This letter was written by 19 year-old Benjamin Rush Peck (1819-1896) while attending the Brandon Seminary in Brandon, Vermont. Benjamin was the son of Dr. Alanson Ames Peck (1791-1862) and Nancy Delano (1794-1876). He would later marry Elizabeth Griffin in Jericho, Vermont in 1849. He is enumerated in the 1880 Census in Waterford, Saratoga County, New York with his wife and two children, laboring as a “Sash & Blind Manufacturer.”
Peck wrote the letter to his friend, Daniel Norton Casey (1817-1887), the son of Edward Casey (1786-1830) and Mary Norton (1789-1868) of Whiting, Addison, Vermont. In 1841, Daniel married Caroline M. Needham. In 1870, Daniel’s occupation was recorded by the census taker as a life insurance agent.
Addressed to Mr. Daniel N. Casey, Whiting, Vermont
Brandon Seminary, [Brandon, Vermont]
October 1st 1838
Dear Brother in Christ,
I now steal, as it were, a few moments of time from the busy scenes of the day to write a few lines to you. I would be glad to see you and then I could tell you more than I can possibly write. Time, you know, is the most precious article of which man can boast. Were it not for time, man would be as degraded and wretched as the African of Ethiopia or the Dutch of Caffearia & the wild savage of the West. But with time & that improved, he can make himself as noble as a Demosthenes or a Cicero or any other noble man that has ever lived or that now lives. And this is my object in spending day after day here in this old cell, shut up as it were from the world, is to make myself a man of knowledge — not as great as any of the before mentioned, I would not have you think, but it is to procure a good education. And when this is done, to make a good use of it. Hence, you see it becomes me to improve every moment of time as it passes along.
I suppose you would be interested to hear how I get along in the various concerns of this life & more so, to hear of those things which belong to the immortality of the soul beyond the grave. As to the former, I can say I get along remarkably well. Everything seems to move on with as much regularity as the planetary system does in performing its annual revolution. All things are pleasant & beautiful & calculated to proffer man the “richest pleasures of tuition.” But we will now come on to another subject of more importance — yea, forever more important than all other subjects combined in one would not be equal to the subject of R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N. For this is not only what prepares us for usefulness & happiness in this life, but it save our immortal souls from a burning H-E-L-L! & fits them for an eternal happiness beyond the grave.
But Hark! what do I hear? It is the mournful tolling of the church bell for the D-E-A-D! I just cast my eye out of my window & saw in the burying yard a doleful sight — a sight that effects my heart. Oh! What was it? It was another human being that I saw was about to be laid in the narrow house prepared for all living. Another soul has gone into Eternity! (His name was John Nelson ¹ of this place.) How important it is that we improve our time & prepare for death that great a last change. We have not but a few days to stay here on this earth at the longest. Soon it will be said of us that we lived, but we are now dead. Soon the sound of the church gong bell will echo through the forest for us to let the living know that we are dead.
Now as I turn my paper, I will turn the discourse. You are perhaps inquiring in your mind by this time how Rush gets along in religion & what proficiency he is making in his studies. I can say as to my studies that I think I get along well & am learning tolerable fast considering how thick my skull is, as you know that makes ½ difference at least. It is one of the finest schools that I ever attended & the best chance for learning fast that I ever saw. The school is now large, there being between 90 & 100 scholars. I have heard it remarked several times that it never was in so flourishing a condition as at present.
With regard to the present state of religion with me, it is as yet somewhat low although I do not feel like giving up by any means, tho’ God forbid that I ever go back into the dark wilderness of this world.
Where snares & pits & traps & nets abound
To catch the sinner & cast him down
Lands that awful, frightful, gaping Hell!
Where darkness, devils, & damned spirits dwell
O blessed be that hand that hath delivered me
From that awful place called misery
But since I live, let Jesus wear the crown
For saving my soul from being cast down.
— Benjamin R. Peck
We use a certain fraction of time which God hath given us in reading the Bible & praying & going to meeting. My chum & I have interesting prayer meetings, morning & evening, which prove I find to be very useful. We also attend what is called meetings here, but in Whiting they would be called Deaf & Dumb Asylums where a certain class of human beings go to learn to talk by signs & motions, although I do not think they are quite as interesting as such a school would be. But stop! I do not know but I am going to ____. But to tell you the plain honest truth, Daniel, religion is in a dead, dead state here. It is astonishing to see what a cold indifference there is prevailing here among the professed Christians. There must be something done for Brandon. There must be a powerful shaking here among the dry bones or she will sink down as low as the bottomless regions of despair. Do not fail to make her a subject of prayer in your evening meetings.
¹ There was a John Nelson (b. 1785) married to a Laura Wheeler who resided in Brandon, Vermont. His wife’s death is given as 29 September 1838. No death date is given for John. Based on the letter, it appears that the death date was more likely to be John’s.