1830: George Washington Blake to Elihu Blake, Jr.

This letter was written by George Washington Blake (1803-18xx) to his brother, Elihu Blake, Jr. (1793-1875), a dentist in New York City who became famous in his day as the originator of important improvements in dental hygiene and prosthesis. George and Elihu were two of several children born to Elihu Blake, Sr. (1764-1849) and Elizabeth Fay Whitney (1767-1827) of Westborough, Massachusetts. Their mother, Elizabeth, was the sister of Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin. Several siblings are mentioned in this letter: Elizabeth (“Eliza”) Blake (b. 1792), Eli Whitney Blake (b. 1795), Maria Blake (b. 1797), Frances Blake (b. 1807), John Adams Blake (b. 1801), and Josiah Whitney Blake (b. 1804).

The following is from a family genealogy: “Elihu Blake, Jr. started as a surgeon, but having the Blake talent for invention became interested in inventing dental appliances, and finally took that up altogether. He married Adelaide Mix of New Haven. His practice, however, was in New York, where he lived until he was a very old gentleman, when he retired to his farm at Cherry Hill near New Haven…George W. Blake was in the South American business and spent most of his time in the Argentine. He died there of yellow fever…”

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mr. Elihu Blake, No. 5 Park Place, New York

Boston [Massachusetts]
9 December 1830

My Dear Brother & Sister,

If you have thought of me for the last two months, you must have thought I deserved censure for not writing you. I hope, however, you will forget my remissness for once, or at least remember no more of it than just enough to keep you from falling into the same error yourselves, and write me forthwith after receiving this. I have often thought of your visits to Massachusetts and as I wished before you came so I have hoped since you left that it was pleasing to you. But so seldom do we see any of our good friends here that I fear for want of knowledge and being accustomed to receive them I might also have luck in attention to you. Knowing, however, that you are not wanting in condescension, I flatter myself you have overlooked anything of this kind.

Josiah received a letter from you sometime since & I was glad to hear of your arrival safe in New York [City] with your children. I think it a matter of congratulations that you was not blown up in that steamboat ¹ which left New Haven near the time you did. No doubt you considered it a signal providence and a matter of thanksgiving at the time.

I have concluded to stay in Boston this winter agreeably to the wishes of Mr. W.  Mr. Chamberlain and the young man which was in the counting house have both left us so that now there is only Mr. W, Brother Josiah, and myself, and I find in consequence an increase of duties.

Brother Josiah returned from Westboro a few days since after a visit of a few hours. He says they were all doing well. Pa enjoys tolerable health and mother is well. Dana Brigham and Mr. Samuel Fisher have died since we were there, which is all of importance that has transpired, I believe. Uncle Blake refuses to let his daughter go to school this winter for fear they “should get Elisa Blake’s notion into their head and marry ministers” or be injured thereby so much as to destroy all possible chance of making good farmer’s wives; pretty much for the same reason they do not accept our invitation to spend the winter with Aunt Whitney in New Haven. By this, you will take occasion to see how fast the Georgian mode of reason is gaining ground. “Slaves should not be in any measure enlightened or instructed less they should become too wise for the situation assigned to them by Providence.” I notice that all the farmers of the old school in Westboro have pretty much the same opinions as Uncle B, and I confess that I am sometimes tempted to think that the “march of intellect: so much talked of in the literary world, has at last got a retrograde motion.

On the 2nd inst., our Thanksgiving Day, Brother Josiah went down to Newburyport port with Mr. Simpson and no doubt went determined to do something for matrimony. How well he succeeded, I am unable to tell you [but] presume he will tell you in his next letter. I understand Brother John has been sick but yesterday I received a letter from him saying he was better. Mr. W. had written a letter to Eli and, as a prescription for his malady, recommended him to be married before the first day of next August. This John declares is a pill of too costly a nature an thinks the chance of cure is too small to run the risk. Mr. W. was induced to recommend this in order to save money thinking it less expensive than a doctor’s bill. Thus, you see the reason why old bachelor’s are never married. Tis not because they get disappointed as the maiden ladies tell us, but because they are never sick, or because they cannot make money out of ____. I suppose Adaline will say that it will be time enough to for George to talk about, this, ten years since. Therefore, I’ll not say any more.

Sister Frances passed through this city yesterday on her way to Ipswich to school. She is in good health and spirits. She left Hancock on Monday morning. Said Maria was well and they were all at Keene a few days before. Elizabeth was much better than she had been. Had attended church, &c.

Remember me to your little sons, William and Junius, and little Adeline, your mother if she is with you, and believe me your affectionate brother, — G. W. Blake


Steamer United States

¹ This is undoubtedly a reference to the fatal boiler explosion on the steamboat United States which occurred on 10 September 1830 while on a passage from New York to New Haven. “The explosion killed nine of those on board, including the steamer’s cook, three waiters, a fireman, and two passengers who leapt overboard to escape the steam and drowned. Subsequent investigation concluded that the explosion was probably caused by a defective iron patch recently installed on the flue, although the boiler itself was also said to have been poorly designed.

Steamer United States in port

As a result of the accident, the boiler of United States was replaced by a new, stronger and better designed model. The company also implemented a rigorous safety regime for its steamboats, which included checking the boilers’ water levels when in operation every fifteen minutes, and “blowing out” the boiler tubes at the end of every voyage to prevent scaling. By these means, the company was eventually able to establish an enviable record of reliability for its vessels.” [Source: Wikipedia]


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