1834: Francis Winthrop Cowles to Mary Lewis Root

The 1840 Francis Cowles house in Farmington, CT

This letter was written by 23 year-old Francis Winthrop Cowles (1810-1868) to 21 year-old Mary Lewis Root (1812-1896) whom he would later marry in September 1835. Francis was the son of Martin Cowles (1774-1844) and his second wife, Harriet Welles (1791-1868). Mary was the daughter of Timothy Hart Root (1780-1844) and Celistia Lewis (1791-1862).

Francis attended the Academy at Norwich, Vermont from 1825 to 1827. After graduation, he became a farmer in Farmington, Connecticut. We learn from the letter that Francis was an abolitionist or at least sympathetic to the plight of the “Colored” population in the northern states.

Mary’s cousin, Jane Roxana Lewis of Litchfield, CT (ca. 1822)

When this letter was written in 1834, Mary Lewis Root was no doubt visiting her Aunt Mary Hart Root (1772-18xx), the wife of Luke Lewis (1769-1839) of Litchfield, Connecticut,. Luke Lewis moved his family to Litchfield in 1811 and lived in a house at No. 7 East Street in the center of town on the north side of the Green. He operated a store on the property and his four daughters all attended the Litchfield Female Academy at various times between 1812-1821. Luke Lewis seems to have been involved in the manufacture of clocks and musical instruments in Litchfield. Previous to that, he must have been a druggist/grocer.

An interesting entry in the book titled, “Apprentices of Connecticut 1637-1900″ by Kathy A. Ritter, Ancestry Publishing 1986, pg. 138 says that in 1829, Charlotte Weeks of Farmington, was bound to Luke Lewis of Litchfield until age 18, which shall be on 20 Nov. 1837, to learn the trade of housewifery” — an odd apprenticeship to be sure.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Miss Mary L. Root, (Care of Mr. Luke Lewis), Litchfield, Connecticut

Farmington, Connecticut
July 19, 1834
Commenced on Friday afternoon; concluded on Monday

My Dear Mary,

Being at the house a firmaments ___, & having turned my footsteps towards my office, I beheld — what do you think? Peace & quiet all around me; nothing disturbed the stillness of the scene, & the traveller methinks would have been in trouble were he among the good people of our land, lest he might have slept or in some other manner have entirely lost two days of the six in which he is permitted to pursue his worldly avocation.

And now, trespassing upon the sanctity of the Sabbbath, the idea at this moment occurred to me that if I would take the trouble — for it was great to stir from the spot as my lazy, indolent habits partook in the stillness — to step to the Post Office, I might find a letter neatly and carefully folded up & directed to the Hon. _____ of ______ containing matter of interesting import. Gentlemen can, it is understood, execute such things oft times very neatly — not much inferior to the ladies — and this communication was not anticipated from one of the latter six. I introduced myself at the aperture by thrusting forward my head to the great danger of separating it from the trunk upon which it is placed, which nature has given sufficient power to sustain, & made with formality the enquiry. Is there a letter, or is there anything for me through the medium? The Post Mistress looked at me, giggled & replied, you are wonderfully favored. Aye, says I, a letter from the right source? Not a word, but the post mark implied another direction, the leasts expected, but not the less welcome. If it was written by the Mary who sometimes I think of & who sometimes thinks of me. The date as follows: “Litchfield, July 16, 1834, Wednesday — subscribed yours sincerely H.H. ¹ Mary.” This Litchfield is supposed to be in Connecticut about 30 miles from Hartford, situated upon elevated ground, possessed of many advantages in summer above other towns in the state, & “vice versa” during those seasons of the year when the sunny side of a hill is sought after. Ample means, however, are provided its inhabitants to alleviate the ills of life & its delightful situation — where the letter above alluded to was written — more than compensates for its inconveniences. It would seem that those who enjoy case, & comfort would repair thither during the heat of summer, which is never severe there but on the contrary where the soft breeze ever dances gaily along over the hills & through the halls of the edifice erected there. It is not, however, a place of much resort. This class of the world’s population cannot enjoy so quiet a residence. They constantly need excitement, but this is not to be found. There are no sources for amusement of the nature which their dispositions seek after.

I said the letter was subscribed Mary. This name appears familiar. I have somewhere seen a signature very nearly resembling it, but after all caution, is necessary in such a deceitful world as ours. Now it is possible another Mary was suggested by the acknowledge “Lord of this whole realm” to do such a thing — to counterfeit the feelings — for she may have possessed similar ones, or another may have addressed to her feelings of such a character — the handwriting & thus the signature. I do not, & know then another who do not thus acknowledge this Ruler & who will not live without exertion to dethrone him, but I fear there are some in the hour of temptation, when interest is knocking, & sounding the trumpet at the Gate of the Castle in which the affections & desires are seated, would yield, when there was such a prize to be won as my honorable self. I say, caution is necessary.

Methinks I was once hoaxed & methinks once more that I will not be so easily hoaxed again. I will, however, since my convictions are pretty strong in regard suppose — just for illustration, as Abbot says — that this signature was the true Mary’s — true now, perhaps without doubt true, but I have had an awful warning to beware now. I place my affections upon such frail things. But be still & not wish me in Eqypt, or Abyssinia or upon the Nile, exposed to the fury of the natives who we instigated by slave dealers to kill any whose measure will exert a favourable influence towards putting a stop to the horrid traffic of selling sinews & flesh. I say don’t wish me so badly off, for in such an event your wishes might prove the very best of wishes as I might be saved from much sin, H.H. I bye & bye will tell you what this awful reality is.

I must confess, my dear Mary to dismiss the foolishness which has engaged my pen too long that I was agreeably disappointed in hearing again so soon from you the inference I had drawn from your first delay was this — Mary, I presume, think of us at home sometimes, but she cannot sit down & collect material sufficient to write or she has not the disposition, or which was the most probable, supposed a letter would not be so soon expected — had not been gone a sufficient length of time to be found among the missing. I had gone further than this, however, that I was not to expect a letter for one week at least before you. I will proceed at once to notice your communication.

And first I will tell you that I did not at all like what you said about your being a source of unhappiness to all in any wise connected with you. It really made me feel gloomy to hear you talk so, for if you made me unhappy once, it is all made up by your attention & kindness now, & I am sure your Mother is not made unhappy by your treatment of her for I have yet to learn if you have ever pursued a course directly opposed to her wishes, for the course can only make her so effectually, & your motor is not the woman to return evil for good. And furthermore, I believe she is the woman that would love if you did possess for her a daughter’s affection. I would think you overacting. Why Mary, do you recollect how long you underacted if I may so speak, & do you think I shall witness too much affection for me, in your manner towards me? Then I might say perhaps that I did not possess your confidence. But I say no such thing & I do not agree with some who say that a young lady ought keep a Gentleman at a distance & constantly perplex him even when he sustains the relation that I been to you. Do not believe that I can, which in possession of the principle which now governs me & which I intend ever shall, so far as they are good, ever leave you or even that my affection shall ever diminish, for I do believe if correct steps are taken, if “mutual concession” is constantly placed upon us & we act as accountable beings in the sight of God that strength will be added, & that our very lives will entirely bound up in each other. How some speculation theorist would tickle himself to read some of my views, wouldn’t he? I guess Uncle Sam’s repost can’t well convey it out of the ___ of such. I must add that you are forgiven for all offenses towards me when doubts that penitence in regard to sin will not meet with as ready forgiveness from God, who alone can pardon it. I wish I could have seen that heart in all the mornings the last week — the heart you speak of — your own. I hope I should not have seen it bathed in tears as was your face in view of your visit to Litchfield. You must explain the cause to me sometime, will you not? If you keep anything from me which concerns me to know, I shan’t like it, I tell you, for it may lead me to a course of action which will do all such feelings away if I am the cause, or anyone else.

Last, bear this mind Mary. On the second page of your letter you get into my strain a little — well that suits me well enough — unity of thought & sentiment isn’t bad as Louise says. Ha. Ha. — dreams — that’s strange — they’re often times pleasant, indeed more so than the reality ofttimes. Nancy is pretty well. Your garden is ewll attended to. Your thanks were rendered to Caroline for her services. Mary Taylor is still here & I mentioned pretty much all I have seen of her in my last. I do not see much of Chauncey or John Camp. I am not at the store much of the time which accounts for it perhaps. Sam, I understand is little better.

And now I will notice the awful warning to which I have alluded & really were at my case I should consider it a serious matter. Do you know Miss Sherman of New Haven? She has been engaged to Mr. _______ (a theologic student) — I can’t remember his name — for a long time & arrangements had been made for their marriage. The last winter she had been in New York & after having been there some time wrote to the Theologic that she wished all intercourse between them closed henceforth & forever. This was a severe blow to him & everybody pities him. She is represented a beautiful girl but I should view such an act anything beside beautiful. Surely it is better to make known dislike before than after marriage & I would hope all such disclosures might or made previous, but it is criminal in any lady to enter into any engagement which she has any dislike, or aversion, or in plain words if she cannot love him. I do not envy the situation of either. Better had it been if they had never known each other. Other sources of misery enough exist without such as these & if any lady ought to be disposed, it is such an one.

An agent preached to us duty in relation to the wants of the great Western Valley — preached thrice — has not solicited subscriptions yet. This cause you know I esteem good. The address was such an one as I have before heard. In the 3d meeting, prayer was the theme — remarks exceedingly good. Will tell you on some time.

Doctor [Salmon Root] Stanley ² was buried yesterday — did not live to be admitted ito the church. Samuel Clark, Benjamin Bodwell & Eliza D. Hooke & another person were yesterday propounded for admission to the church. Last evening at 8 o’clock a meeting was called to take into consideration the best means of improving the condition of the Colored population of our country, but few attended. They drew up a subscription to raise funds for the purpose of taking the papers on both sides of the Question & presume we shall all be arranged in order upon either side soon as we shall deem  the most worthy of our cooperation — Mr. _______, Mr. Porter, Mr. H. Cowles, & Mr. Bodwell ______ Strong Chairman…

I remain your sincere attached friend, — F. W. C.


Luke Lewis Trade Sign (ca. 1802)

¹ I believe the “H. H.” as it was used twice in this letter was short for “Ha Ha” though on one occasion near the end of the letter, Cowles actually spells it out.

² Dr. Salmon Root Stanley (1808-1834) was the son of Roderick and Sally (Root) Stanley of Plymouth, Litchfield County, Connecticut. He died on Friday, 19 July 1834 and was buried on Sunday, 21 July 1834 in Plainville, Connecticut.


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