1839: Eleanor M. Reynolds to Miss Loomis

What Eleanor M. Reynolds might have looked like

This letter was written by Eleanor M. Reynolds of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. She was the sister of John Reynolds (1800-1865), who settled in Peoria, Illinois when it was incorporated as a town in 1835. He was married (1829) to Sarah Kerseley Cooper (1805-1872) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “After engaging in the river shipping trade, John Reynolds set up one of the first pork-packing plants in that city and later founded a beef-packing house. His products were sent down the Illinois River to the Mississippi and eventually found their way to leading Eastern and Southern markets.

“John Reynolds was one of three men, all from Pennsylvania, who, lured by the call of the frontier, rode horseback to the West in the early 1830’s. He and his companions — Abram S. McKinney and Hugh Williamson — arrived at the little log village of Chicago, were not impressed by its swampy location, and went down the Illinois River to Peoria. Because of its position on the river Peoria would become a great center of trade, the three men felt. They went back to Pennsylvania to get their families.

The John Reynolds Home in Peoria, Illinois

“The first to return was John Reynolds. He and his wife and children came west in a crude prairie schooner. The farm furniture and other household goods were shipped by boat on the Ohio River to the Mississippi and then up the Illinois River. At first the Reynolds family lived in a house which stood in the middle of the 100 block on South Adams Street. At that time Adams was a residential street. Later, as the city grew, John Reynolds decided to seek a new location for a spacious home he planned to build.

“He found what he wanted on Jefferson Street. Here, in 1847, he erected the two‑story brick house which still stands. Its present address is 305 North Jefferson Street. Designed by an early Peoria architect named Ulrichson, the house, architecturally, was a composite of the handsome red brick residences that John Reynolds had admired in Carlisle, Chambersburg, Shippensburg, and other towns of his native Pennsylvania.” [Source: Old Illinois Houses by John Drury]

Eleanor addressed the letter to “Miss Loomis” and left no other clues as to her identity in the letter. I believe it may have been a daughter of James Loomis (1781-1847) and Mary McKenney (1782-1851). Initially I thought  it was Sarah Loomis who married Joseph C. Parker (1804-1865) — a native of Ohio, who came to Peoria, Illinois in 1830, but that couple appears to have been married prior to 1839 when this letter was written.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Miss Loomis, Peoria, Illinois [forwarded to Fairview, Fulton County, Illinois]

Shippensburg [Pennsylvania]
October the 20, 1839

My dear Miss Loomis,

Your truly kind & affectionate letter was not received for more than two months after you wrote it although [James H.] Work passed through this village both going & returning from the City, yet such is his corrupt, evil disposition that he would not confer a favor on me having reason, I suppose, from his conduct towards our family while in Peoria that we cannot think favorable of himself or his censorious malicious talebearing wife. One of my brothers met with a gentleman from the village in which [James H.] Work removed from. He told him that many people in that village were delighted [and] rejoiced when he left for the West as they were a very quarrelsome couple. He carried the letter to Peoria & put in that office in September so that is not more than two or three weeks since I received it. But enough of that disagreeable subject.

Oh my dear girl, how glad I would be to see you in Shippensburg. Shall I ever be permitted to behold you again? I fear I will not. I am rejoiced that I have got among my dear relations again but I am very sorry to part with my beloved brother John & family. Oh, how much I do love the dear children. Oh how I would love to keep them here. I would not think any trouble of waiting on them.

You wish to know about Mr. MacW.¹ I put a letter in the office for his lordship on my way here that finished all. I feared I would not like Griggsville, himself, or his many children. So I thought it was better to finish all. He wrote me quite a sharp letter in return so I found he was not so mild as I thought he was. How does your widower do? Did you drive him away in despair? Poor distressed fellow. How I ought to putty him if I could. What have you done with Mr. Safford? I hope you will bare mercy on him for I thought him quite a clever fellow.

We had a very pleasant party at our house a few evenings ago. About 20 young ladies & gentlemen were present. All said they enjoyed themselves very much. I think they did as they remained until three o’clock in the morning.

I had a letter from Mrs. Davis but did not send it as it so happened that before I put it in the office, Elizabeth received a letter from her. I therefore supposed that a letter from Elizabeth would be more acceptable.

We have a great quantity of fruit here & everything that is good. I wish you were here to enjoy it with us. We had a visit from Mr. & Mrs. Spalding & Mrs. Russell. How very sorry we were that we were not at housekeeping. What a lovely couple. How much I do love Mr. & Mrs. Spalding — so mild, so amiable, so affectionate. They possess every amiable & lovely quality.

I shall have to conclude. Give my love to Mr. & Mrs. Spalding, Mr. & Mrs. Davis, Mr. & Mrs. Kittell, Miss Dickenson, Mrs. Russell, Mrs. Dodge & all othters who may inquire for me. Write me a long letter & soon & I shall give you one in return.

Your affectionate friend, — Eleanor M. Reynolds

In haste. So burn this as soon as you read it.

P.S. I had almost forgotten to tell you that you may write me on a newspaper as our post master is clever & does not open the paper. I wish you would write often in that way. You might enclose half a sheet with safety. — E.

¹ I believe Eleanor is referring to James McWilliams (1802-1883), a native of Belmont County, Ohio, who came to Griggsville, Pike County, Illinois in 1834 with his first wife Margaret Latimer (1802-1838) and several children. He later married (June 1839) Lucretia Prescott. He was a well-to-do lumber merchant in Griggsville and served a term of two years in the Illinois Legislature (1838-1840) as a democrat representing Pike County.



2 responses to “1839: Eleanor M. Reynolds to Miss Loomis

  • Lisa Tuttle

    How interesting! I’m a distant descendant of James McWilliams (he’s my 3xgreat grandfather) and was interested in his speedy remarriage, only about six months after the death of his first wife. They had 8 children, so I guess it was quite important to get a stepmother in place; her age of less relevance than her ability to teach and keep them in line. Lucretia Prescott was a 41-year-old teacher, not previously married. I wonder how he met Eleanor (did he even meet her? Or propose by mail?) and also how he met Lucretia (ditto?). Delighted to have come across your blog in this way — I love the mysteries of old letters & people almost but not quite lost to history. Thank you for your good work!

  • Lisa Tuttle

    Although the time-lag is disconcerting, as I suppose it must have been for Eleanor, too. She is writing in October 1839 about how she “finished” with Mr McW — who (possibly she did not know this?) had been married for nearly four months by the time she told her friend about it. (How I’d like to know the exact date she told him “No” — and did he send out his proposals like multiple submissions, or wait to be clear one had rejected him before wooing another possibility?)

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