1839: Althea M. (Perkins) Cheney to Mrs. Eunice (Howe) Perkins

What the Cheney’s might have looked like

This letter was written by 26 year-old Althea M. (Perkins) Cheney (1813-1889), the daughter of James and Eunice (Howe) Perkins of Lancaster, Coos County, New Hampshire. Althea was the wife of Israel Chapin Cheney (1811-1856). The first two of at least four children born to this couple were born in Guildhall, Essex County, Vermont. The last two were born in August 1839 and March 1841 in Wisconsin Territory. The one born in 1839 — referred to as “my babe” in his letter — was Elizabeth Dole Cheney. The Cheney’s were members of the New England Company that formed in New Hampshire in 1836 to settle and develop some town in the West. The company decided to relocate to Beloit — a promising location in the Rock River Valley of Wisconsin Territory.

In this letter to her mother, Althea mentions at least four siblings — Mary Perkins (1816-1864), Fivilla Perkins (1825-1875), Calvin Perkins (1815-Aft1900), and Merial H. Perkins (1831-Aft1910). She also provides an excellent, though brief, description of Beloit and the hardships faced by its earliest settlers who had to live in primitive shanties.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mrs. Eunice Perkins, Lancaster, New Hampshire

Beloit, [Wisconsin Territory]
October 28, 1839

My dear mother,

I received your letter of the 15th September and was unspeakably happy to hear from you and to hear that you were all well. You ask if I have forgotten you. I confess you have reasons to think it so by my neglect in not writing, but I have a thousand excuses to plead which would satisfy you to the reverse of that if you could hear them. But I will not rehearse then and only say I beg your pardon for my long silence and neglect. Can I forget the dear mother that gave me assistances and watched over me with such untiring patience? No never while I have a heart acceptable of the feelings of human nature shall I forget my mother. You say you have not heard from us for a long time. Israel has written two or three letters this summer, but I suppose you have not received them.  I often fancy myself with you enjoying all the pleasures of social intercourse, but I soon find it all a dream and weep at thoughts of the painful reality.

But I still hope to meet you all again and this is all that makes me enjoy life at all, I hope Providence will so order it that you will come and settle near me, but I often have my fears that you will think it a great task and not preserver in the undertaking, But I think it would be the best thing you can do if you can sell to your mind, for this is a good country to get a living in. All kinds of produce is plenty and cheap. A man can get two bushels of wheat for a day’s work and good wheat as you ever saw. James has written to Calvin and I suppose has told you all about it. He is very anxious to have you come here to live [and] says he will give you a year’s work. And I will do all I can to help you.

I shall expect [sister] Mary in the Spring. Tell her that I received her present by the hand of H____ and was very much pleased with it. She could not have suited me better and I will recompense her for the same when she comes to Wisconsin. Tell [sisters] Fivilla and Merial the little children were very much pleased with their little basket and aprons and thank Aunt Isabel [Perkins] for her little work _____.  _____ says tell aunt I want to see her and Jimmy Hayes. I am alone with three children. My little babe is eight weeks old today. Lovisa was with me five weeks and since then I have been alone [with] no one to help me about anythingm and it is much hard work to wash here than at the East for the water is half lime and the only way to wash with it is to cleanse it with lye. It is very good to drink.

O how often do I wish I could have some of my own friends near me for I can assure you there is none like own friends. You wished to know if Israel was trading. He is not. He sold out to Field three months since and is now in no business and knows not what he shall do. We still live in a shanty but I am in hopes to have a house next summer. Lumber is high and workmen so highly engaged that Israel thought best to defer building till better times. We have two cows and a stove and I think we can live. We have no berries here but we have crab apples and plumbs which answer as a substitute. Tell Mary to bring me some dried berries when she comes if she can get them. I have only had one peck of dried apples since I came here. I Asahel and Betsey occasionally. They are not very well — either of them. Mrs. Howe looks as if she was very unwell. They send love to all. I guess Betsy C. will lose Mr. Fisher for report says he is soon to be married to Miss Caroline Field. She came here from Erie to visit her friends expecting to return this fall but she is not agoing and I guess she will take a school for life. It is a very healthy place, but it has been sickly all around us this fall.

This place is in the gain. There has been quite a number of buildings raised the past summer and fall, and are to be completed as soon as possible. We have a Tinner, a Cabinet Maker, a Chair Maker, and all kinds of work done here, but not very cheap yet.

November 3d. I commenced this letter one week since but could not finish it till now. Robert Moore arrived here two weeks since and I heard directly from you and was happy to see he brought the mittens which were received with many thanks to the giver. Mary, if she comes, must bring a supply of stockings and yarn for we have no sheep here and no way to manufacture wool. James brought me a present from grandmother which I shall keep as a memento of respect for Stephen. Tell her I hope to see her again though far away. Tell Tina I shall write to her when I can find time and she and Mary must write to me and not wait for me for they will see how it is with me.

I have bedstead at Hatcher that I wish you to get unless he pays you two dollars and a half for it — the same that we gave for it. ____ says it is in use. Robert likes much. He says he shall never go East to live again. I thought I should have written to Harriet Howe before this. James brought a letter from her which was received with pleasure and I will answer it as soon as possible.

My love to Uncle Josephs and Uncle Dan’s families and to all that take the trouble to enquire for me. My love to my aunts in particular. Tell them all to write. tell Calvin I shall write to him soon. Thank him for what he wrote to me.

— Althea M. Cheney


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