1836: Sarah Chase (Sawyer) Morse to Samuel Chase Sawyer

This letter was written by Sarah Chase (Sawyer) Morse (1807-1848), the wife of James M. Morse (1805-18xx). They were married in West Newbury, Essex County, Massachusetts in April 1831. Sarah wrote the letter to her brother Samuel Chase Sawyer (1811-18xx) of West Bradford, Massachusetts. Much of the letter chronicles the death of their older sister, Lydia Morse Sawyer (1804-1836), who appears to have been suffering from an untreated mental illness. We learn from this letter that Lydia died on 16 July 1836.

The Sawyer siblings were the children of Samuel Sawyer (1781-1815) and Sarah Chase (1786-1859).

Sarah and her husband, James M. Morse, came to Illinois shortly after their marriage in 1831, settling in Vandalia — the state capital. He was employed in the Office of the Secretary of State, and when the seat of government was relocated to Springfield in 1839, the Morse family came with it. After Sarah’s death in July 1848, James married Emma M. Holton in October 1850 in Sangamon Co, Illinois.

[Editor’s note: Page 1 image was accidentally deleted. My apologies.]


Addressed to Mr. Samuel C. Sawyer, West Bradford, Massachusetts

Vandalia [Illinois]
October 31, 1836

My dear Brother,

Yours dated October 2, I received joyfully. I now hasten with a trembling hand to answer it. As to the health of our family, we 3 of us have fever and ague every day — myself and the 2 children. Mr. Morse has had it too the most of the summer, but he is able to go about although not able to do much work & I fear never will be again. We have been sick sometimes 2 of us at times, & sometimes all, ever since July. But my brother, although we are cast down yet, we are not forsaken by our Almighty friend.

Page 2

Our dear Sister Lydia has gone to the silent tomb. She died July 16 — the day after Mr. Morse wrote to you — of a fever & by refusing to eat or take any medicine, & I should not have remained silent this long had not have been for sickness & trouble & having no help. My brother, I do hate to tell you what I have passed through for it is passed and gone now. Out of all my troubles, the Lord has brought me. Blessed be his Holy name. But it is impossible to describe the keenness of my grief ever after she came to me without reason. I could never trust her out of my sight for a moment & yet I could not be safe with her. We lived about a half mile from town when she first came to this country & Mr. Morse always away from morning to night that I must stay with her alone all the time some days. She was much worse than others. She would often say she was mad enough to kill me and Lyman sometimes. She would take my chairs and stave them to pieces, break the latches from the doors, throw bricks, and if I asked her ever so kind to get me wood or water, she would be sure to rave and tear. She said that the wood made hell hotter & I knew it. To get water or anything else I wished her to do was working for the devil.

Page 3

I tallked and prayed with and for her day by day till I wore my strength away and to no more effect than water spilt on the ground. She had as good a prospect of doing well as any one could have wished but always spent her time in reflecting that she ever left home, begged me to comfort mother and tell her she she always was sorry for leaving her. Her days and nights were passed in afflicting punishment on herself and those who staid with her. She would threaten her own life & many, many times have I had to pull her away from the well by force to save her. After James bought the place where we now live, we confined her in the second story. She leaped from the window to the ground and lamed her foot very bad. This was done when I was alone & I dared not for my life go to her till James came. When I took her in to the house, I talked kindly to her [but] she said she wished she had broke her neck. We afterwards put her in a little house close by the house where we could lock her in. Then she stove off the plank and got out and run into the woods. [She] took her death [from] cold & so come to her end. She appeared perfectly senseless and speechless 3 or 4 days before her death. I should have said we employed Dr. [R. H.] Peebles to do for her when she first came, but medicine she would not take neither, by force nor persuasion. After we moved here, we employed Dr.’s [N. M.] McCurdy and Edmonson but she refused all advice & would have her own way which proved her death.

Page 3

As to the expense of her Dr. bill, we have not yet learned how much it is or will be. If you are willing to pay your proportion, you will let us know. It will not be much, I don’t think. I will add that Lydia, for her passage to this country, owed Mr. Wyman 22 dollars which I have paid by giving up those new goods and some of her clothes so that is paid. And now, brother, I wish you to let me know whether you & mother desired the 50 dollars you sent in the spring should go towards paying my note which I left in West Newbury or not & if mother is willing or can spare me the balance as I do really need it to spend for my comfort. We have an increasing family (and of course expense). I need a featherbed badly and several articles which Mr. Morse cannot afford to get me, he says. And ever since I left M. E. have done my baking in a dutch oven hopping some time to get a cook stove, which I could soon have if I had about 25 dollars. Mr. Morse says if convenient, he would rather you would send U.S. money, as that will pass without discount anywhere. I wish if you please to direct the money to me as I feel the spending of it belongs to me.

I cannot close without writing to my honored mother.

My dear Mother. I do hope on account of my long silence you will [not] suspect me of forgetting you. By no means, my mother. I know your trials and have borne them for you. Yes, I was obliged to bear my own burden and yours too for I know the feelings of a mother’s heart. But let us without a murmur resign our wills to the will of God who doeth all things right. Lydia often spoke of you and begged me to give you her best love and hearty thanks. And now, mother, I must draw to a close by giving you my best love and a desire to [be] remembered to all my brother and my only sister, & her dear little ones. Lyman and S. Elizabeth are pretty well and grow very fast. Lyman can talk plain. I expect Mr. Morse will answer his mother’s letter soon. She has just written us.

I now must commit you all to God and the word of His grace who is able to keep us from falling and at last bring us to His heavenly kingdom. Farewell, farewell, till we meet again. (P.S.) Brother Samuel seek to lay up your treasure in heaven.

Yours affectionately, — Sarah C. S. Morse


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