1836: Louisa Oakley to Fanny Dulaney

I believe this letter was written by Louisa Oakley (1794-1875), a native of Kent County, England, who came to the United States in 1825 aboard the ship Acasta. I also believe Louisa had two sisters named Mary Ann and Jemima still residing in England in 1836 when this letter was written. The 1837 City Directory published by Longworth shows a “Louisa Oakley” residing at “16 Park Place” which is consistent with the date line Louisa wrote on her letter. Where occupation is normally shown next to each resident in the directory, the word “academy” appears leaving me to believe that Louisa must have been affiliated in some way with a school for young ladies. I believe she may have returned to England before her death there in 1875. It may be her obituary notice that appears in the New York Herald-Tribune on 7 December 1875.

Louisa wrote the letter to Fanny Dulaney [Delaney?] whom we learn has recently relocated from New York City to Pettis County, Missouri, to live with her grandparents and aunts, after the death of her mother. It appears that at least two other sisters of Fanny’s were also orphaned after the death of their mother and went to live with Louisa’s sisters in England. Whether Louisa was Fanny’s aunt is unclear. Fanny’s grandfather or uncle may have been named George Lewis as the letter to Fanny is entrusted to his care on the cover.

In the letter, Louisa attempts to comfort “dear little Fanny” in the “cradle of sorrow” she is experiencing after the loss of her mother and the separation from her sisters. Louisa asks Fanny if she would be interested in returning East to complete her education and offers to be a surrogate mother to her and teach her all the “accomplishments that have enabled her to “plough” her way through the “stormy seas” of life.

A painting attributed to George Oakley

Louisa also mentions that her brother “George” lived in New York City and was so busy with his business that he was unable to keep up a correspondence with relatives. There is only one George Oakley residing in New York City in the mid 1800’s. He is listed in the City Directory as a “wool merchant.” An on-line biography for this George Oakley (1793 England – 1869) says that he was part of a large family “where talented painters appear in generation after generation….[but] since his painting  couldn’t bring in enough money to support numerous dependents…including young sisters, Oakley earned a living as a wool merchant. Samuel F. B. More seems to have been a friend of his. Oakley was made an associate member of the National Academy of Arts in 1826, the year after the Academy’s founding.”

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Miss Fanny Dulaney, Care of Mr. George Lewis, Hellena Post Office, Pettis County, Missouri

16 Park Place, New York [City], New York
October 31st, 1836

My very dear little Fanny,

I have had two letters for you — one of them a long time, from your cousin Lottie, from whom you have been so anxious to hear, & should have sent them immediately, but I was afraid they would be lost on the way & that I knew would vex you more than even her silence. So I thought I would wait for an answer to the last I wrote to you & directed to Missouri. I have just received your first from your new abode but in it you do not acknowledge the receipt of mine so I am quite in the dark yet as to the safety of your post. However, I shall venture my little freight. I trust it will reach you safe for herein I enclose you 2 letters from Lottie. I hope they will give you pleasure. The unsealed one is not quite what I could wish. The other I trust is more to the purpose.

Poor little darlings. After they left this country, their mamma indulged them sadly & gave them their own way in all things so that they grew very self-willed & lost much of their original sweetness. But Aunt Arabelle tells me they are improving very fast under the anxious, kind, and judicious love of their Aunts Mary Ann & Jemima in England. Thus, I hope they will still be all my deep & anxious affection for them and desire. They used to be with their poor mother my very heart ______, but a change came over things & I suffered very much. But it looks not to indulge in useless regrets & I am consoled by the perfect conviction I have that they are with my dear sisters under perfect government & education. We think, my sweet Fanny, you have been the child of sorrow but repine not at your destiny. It is promised to us that those who sow in tears shall reap in joy & it is a hard truth that adversity is necessary towards the purifying of our characters. The haughty spirit shall be brought low & the mighty ____ “sweet indeed are the uses of adversity.” Thy cheeks the erring pride of our first natures & teaches us sympathy with others woes, serenity towards our own faults & patience for those of others, & fits us for prosperity or for further trials. They my child, kiss the rod & await in perfect submission & confidence the behests of an all wise Providence opposing us far as it permitted its decrees by prudence & judgments, for “with the temptation, a way is given to escape.”

The deepest sorrow you could know you have known, for what is now greater than the loss of such an angel mother as you were blessed with, but from that even to profit, by cherishing the remembrance of her holy virtues & making it your sacred duty in all things to endeavor to be what she was. I would gain hope that the sorrow in which you were cradled is not always to linger around you, but that the ways of prosperity & pleasure are to penetrate the wish & make bright for you the sunny ___ of life. Should such be the case, you will enter the arena with chastened feelings & a heart better prepared for prosperity & enjoyment. God grant it may be so. I love you, my child, & have a sincere & earnest prayer for heaven’s blessing on you. May your life henceforth be happy. I thank you for your sweet letter. It was very prettily expressed & very prettily written & your account of Missouri by no means discouraging or distasteful. I hope it will prove a land of promise to your poor family & satisfy all the wishes they may form. I wish it were a little nearer to us for now you not only appear but really are farther from us than ever & that is indeed a grief to me, for if there could be a pleasure to me in this Western World, it would be to see your dear Grandparents, your Aunts, & your dear little self. Do you think, Fanny, they would spare you to me for 2 or 3 years to finish your education because now I could say to you come. Answer this question & I will write to your grandparents immediately & make my proposal to them. I would be a mother to you, Fanny, & I would teach you all those accomplishments with which I have ploughed my way through lives stormy seas. Forbid that they should be od such use to you, yet should you have them thus, you will find them sure & safe weapons. And should you carry them only in to the bosom of domesticity, they will throw a grace around your home & a cheerfulness around your hearth for pleasures refined are doubly pleasures.

I never answered dear Aunt Eliza’s kind letter. I wonder what she thinks of my neglect. However, I had done so, but for her removal to Missouri, I would answer it now. But I should fear to swell the pocket too much. My next shall be to her. Through this medium, I convey my thanks & my most sincere wishes for her & her husband’s prosperity. How touching too have been her misfortunes. Is she what she was? I dreamt so much about her the other night & she appeared before me so lovely! I hope your dear Grandparents & Aunt Maria are returned amongst you and ____ in health & spirits by their visit to Illinois & that you will form a happy group this winter around the Hickory Fires of Missouri. You must give me a long account of that country. I have a curiosity to know all about it, but it is so far off! I meditate a visit to Niagara next August (please God) & if it were at all within my reach I should most assuredly extend my journey to see & know you all personally once in my life. My family are all well & tolerably prosperous here. I wonder if my brother George has ever answered your Aunt’s letters. If he has not, it is that like all New Yorkers, he is emerged in business. It is really hateful to see how that one sole engrossing thought seizes & appropriates every mind here. I never saw any thing like it. They tell me the West is much more agreeable & the manners more polished & the minds better ______ted. But I cannot understand how that can be the case where there is such a struggle for existence.

Aunt Arabella & little Mary Ann are come back to me. Aunt Bella is as much better as she could possibly be for the time but her stay was so short. Aunt Mary Ann was to have returned with her but when it came to the moment, she had not the courage. Think of my disappointment to rush down into the parlors expecting to embrace her & to find her not. The disappointment was amongst the most ever I have ever experienced. Had Aunt Mary come in all probability, Decima would have followed in the Spring with my darling Lottie & _____. But as matters now stand, there is little chance of them coming now. It would indeed be a blessing to me to see them all once more, but God’s will be done. As far as the dear children are concerned, they certainly are better where they are for the present. I therefore endeavor to rest contented but I hope you will some future day embrace your sister, cousins, & form together a sweet union of affection, ____iabilities & accomplishments. Say every thing that is kind & affectionate for me to your dear Grandparents & Aunts. My sister joins in such remembrance & accept yourself, my darling child, the reiterated assurance, my dear Fanny, of my unalterable interest & affection for you and believe me still, and ever, your most attached friend and affectionate, — Louisa Oakley


One response to “1836: Louisa Oakley to Fanny Dulaney

  • Daughter of Louisa Oakley

    I come from a long line of Louisa Oakleys. My mother was the fourth. Her mother, grandmother and great grandmother (from New York) all bore that name.

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