The letter was written by Catherine (“Kate”) Atherton Means (1817-Bef1850), daughter of David McGregor Means (1781-1835) and Catherine Atherton (1780-1834) of Amherst, New Hampshire.
She wrote the letter to Elizibeth Lane who was boarding in Bradford, New Hampshire while teaching school there. From the content of the letter, it seems pretty clear that Kate and Elizabeth were former attendees of the Adams Female Academy in Derry, New Hampshire, which opened its doors in 1824. They were probably enrolled there in the late 1820’s while Miss Zilpah Polly Grant and Mary Lyon — early-day female educators — were in charge of the school for young ladies. The school was one of the first academies in New England devoted soley to the education of girls.
Family records also state that Kate was also a student at the Young Ladies Seminary in Keene, New Hampshire in 1830. She married Nehemiah Cleveland (or Cleaveland) of Brooklyn, New York, in November 1842.
Addressed to Miss Elizabeth Lane, Bradford, New Hampshire
Amherst [New Hampshire]
September 13, 1834
How shall I begin? I have always called you Miss Lane but it does not do very well to “Miss a body up,” in writing to them. I do not think you will have any objections to my calling you Elizabeth. I will not begin this my first letter so — lest now that you have arrived at the honor of an invitation to instruct under Miss Ela, you should think me too forward. My friend you certainly are — & I have at least hit up on a proper way to address you.
My dear friend Lane — I returned from Portsmouth a fortnight ago last Tuesday after a very pleasant visit of a fortnight. Louisa is the same jolly girl. But first let me tell you about my journey there (for it is quite a journey from here). My cousin Edward Spalding carried me there (he was going for his brother) to Hampton. We set out from here on Monday afternoon, arrived in Derry just at dusk. I was stepping from the chaise at Mrs. A. McGregor’s door when I heard some one say, “It is Catherine.” [I] turned & saw Helen Clapp, Frances Atherton, & Mr. Gale. I mention him last because I saw him last. They were glad to see me and Mr. Gale said that Mrs. Gale he believed was at Mr. Tuckers & insisted upon my going to his house. I went there & saw Ann Salter, Frances Stratton, Lucy Downingm the Harveys, Mary Thorn, and the little Tuckers. Miss Ela was a Mr. Tucker’s spending the evening.
Little Mary Gale was asleep, but Mrs. Gale took me up to see her. You can’t think how she has altered. She has quite a large head & has grown very little. You know we used to think she would be quite pretty. I do not think she is. She has a very singular expression about her eyes. Mrs. Gale looked better that she did last summer, & is the same good lady that we loved so much, & feared some. She told me Phebe lived with her still, and also her sister. I did not make any motion like wishing to see her, and did not then — but had that pleasure when returning from Portsmouth. I said but very little to her, for she & I were never very great friends — and I had so much to say to others tat I could not afford to waste my breath on her.
After seeing them all at Mr. Gale’s, I went back to Mrs. McGregor’s who told me a piece of news that I think will surprise you, if you have not heard it; viz, that Mr. Harper is intemperate and the disorder he had last summer & this also is delirium tremens. He was so sick this summer that he very narrowly escaped with his life. Mr. Thorn has had his name struck off the sign & says he shall have no more to do with him until he will do better himself. He has nothing to do in the store & as Mr. Thorn is engaged in the Bank, they think the store will be let to some one.
Eliza Thorn did not call to see me. Mrs. Thornton Betton did, although I was but little acquainted with her. I was out when she called. Mrs. Betton & Mary Jane have gone to the lower village. The house was not large enough for Mrs. Thornton, & them too — indeed it was whispered in Derry that she managed the concern husband & all.
But enough of Derry’s folks. The next morning early we started for Portsmouth, stopped in Exeter, saw Misses Lucy & Temperance Walker, Mary Hartwell, and Sarah Perry. The latter said Sophia had been keeping school. Mr. Gale told me that E. Parrott wrote him an excellent letter & told him she should do what she could to help her Mother, &c., &c. Louisa wrote me E. was in P. last week and had grown fat. She has been teaching a school.
In Portsmouth I saw Martha E. & C. M. Bell at a party at Mr. Thompson’s & was introduced to Mr. [James Woodward] Emery — Martha’s intended. Afterward they called to see me. They were very pleasant and looked exceedingly pretty. Saw Cornelia Cutter several times.
When you write — & pray let it be soon — if you think of any enquiries that you would like to make concerning any of our Derry girls, make them, for it seemed to me that I heard from almost every one that I ever cared at all for.
After I got home from Portsmouth, or rather when I returned, I found my cousin Susan Lawrence here. She went away a week ago Saturday. While she was here, there was nothing but riding & walking & talking. It was impossible to write. Not that she made the noise, for she is very bashful. But there were quite a number of our cousins together and we contrived to make sober Amherst look quite lively.
I promised to give you an account of my adventures & now I should be quite ashamed to have taken up so much room in talking about them if I did not know that you wanted to hear from the people I have mentioned. Write to me soon, do, and a long letter. Tell me about your school and the people you board with. I suppose you do not board with Mrs. Farley now. Ellis went Boston & spent a day or two 3 or 4 weeks since, saw your sister two or three times., who was very well. How long did you stay there when you were here we had so many things to say that I forgot to ask you when you should return. We were very sorry afterwards. Write to me very soon and excuse all defects & deformities in this letter. If you can’t, I don’t know what you will do, for I never wrote a whole letter decently in my life. But I must bid you good bye for this ought to be in the office. Write very soon to your sincere friend, — Kate Means