1839: John Frelinghusen Cornell to James Alexander H. Cornell

What John F. Cornell might have looked like

This letter was written by John Frelinghuysen Cornell (1808-Aft1848), the son of Rev. John Cornell (1780-1835) and Maria Frelinghuysen (1778-1832), the daughter of Sen. Frederick Frelinghuysen (1753-1804) and Gertrude Schenck (17xx-1794). Rev. John Cornell is buried in Millstone Cemetery in Somerset County, New Jersey. The inscription on his headstone says he was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Allentown, N.J., and afterwards served as the classical principal of the academies at Somerville and Millstone.

At the time that John F. Cornell wrote this letter, it is believed he was attending medical school in Philadelphia. He later established a medical practice in New York City. He married a woman named Elizabeth in the 1840s and was residing at 552 Fourth Street by the time the 1845 City Directory was published. On 26 August 1848, he lost a daughter named Mary Catherine Cornell who was less than 1 ½ years old. Just days later, on 4 September 1848, he lost an infant son named John F. Cornell. The children’s death notices appear in the New York Evening Post. Nothing more was found on Dr. Cornell.

John wrote the letter to his brothers, James Alexander H. Cornell (1819-1899) and Rev. Frederick Frelinghuysen Cornell (1804-1875). James later became a minister and became a Doctor of Divinity.

Rev. Frederick Cornell graduated from Princeton (1825), and the New Brunswick Theological Seminary (1828). He became a member of the Newtown Presbytery in 1829; professor of languages, College of Mississippi, at Natchez, 1828-29; missionary at Stuyvesant for three months in 1829; at Columbiaville, 1829-31; at Marshallville, 1831-32; Montville, 1833-36; pastor of Manhattan Reformed Dutch Church, New York City, 1836-56, and pastor of Pluckemin Presbyterian Church, 1856-64. In 1866 he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Union College. He married Elizabeth Clock Bell (1822-1882), daughter of Jacob and Phebe (Clock) Bell.

In the letter, John wrote “Santa Claus” as “Center Claus” — at least that is how it appears to me. Perhaps this was the way it was pronounced by the Cornell children in the days of their youth.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Mr. James A. H. Cornell, No. 27 Av. D., New York City

[Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]
Thursday Evening, December 26, 1839

Fear Brother James,

hristmas has passed & 1839 is beginning to drop the curtain which will separate it forever from our view, & number it with years gone by. It is fit emblem of Human Life. It is fast fading away & soon the black curtain of death which separates this from the eternal world will hide it eternally from our sight. It also affords appropriate reflections for the consideration of an intelligent & rational mind. How important is it that we should pause amid our rapid flight & inquire whither we are going? What is to be our destiny? And how long before the flickering flame of life may expire? I find in the solitude of my study a suitable opportunity for such enquiries & meditations. I would say that they might lead mr to live less in the world & to provide for myself “a treasure in the Heavens that faith not.”

Dr. George W. Bethune

Christmas was a day of but little pleasure to me. In the morning I attended Dr. [George Washington] Bethune‘s church where I heard a most excellent Christmas Sermon & also enjoyed exceedingly the singing by the Sabbath School scholars of hymns selected for the occasion. I dined on a most excellent roast turkey & spent the evening with the family in a sociable manner. Old Center Claus filled my stocking on Christmas Eve with various articles. It brought to mind many pleasant associations connected with Christmas and Center Claus in bygone days. I have felt much the privation of not being with you all on this occasion & though my reason & better judgement approve the course I have pursued, yet it conflicts strongly with my inclinations & desires. And you know it is hard to be resigned even where you know it ir right. Though the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak. Many of the students have left Philadelphia during the recess. A number who did not go home on account of the distance have visited the neighboring cities as New York, Baltimore, &c.

Our weather has been mild and pleasant for the last few days. On Sabbath last, we had a terrible snow storm. It commenced Saturday night about 9. On Sunday morning, it turned to rain & about 2 P.M. again changed to snow. It continued violently till in the night. On Monday morning, the snow was about 6 inches deep. There has been some sleighing, but they do not improve it as they do in New York. There are more sleighs out there in a forenoon that there is here in a week.

We received the President’s Message here on Wednesday evening & I read it yesterday morning & think it worthy of the illustrious source from whence it emanated. The people here [in Philadelphia] are very much pleased with it generally.

I expect you have had a “Merry Christmas.” I will conclude with wishing you a very happy & prosperous New Year.

Believe me ever your find brother, — John F. Cornell

Friday Morning, December 27, 1839

Dear Brother Frederick,

I expect you are enjoying with uninterrupted pleasure the many delights which attend the Holidays. Time, place & circumstances all conspire to make it with you a season of mirthful happiness. I had fondly hoped to have made of your number on this joyous occasion & to have mingled my voice in the social chit chat of Brothers & Sisters. This pleasure I am deprived of. Philadelphia seems unwilling to let me leave her. Notwithstanding I am absent from you, I think much of you & fancy all your happiness. My imagination visits the festal bowers heaped with the bounties of a growing city whilst my grosser part sighs that it too cannot over leap the bounds of space & time & join the happy partakers of those dainties & enjoy the society. I feel gloomy in my solitude, not having my accustomed duties to engage & occupy my attention. It affords me a fine opportunity for study which I gladly accept & will endeavor to improve. I hope your Bank which you mentioned will answer your purposes & satisfy your desires. Give my love to Ellen. Tell [her] I have been waiting for a letter from her until I am almost ready to give up in despair. I wish you each a happy, pleasant, & profitable New Year. Write as soon as you can a good long letter.

From your brother, — John F. Cornell


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