1662 Letter to Experience Mitchell: Drew Archives’ Oldest Document

Letter to Experience Mitchell in Duxbury from his nephew, Thomas Mitchell in Amsterdam, 1662

Letter to Experience Mitchell in Duxbury from his nephew, Thomas Mitchell, in Amsterdam, 1662

The Drew Archives has many wonderful holdings, but the oldest by far is a letter written on July 24, 1662 to Experience Mitchell, one of Duxbury’s earliest settlers.  The letter, written in iron gall ink on wove paper, measures 8.5″ x 12″.  It has been conserved by the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, MA. and can be viewed if you happen to be traveling through Duxbury.

Experience Mitchell (born about 1603-1609) was a member of the English Separatist community in Holland.  He came to Plymouth Colony in 1623 aboard the ship Anne, possibly with his sister Constant.  His first wife was Jane Cook, the daughter of Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke.  Experience moved his young family from Plymouth to Duxbury in the 1630′s where he became civically active, serving on a number of juries and as the surveyor  of highways.  In 1650 he purchased the Paybody farm on what is now the north side of Harrison Street. When Henry A. Fish wrote his Duxbury Ancient and Modern in 1923, the cellar-hole of Experience Mitchell’s house could still be seen (during the early part of the 19th century the same farm, with an enlarged or completely different house, was owned by shipbuilder Samuel Delano, Sr. and so was the residence of Duxbury’s most famous son, Capt. Amasa Delano). After the death of his first wife, Experience married a woman named Mary and continued to reside in Duxbury. Eventually he moved to Bridgewater, MA where he died between 1684-1689.

Mitchell's house was located at #44.  The map is from Duxbury Ancient and Modern Duxbury 375th Anniversary Revised Edition

Mitchell’s house was located at #44 on Harrison St.  The Green line indicates an old pathway.  Duxbury Ancient and Modern: Duxbury 375th Anniversary Revised Edition

With his first wife, Jane Cooke, Mitchell had three children: Elizabeth, Thomas and Mary.  By his second wife, Mary, it is believe he had his other five children: Sarah, Jacob, Edward, John and Hannah.

The letter to Experience Mitchell was written by his nephew, Thomas Mitchell.  In it, Thomas relates the sad news of his mother’s death.  He also congratulates his cousin, Elizabeth, on the birth of a daughter, and his cousin, Sarah, on her marriage [to John Hayward].

The handwriting is extremely difficult to decipher, and I would be lying if I told you I could read the letter word for word.  Luckily, there is an early 20th century transcription which I have copied here:

Loving and kind uncle my hearty love and kind salutation.  I do here desire unto you hoping and wishing you and yours wellbeing both in Soul as in body.  I shall here communicate unto you a sad dispensation of the Lord toward me in the taking away from me out of this life my most dear and tender Mother the which unto me indeed is a great loss not only missing her most tender affection to me and over me (the which is very much) but also the most sweet and Godly example of piety by the which as by her Counsel Godly persuasions she did labor to bring me and us all here with her to see and experience more & more the sweetest of walking in the ways of God in obeying of him and in keeping close unto him the missing of which you may easily judge cannot but be sad unto us here.  Nevertheless we do desire seeing it this is the will of our God to administer unto us having appointed unto us all to die, to labor to be contented and submit unto the will of our God.  Considering the goodness of Almighty even in this providence the which had it been long afore would a have been more sad in respect of my minority and young years it being always her desire to see me to come to age afore she should depart this life the which mercy the Lord hath granted unto us for I am now about 23 years of age and able sundry years ago through the mercy and goodness of the lord my God to subsist in the world by my fathers trade the which is indeed a good consideration and give me occasion to awaken my soul and yet to be thankful to God especially when I mind the sadness the which she was in of late being very weakly out of which the lord has delivered her having taken her out of this sad and toilsome world a world of misery and has brought her to the kingdom of his dear son to an inheritance immortal in light.  Thus most loving uncle I have communicated the sad.  Received a letter from you bearing date 23 April 1661 in the which I understand concerning all your healths at the hearing of which I am very glad.  I do also wish my cousin Elizabeth much joy with her daughter that God has given her to her 6  sons. I do also wish my cousin Sarah much joy in her married estate and as touching your enclosed letter for Mr. Preserved May I have delivered it and do return an answer and now as touching my two sisters and their husbands and children they are well and do most heartily remember their love unto you and unto their cousins and I pray remember me most kindly to your wife and unto all my loving cousins the which to name I cannot.  Also I pray you uncle do so much as to present my respects and my sisters and their husbands to my Aunt and my Cousin Joseph and acquaint her concerning my dear mothers departing.  I would have written to her also but I wanted time the ship being to go away pray my Aunt and Cousin to write and not fail and I pray do you also no fail to write and so commending you all to the Lord I shall remain where I am

Your very loving cousin

Thomas Mitchell

In Amsterdam 24 July 1662

Uncle yet a word the which perhaps you have not heard of, the which is the decease of Mr John May and Uncle Dickens which died both about half a year since.

For to be delivered unto his very loving Uncle Mr. Experience Mitchell dwelling in Duxbury Town in New England. To be sent.

The Fire That Burned the Weston Dynasty

Letter written by Samuel L. Winsor to his brother in 1850 describing the fire at the Weston house.  The letter was recently acquired by the Drew Archival Library

Letter written by Samuel L. Winsor to his brother in 1850 describing the fire at the Weston house. The letter was recently acquired by the Drew Archival Library

Just after midnight on March 29,1850 an Irish servant in the employ of Gerhsom Bradford Weston awoke to the smell of smoke. After giving an alarm, she, along with the large Weston clan, ran from the house in their nightclothes and watched in horror as the quickly moving blaze burned the stately home on Harmony Street (today’s St. George St.). Despite the best efforts of the volunteer bucket brigade, almost nothing could be saved of the contents of the house – portraits, jewelry, furnishings, and even $4,000 in cash were all lost within a few short hours. The total loss reported by Weston’s secretary, William Ellison, was $55,000 ($1.7 million today).

Two letters at the Drew Archival Library recount the fire. One, written by Louisa Bradford Thomas, the Weston’s neighbor at 4 Cedar Street, gives an eye-witness account of the “melancholy spectacle” to her niece, Isabel Kent. The Weston family, turned out of the house without so much as stockings on their feet, made their way to a friend’s house and sent a note to Louisa Thomas for clothing, which she was able to supply. According to Mrs. Thomas, the family lost “the accumulation of thirty years, from all parts of Europe, besides portraits & treasures.” The other letter, only recently acquired by the Drew Archival Library, was written by Samuel L. Winsor to his brother, Capt. Daniel L. Winsor. It gives particulars gleaned from speaking to William Ellison about what transpired on the night of the fire. He records the only items saved from the blaze were “the piano, sofas, front door, 1 carpet and 1 painting.” Both letters refer to the fact that the house was uninsured, but Winsor gives added detail, i.e. “no insurance on the house or on furniture! Never was insured…Boston & Country offices had heretofore refused to insure on account of so many fireplaces.” Perhaps most amazing to Winsor was the loss of “gold watches on the stands – 4 of them in the house.”

Had the fire happened at a different time, perhaps a few years earlier when the great Weston shipbuilding firm begun by Ezra “King Caesar” Weston I in 1764 was still one of the most profitable and recognized in the world, the loss would not have been so catastrophic. But for Gershom Bradford Weston, the eldest son of Duxbury’s second “King Caesar,” Ezra Weston II, the house and its contents now represented almost the entirety of his net-worth.   Typical of the later generations of great merchant wealth, G. B. Weston did not produce income, instead he spent it to promote worthy causes, such as abolition and temperance, and to advance his political career. Also perhaps a bit too typically, he did not see the need to curtail his expenditures once the bulk of his inheritance had been reduced to ashes. He moved his family to temporary quarters in Boston and began the rebuilding of his estate – even larger than before. To pay for the new house he borrowed heavily from his younger brother, Alden B. Weston, and allowed him to hold the mortgage.

During the 1850’s and into the 1860’s Gershom Bradford Weston may have felt the pinch of his reduced circumstances, but to the outside world nothing had changed. He continued to be active in local and state politics, and even ran as the Free Soil Party candidate for the Congress in 1852. In 1860 he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War he tirelessly worked to recruit men from Duxbury to serve in the Union Army and was instrumental in seeing that Duxbury soldiers received the bounties that were due them.

wright estate001

Mansion rebuilt by Gershom Bradford Weston, later owned by the Wright family. It was torn down in the late 1960s

Despite his unflagging political and social career, financial troubles were on the horizon. In October, 1864 Weston mortgaged the entirety of his personal property to his son Alfred for $3,288.50 with the understanding that all property would remain in the hands of Gershom Bradford Weston and he had the right to purchase it back within five years. Included in the inventory are his horses, Charley and Poppit, a variety of carriages and buggies, livestock, and home furnishings. Nothing in the inventory is as elegant as the descriptions of those items lost in the fire 14 years earlier – there is only one gold watch this time. The following month Weston wrote out an inventory of his real estate holdings under the heading “Judgment for the sum of $11,755.54, Executed 30 Nov 1864.” But the biggest financial reversal came in 1867 when, after years of estrangement and litigation, his brother Alden called in the mortgage on the Harmony Street property. Once again Gershom Bradford Weston found himself turned out of his mansion – only this time there was no hope of getting it back.

In what could be considered a cruel twist of fate, Weston rented a house just on the edge of his former estate (21 Pine Hill Ave.). He therefore had a front row seat as he watched the new and fantastically wealthy owners, George and Georgianna Wright, take possession of it. When word reached his Boston friends that the house Weston was renting was to be sold, forcing him to move yet again, they took up a collection and purchased the property – putting the house in his wife’s name to keep it from the creditors.  Gershom Bradford Weston died in 1869 at the age of 70. When his brother Alden died in 1880, the original Weston mansion (today known as the King Caesar House), the final vestige of the once great Weston dynasty, was sold and turned into the Powder Point School for Boys.

Sources:

Browne, Patrick T.J. King Caesar of Duxbury: Exploring the World of Ezra Weston, Shipbuilder & Merchant. Duxbury, MA: Duxbury Rural & Historical Society. 2006.

Weston, Edmund Brownell. In Memorium: My Father and My Mother Hon. Gershom Bradford Weston, Deborah Brownell Weston of Duxbury, Massachusetts. Providence, RI. 1916.

Louisa B. Thomas Letter in Bradford Family Collection, DAL.MSS.024, Drew Archival Library

Samuel L. Winsor Letter (1850), DAL.SMS.068, Drew Archival Library

Financial papers, Alden B. Weston Collection, Drew Archival Library, DAL.MSS.056

Date Board House Files, Capt. George Peterson House, 1801, Drew Archival Library

Duxbury High School Interns Catalog Three New Collections

Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of working with and mentoring Duxbury High School interns.  Each semester two to four students come daily to the Drew Archives and assist in the cataloging of collections.  I am pleased to have been able to add three new finding aids here because of their hard work during the internship program – the diary of Martha (Hammett) Blanchard, the Keen Family Collection, and a letter by William P. Webster.

Meaghan Marohn, a Duxbury High School senior, cataloged the diary of Martha (Hammett) Blanchard, a summer resident of Duxbury.  The diary was written in 1922 when Martha Blanchard 71 years old.  It contains daily entries describing the weather, visits with friends, special outings, holidays and household chores.  Of special note is the entry  on Aug. 22 when lightening struck the Myles Standish Monument in Duxbury, knocking the statue’s head and torso to the ground.  The diary gives an idea of what the typical day of  a woman in 1922 would look like.  The diary was donated by Rebecca Chin, a descendent of Martha Blanchard.

Nick Blair, also a senior at Duxbury High School, assisted in the cataloging of the Keen Family Collection.  This collection was donated last year by Janet Peterson and it contains some of the oldest documents we have at the Drew Archival Library – two 17th century deeds.  The Keen family lived in the Ashdod section of town and their property is part of Camp Wing today.

Senior Josh West cataloged the letter of a young Duxbury teacher, William P. Webster, from 1842.  This entertaining letter was written to William’s brother, Walter, and tells of lyceum lectures, holiday  celebrations and even a Forefather’s Day dinner in Plymouth.  The letter is interesting in another way – it was written on an unusually large piece of paper as somewhat of a joke.  Webster clearly had a sense of humor.  The letter was donated by John and Polly Nash.

In addition to the Finding Aids prepared by Duxbury High School students, Simmons College intern, Emily Carta, worked diligently on the Wilde Family Collection.  Dr. James Wilde was one of Duxbury’s two 19th century doctors.  He lived on St. George Street, just a short walk down the street from the Drew Archives.  What we discovered during the processing of the collection was the Dr. Wilde’s daughters are as noteworthy as their father.  Kate Wilde was a suffragette and editor of the Woman’s Journal in Boston.  Lucy Beal Wilde was equally active in the social movements of her day.  The collection was donated by Dawn Wilde whose husband was a direct descendent of Dr. Wilde.

This semester three students are working on a number of interesting collections that will be added here when completed.

Imprinted on My Heart: The Unrequited Love of Sarah Freeman Sampson

The Drew Archives recently acquired the letter of Sarah F. Sampson to Jacob Smith, Jr. (1836) DAL.SMS.063

The Drew Archives recently acquired the letter of Sarah F. Sampson to Jacob Smith, Jr. (1836) DAL.SMS.063

At 9pm on the night of September 11, 1836, Sarah F. Sampson sat in her bedroom and wrote one last love letter to her cousin Jacob Smith, Jr. It was Jacob’s 25th birthday but she did not mention the occasion in her letter, perhaps she had forgotten. What she did mention, repeatedly, was her devotion to him. This could not have been an easy thing to write, as Jacob was due to marry Persis “Ann” Weston, another cousin, in less than a month. At no point did Sarah implore Jacob not to marry, she even wished him well, but it is clear she would rather he had chosen her.

Sarah Freeman Sampson was born in Duxbury on March 1, 1813 in the cape-style home her father, Martin Sampson, had built in 1807 (today’s 57 South Station Ave.). Sarah’s mother died within months of her birth, leaving her father to care for her as well as her two siblings, ages 3 and 5. Not surprisingly, Martin chose to remarry rather quickly, and it was through Martin Sampson’s second wife, Sarah Smith, that Sarah F. would become related to the recipient of her letter. Jacob Smith, Jr. was Sarah Smith’s nephew. Not that their paths wouldn’t have crossed without this connection – Sarah’s house was only a stone’s throw to Jacob’s, he living at what is today 251 Harrison Street. But, the inevitable family gatherings must have made the two much more aware of each other. And young Jacob Smith was certainly someone to notice. By 1836 he was already first mate on his father’s brig, Globe. He had gone to sea when he was only eight, celebrating his ninth birthday in Malaga, Spain. According to one source, at age eleven he had been paraded in front of Russian nobility in St. Petersburg as the first American child they had ever seen. While many Duxbury sailors could tell tales of far away places to impress the ladies, Jacob had the advantage of being young, wealthy and having great prospects. His father, Capt. Jacob Smith, Sr., was an important member of the town who not only owned a number of Duxbury properties, but also a large farm in Marshfield. Is it any wonder that Sarah F.Sampson was smitten?

How Jacob received his cousin’s letter, or whether he returned her sentiments, is impossible to know. Sarah’s letter does indicate she had received an equally private one from him so there may have been complicated feelings on both sides. Regardless, he went ahead with his wedding to Persis Ann Weston in October, 1836. Persis, or Ann, as she was called, was the niece of his step-mother (like Sarah Sampson, Jacob had lost his own mother when he was very young). Married life did not keep him at home, at least not initially. As the captain of his own vessel, Jacob traveled around Cape Horn and up the western seaboard in 1837, trading with the natives for sable furs which he sold back in New England. In 1838 he was in London to see the coronation of Queen Victoria. At the age of thirty, having been aboard a ship more often than not, he retired from the sea and moved to Westford, MA. There he owned an historic tavern, became a gentleman farmer and was active in local politics – he served as a Selectman during all four years of the Civil War. He died in 1898, the oldest man in Westford at the time, leaving behind his wife, Ann, and two daughters – Miss Clara A. Smith and Mrs. Louisa D. Young. A son, Henry, had died in a tragic rail road accident at the age of 21 in 1863.

Lest you feel too badly for Sarah F. Sampson, let me assure you she married well and had a happy life (or as happy as we can surmise from the scant information left to us). In 1840 her heart was mended enough to accept the proposal of a very successful dry goods merchant from Medford named Jonas Coburn. Together they had five children: Sarah Louise (b. 1841), Charles F. (b. 1843), George M. (b. 1846), Frank (b. 1853) and William (b. 1854). All lived to adulthood but William who died at age 4. The Coburns were very active in civic affairs and were substantial members of the community. As a memorial to their parents, the children of Jonas and Sarah had a stained glass window installed in the First Parish Church in Medford that can still be seen today.

During the summer months Sarah would bring her family to Duxbury and stay with her unmarried sister, Hannah, in her childhood home. After Hannah Sampson’s death in 1882, the house was left to Sarah and her children who retained the property as a summer residence into the 20th century.  Sarah Freeman Sampson Coburn died in Medford, MA in 1890, at age 77.

The following is a transcription of the letter Sarah penned late at night to “the one person I really did love.”

Jacob Smith, Jr. Chief Mate of the Brig Globe, Boston
Duxbury Sept. 11, 1836

Coz Jacob,

I received your letter last Saturday & was not a little surprised at its contents. You say that you heard I was keeping school & Mr. Lovell often called & stopped after school. What do you mean? I entreat of you Jacob to answer this the moment you have read it & tell me where you got your information. I now call upon you as a friend to listen impartially to a fair statement of facts. In the first place I have neither seen or heard from a Lovell since last winter, & in the second place, Mr. Lovell never was the chosen object of my affection, I liked him as a friend but I did not love him as – I can think it but I can’t say it. No Jacob there never was but one person that I thought I really did love. You undoubtedly know who I have reference too. I have loved, shall ever love him. But that love will never be returned, another will have that privilege (in other words does have) it is a privilege indeed!!! Let him go, but he carries with him the most devoted affections of one who never knew love till she saw him & who will never know – I will stop where I am for I have already said too much. But you know me too well I shall therefore entrust this to your honour, as I have done heretofore. As it was your request I have kept your letter private & I now ask the same of you. Don’t you show it at your peril for I have written it from the impulse of the moment. A few more brief sentences & I will close. Mr. Stetson & the will be Mrs. Stetson returned last night. I have not yet seen Martha, but I saw Mr. Stetson to day & dined with him. He says you are the some old six pence or I believe it is now “2 & 6 pence.” By the way I saw Sarah Loring last Sunday, but did not speak with her. Martha R. has just gone from here in all her beauty. She wished to be remembered to you. She is a friend if ever there was one. I would not part with her for all the girls there are in Duxbury. I forgot to mention that I have a letter from cousin N. F. Frothingham to day, he writes he is coming down in a few days. I shall be happy to see him & I think I should like to see you a few moments (or so) as Aunt Shere says & taken a dish of sociability. By the way have you forgotten the day that G. M. Richardson & myself spent at your house? I have not. It is imprinted on my [heart] in indelible

Portion of Sarah F. Sampson Letter

Portion of Sarah F. Sampson Letter

characters. Hark!! The clock is striking 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Oh Dear me I must draw this  protracted scrawl to a close. When I first began it was past nine & I thought I would just write a few lines & ask for an explanation of your letter, which I beg you will favour me with, on the reception of this. Jacob you must excuse the writing, [editing] & orthography of this letter for I am positively half asleep. Pardon me for not previously mentioning the name of Ann. Heaven smile on you both & bless you, may your cup of happiness be ever full even to overflowing. May no cloud interrupt the sunshine of your days, & when at last you are called to part from her here, may you be reunited in that world “where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest” is the sincerest wish of

Your aff cousin
S. F. Sampson

In two minutes more I am tucked up in bed fast asleep

N.B. & P.S.
I am so sleepy that I cannot possibly read this over. If I have written anything improper I beg of you to excuse it & take it from whence it came.
Good night
Sarah
Answer this full of news
Love to all

Note: Mr. Lovell is a mystery at this time but some of the other names a known. Mr. and Mrs. Stetson are Jacob Smith’s brother-in-law, Samuel Stetson, and sister, Martha. Samuel Stetson was a lawyer and the couple lived on Tremont Street.
G. M. Richardson was most likely part of the Richardson family that owned a large estate adjacent to Sarah F. Sampson’s house. The estate was once owned by George Partridge, one of Duxbury’s most prominent citizens and inherited by George P. Richardson. Martha R may be Martha Richardson (b. 1815).
N.F. Frothingham is Nathaniel F. Frothingham of Charlestown, MA whose mother was Joanna Sampson of Duxbury. He married Margaret T. Smith, the daughter of Capt. Benjamin Smith and cousin to both Jacob Smith, Jr and Sarah F. Sampson. It is interesting to note that Frothingham married Margaret on Sept. 30, 1836, just 19 days after this letter was written.

Sources:
Drew Archival Library, House Date board Files – Martin Sampson House and Daniel Bradford House
Drew Archival Library, Capt. Jacob Smith Collection
Find A Grave, Jacob Smith, Jr, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=124241863
Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, http://www.uumedford.org/history.html
Leading manufacturers and merchants of eastern Massachusetts: historical and descriptive review of the industrial enterprises of Bristol, Plymouth, Norfolk, and Middlesex Counties (Google eBook)

Author Greg Grandin coming to Drew Archives, March 29th at 3pm

From the acclaimed author of Fordlandia, comes the story of a remarkable slave rebellion that illuminates America’s struggle with slavery and freedom during the Age of Revolution and beyond. Greg Grandin visited the DRHS Drew Archives in doing research for his book, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World, utilizing the Captain Amasa and Samuel Delano Collection. Join us to hear about this project, which is so intricately connected to Duxbury’s history. Read the New York Times Review of The Empire of Necessity.

One morning in 1805, off a remote island in the South Pacific, Captain Amasa Delano, a New England seal hunter originally from Duxbury, climbed aboard a distressed Spanish ship carrying scores of West Africans he thought were slaves. The West Africans, having earlier seized control of the vessel and slaughtered most of the crew, were staging an elaborate ruse and acting as if they were humble servants. When Delano, an idealistic, anti-slavery republican, finally realized the deception, he responded with explosive violence.so closely connected to Duxbury history.

Drawing on research on four continents, The Empire of Necessity explores the multiple forces that culminated in this extraordinary event—an event that already inspired Herman Melville’s masterpiece Benito Cereno. Now historian Greg Grandin, with the gripping storytelling that was praised in Fordlandia, uses the dramatic happenings of that day to map a new transnational history of slavery in the Americas, capturing the clash of peoples, economies, and faiths that was the New World in the early 1800s.

Greg Grandin is the author of Fordlandia, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, as well as Empire’s Workshop and The Blood of Guatemala. A professor of history at New York University and a recipient of fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, Grandin has served on the UN Truth Commission investigating the Guatemalan Civil War and has written for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, New Statesman, and the New York Times. Admission: $5.

Books are available at Westwinds Bookshop, Duxbury. Westwinds is generously offering a 20% discount on the hardcover version.

Anyone interested in Greg Grandin’s book should also put Feb. 8th on their calendar: the DRHS is conducting a book-and-collections club “Beyond Words” featuring Benito Cereno by Herman Melville. Check out the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society’s Events Calendar for more details.

Greg Grandin, the author of Empire of Necessity, will be coming to speak at the Drew Archives. Grandin utilized the Captain Amasa and Samuel Delano Collection when researching the life of Amasa Delano for his new book.

First Hand Account of USSC’s Role at Gettysburg

Frederick Newman Knapp

Frederick Newman Knapp (1821-1889)

The Drew Archives is very fortunate to house the large Bradford Family Collection – a collection that, I may have mentioned once or twice before, contains thousands of items and spans over two hundred years. A goodly portion of this collection relates to the Civil War – a number of the family fought or were involved in some way, including, of course, the army nurse and diarist, Charlotte Bradford. The collection also contains letters from another key Civil War figure – Frederick Newman Knapp, the Special Relief administrator for the USSC in Washington, DC.  Knapp was not only Charlotte’s boss while she was a Transport Ship nurse and the matron of the Sanitary Commission’s Home for Soldiers, he was also her niece’s husband. We are lucky to have his papers here, especially those that directly relate to his work in the USSC.

The following is a letter by Knapp in Frederick City, MD to his parents in Walpole, NH, written almost two weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg. Knapp was in charge of seeing supplies made their way to the battlefield and ensuring that the army had what it need to care for the wounded. It is remarkable in its detail as Knapp recounts the confusion in orchestrating such a large-scale relief effort. For any scholar of the Sanitary Commission, this letter sheds light on a little discussed aspect of the USSC’s overall operations and certainly brings to life one of its most faithful servants. As the transcriber of this letter, however, I have to say that Knapp’s writing is challenging. He has perhaps the worst penmanship of any of the 19th century figures in the Drew Archives. He was an educator for most of his life but obviously was not concerned with having a “good hand.” If you would like to know more about his life, a recent article in Historical Digressions gives a nice overview.

Frederick City, July 16, 1863

Portion of letter written by Knapp to his parents on Sanitary Commission letterhead.

Portion of letter written by Knapp to his parents on Sanitary Commission letterhead. Annotations in pen were made by Knapp’s nephew, Gershom Bradford.


Dear Father and Mother,
All well. This has been a busy week with me or a busy ten days. Nothing like it since the York River work when we had to fit out Hospital Transports at a days notice. The work has been to get supplies of all sorts with least possible delay to Gettysburg, all then to Frederick: at Gettysburg to meet terrible needs: at Frederick to be prepared for what might be even greater needs in case of a battle which might come off at any moment at Hagerstown or in the region of which Frederick would be the safe base of supply. In getting stores and Relief Agents to Gettysburg we had to meet the difficulty of getting a blocked Rail Road – single track with cars by hundreds loaded with wounded in the one direction and supplies for 20,000 men in the other – so that we not merely had to meet immediate needs but keep a supply, if possible, of two days ahead. The result has been most gratifying & successful, and repaid all labor two hundred fold. “Special Orders” & special messengers and teams by turnpike – and supercargoes and constant personal presence at points of shipping goods have secured results which I felt at first could not be made. Not a train left Baltimore for Gettysburg for some days that did not take from 25 to 300 cars of our supplies – estimate only by tons – a number of entire carloads direct from Philadelphia or Boston transferred from Phila Road to the Northern Central Road (thence by branch road to Gettysburg) but most of the supplies carted from across Baltimore to Central R.R. Depot – 100 or 200 tons at a time. Then beside the general supplies there were the answering the requirements of Special demands by telegram & letter from Dr. Douglas at Gettysburg – such as “send me 1000 loaves of bread – 40 barrels fresh crackers – ten relief agents, six carpenters, six cooks – 100 yds oil silk –and entire outfit for first class Relief Station – including tents, stoves, supplies, etc. – all by first train up from Baltimore if possible.” We have every day for a week sent to Gettysburg (and one time 2 loads daily) an “arctic car” load of fresh supplies ½ ton each of poultry, mutton, butter, fresh vegetables, etc, etc. Some days two (2) car loads – until at last a telegram from Gettysburg cried “hold, enough” (except the arctic supplies). Meantime horses and wagons & saddle horses & harnesses, etc. etc. had to be selected & bought & drivers & wagon-masters selected and bought and started off (in last week I bought & fitted out the nine wagons & 18 wagon horses & five saddle horses). Then came the necessity to send goods to Frederick in anticipation of a great battle in this region – Mr. Olmsted went to Frederick and immediately telegraphed “push on supplies with all possible dispatch by every means in your possession.” So new telegrams to Philadelphia & N. York & Boston had to be sent telling what we wanted via one car load a day for each place besides express loads. These supplies arriving had to be carted over to the Frederick Station, loaded – disentangled from [?] stores and got through – all the material for first class Relief Station including tents, etc. etc. cooks & men got & sent – with wagons & horses, etc. Meantime bills had to be paid and all the agents at work kept straight…Since Monday week we have received there at Baltimore between 80 & 90 telegrams all to be attended to and I have made purchases of horses, wagons & supplies in sums from one dollar to 500 amounting in total to $18,000 – and kept it all straight. So you can see why I haven’t written you any long letters – and though it has involved so much work I can assure you I have enjoyed it greatly and was never better in my life…Josiah Bellows is recovering at the cars which bring the wounded from Gettysburg to Baltimore – a wagon & two [unreadable] & 3 or 4 others in each train to give the water & care for them. We also take all these cars at Baltimore and purge them & put fresh straw, etc. & water & ice & crackers, etc. This we do by special request of Major [unreadable] staff in charge of transporting the wounded. I bought fifty water coolers (for ice) in one day for the cars.

Must close – I have gone over this to show you the Comm are at work – the Relief they have given at Gettysburg is immense…

Your affectionate son, F.N. Knapp