1837: Juliana (Trumbull) Woodridge & William Leverett Woodbridge to Frances Backus

Juliana (Trumbull) Woodbridge

This letter was written by Juliana (Trumbull) Woodbridge (1786-1860), the wife of William Woodbridge (1780-1861) — then a member of the Michigan State Senate. Adding to the letter is Juliana’s son, William Leverett Woodbridge (1817-1894) who would later marry Mary Matilda Hurd (1821-1866). Also mentioned in the letter are William’s sibling, Lucy Maria Woodbridge (1822-1860) and Dudley Backus Woodbridge (1826-1918). The infant “Willie” who Juliana writes is crying and pulling on her sleeve is her grandson, William Woodbridge Backus (1836-1877), the son of Juliana Trumbull Woodbridge (1815-1860) and Henry T. Backus (1803-1877) who were married in Detroit in December 1835. Henry T. Backus was the older brother of Frances Backus (1806-1890), who was the recipient of this letter. Henry and Frances Backus were the children of James Backus (1764-1816 and Dorothy (Church) Chandler (1770-1847) of Norwich, Connecticut.

William Woodbridge, ca. 1850

Juliana’s husband, William Woodbridge, would become the second governor of Michigan in 1839 — less than two years after this letter was written. He was the only Whig to ever be elected to the office. Woodbridge “was born in Norwich, Connecticut on August 20, 1780. His early education was attained in the schools of Ohio, and later he attended the Litchfield Law School in Connecticut. After establishing his legal career in Marietta, Ohio, Woodbridge entered into politics. He served as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives in 1807, was the Washington County prosecuting attorney from 1808 to 1814, and served as a member of the Ohio State Senate from 1808 to 1814. He moved to Michigan in 1814, and continued his career in politics. From 1814 to 1828 he served as the secretary and acting governor of the Michigan Territory, and from 1819 to 1820 he served as a Territorial delegate in Congress. He also served as a justice of the Territorial Supreme Court from 1828 to 1832, was a delegate to the 1835 Michigan Constitutional Convention, and served as a member of the Michigan State Senate from 1837 to 1839. Woodbridge won election to the Michigan governorship on November 4, 1839, and was sworn into office on January 7, 1840. During his tenure, an internal improvement program was promoted; stricter regulations for banks was endorsed; and tax revisions were supported. Woodbridge resigned from the governor’s office on February 23, 1841, upon his election to the U.S. Senate. He served in his senatorial seat until March 3, 1847, when he then retired from public service. Governor William Woodbridge passed away on October 20, 1861, and was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.” Source: Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 2, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

Incredibly, we learn from this letter that William L. Woodbridge kept an “enormous” black bear as a pet which followed him around “like a dog.”

Stampless Cover


Addressed to Miss Frances Backus, Bean Hill, Norwich Town, Connecticut

Springwells, [Detroit, Michigan]
December 28th 1837

Dear Frances,

Page 1

I was very glad to receive your letters for they assured me that I was not what I perhaps deserve to be — forgotten. The picking out a whiskered bean for the acceptance of any one besides yourself would be an easy matter, but I should fear among the motley crew here, not one was worthy of your notice. It certainly could give me great pleasure to see you, independent of the pompous whiskered French Catholic bean, but if you was near here you might discover qualities in some of them of which I am at present ignorant. Furthermore, I think the plan of proselytizing us heathen excellent and the good cause taken up by a Lady would be sure of success.

I have in safe keeping for Dudley a curious stone, precious in his eyes, as a gift from you. Little William’s pony is out of his reach, for he is too fond of tearing paper’s to value it at present, but he was mightily pleased with the little whip his Aunt Sarah was kind enough to make for him.

Page 2

Last evening, Father received by the mail an oration of Henry’s delivered in the year 1832 before the citizens assembled in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and another directed to myself. I thought the handwriting resembled your sister Mary’s, but Henry says if it is not his brother Williams, it is not any one at home. Pray explain the mystery as we have a great curiosity to know who sent them.

Please to give Mother’s love to your Mother & the rest of the family, & say to Mary that as she has not received an answer to her letter, concludes she has lost the use of her right hand & hopes she will be able soon to write with her left.

Little Willie is pulling my sleeves & I must conclude. Henry is quite well but very busy as usual. My love to all and a happy New Year. A cry from Willie.

Yours affectionately, — Juliana

Dear Cousin Frances,

Page 3

I must be excused by all of you for not writing before on the score of business for be it known unto all of you that David & I have entered largely into the business of keeping fowls, after the most approved Dolly plan.

The great “Democrats” party have made out to elect Mr. [Stevens Thomson] Mason [for Michigan Governor] by a majority of only _00 ¹ in the whole state. I think we shall be redeemed in a few years.

Page 4

I am keeping an enormous black bear — a native of our state. I wish you could see him. He is very tame and follows me about like a dog.

I hope that lady of the “Pew adventure” is well, for I have forgotten her name.

I suppose the Yantic ² flourishes nobly. For my part, I sigh for its beautiful water. [My sister] Juliana keeps up such a laugh about my letter that I must close.

P.S. I have never, nor shall I ever, forget the kindness with which I was treated by all of you while there. Dud & Lucy send their love to you. My love to you all. — William Leverett Woodbridge


Stevens Thomson Mason

¹ A fold in the image of this letter prevents my reading the victory margin of Democratic Gubernatorial nominee, Stevens Thomson Mason over the Whig nominee, Charles C. Trowbridge, but the Detroit Free Press reported the margin as 657 votes.

² The Yantic River flows from east of Colchester, Connecticut until it joins the Shetucket River in Norwich, forming the Thames River.


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