1820: Charles Schlatter to Elisa Schlatter

The writer of this letter was Charles Schlatter and it is clear that he is residing in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania when writing to his sister, Elisa Schlatter. He mentions another sister named Susan, someone named William (assumed to be a brother), and an Aunt Nancy. It appears that these relatives were all living in or about Mount Holly, New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia. From the letter we also learn that Charles was unmarried at the time but courting young ladies in Harrisburg. He also dates the letter, Sunday, 7 May but gives no year. The only relevant years in which 7 May falls on a Sunday were 1820, 1826, 1837, 1843, or 1848.

Schlatter mentions a “Miss Pollard” whom he says was the sister of Mrs. Espy (see footnotes). This   reference would lead us to believe that the letter was written in 1820 or possibly 1826. However, there is also a reference to the Grimshaw family. If this is the same William Grimshaw family from Philadelphia that resided in Harrisburg during the 1830s and 1840s (and I think it is), then the years 1837, 1843, or 1848 appear more likely.

There was a Charles Lyon Schlatter (1802-1886) who became an army engineer and was hired by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1839 to survey railroad routes from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh but I don’t believe this letter was written by him nor by his son of the same name. I can’t find any genealogical information to rule him out as the author, however.

The letter is sent to the care of Mrs. Ann L. Hughes but I cannot find any clue from her name that would assist in the identification of this family.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Miss Elisa Schlatter, Care of Mrs. Ann L. Hughes, Mount Holly, New Jersey

Harrisburg [Pennsylvania]
Sunday Morning, 7 May [1820] [1826] [1837] [1843] [1848] [1854]

My Dear Sister,

I received your letter this morning & as you can see have sat down immediately to answer it. I will say nothing about scolding &c. but will merely tell you the next time you write, write in your own letter and let William do the same for I want to hear all you have to say. I am indeed sorry to hear Aunt Nancy is so ill. Do take the greatest care of her and whilst she is confined to her room, I do not think you ought to go out so much. She nursed you, my dear sister, & in return you ought to nurse her. The town no doubt will be very gay this summer & do not you be too gay but do every thing in moderation.

As for my telling you the news & all that sort of thing, it is out of my power. Harris[burg] being the dullest place in existence, nothing can equal it. It is intolerable. There are some pretty girls in town & I have managed by some way, & I scarcely know how, to get acquainted with every lady in Harris[burg]. At some houses, I am quite domesticated, and call in when I please. Two or three times I was on the point of falling in love but some untoward accident or other prevented me. There are some $100,000 cuts. A miss Crane — I got very intimate with her the first evening at a ball given by Miss Pollard — the first young lady in Harris[burg]. Yesterday we went to a May Party & a dinner party. I walked with (a sweet lively girl [named] Miss Mary Clendinning) out to Mr. Grimshaw’s & we were so much pleased with each others society that we stuck close all day and in the evening too. I tried hard to fall in love with her for she is very rich but unfortunately could get no farther than friendship & stem. She is the particular & intimate friend of Miss Ingam.

Miss Pollard is the sister of Mrs. Espy ¹ and a very lively, talkative girl. She is older than Miss Clendinning but very fascinating. She looks like Sister Sue but I can’t see any young lady who looks like you or who is like you in any respect for if I could, I would fall in love & marry her on the first opportunity.

Let me see, what else do you say in your letter. Oh! You say there is no constraint in your letter. I believe there is not. I liked it very well & will not scold you any more until you deserve it. Have you a better opinion of yourself than when I received your first letter? Pluck up courage for in a few days you will be 17 so if you do not begin to think yourself a big girl, others will think so if you.

I’ll tell you something that happened yesterday by way of illustrating the beauties of modesty. Miss Grimshaw plays delightfully on the harp and she is very diffident & modest, but the moment we asked her to play she rose and immediately complied with our request, but it was with such grace & elegance that I was actually enchanted. Her fingers trembled and the first notes she touched produced a tremendous sound, but by degrees the music became louder & stronger until it swelled into the most delightful sounds I ever heard. She would not sing at first but after the company had left, I persuaded to sing and she complied with my request. I assisted her occasionally and really I wished my two dear sisters had been with me to join in. We spent a delightful half hour. The people of Harris[burg] have no idea of music nor can they know the value of it. They preferred playing a stupid game with pieces of paper to listening to the most enchantic melody, de gustibus (oh what taste).

I received a polite invitation from Mrs. Grimshaw to call and see them whenever I had leisure. Another young lady was asked to sing but she peremptorily refused so then commenced persuasion and after came the song with all the airs &c. of affected modesty. I noted the contrast immediately. Can you make out to read this letter? If you can’t, your imagination will supply all defects. If it can’t, sister Sue will help you out.

Give my love to dear Aunt Nancy and tell her to keep up her spirits & keep Curtis in chains. Tell her I do not forget her nor shall I ever forget her many acts of kindness to me. Give my love to Sister Susan and to William S & H. Tell Will I have a letter on the stocks for him which will be launched soon. I will answer Reed in due time as it would not do, you know, to answer it immediately. Good bye and think sometimes of your brother Charles.

Don’t get married until you are 18 or 19.


¹ James Pollard Espy (1785-1860 was married to his cousin, Margaret Pollard (1795-1850), in 1812. James Pollard Espy trained as an attorney and worked as a school teacher, but gained recognition as an early student and forecaster of weather. He used buckets of water and thermometers to determine the “dew point”, established a volunteer network of weather watchers in Pennsylvania, and oversaw the network’s expansion and adoption of the telegraph in 1855. He prepared weather forecasts for the US Navy, and his book The Philosophy of Storms provided a landmark scientific description of how thunderstorms form, and earned him the nickname “Storm King” in media accounts of his work.

The unmarried sister of Margaret (Pollard) Espy of whom Charles Schlatter speaks in this letter, may have been Priscilla Johns Pollard (1800-1870). She married Archibald Orme Douglas in 1821. It might also have been Mary Harden Pollard who married Prof. James Snodgrass Espy (1788-1872) in 1825.


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