1837: Frederick Newberry Kensett to Sarah Marshall Kensett

The Inebriate Asylum on Ward Island where Frederick Newberry Kensett died in 1881.

This letter was written by 17 year-old Frederick Newberry Kensett (1819-1881) to his sister, Sarah Marshall Kensett (1822-Aft1892). They were the children of Thomas Kensett (1786-1829) and Elizabeth Daggett (1791-1876). Frederick and Sarah’s famous older brother, John Frederick Kensett (1816-1876) was an American artist and engraver. He attended school at Cheshire Academy, and studied engraving with his immigrant father, Thomas Kensett, and later with his uncle, Alfred Dagget. He worked as engraver in the New Haven area until about 1838, after which he went to work as a bank note engraver in New York City. In 1840 — three years after this letter was written — John F. Kensett went to Europe to study painting. When he returned to the United States, he became one of America’s foremost landscape artists of the Hudson River School variety.

Frederick N. Kensett, the author of this letter, was not nearly so successful in life as his artistic brother. It appears that Frederick became a lawyer but suffered from alcohol-induced mania and was considered insane. He was institutionalized at the Mount Hope Retreat in Baltimore, Maryland, run by the Catholic sisters by the time of the 1870 census; he died in The Inebriates Home for Kings County, New York, in 1881.

Sarah M. Kensett married Noah Jefferson Kellogg in 1840 and they resided in Ithaca, New York, where — like his brother-in-law Kensett — Noah worked as a landscape artist. In May 1856, however, we learn that Kellogg bought out the daguerreian studio of F. C. Clark at 94 Owego Street in Ithaca and operated it until February 1857. Later in life, they returned to Brooklyn.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Miss Sarah Kensett, St. Mary’s Hall, Burlington, New Jersey

Page 1

New York [City]
June 12th 1837

Dear Sarah,

This is the third time that I have scribbled a few lines to you, having received your letter the fifth day of June, and by perusing the same I find that you are contented with the school you are at. I am very glad to hear that you are contented, for contentment is the staff of life.

We have received several letter from you — that is, when I say we, I mean all that compose the family. In regard to John Carson, I think you do him in justice, for I am sure that the candy he sent was of such a quality and kind that could not help please. But from what you state in your letter, you suppose that he sent the pepper candy. But such was not the case; he sent the white candy and Thomas or Elizabeth sent the love drops — that is to say the detestable Pepper Love Drops. Why my dear girls, Love is as warm as the drops which you dislike so much and when it gets a hold on a person it is hard to eradicate — especially true love.

John Frederick Kensett in 1864

[Our brother] John or some of the family will pay you a visit shortly. That is to say in the course of a month. Yesterday I took a walk on the opposite side of the [East] River — on [the] Long Island side — and walked as far as Bushwick Creek [now called Newtown Creek] and took a seat under a large apple tree and read part of the (immortal poet [Alexander] Pope) Essay on Man. Since he left the city of noise and confusion — that is to say, the great metropolis of the United States of America — I think that they do not treat him with very great respect. However, circumstances alters cases. Perhaps they are so situated that they cannot write. He was on Saturday here and spent an hour or two. Then he complained of being rather home sick.

Times here are dull and for one’s soul, he is puzzled to get along on account of the weather being so very disagreeable — that is to say, hot and sultry. And if perchance the day should happen to be pleasant, every person is under the necessity of carrying a large stick with him so to be prepared in case he should be attacked by a dog, which is very probable.

I suppose Louisa thinks that I was a very unsociable creature when she was in New York for never calling at her house and for not entering in to conversation with her when she spent an evening at the house with yourself, John, &c. But I cannot help it and therefore I hope she will please to overlook the course pursued by me when she was in the city because it is natural.

Page 2

Sleepy I am
And sleeper I shall be
If I don’t stop this letter
By the time I count three

If I am as sleepy
As the above verse does say
I will keep open my eyes
And still write away

Page 3

Mr. John Mursick arrived in the City last Friday from the Jerseys some place near New Brunswick where he has been residing for the last six weeks. Friend Mary Caroline &c., I have not seen since your letter was received. However, when I have the pleasure of seeing them, I will discharge the duty which you have prescribed for me to do in your letter with the greatest pleasure and then let you know what is the result of my consultation with their very right Ladyships.

I think that I shall depart for Connecticut next month and shall remain till September if nothing happens more than I know of at present, for remaining in New York is entirely out of the question.

Harriet is very well and is as lively as a young colt. She asks every now and then about you and says that she has a great mind to go to Burlington and see you. If you see Mr. Jermaine, please give my respects to him and his Lady. I suppose that you received all the letters that I have sent which is two. Mother and the rest of the folks are well. Give my best respects to all the girls &c. But still I will be there by proxy.

I remain your affectionate brother, — Frederick N. Kensett

P.S. Enclosed you have five dollars and I am requested to say to you by mother that you must be prudent &c. Yours &c. F. N. Kensett


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