spruill. I saw no others concerning themselves about it. The plan had been matured out of doors to beat Bonner & it did so, Bonner’s vote was 60 or 70; Spruill’s about 100. For myself, I was a mere looker-on. I rather did Bonner service than other win, but he has too illy requited my friendships for me to engage as an active partisan of his. I could not do it without forgetting everything due to myself. Mr. Kennedy was much displeased after he received his father’s letter & resolved that Bonner should not succeed & stood ready to run himself if the Tyrrell members did not put up Spruill. He is quite displeased at his father’s informing him that the delegation from all the counties were opposed to him & in favor of Bonner. So the old gentleman told him somebody had written from this place. He attacked Snow, supposing he had so written, but he denied it. I endeavored to soothe him but unsuccessfully.

Let it be remembered that Mr. Kennedy is a young man who has given no offense to the Assembly; that many of his school mates are in the Legislature; & that he boards in the midst of nearly 100 members—and there can be no cause of wonder that he could carry many with him for himself or for his friend—for a little empty honor like that. And besides, Col. Bonner has gained no strength by coming to the Assembly. He gave much offense last year & the violent speeches & abuse of himself & his brother Rollin here against me injured him among those who were witnesses of my generous friendship for himself a little while before. But it is over now. Let it pass.

Today we learn Mr. [Thomas D.] Singleton, member of Congress from South Carolina—who died yesterday in this place—he was attacked here a week ago with hemorrhage of the lungs.

David Latham [of Beaufort county], I think, will die. ² He is—or was yesterday eve—in the closing stage of a rapid pleuritic inflammation consequent on a bad cold a week ago. Dr. Shaw is unremitting in his attention to him. Everybody here has bad colds almost—very near akin to influenza.

No new movement in the assembly worthy of your attention. Yours, — Jos. B. Hinton

A. Grist, Esq.

P. S. Why won’t Mr. Elison send to some one of the Beaufort Members a certified copy of the Report of the County Line Commissioners? He may rest assured he will give offense in the lower end of the county by his disregarding every application I have made for it before & since I came here. — J. B. H.

Bonner’s vote was 62, Spruill’s vote was 114.

¹ Colonel William Lee Kennedy (1810-1850)—a member of the North Carolina militia—was only 23 years old when he served in the North Carolina Lower Assembly. He was the son of William Kennedy (1768-1834) and Elizabeth Lee (1776-1818) of Washington, Beaufort County, North Carolina. A rumor was published in the Alexandria Gazette on 19 November 1839 that William L. Kennedy and the Hon. Edward Stanly—being opponents in a heated Congressional election debate from which Kennedy subsequently withdrew—had “gone to Virginia to settle an affair of honor—Mr. K. being the challenger….No parties being arrested on their way to the battle ground..” A subsequent notice published in the Sun (Baltimore, MD) on 19 November 1839 stated that “they had been arrested on the way and bound over not to hurt each other.”

² David Latham died on 6 December 1833.

1869: John Marshall McCue to John Allen Trimble



John Marshall McCue’s letter of April 1869 with CDV of Unidentified Businessman

This letter was written by Major John Marshall McCue (1816-1890), the son of James Andrew McCue (1783-1853) and Margaret C. Trimble (1790-1877) of Augusta County, Virginia. Major McCue graduated at Washington College in 1836. Some claims have been made that he graduated from West Point but I can find no record of that. He practiced law in Augusta county, Virginia, where he married his second cousin, Martha Jane McCue (1837-1879), daughter of James Wakefield McCue. He served as a member of the State Legislature in the early 1850’s and during the Civil War, Major McCue served in the Confederate home guard. It appears he also partnered with a gentleman named David Lorenzo Sibert to patent the “Virginia Gun” [a.k.a a “Union Pacificator”]—a self-loading and repeating rifle [see article in the Richmond Enquirer of 14 March 1861]. Stories persist claiming that Sibert actually stole the credit for the rifle from William Bell Shaffer and then John D. Imboden and John Marshall McCue (both witnesses on the patent drawings) stole it from Sibert. In September 1861, he also entered into a contract with the Confederate States of America for the manufacture of saltpeter from a mine in Monroe county, Tennessee [see article in Commercial Appeal of 11 September 1861].

Clearly McCue lived up to his reputation as an “enterprising citizen” of Augusta county, Virginia. One article appearing in the Daily Dispatch (Richmond, Va.) reports that McCue leased property eight miles from the Orange and Alexandria railroad in 1866 that contained an iron mine so rich in iron content that he was able to have his horse shod with the ore at a local blacksmith shop.

McCue wrote the letter to his uncle, John Allen Trimble (1801-1885), the son of James Trimble (1753-1804) and Jane Allen (1755-1839). Trimble’s brother Hugh Allen Trimble (1783-1870), served as Ohio’s 8th & 10th Governor. In 1870, the year after this letter was penned, John A. Trimble was enumerated in Hillsboro, Highland county, Ohio. He was identified as a retired merchant. He died in 1885 in Clinton county, Ohio.


St. Nicholas Hotel
Baltimore, [Maryland]
7th April 1869

Jno. A. Trimble, Esq.
Dear Uncle,

I felt much disappointment before I left home on Friday morning last (this is Wednesday morning) in not having heard from Ma through you for once a fortnight. I thought I would certainly hear when I got to Staunton but did not. I brought my wife that far to have some dentistry attended to and am glad to say that her health was better than for a fortnight before when she was severely threatened with pneumonia. The rest of our family not as well as usual. Of our friends, Jas. Bill of David died on the Monday morning before I left & Dais Bill’s wife is wearing out for hopes more rapidly than she was with these exceptions. The connections were as well as usual.


Dr. William Swan Plumer—a “most venerable & patriarchal figure, seeming never to have lost any of the hair on his head and his beard is massive and ten inches long.”

I came via Richmond where I was from Saturday evening to Monday night. Heard Dr. [William Swan] Plumer twice on Sabbath, of whom I might say “there were giants in those days.” This is certainly a most venerable & patriarchal figure, seeming never to have lost any of the hair of his head and his beard is massive and ten inches long.

Gerrard House, Philadelphia
Wednesday night, nine o’clock

I have made quite a jump since closing the paragraph above. Left Baltimore at ¼ past 2 P. M. and reached here at dusk & having just finished a letter home, will conclude this though tired & sleepy. I left Richmond Monday night at 8 and breakfasted in Washington & remained there until 2 P. M. visiting an old acquaintance and friend Jack Shafer, ¹ territorial delegate from Idaho who was raised in Rockingham & an uncle to Mrs. Gov. Letcher [Susan Holt of Staunton, Va,]. I did not see Jno. [Armstrong] Smith, your delegate, & was sorry afterwards I did not, as might have heard from you all & something of my mother.

I reached Baltimore at ½ past 3 and stopped at the St. Nicholas Hotel, 29th Holliday St. where Ma will find Nelson H. Hotchkiss ² who left the National (closed) and is here. His oldest daughter Sarah is now with him on a visit and will stay some time. When Ma thinks of turning her face homewards & reaches Baltimore, she had better go to the St. Nicholas & if Mr. Hotchkiss is written to before hand by you as to the time at which he may expect her, and the route (say Baltimore & Ohio [RR]), he will try and meet her at the Camden Street Station. If at the time you write to Mr. Hotchkiss you will also write to Mother Blair whose address I enclose as to the time she will probably reach Richmond, he told me he would take great pleasure in meeting her at the York River Depot & taking her to his house. He seemed much gratified at the probabilities of her visiting his family & will let Cousin Mary Woods & Mrs. Brown know so they will meet Ma there. Mr. Hotchkiss can’t now furnish a free ticket over the road & river route, as I suggested, as there has been a change of Presidents & he is a stranger to the new one. Yet this will be so much more pleasant for Ma and give her some rest after the fatigue of railroad traveling.

I have met with one or two young Virginians tonight who came here on business as clerks. Davis A. Kayser & some of the Staunton merchants were here last week.


Clipping from the Lowell Daily Citizen & News, Lowell, Mass., 5 April 1869

Tomorrow (Thursday) an unusual day, by the way, is fixed for the execution of [George S.] Twitchell ³ and another murderer [named Eaton]. I had lost sight of it until this evening. As I came over, I noticed a paragraph in one of today’s papers. This city’s papers discredit his confession made some days ago charging the murder of his wife. Tis said she has gone off somewhere—no one knows where—abandoning him to his fate.

I wish to go to New York tomorrow and will be very busy there until Saturday in attending to some business preparatory to a big jaunt either by the Isthmus [of Panama] or Pacific Railroad to California, whither I go on an urgent business. Hope to adjust it and return by the end of the first week of June. I thought of going & returning by the Pacific Railroad but the detentions caused travelers by the snow & the incomplete portion of the road induce me to to go by the Isthmus & return by the inland route—more pleasant and secure them. I fear this big undertaking may shock Ma but I sincerely hope not and it is induced by strong considerations of relief in financial matters, the details of which I have not the time to give her now, but of the practicality & feasibility of which I am convinced and have the strongest hopes of success. When I left home, I had not fully made up my mind that it would be necessary and was so uncertain in regard to it that I had not communicated my purpose to Mattie & the family, but will do so fully from New York.

Stevens House, New York
Friday night, 9 April 1869

Dear Uncle,

Did not have a chance to finish this in Philadelphia and reached here at 4 last evening & have been exceedingly busy. Just came back short time since from Cyrus H[all] McCormick‘s ‡ where I dined at 6.  Today went on board the new steamer Alaska belonging to the Aspinwall line that sails tomorrow at 12. † I selected a stateroom on the upper or the hurricane deck as the coolest & most pleasant. ‘Tis a long voyage & a big undertaking but I sincerely hope I can make it pay. Remember me sincerely to all my friends and if I do not get time to write to Ma with this, give her much love for me & to not feel sad or anxious about me but to look at the bright side.

Affectionately your nephew, — J. M. McCue

¹ Jacob (“Jack”) K. Shafer (1823-1876) was a native of Rockingham, Virginia. He went to California in the 1849 Gold Rush. He was the mayor of Stockton in 1852, the first district attorney in San Joaquin county, and a district judge in California for ten years. He was the Democratic delegate elected in 1868 to represent the Territory of Idaho, serving one term. He then went to Eureka, Nevada, where he died in November 1876.

² Maj. Nelson Hill Hotchkiss (1819-1891) was a brother of Stonewall Jackson’s famed cartographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss. He was born in Broome county, New York and came to Virginia in 1859 where he purchased a farm in Augusta county. In the early 1870’s he moved to Staunton, Va. He was best known for his connection with the Chesapeake & Ohio, and the York River Railroad companies. “He was a pioneer in the movement to bring about a better understanding between the estranged sections, and in order to promote that end organized the first excursion of newspapermen from the North to the South after the war.” He was married to Harriet Russell (1820-1883).

³ George S. Twitchell was convicted of killing his mother-in-law, Mary S. Hill. His defense team argued that it was actually his wife, the victim’s daughter, that killed her and his only crime was to help make the crime look like an accident. On the day of his scheduled execution by hanging, Twitchell was found dead of an apparent suicide, having drank some strychnine secretly delivered to him by his friends.

† A notice published in the New York Herald on Thursday, 8 April 1869, states that the steamship Alaska (Capt. Gray) would sail from New York Harbor to Aspinwall, where after crossing the Isthmus, they would connect with the Pacific Mail Steamship (PMSS), Colorado (Capt. Parker), and journey on to San Francisco. A notice in the Weekly Alta California (8 May 1869) indicates that the Steamer Colorado arrived in San Francisco on 3 May 1869 after 13 days, 10 hours journey from Panama.

‡ Cyrus Hall McCormick, known for his invention of the reaper, grew up in Rockbridge county, Virginia, and may have been an acquaintance of McCue’s.


Article appearing in Evening Post, (NY) 31 May 1869


1848: Patrick H. Kelly to Colonel McLean

When the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican War in 1848, the Santa Fe Trail became a national road connecting the United States to the new southwest territories, creating business opportunities for ambitious entrepreneurs. One such person was Patrick H. Kelly (1831-1900), an Irish immigrant who came to New York City by way of Canada when he was only 16 years old. From this letter—written from Independence, Missouri (the outfitting post of the trail in 1848)—we learn that Patrick was ready to seek his fortune in New Mexico.

Records in the territory are scanty but it appears that Patrick was appointed the postmaster of La Canada, Rio Arriba county (northwest of Santa Fe) in 1855-1857. In 1857, he relocated to Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he founded the P. H. Kelly Mercantile Company (wholesale grocers & importers). He apparently retained business ventures in New Mexico, however, as he held mining claims in Kelly and Chloride, New Mexico (the former named after him). [see Kelly Mine in New Mexico] Late in life, Patrick represented Ramsey county in the Minnesota State Legislature as a Democrat.

Kelly’s wholesale grocery store in St. Paul—a multi-story building—is famous for having hosted Sitting Bull when he visited the city in 1884, giving him his first ride on an elevator.

[Disclaimer: I have yet to find a biographical sketch that ties the Patrick H. Kelly of New Mexico with the Patrick H. Kelly of St. Paul, Minnesota, but I believe they are one and the same.]


Independence [Missouri]
10th May 1848

Dear Colonel,

As our train will start for the plains in the course of a few moments (not having time to write to you since I came here), I will now give you a few hasty lines. My sole object is to apprise you that there is a monthly mail from the States to Santa Fe and also that I should be very happy to communicate with you during my stay in New Mexico. Please write to me on or about the 20th of June next and let me know how the family are and also how business generally is and all other information will be thankfully received.

I forgot when starting to tell you that you would confer a favor (when all or what could be collected of the ___ which I presume Mr. Nagle handed to you) by getting a draft on New York and enclosing the same to T. & N. Donnelly, No. 7 South Williams St. ¹  I will write Eugene [Kelly] and tell him that I instructed you to forward the amount to New York. Mr. Morrison, Auctioneer, or Mr. Cristy will hand to you the amount of a stove & pipe which I left there for sale.

Did Mr. White pay the costs yet of the suit? Mr. Rodgers, I suppose, will not charge anything for only bringing up before the judge so good a looking man as Father Tom. When Mr. Coleman pays the amount of the execution with interest from date of my bill—if Mr. Thomas McGowan don’t pay before—I wish you would hand his due bills over for collection.

Mr. Mullen bought goods in St. Louis and is going out with me. Mr. Eugene & Mr. Michael Kelly were asking for you. I gave your respects to both.

My best respects to your family and believe me to be one that will long remember your kindness and warm friendship, both of which I am indebted to you.

— P. H. Kelly

P. S. Mr. Mullen wishes to be remembered to you. — P. H. K.

¹ Terence & Nicholas S. Donnelly had a dry goods business listed at 7 S. William Street in the 1848 New York City Directory.


1857: James Austin Richards to William DeWitt Alexander


James Austin Richards, MD

This letter was written by Dr. James Austin Richards (1827-1858), the son of William Richards (1793-1847) and Clarissa Lyman (1794-1861) of New Haven, Connecticut. James was born in Lahaina, Maui county, Hawaii in 1827 where his parents labored as a missionaries, sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. James graduated from Amherst College in the Class of 1851 and later earned his medical degree from Yale College. He died at New Haven on 3 June 1858, at age 30.

This letter was written from Cairo, Egypt, while touring Europe and Africa, in 1857—most likely an attempt to regain his health and to satisfy his curiosity pertaining to these foreign countries.

James mentions his brother, Lyman Richards Williston (1830-1897) in this letter. Born Levi Lyman Richards, in 1837 Levi and his sister Harriet became foster children of Samuel and Emily Williston of Easthampton, Massachusetts, who raised and educated them as their own. He took the Williston name (which he subsequently bestowed on his own children), and dropped the name Levi, becoming Lyman Richards Williston. “Lyman Williston adopted Rationalistic views in Germany, which debarred him from a promised professorship in Amherst College. He became eminent as an Educator, being Master of Cambridge High School from 1857 to 1862, and again from 1870 to 1879, in the intervening establishing and conduction the Berkeley St. School for girls. From 1880 to 1884 he was one of the supervisors of the Boston public schools, and from 1884 to 1891 was Master of the Girls’ Latin School in Boston, then resigning on account of ill health.”

James wrote the letter to William DeWitt Alexander (1833-1913) who was also the son of an Hawaiian missionary. William and James attended Yale College at the same time in the mid-1850’s.


Addressed to Mr. Wm. D. Alexander, Care of Rev. C. Forbes, ¹ Glade Run P. O., Armstrong Co., Pennsylvania

Cairo, Egypt
March 16th 1857

Alexander, my dear fellow,

How are you? Not like me, I dare say—enjoying the luxuries of an air at 70º Fahrenheit—windows open—green grass, and never fading foliage to greet the eye. I fancy that you are buried in the snow and nothing but the verdure of your “brats” to remind you of summer. I had well nigh forgotten that America existed, so absorbed have I been with this Cradle of the World, until on my return down the Nile the other day, I found a pile of letters awaiting my perusal and among them one from you. All right—teach those growing ideas how to shoot and make the most out of them. But when you are done out there in that Hoosier country, pray don’t be so green as to go to Princeton Theological Seminary, That certainly will be unpardonable in you. As you value sound learning, accurate scholarship, and true worth, go to Andover. These are by no means inconsistent with godliness, tho’ I am sorry that there is not so much there as at New York. Develop yourself under a purer atmosphere than that of Princeton. I can’t bear to think of you as being there in the fog all the while. At New York Theological Seminary, you can find time to teach and I think nearly support yourself if Andover should prove too expensive. Don’t patronize misty old foggyism. Those are blue lights that burn in Princeton. It is a snare of the devil, this scholarship that is offered you there. “Leave it alone.” Go to Andover by all means. If you can’t go there, got to New York. But keep away from Princeton as you would from the bottomless pit.


Lord Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” (1825)

Perhaps you may have learnt of my arrival in Egypt on the 1st of last December after a rough passage from Trieste. My health had been most miserable. Tho’ I must confess it was not so far gone as to forbid my enjoying such places as Leipzig, Dresden, Prague, Vienna, and Venice up to my very eyes, as the saying goes, as I passed along. To all these & other places I did full justice, unless it be Vienna. I would gladly have tarried longer but my health would not admit of it. Venice was a place sui queris. I spent two weeks there and was amply paid for the visit. [Lord] Byron’s Childe Harold did me good service, in IV Cantos, while there. But I tell you I was used up when I got here to Cairo. My bed and I held sweet communion for several days. But on the advice of my Dr. here, I boated off into the Upper Country beyond the Hundred Gated Thebes to the old Syene, now Assonan at the 1st Cataract. ² In rambling over the country, gemming, geologizing, & studying ruins, I made out to pick up a wonderful amount of health. And now I have come back fat & lively as a buck. I have improved wonderfully. Some of that cough still lingers but I shall dry up on it as soon as I can.

This “Land of Darkness” after all has many streaks of light about it, and I hardly know how or why it should receive so unjust a name, unless as I suppose it be for the ungodliness of this ungodly people. Be that as it may, it has much to delight the mind, though apart from its ruins, it is mostly the delight arising from the novelty of its scenes. To the antiquarian and the historian, it is however a land teaming with riches and to such particularly does it commend itself.

There is great sameness of scenery. The Nile, like a silvery thread, runs through this carpet of green and as far as the eye can reach appears the same swift stream, the same plains of green, and the same time-worn cliffs walling in all the verdure & beauty of the country. These grey hill mountain ranges, as you ascend the river, gradually converge towards the river, narrowing the fertile soil into smaller & smaller strips, until what was with difficulty measured in miles can be easily estimated in feet & inches. This convergence is by no means a regular one, and can be only spoken of as such when the whole line of extent is taken into the view. For instance, the valley here from desert to desert is about 8 miles wide, while in some places above, it is even 20 or more. Sometimes the river is in the middle of the valley & again on either side—the cliffs seeming to rise in some places directly out of the water and leaving all the soil on the opposite bank, extending away for 8, 10, or 15 miles, before it reaches the desert hills of that side.

Clusters of palms relieve the view and occasionally of Acacia or Lout. Wherever a lot of palms are found clustered together, there is always a cluster of Arab huts—a village of mud hovels with not half the decency about them of the Sandwich Island [Hawaii] thatched houses. It is strange to me that a people who are so remarkably clean personally should live in such filthy houses and should indulge in habits equally dirty. Personal cleanliness, however, is required as a religious act, while cleanliness in dress, food, & living is not. I am not at all disgusted with Arab character. There are many good points about them, I would far sooner trust myself among the “fellahs” of Egypt than among the pheasants of Italy, judging of the little I have seen of the latter. There is an honesty about these people that I like. They are charged with dishonesty but it is the dishonesty of exaggeration, true of all Orientals. They have not that thievish, deceitful, lying & despicable meanness of character which is found in the Catholic Italian. Their dishonest name has come from ignorant travelers who in their trading with them, find themselves obliged to pay twice or three times as much for a given article than would be required of a fellow native. But such travelers should know that in the East, it is the duty of the buyer always to make an offer for an article, since an Oriental knows of no other way to judge of the value of his commodity but by the buyer’s desires to possess it. To him, it has no intrinsic value. If you leave it to the merchant to say how much you shall pay for his goods, he puts the price up as high as he can. In almost all such cases, he will take a third & sometimes a half less than he asks for it. He is free to acknowledge that he wishes to make the most he can out of you.

The Mohouctan religion after all is not so mean a one as the Catholics. The man is not so degraded into littlenesses nor into such villains as the Catholic religion degrades the man. Of all the people I hate a jesuitical one. Mohommad was no Jesuit, nor are his followers. After all, we know but little of the Institution of marriage here, and this constitutes the grand objection to this form of religion. Tho’ I am no advocate of polygamy, still I am not ready to say that the one wife system would at present be the best thing for the people. Chibouks, coffee, and as many wives as you please are the great items here, no doubt, and I must confess a bias to them all. Latakiah is a luxury. Coffee is a greater, and I am sure a wife (for that would be enough to please me) would be the greatest of all (my own dear July Ann!). It would do me good to look at a woman—for here it is almost impossible and I long for the chance to see beauty unveiled. I fear that when I get home I may make a fool of myself in my ecstasies unless forbearance traveling on the continent cool my ardor some.

I have said nothing of the ruins of which Egypt is full and in seeing which I have taken unmeasured pleasure. Dendera with its secret passages, Karnak with its forest of columns, Philae with its beautiful hypaethral Temple, are sights that will “lingering, haunt the greenest spit in memory’s waste.” And those tombs and that abode of the silent dead 3,000 years ago, now blackened and disfigured by the torch & hammer of every passing stranger, how many reflections will they call up while these old Pyramids now within my vision as I write will be motes in my eyes as long vision lasts. Suffice it to say that these ruins are in a better state of preservation & on a grander scale than I had any idea of finding.

My bachelor life on the Nile for 65 days has, you seem afforded me much [in] every way. Our boat was small. My companion was a clever fellow from Niagara Falls. Our crew were Arabs of an oriental laziness. Our Dragonman first-rate, fleas & flies were plenty and had good appetites, and I enjoyed myself, never better. The Stars & Stripes waved over us, and every other flag that carried these emblems of unity & love, always received the best salutations that “villainous salt petre” could make. Of these we met not a few tho’ a larger number went up the year before than have this year. To give you an idea of how many boats went up this year in all, let me say I have made an estimate of 80—probably 90, averaging four passengers to a boat, have been up, and now nearly all have returned. About 30 of these were American; the rest mostly English.

Most travelers continue their journeyings across the desert through Syria but I have decided to return to the continent, making a tour of Italy and so making my approach to a Northern Latitude as gradual as possible. When you are reading this, I shall probably be in Rome. I shall go to Malta, Sicily, Naples, on to Rome. Here I shall stop some time. Thence through the interior to Florence, Pisa, Leghorn, Carrara & Genoa to Milan. And then either back to Nice and go to Paris via Marseilles or on across Switzerland to Geneva & then to Paris. I am uncertain which of these routes I shall take. It will depend upon my health. I shall be in Italy proper full two months. I should be glad to get home to Connecticut at New Haven this year but hardly think it probable unless I give up England. As I shall give up Switzerland, the Rhine States, and the Tyrol, it is possible I may give up England also, reserving them for a future period of travel. My health will not justify my going to Switzerland this year. Perhaps it will be better for me to do Italy, Paris & London thoroughly, and get home last of July, than to attempt a thorough travel of all these countries and not get home till fall.


Lyman Richards Williston (formerly Levi Lyman Richards)

My brother Lyman was unexpectedly called home in January just as he was entering upon his Italian tour. I shall therefore be deprived of his company. I wish I could have yours, instead of none, as it now appears. I expect to leave here in a couple of weeks more. American travelers are noted for their steeple-chase propensities. They are determined to see everything—not so much for the sake of the thing itself or for the profit they may derive from it, as for the privilege of saying they have seen it. “I have seen it,” is a phrase peculiar to the American traveller. He “does up” Berlin in two days, Dresden in one, Vienna in two more, runs over the Tyrol in a diligence, post haste, and sees all there is there, spends a day in the Pitti Palace of Florence besides seeing the city, gets to Rone and devotes four days to the Lions of the place, goes to Naples and sees Vesuvius & rides out to the ruins of Pompeii & Herculaneum, takes a Bird’s Eye view of the bay, and has accomplished a tour of Germany, Austria, & Italy in four or five weeks! As the majority of Americans travel there can be no possible good accruing either physically or mentally to them. Prof. [William Seymour] Tyler of Amherst saw all the world & more too in 9 months & then bragged of it after he got home to his everlasting shame, be it said. A young sprig of the aristocracy in New York lately swelled around and blowed considerably on his visit to the Gallery of Paintings at Dresden when to my personal knowledge it occupied him only 15 minutes to see the whole of it. Confound such deuces & liars, I say.

Another class of American Travelers are those who come abroad to have a “good time.” There have been plenty of them here this season. Of course all such must necessarily be disgusted with Egypt for unless they bring their wine & women with them, it is difficult to suit their fastidious notions here in that line. One must be prepared to put up with some rough & tumble if he gets as far as Cairo. How I regret every day I live that thousands should be squandered away upon such worthless men & travelers whose travels can do them no possible good—but evil continually—when hundreds of men who would honor themselves and their country by the benefits they would derive from travel are deprived the privilege for want of means. Worthless rakes & silly-headed boys would then be exchanged for intelligent, scholarly & sensible men. But I am at the end of my tether.

Address me in the care of Brown, Shipley & Co., Liverpool, as before if you can find time to write me. Prof. [Joseph] Emerson of Beloit [College] writes me occasionally. He tells me the Republicans are in good spirits—that they were able to show so strong a force at the election—beaten but not cast down. I am anxious to know who composes Buchanan’s cabinet. His policy will be best determined in that way. Hoping to hear from you again soon. I am your sincere friend, — James A. Richards

P. S. I can’t prepay postage here and you must excuse it that I don’t do it.

¹ Rev. Cochran Forbes (1805–1880) was a Protestant missionary to Hawaii. He arrived in 1832, built a massive stone church at Kealakekua, but had to leave by 1846. He returned to the US and died in 1880.

² It is approximately 300 miles up the Nile to the first cataract.

1813: B. G. Johnston to Burrell Luttrell

This letter was written by a Virginia militiaman who signed his name, “B. G. Johnston”—yet unidentified—who participated in the Battle of Craney Island. He was most certainly a resident of Culpeper county, Virginia, when he wrote this letter during the War of 1812. Unfortunately I have not been able to find him on the muster rolls nor among the list of Virginia pensioners. I have searched under the names Johnston and Johnson, both being found in Culpeper county during that time frame. My hunch is that he was probably in his 20’s when the letter was penned. He indicates that he was married.

Johnston wrote the letter to his friend and neighbor, Burrell Luttrell—probably the same Burrell (1785-1831) who was the son of Richard and Rachael (Stallard) Luttrell of Jeffersonton, Culpepper county, Virginia. We learn from this letter that Burrell’s brother, 18 year-old James Luttrell was with Johnston at Fort Norfolk. In the 1850 US Census, James Luttrell was still residing in Culpeper county with his wife and two children but the census taker recorded that he was “insane.”

On 22 June 1813, 737 men on Craney Island including 50 riflemen, 446 infantry of the line, 91 state artillery, and 150 seamen and marines and a few Naval Gunboats in the Elizabeth River defeated a British force of almost 2,500 that attacked by land, and about 45 or 50 boats full of men attacked from the James River. The majority of the infantry of the line and the state artillery were units of the Virginia Militia, or what is now called the Virginia National Guard. This American victory had a major impact on the War of 1812 and saved Norfolk, Virginia and Portsmouth, Virginia.


This contemporary image by Gerry Embleton depicts Capt. John Martin Hanchette with an open umbrella aboard the British barge Centipede during the unsuccessful 22 June 1813 attack on Craney Island. Some accounts describe Hanchette as drinking champaign and eating strawberries to show his contempt of the Virginia militiamen who drove him back with a serious wound and captured his barge. (Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society)

Addressed to Mr. Burrell Luttrell near Jefferson, Culpeper County, Va.

Camp near Fort Norfolk
11th July 1813

Dear Sir,

I received your friendly letter some time past which found me in perfect health and I have continued so and I hope I shall remain so the balance of my days. And I now return you my sincere thanks for your politeness to me. You mentioned in your letter that you wished me to attend to James. I can assure you that nothing shall be wanting on my part towards your brother that lies within the limits of my power. James and myself is together two or three times every day and he is well and hearty and I hope he will continue to remain so the balance of our time and then we will return home to you all with hearts full of joy.

I expect you have heard of the Battle at Craney Island by this time. I was one of the volunteers who marched to the Island the day before the action and was in the whole of the battle and if you will go to my wife, she will show you a letter that contains the battle and in what manner they attacked us.

I have no news here except camp news and that is not worth relating. You will please give my best respects to your father’s family and to all my friends and acquaintances. So I conclude by subscribing myself yours truly, — B. G. Johnston

N. B. I have got one of the pistols and a powder horn which we got from the British in the action and if I should live to return home, you can have the pleasure of viewing some of the capture of the Culpeper boys.

— B. G. Johnston



1853: Charles Eaton to Samuel Dresser

This letter was written by Charles Eaton (1807-1877), one of 12 children born to John Eaton (1767-1817) and Mary Kimball (1770-1848) of Sutton, Merrimack county, New Hampshire. According to a History of Sutton compiled by Mrs. Augusta Harvey Worthen, Charles Eaton relocated from New England to Plaquemine, Louisiana where he was “a skillful millwright and widely known as a builder of cotton-gins, presses, and sugar-mills. He remained for years secluded from his friends, making them a general visit but once. Being so chagrined and disappointed at the triumph of the national arms in the War of the Rebellion, he shook off the dust of his feet against his kindred and country. He was traced to Valparaiso, Chile, and then to the island of Tahiti in the south seas where he died on 14 November 1877.”

Charles wrote the letter to his brother-in-law, Samuel Dresser (1796-1868), the husband of Sarah Sawyer Eaton (1800-1878).


The Jackson Equestrian Statue as it looked in 1853 when it was unveiled


Plaquemine, Iberville Parish, State of Louisiana
April 28, 1853

Capt. Samuel Dresser
Dear Brother,

The day after we parted at the depot in Concord, I took my leave of all of our relation in that place and started on the 9 o’clock cars for Boston where I arrived at, in usual time, taking my dinner and then visiting all of my cousins in that place that evening. But making my visit too long, the cars left me and I remained until Monday at half past five o’clock when I took my seat in the cars for New York. There I arrived in the morning in time for the Philadelphia cars [and] I proceeded right on to that place where I arrived a little before dinner. I remained here until Thursday morning and viewed well all of the curiosities of the City until that time when I left for Baltimore where I again arrived a little before dinner on Thursday, finding Baltimore a beautiful city. I remained until Saturday the 9th. On the 9 o’clock car I left for Washington, arriving there in a few hours where I rested until Tuesday morning.

I found too many curiosities [in Washington City] to describe them but there is one that has been lately got up that would make your eyes sparkle to behold—that is a statuary of General Jackson in full size mounted on his war horse in the act of a charge, standing on his hind feet which is the only part of the statue that rests on the granite table or pedestal where it stands. This artful piece of work is manufactured of pure copper and is perfectly bright and is one of the most war-like statues that could be imagined, showing the very muscles, sword, holster of pistols, and even the nails in the horse’s shoes. It is considered a masterpiece of workmanship and will arouse a feeling of patriotism in the coldest heart of the one that beholds it. ¹

Tuesday morning. I now take the steamer for Richmond. We now glide down the Potomac river and at about 9 o’clock the bell began to ring and when I enquired the cause, it was that we were passing Mount Vernon. Every passenger on board was attracted with the utmost attention to view the Tomb of the great Washington.

We landed in a short time, [and] took the cars for Richmond where we arrived at three o’clock. Here I stopped until next morning, then proceeded on to Wilmington where we arrived at 9 in the evening. Stopped all night and half past 9 in the morning embarked aboard of a steamer [bound] for Charleston, arriving there the next morning at 7 o’clock, being Friday the 15th. Here I found perfect spring flowers in bloom and a plenty of salads and green peas. From this I left for Montgomery, Alabama, where I arrived Sunday evening and remained until Monday evening. I was delighted with this place, almost of the notion of moving here to live.

From here I embarked on board of a steamer for Mobile and after stopping one day in Cahaba, I arrived there on Wednesday evening at 9 o’clock. I remained here until Saturday at 1 o’clock when I embarked on board of a lake steamer for New Orleans where I arrived Sunday morning at 6 o’clock. But the passage was very pleasant. Sailing out of Mobile Bay was beautiful scenery—the splendid blue waters, the capes and islands of land, and many ships anchored at the bar while others were to be seen further and still further out at sea while moving on to their destined port with their sails filled with the Southern breeze. And after sun had hid itself behind the Western trees, the moon took up the wondrous tale and I never enjoyed so pleasant an evening’s sail in my life. I sat on the deck of the majestic steamer for a long time alone with a thought of gratitude to my kind relation, musing on the scenes that I had with you all, while the moon was casting her silvery rays down upon the heaving billow.

After I arrived in New Orleans and had breakfast, I met with old acquaintances that I was glad to see here. I enjoyed myself until Wednesday when I took passage for this place where I landed this morning at 9 o’clock. Meeting all of my old acquaintances, they appeared glad to see me. I found some changes during my absence—some valuable deaths—but generally all is going on quite well.

The weather is warmer and dry. Crops look quite well. I can see the rows of cane for a half mile back from the river. We have new potatoes of full size for some time and the health of the country is generally good. I cannot write you what my intentions are. I think sometimes that I will go to work. Other times I think of arranging my affairs so as to spend the summer at my ease. If I do, I shall either come on North again by the way of the Lakes or go to Cuba. I have a great anxiety to see this island.

Say to my dear sister Dresser that I have been gaining gradually since I left Philadelphia. I have more flesh on me now that I have had for more than two years. I sometimes regret that I had not remained there until fall. Say to my dear niece Lucretia Ann that I hope she is progressing with her studies agreeable to her wishes. How is Leonard? Is he attending to his book or not? Say to him to impress it on his mind the value of an education. Give my love to all of the relation that you see. I am at the end.

Your affectionate brother-in-law, — Charles Eaton

¹ The Andrew Jackson Equestrian Statue in Lafayette Park was erected in 1853. The sculptor was Clark Mills. It was the first bronze statue cast in the country. It was also the first equestrian statue in the world to be balanced solely on the horse’s hind legs.

1838-1845: Lawrence Martin Vance to Mary Jane (Bates) Vance

These two letters were written by Lawrence Martin Vance (1816-1863), a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. He was the son of Capt. Samuel Colville Vance (1769-1830)—one-time paymaster of the Northwestern Territory—and Mary Morris Lawrence, grand-daughter of Gen. Arthur St. Clair. Lawrence Vance came to Indianapolis in 1834 at the age of 18 to work as a clerk in the dry goods store of Joseph M. Moore & Co., known as the store of the Steam Mill Company owned by James M. Ray, James Blake, and Nicholas McCarty. Mr. Vance was married in 1838 to Mary Jane Bates (1820-1891) and soon afterwards entered into merchandizing with his father-in-law, Hervey Bates (1795-1876). At the time this letter was written in 1845, Mr. Vance was a partner with Thomas M. Smith in Indianapolis and we know from the diary of Calvin Fletcher (Volume III, 1844-1847) that Vance & Smith were engaged in purchasing hogs and selling them to the Cincinnati hog market. Not long after this letter, Mr. Vance became a conductor on the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad and he was credited with bringing the first train into Indianapolis in October 1847. Later still, he took the contract for building several miles of the Indianapolis and Cincinnati Railroad. In 1855, Mr. Vance ran for Mayor of Indianapolis on the Know Nothing ticket but was defeated by Democratic candidate James McCready, 1469 to 1221 votes.

An Old School Presbyterian, Mr. Vance was among the sixteen members of the congregation in Indianapolis that broke away from the old church and joined the Second Presbyterian Church led by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher in 1837. Mr. Vance “was well known for his generous and obliging disposition, his strict observance of every rule of morality and religion, and his kindness to those that either business or circumstances brought him in contact with.” He died suddenly in April 1863, leaving his wife and children with a business property at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Washington Street, as well as a “beautiful homestead” on East Washington Street. [Source: Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis…, by John H. B. Nowland]

The first letter was written from Lawrenceburg, Indiana, after a two-day stage ride from Indianapolis. From the letter we learn that Vance was enroute to Cincinnati and then planned to travel to the Eastern seaboard.

The second letter was written from Madison, Indiana, while Mr. Vance was enroute from Indianapolis to Cincinnati by way of Franklin and Columbus, Indiana. We learn from his letter that the roads were in miserable condition due to flooding in Southern Indiana. In his diary, Calvin Fletcher wrote in Indianapolis on 5 March 1845 that the waters were “so high the stages can’t come in or go out.” The Indianapolis Indiana State Sentinel (weekly) published in its 13 March 1845 edition that the tremendous rains of the previous week had cut off communications on the eastern and other mail routes, adding “the streams are all booming full.” [see Calvin Fletcher Diary, Vol. III, page 124-5]

A large paragraph in this 2nd letter pertains to the 4 March 1845 death of Priscilla (Merrill) Wilson (1821-1845), the daughter of Samuel and Lydia Jane (Anderson) Merrill. Priscilla was married to Alexander Wilson (1818-1894) in 1843 in Indianapolis and was residing in Lafayette, Indiana, where her husband worked as a book seller and later as a banker. She apparently died from complications of childbirth, having just delivered an infant that lived only five days in late February.

Addressed to Mrs. Mary J. Vance, Indianapolis, Indiana

Lawrenceburg, [Indiana]
July 20, 1838

My dear wife,

I arrived here about 4 o’clock this afternoon well and without any accident having happened on the road. I feel as sore as though I had been well rode upon a rail—and my belt kept up a lively interest, I do assure you. It caused that portion of my body which it covered to break out with severe prickly heat. The stage being very much crowded, I was compelled to carry little Catharine most of the way on my lap. Little Wm. Pinckard fritted considerably on yesterday—was inclined to be sick. Though after a good night’s rest last night, was quite well. At present the children look better than they did when they left Indianapolis. Catharine was very much alarmed several times at our near approaches to a capsize—at one time so much so that she like to have fainted.

Our trip—aside from the dust which frequently completely enveloped us—was a very pleasant one indeed, of which I will give you a full account of at some future and more convenient period, and when I feel in more of descriptive mood. I feel as though I was yet in the stage jumping up and down. I am so nervous that I can scarcely hold a pen—which my writing will indicate. I feel perfectly well–no headache, no pain in my breast or back, or in any part of my system except for what is produced by scratching my patch of prickly heat—which itches exceedingly.

Catharine [Pinckard] ¹—as she expected to do—did not meet with the Dr. here though she received a letter from him in which he stated one of the children were sick and that she must come directly on home. We expect to start for Cincinnati in the morning. I now think it uncertain whether I shall go any farther than Cincinnati by water as the [Ohio] river appears to be very low. I fear we would not be able to reach Wheeling and would probably be detained on the river. I will, however, be better able to ascertain whether such will be the case when I reach Cincinnati. If there is any probability of our being detained in going by water, we will take passage in the stage for Wheeling.

I expect to have the Rev. Mr. [Elihu Whittlesey] Baldwin‘s company all the way to Philadelphia. He told me when we separated today that he would expect to meet me at Broadway Hotel ² tomorrow and be ready to take passage wit in a boat on Monday morning. If we go that way, it will certainly render it very pleasant to have his company. I think him one of the most pleasant and interesting men to travel with I ever met with. It seems to me as though it had been a week since we separated. I do hope that every day we are separated will not appear as long to me as the two days past.

May God bless you and preserve you in health and prosper me in my journey and in due time return me in safety to the bosom of my dear devoted Mary is the fervent prayer of your affectionate & devoted husband. — L. M. Vance

¹ Mrs. Catharine L. [Vance] Pinckard (b. 1804) was Lawrence M. Vance’s sister. She was married to Dr. Thomas Butler Pinckard, a practicing physician and druggist in Lawrencburg, Indiana.

² The Broadway Hotel stood at the corner of Broadway and Second Streets in Cincinnati.


Addressed to Mrs. L. M. Vance, Indianapolis, Indiana
[Handcarried by] Favor of Mr. Pelham

Madison [Indiana]
March 9, 1845

My dear wife,

You will no doubt be surprised to perceive I date my letter at Madison—the fourth day after leaving home—knowing that I was in hurry to reach Cincinnati though I have no doubt you will be as much rejoiced as surprised to learn that I reached this place in safety. You learned by Mr. Flack ¹ that I quartered at Franklin the first night after I left home & you will, I suppose, have learned by Mr. Jackson before this reaches you of my arrival at Columbus the next evening. I think upon the whole counting the state of the roads & waters I was very fortunate to get along as well as I did. I certainly have reason to be thankful.

The only mistake that befell me was that of contracting a very severe cold—a worse one, I believe, than I have had for two years past. Yesterday morning—the morning after I got to Columbus—I was so hoarse that it was with difficulty I could articulate above my breath. [I had] considerable pain in my left breast with a very disagreeable oppression of [my] whole chest. I felt a little apprehensive that it was a going to lay me up. I kept up my spirits, however, with the thought that I would reach brother Arthur’s ² by Sabbath morning where I could put myself under sister L[asenia]’s nursing & would soon be cured up. You know I have great faith in her treatment. It seems to me that being under her kind and sympathizing care is next to being at home under that of my own Mary’s. But sad to tell, I did not reach Madison—as is usually the case with me—in time for the mail boat in consequence of which I had to make up my mind to spend the Sabbath at Madison.

I accordingly took up my lodgings at the Washington House where I ordered a single room with a good fire in it. After calling to see Mr. Merrill & taking a cup of tea, I retired to my room, & after toasting my feet thoroughly, got into bed and was soon in a fine perspiration. I rested through the night tolerably well and got up in the morning feeling much better though still with some slight pain in my breast. I think with care I will be entirely well again in a few days.

When I called to see Mr. [Samuel] Merrill ³ last evening, I was surprised when he told me he had not yet heard the news from Lafayette. He seemed quite pleased when I told him he had another fine grandchild & that Mother & child were both doing well. Just after I had finished my breakfast this morning, the Landlord told me he had just taken a letter up to Mr. Merrill handed him by some man who had just arrived from Indianapolis & that it contained intelligence of the death of one of his daughters. I felt completely thunderstruck & could hardly believe it possible. I immediately went up to Mr. Merrill’s room & Oh! how changed were his feelings since I saw him the evening before. He had indeed received the sorrowful intelligence of the death of his daughter Priscilla. He seemed very deeply distressed & I doubt not the pangs he felt were keen. His eyes overflowed with tears & I could not refrain from weeping myself when I read the line from Mr. Ketcham which he handed me which produced in my bosom feelings of joy as well as grief. The glorious testimony she has left & the joyful evidence she gave when grappling with death that her hopes were firmly staid in Christ & that she anticipated beyond the dark portals of the grave a land of pure delight, where pain & sorrow shall forever flee away—it seems to me should make all her friends rejoice. Mr. Merrill thinks he will start down after Mrs. Merrill on Tuesday next.

My love to Mother, Father & all, & kiss all the boys. Take care of your health. I expect to leave here in the packet boat in the morning for Cincinnati. Write to me at Cincinnati. May the Lord bless & preserve us all. Your affectionate husband, — L. M. Vance


An 1857 One Dollar Bill issued by the Bank of the State of Indiana with Samuel Merrill’s image at left. He was the first President of the bank. (Image courtesy of William J. Griffing)

¹ Possibly Moses Flack (1811-1849), a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, who moved to the “Indianapolis area” in 1844-45.

² Arthur St. Clair Vance (1801-1849) was married to Lasenia Noble in 1826. Arthur was still residing in Cincinnati in 1845 but relocated to Indianapolis soon afterwards and served in the Indiana State House for Marion County in 1848-1849. He worked as a lawyer and farmer and was a member of the Whig party. Arthur St. Clair Vance died September 28, 1849.

³ Samuel Merrill (1792-1855) was an early lawyer and leading citizen of Indiana, who served as state treasurer from 1822 to 1834. Merrill resigned his position as state treasurer in 1834 to become the president of the State Bank of Indiana (1834–44); he also served as the president of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad Company (1844–48) and head of the Merrill Publishing Company, which later became the Bobbs-Merrill Company. In 1818 Merrill married Lydia Jane Anderson, the daughter of Robert and Catherine (Dumont) Anderson of Vevay. Samuel and Lydia Jane Merrill had ten children: Jane (1819–1911), Pricilla, Catharine “Kate” (1824–1900), Julia Dumont, Samuel Jr., Mary, Anna Maria “Mina”, and three others (Sophia, “Jimmie,” and Elizabeth) who died young. Merrill’s wife, Lydia Jane, died in 1847.


Circa 1875 Faculty at National Normal School in Lebanon, Warren county, Ohio

Recently the following two pictures fell into my hands. The first appears to be a composite picture of the faculty at the National Normal School (formerly Southwest Normal School) in Lebanon, Warren county, Ohio. I think it dates to about 1874-75. The school’s principal, Alfred Holbrook, is at center. Three of his children—Robert H, Irene, and Annie, were on the faculty. Miss Minta Searle (1845-1923) from Portsmouth, Sciota county, Ohio, appears. And a very young Oliver Perry Kinsey appears at left. “O. P.” went on to co-found Valparaiso University in Indiana in 1881.

The second photograph might be a picture of Alfred Holbrook in the side yard of his house in Lebanon, Ohio. If anyone can shed more light on either of these images, please comment in the space provided at the bottom of this page.

Scan 2


1848: John Calvin Burgner to William Cotton Francis

This unusual letter was written by John Calvin Burgner (1797-1863)—one of the more prominent and prolific cabinetmakers in America. Burgner “was born in Woodstock, Virginia, on 30 October 1797. He was the first of nine children born to Peter Burgner (1773–1824) and Elizabeth Cline Burgner (1776–1852). At least four of John C. Burgner’s brothers are also documented as having been woodworkers: Henry Burgner (1806–1879) and Jacob Forney Burgner (1808–1865) appear in J.C. Burgner’s ledger book working in his shop; census records and surviving furniture marked or owned by Christian Burgner (1811–1886) and Daniel Forney Burgner (1817–1902) demonstrate their participation in the cabinetmaking trade as well. Cumulatively, the members of this generation of the Burgner family made furniture in East Tennessee for nine decades.”


Made & Signed by “J. C. Burgner” (1819)

“The 144-page ledger book of cabinetmaker J. C. Burgner provides a remarkably complete picture of a furniture making shop during the first half of the nineteenth century in the rural American South. The ledger reveals the wide range of activities undertaken by Burgner’s shop over four decades of operation in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. He recorded transactions with eighty individuals, both customers and employees, and the creation and repair of more than a thousand objects between 1818 and 1844. Although there are gaps in its chronology, the ledger documents the operation of Burgner’s shop in three different locations: the Horse Creek area of the Nolichucky River Valley of Greene and Washington counties, Tennessee, between 1818 and 1825; in Morganton, Burke County, North Carolina, between 1825 and 1836; and in Waynesville, Haywood County, North Carolina, between 1842 and 1844. Currently, the ledger book resides in the collection of the Haywood County Historical & Genealogical Society in Waynesville.

With the success of his Morganton cabinetmaking operation, Burgner started a family. In March 1829 he married Eliza B. Cobb, whom he described as “the most beautiful and accomplished women in Abbeville, South Carolina.” The couple would have several children together: James Cobb (b.1830), Elizabeth (b.1832), John (b.1834), Walter S. (b.1835), Caroline E. (b. 1838), Mary Jane (b.1840), and Elbert L. (b.1842).”

During the Panic of 1837 Burgner gave up his cabinetmaking shop in Burke County, North Carolina, and returned to Tennessee “where he recorded in his ledger book that he had plowed and cleared ground for his brother, Christian Burgner. Three years later, the 1840 Federal Census recorded that he was living with his wife Eliza and five children adjacent to his brother Christian Burgner on the banks of Horse Creek on the Nolichucky River. In addition to furniture making, Burgner turned his attention to agricultural pursuits in the early 1840s, particularly the cultivation of silk, which according to one source was destined to “shortly become one of the staple productions of East Tennessee.” The few entries he made in his ledger book during the time he lived on Horse Creek record the sale of morus multicaulis buds—a variety of Mulberry tree—for the cultivation of silk worms.”

“In 1842, Burgner and his family left the Nolichucky River Valley for Waynesville in Haywood County, North Carolina, where he once again began to note furniture production in his ledger book, recording fifty-three entries between 1842 and 1844 and taking on at least three journeymen or apprentices.

“In Waynesville, John and Eliza became acquainted with James Robert Love (1798–1863) and his wife Maria Williamson Coman (1805–1847). Love was one of the wealthiest men in Haywood County. In May 1843 Burgner repaired a bureau and built “one French Bedstead” for him. Unfortunately for Burgner, Love also had a reputation as being ‘the greatest debaucher in the county,’ and it was recounted that James Love and Eliza Burgner ‘met at a neighbors house from which a thunderous report issued.’ Although Burgner tried repeatedly to get his wife to end the relationship, she refused, continuing her affair with Love in their ‘own house’ during which times she would ‘turn all of the… children out of doors… refusing any and all of [the] children admittance for upwards of half a day… .’ Burgner tried to persuade Eliza to leave Waynesville, but Love induced Eliza’s brother, David Cobb, to buy a plantation from him for his sister, after which time she told her husband that ‘she never would go back [to Tennessee].’ She informed Burgner that ‘she had a house of her own and she would show him… that she could make a living.’ Eliza Burgner then proceeded to ‘sell off at great sacrifice [his] property,’ told him to ‘take the children away,’ and informed him in a letter that ‘we will be two people hereafter and the sooner the better.'”

“In 1847, Burgner and five of his six children returned to the Nolichucky River Valley to take care of his elderly mother. In October 1849 he filed for a divorce from Eliza, which was granted in March 1850. The 1850 Federal Census for Washington County, Tennessee, recorded Burgner living in a household with his 73-year-old mother and five children. There is no record for Eliza Burgner in the 1850 census or for their son Walter, who would have been about 15 years old at the time. James R. Love is shown in 1850 living in Haywood County, North Carolina with his seven children and an estate valued at $50,000. His wife, Maria, had died three years earlier.

“Burgner’s relationship with his ex-wife Eliza apparently remained complicated. On 4 June 1860 a Federal Census taker listed her in John C. Burgner’s household in Washington County, Tennessee. The next month, on 26 July 1860, another census taker, working near Waynesville, Haywood County, North Carolina, found her living along with her two sons David and Walter, who was then identified as a silversmith. David Burgner was born circa 1845, during Eliza Burgner’s affair with James Love.


William Cotton Francis (1810-1894)

“A more poignant bit of evidence that points to Burgner abandoning his ledger book in the midst of his wife’s affair is a page in the center of the book, where Burgner wrote his name, the date 24 June 1848 [one month after he penned the following letter], and the revealing couplet:

Never mary [sic] without love
and love without reason.

Burgner wrote the letter to his friend, William Cotton Francis (1810-1894) of Waynesville, Haywood county, North Carolina.

Source: See—Cabinetmaking in the Southern Backcountry: The Ledger Book of John C. Burgner, 1818-1844 by Daniel Kurt Ackermann

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


Addressed to Mr. Wm. Francis, Ashville, North Carolina
Postmarked Horse Creek, Tennessee

Horse Creek, Tennessee
18th May 1848

Dear Sir,

I hasten to answer yours of the 20th ultimo. as I see haste is required, and I have been absent and therefore did not receive your letter until a few days since.

I looked over the contents of yours which affords some novel variety and some to my regret as well as yours. But as your beginning corner was on the Northwest of his Satanic region, I shall start my survey on its opposite pole which is somewhat a warmer climate.

You say that a certain Mrs. Black Horse has come back and lives in the house at the mill. I presume I know the woman. I guess she lays 6 children down to my charge and I have been slandered by having had to hear her called Mrs. Burgner. I never want that thrown into my dish anymore for the Devil is to pay and I have not the first smidgeon of pitch hot but shall heat it as fast as I can.

First I say, do let her stay in the house where she is until I can send James over to spy out and write back to me and I can get a wagon of some description to take my children away for they shall not stay one day longer than I can help and there will be the most favorable place to nab them and I do not want her to know my present intention. I shall ask counsel of Old Mike if he is at home when James gets there and I shall start him shortly. My object is to obtain an inventory of all the remainder of my goods and chattels she has in [her] possession and then make sale of the same to you, delivered to you through my agent. And if I have not a wagon at home to keep them until I can have one, and in case I cannot get a conveyance immediately, I want Mrs. Francis to take Caroline, Mary, & little Elbert and keep them until I can get a conveyance. If this should be necessary, and James can bring Stickney over here or at some other house a few days until I can reach them with a conveyance, I shall stop at Black’s and send on the wagon to James to bring the children to me (this is preferred).

I am going up to your brother’s as soon as I get James started and will remain in that region until I get word from him at Jonesborough so as to know the modus operandi. I determined to break up the nest as quick as possible. I should like to know from you to whom the letter was addressed to reference to as having been intercepted and who the write was—whither the daughter or the mother, as to the individual addressed. I presume I know, but not the writer, but it’s one of two individuals I want [to know] which. I gave the old one a letter not long since, I guess, which will do her some time to digest.

If I can enlist you and Old Mike in the war this time, I think I shall gain the conquest in defeating his Satanic majesty—the Black Horse—and Madam, his aide-de-camp. I shall file petition at our next circuit court for a dissolution of all allegiance to that emperor and empress. I have consulted a lawyer and employed him to attend to the case as I can obtain it here and get a quit claim due to my own privileges (this is profound also for the present) until I get all my cartridges ready and my mortar charge, then I shall given the, a broadside and storm the fort. ¹

When I hear from James and Old Mike, I will inform you further and would like to hear from you again immediately. But perhaps I had better write you before you write to me unless you can give me some information which you might think important to be for immediate action &c.

Yours respectfully, — J. C. Burgner

¹ Burgner’s letter is sprinkled throughout with military terms and expressions. I can’t account for this except to notice that the letter was penned in the midst of the War with Mexico and such terminology had creeped into the common vernacular at the time.