1835: Esther M. Smith to James Murdock Smith

What Esther might have looked like

This letter was written by Esther M. Smith (1813-1903), the daughter of merchant and Vermont legislator Harvey Douglass Smith (1789-1864) and Harriet Murdock (1800-1819). Two and a half years later, Esther would marry Melville Horne Thrall (1814-1884).

Esther wrote the letter to her younger brother, James Murdock Smith (1816-1899) who married (first) Martha Washington Bradley (1820-1841) in 1840, and (second) to Margaret Louisa Sherwood (1827-1887).

Esther and James were born in Rutland County, Vermont but moved with their father to Gouverneur, New York in 1824 after their mother’s death. James studied law in the office of John J. Leonard and in 1848 he formed a law partnership with Solomon G. Haven. Haven & Smith represented many Buffalo financiers. In the 1850’s James went into banking but returned to his law practice in the 1860’s. In the 1870’s he sreved as a judge on the Superior Court in Buffalo.

We learn from this letter that Esther is visiting with her Uncle Collins in Houseville, Lewis County, New York. She describes a visit to the High Falls [next to settlement called Lyon’s Falls]– a cascade on the Black River that flows through the county as a major feature.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Master James M. Smith, Granville, Washington County, New York

Houseville [Lewis County, New York]
July 25, 1835

Dear Brother,

You will see by the date I am here on a visit to our relatives. Arrived the second of this month. Have thus far enjoyed myself very well. Today was fixed upon by our cousins and some others here for a ride to Uncle Collins’ where we were to take tea and afterwards to visit the High Falls a few miles distant from Uncle C.’s but at present the weather threatens to be unfavorable to our expectation so that we are likely to be disappointed. I do not, however, entirely relinquish the idea of going today, but in the interval I can think of nothing more agreeable to me than commencing a letter to you.

I received a letter from home dated July 1st. Perhaps you may have heard as lately from Gouverneur [New York] but I will mention that Pa wrote me that Barbara Yanchetzer died a few days since [and] also that intelligence of a the birth of a brother of our little ___ had been received.

Fourth of July, our cousin Betsey Thompson in company with a number of others went to Copenhagen and on their return, being in a single carriage with one young gentleman, the horse suddenly took fright. She was thrown to the ground and taken up apparently dead, was for some hours deranged, but proved to be not fatally injured although she has not at the present time recovered her former health. Her companion put out his ankle and otherwise injured. Next week I intend to visit her.

I have twice been at Uncle Collins.’ Had an extremely pleasant visit both times. Cousin Sarah Ann is graceful and unaffected. As for Bryan, I must say I have seldom been acquainted with one more agreeable in person, address, and conversation. I like him very much. Frances, however, has gained the ___. I think she will equal her sister in personal attractions and far surpass her in the equally desirable gifts of mind and heart. Seldon and Deny also give promise of superiority.

This week I visited Maria (Mrs. _____). She is agreeably situated, has a pretty child, and a kind husband. Since my arrival, we have been favored with a fine looking boy — very tall of his age and will apparently excel in whatever department he shall be engaged. In a few weeks, he expects to enter Union College.

I sometimes fear that you will someday regret the advantages you might have received from a collegiate education, but I hope you will by superior diligence prevent any great or mortifying deficiency. It is not however, my dear brother, in your literary or professional course that I so much fear you will be imperfect as that you will fail in your practical application of religion and daily enjoyment of its blessings. O brother, my ardent prayer is for ourselves and our sister that we may not be dazzled by the things which are temporal and seen, but charmed by things eternal and unseen — even those “which eye hath not seen nor heard nor ear heard, and which the joys which God hath prepared for those who love him.”

I wish I had more room for a beautiful extract from a little work I had the pleasure of seeing this week. If you ever have an opportunity of reading “The Christian’s Manual” or a “Treatise on Christian Perfection” principally extracted from the writings of Wesley which is the title of the work (a small d______ volume), don’t fail to improve it. It will do you good unquestionably if you will prayerfully and patiently peruse it. Should you ever see the book, the passages which I particularly noticed tho’ perhaps not more excellent than many others you will find from the 36th to the 40th pages. Do excuse this motely and scarcely legible page for I have been interrupted by calls to dinner, the coming in of others into the room, and above all, by overhearing the discussions about our anticipated ride.

The weather is now tolerable but I fear for the lack of some of the ____ and perseverance which I have known you to exert on similar occasions, we shall have to remain at home. That is to say unless another horse is procured, one or all of the pleasure-loving party must remain at home. Half an hour will decide the important point.

As well as yourself, I have been highly amused by reading a full account of the trial of Miss Power — or rather Mrs. Gaul — for breach of promise.¹ Hope other ladies will be cautious how they make promises since it costs a thousand dollars to beak them. I liked Miss Power’s letters very much. I don’t think they are often equalled. By the by, James, you see how much tact, talent, and industry you will sometime need in order to manage cases like this and the trial of Cheerer for libel use to eminence in your profession. But never, never brother, forget who is that that gives favor and good understanding and never forget that “it is better to put confidence on the Moon High than to trust in princes.” May “his favors which is life be yours and his loving kindness which is better than life.”

Farewell. Your affectionate sister, — Esther

P. S. I forgot to say that Joseph D. brought with him and read to us his “Fourth of July Oration” delivered at Ogdensburg. A good one for one of his age. Hope I shall yet hear from you — do write me. Nancy saw you ____ to deliver at Poultney. Hope that you acquitted yourself to the satisfaction of those by whose request it was prepared.

I do believe you will be vexed to see such an unreasonably long letter but I want to give you a short account of our excursion. Our party consisted of Ann Louisa, Harriet, Miss Sarah Bell, Miss Emily & Lucy Collins, & myself & James Glover. Three other gentlemen were invited but various reasons prevented their going so we all went in one carriage.

Our drive there was delightful — our visit also. Soon after four, we had tea, after which Bryan, Sarah Ann, and two of the ladies in our carriage appeared, the rest of the party in ours proceeded to the falls. With the exception of a dangerous passage down a steep stony hill, we arrived without difficulty at the place desired. As you have been there, I shall not describe it. Stayed about two hours, found some cherries, huckleberries, and returned. Were overtaken by a tremendous shower but being in a covered carriage, did not suffer severely. One young [girl] of the party was all but in hysteric fits during the ride home, being in momentary expectation of being overturned in some ditch, precipitated from a bridge, or run away with our spirited horses. So busy were the rest of us in soothing her we had no time to tremble for ourselves.

However, by the power of Providence, we safely arrived at home with only a broken axletree having spent a most delightful day.


¹ The Breach of Promise lawsuit was the case of George G. Barnard vs. John J. Gaul and Mary, his wife. It seems that George G. Barnard and the former Mary H. Power formed an acquaintance in 1827 in Hudson, New York. When George left New York to follow his trade of a house painter in Cincinnati, then New Orleans, and finally in New York City, the two corresponded off and on until the fall of 1832 when George proposed marriage to Mary. She acceded, after some length, but during the ensuing year, with no apparent progression toward a union, she entertained other suitors. When a promising young merchant named John J. Gaul offered his hand in marriage, Mary wrote to George asking to break off the engagement and requests that he return her letters. Apparently George refused and threaten to sue her if she did not honor their engagement. Mary married Mr. Gaul regardless and George proceeded to sue her as promised, asking $10,000 damages. A jury ultimately awarded George $1,000. The case received sensational publicity because Mary’s letters to George were offered up as evidence in the trial and the newspapers published the correspondence.


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