1808: William Gaston to James Clapp

This letter was written by William Gaston (1785-1837), the son of William Gaston and Naomi Teeple. The following biography for him can be found in the Gaston genealogy book by Anna Reger Gaston:

William Gaston was given a liberal education and, in November 1805, established himself as a cotton merchant in Savannah, Ga., with a branch office in New York City, where he employed his nephew, William Ker Gaston, as his assistant. While he was in his New York office, conversing with this nephew, he became suddenly ill and died in a few hours. The late Dr. A. W. McDowell, writing of him in 1873, in “Our Home,” says of him (but making an error as to his education): ‘He was a self-made man. As a merchant he built up a character for probity, energy and success, of which any man might be proud. With but limited means of education he was forced to learn lessons of wisdom by his own experience. Under all these disadvantages he was a most successful merchant; his name to this day is always mentioned in Savannah, or Georgia, with the highest respect and consideration. . . He was a bachelor living in handsome style and was fond of entertaining his friends and lavishing his hospitality. The father of the writer [the Rev. Dr. William A. McDowell], while residing in Charleston, had occasion to visit Savannah. He met a select party of gentlemen at William’s house. He remarked to me he had never seen a handsomer entertainment at the South. . . In one of [its] wide old streets, under the shade of lofty evergreens, is the old Savannah cemetery. Here, in a handsome vault, erected at the expense of $1,500, masoned up with a marble door, reposes all that is mortal of William Gaston.’ ”

Gaston wrote the letter to 23 year-old lawyer, James Clapp (1785-1854), who was then practicing in New York City. Later, with partner William M. Price, they “packed their law library in a wagon and drove into the interior of the State to seek their fortunes, preferring the country to the city for their field of labor. They halted at several villages, which seemed to offer an opening for the practice of law, but were not satisfied with the outlook, and journeyed on until early one summer evening in 1808 they entered the village of Oxford. The beauty of its position, the neatness of the place, and the substantial air of comfort, which presented itself in every direction, determined them to take up their residence and end further prospecting. A small but neat building in the center of the village, owned by a milliner, was rented, their books, chairs, desks, and other belongings unloaded and arranged in order in the new office, and as the shades of night set in they nailed their sign on the window and were ready for any business that might come to them.”

Stampless Letter

TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to James Clapp, Esq., Attorney at Law, New York [City, New York]

Savannah [Georgia]
January 29th 1808

My Dear Friend,

John Eatton Le Conte

John Eatton Le Conte

Since writing you last, I have received two or three of your favors — the former by mail and the latter by some friends. Mr. J. Le Conte, ¹ in whose company I have spent many happy hours — he is now about from this place to the Plantation of his father where he will remain about one month before [he] returns here again. He appears so well pleased with his native state that I expect it will be with with reluctance that he is induced to return to your place. With him came passenger — a Mr. S. W. Smith — who had a letter of introduction from Mr. Howard to me, but recollected to have been acquainted with him in New York at Leonard’s French School where I think you made me acquainted with him. He & a Mr. Hull of the house of Hull & Hull of your place both of which have come for their health daily employ themselves in Gunning & such other amusements as our place affords. It gives me much pleasure, I assure you, to be in the Society of any persons from New York & particularly so in that of these young men.

The misfortunes of our friend Pluymut (?) have a large share in my reflections & I assure occupy all my sincere sympathy. I am now writing him a letter & shall send it with this if the vessel don’t sail earlier than I expect. All my letters to him I shall enclose to you to forward him. Please have the enclosed letter to my father with Mr. Shaw, with my wishes that he may forward the same as soon as possible.

I expect I am with you justly chargeable with neglect, yet my apology must be found in the political distresses of our country, which have and still operate upon the mercantile community with a ruinous hand. A mind harassed with financial arrangements yet true to its professions of sincere & friendly alliance with yourself & our friend [William M.] Price.

Don’t fail dropping me a line often as convenient & believe me to be your friend sincerely, — Wm Gaston

FOOTNOTES

¹ John Eatton Le Conte (1784-1860) was an American naturalist whose family plantation was near Midway, Georgia. The plantation was called Woodmanston.

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