1838: Frances Watkins Proctor to Dr. Nathaniel A. Venable

Frances Watkins (Nance) Proctor (1793-1859)

This 1838 letter describes the death of her 7-month old child named Florida Proctor in Shelby County, Kentucky. It was written by Frances Watkins (Nantz) Proctor (1793-1859), the wife of Rev. David Choate Proctor (1792-1865). Rev. Proctor was her second husband. Her first marriage (1808) was to William Lewis Venable (1780-1824) of Haymarket, Prince Edward County, Virginia. By her first marriage, Frances had at least five children: Frances Matthews Venable (1810-1863), Thomas Frederick Venable (1812-1881), Dr. Nathaniel Abraham Venable (1814-1849), Martha Watkins Venable (1816-1905) — the wife of William Cabell Flournoy (1809-1861), and William Goodridge Venable (1819-1908) — the husband of Sallie Tucker.

Frances wrote the letter to the grown children of her first marriage who were living in Virginia but addressed it to her son, Dr. Nathaniel Abraham Venable in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia, because he lived closest to the Post Office. Dr. Venable was married to Agnes Catherine Venable (1820-1881), the daughter of Nathaniel E. Venable (1791-1846) and Mary Embra Scott (1793-1865).

Frances’ second husband, Rev. Proctor, was born in New Hampshire, was a graduate of Dartmouth and of the Andover Theological Seminary, was licensed by a Congregational Association, and in 1822, having received ordination, came to the West, under appointment from the Connecticut Missionary Society. He crossed the Wabash about March 1st, and on the 5th of the same month organized the first Presbyterian church in Edwards County, Illinois. He visited Indianapolis in the following May and concluded his engagement with the congregation there for one year from the subsequent October. From Indianapolis he removed to Kentucky in the fall of 1823 and took charge of the Springfield and Lebanon churches. His services at Lebanon were highly acceptable, but in 1826 he was called to the presidency of Centre College at Danville, a position which he held from the resignation of Dr. Chamberlain until the election of Dr. Blackburn in the ensuing year. Upon his marriage he settled upon a plantation near Shelbyville. When the education of his children required it, he transferred his residence for four years to New Haven, Conn., having previously disposed of his estate. Returning to Kentucky, he purchased a farm near Frankfort, where he died of pneumonia January 18, 1865. In person Mr. Proctor was of medium height, of dark complexion, and of attractive presence. He was of a social disposition, fond of anecdotes, and devoted to his horses.” [Source: Life and Times of Stephen Bliss, pp. 56-9.]

Stampless Letter

TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Dr. Nathaniel A. Venable, Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia

Grassland [Finchville, near Shelbyville, Kentucky]
February 26th 1838

With feelings of deep affliction and bereavement do I at this time sit down to write to you all my beloved children, for from you I am sure I will have sympathy of the tenderest kind. Yes, this evening we have consigned our dear, dear, little Florida to the silent grave. And I thought it might mitigate my sorrows for a few hours to tell the sad tale to those who will so sensibly mingle grief with mine.

She was taken about twelve days since as we thought with a slight cold, and was not much indisposed for about 4 days when suddenly a most violent and obstinate fever arose with difficulty of breathings and for about 8 days and nights was ill, it appeared to me, as she could possibly be, until on the evening of the 25th her little spirit took its flight from a world of sin and sorrow. Dr. Allen was her physician. I never saw, I believe, more active and abundant remedies administered but all to no effect. The fever never was subdued & I may say scarcely at any time abated.

She had been remarkably health for 4 or 5 months, quiet, fat, and bid as fair for life as any child I ever saw. She was so sprightly and so pretty. My heart was so entwined about her. I often said was it possible I had ever loved a child like her. But I loved her too much for my Heavenly Father saw it was best to take my idols from me. And I do desire and pray for subscription to His will where right it is to reign, tho’ severe and heart-rending the stroke.

My dear Frances and Martha, you have so recently met with similar trials. You will understand my feelings. And you Thomas and Mary watched over one that you felt often that you must give up, but the Lord was kind and spared him. And may he spare him long.

The disease was a violent and obstinate case of catarrhal fever, affecting the lungs. We drew five blisters on her and she had 6 mustard plasters at one time on, and the greatest quantity of medicine for so young a child I ever saw administered and put in warm baths. Tho’ we had but little hope for several days before her death, we were so reluctant to give her up that while she could swallow we would have something done. And the Dr. too manifested the greatest anxiety and solicitude. With all the remedies used to that effect, we never could produce a moisture on the skin. It was always burning hot. And to see her laboring for breath so long and almost every breath a groan was enough to melt a heart of stone, much less her fathers and mothers that watched over her every hour. O how often in these scenes of trial and sorrow did my thoughts advert to you my beloved children. I feel as if your society would be a solace in grief and tho’ we have kind neighbors and friends around us, still they are not as my own dear family.

My dear Nat and Catharine, I so often thought of you. I thought Nat’s skill might devise something and Catharine’s tender good bursing might have availed me much. But it is all over and nothing remains for me but tears. There is a vacuum left in my room, in my arms, and in my heart that cannot be filled. But the Lord has notwithstanding afflicted me in mercy and I hope I may sensibly feel it. How much more severe might have been the trial. Had he have taken my husband, O how much more severe the stroke. How destitute, how bereaved would I have been here. Or had he taken any of my grown children, would not my sorrows have been more? These I dare not murmur, but will endeavour to kiss the rod. O, I did so long to show her to you all, for I know you would all have loved and admired her. But she is gone before the time contemplated for our visit to you. I pray that nothing may occur to prevent our trip, but there is nothing certain in this changing world for we know not what a day may bring forth. Our family have enjoyed such fine health since we have been here. We may have forgotten the Giver in the gift and this may be to remind us of our dependence.

My dear Mr. Flournoy, Cabell, and Wm G. This letter is to all of you. You are all mine and let us share largely in your sympathies and your prayers. And may each and every heart long be spared from the pangs which are now meted out to us. And may all our lives and healths be preserved, and your hopes of happiness beyond the grave be secured is the prayer of your deeply afflicted mother, — F. W. Proctor

P. S. My dear babe was 7 months and one day old. We have had a very deep snow and a very severe spell of cold weather which we think operated very unfavorably upon her. As you, dear Nat, are nearest the Post Office, I will direct this letter to you, but it is for you all and I hope I may soon hear from some of you. I hope your health is still improving and do let me entreat you again to be prudent and do nothing that will in the slightest degree throw you back. My husband joins me in much love for you all, praying with me that Heaven’s choicest blessings may be yours. — F. W. P.

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