1840: J. Sewell Stewart to Johnson Pearson

Allegheny College, Meadville, PA

This letter was written by J. Sewell Stewart (1819-1871), who was born at Masseysburg, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania in 1820. He was a graduate of the class of 1840 at Allegheny College, Meadville, Pa., afterwards a student of law under James Steel, Esq., and clerk in the prothonotary’s office, held by Mr. Steel. Stewart was admitted to the bar in 1843, and was thereafter in active practice. He was appointed deputy attorney general for Huntingdon county in 1848, elected to the same office, under its changed title of district attorney, in 1850 and 1853, and continued in the same until November, 1856. For a year he was editor and  proprietor of the Journal, but sold the establishment in 1852, to give his exclusive attention to legal business. In 1865 he was appointed assessor of internal revenue in the Seventeenth District, and held that office during the remainder of his life. From 1866 to 1867 he was associated in his practice with Adin W. Benedict; in 1867 P. M. Lytle became a member of the firm, then styled Benedict, Stewart & Lytle; but in the same year the connection was dissolved by the death of Mr. Benedict. Mr. Stewart’s death occurred at his residence in Huntingdon, February 6, 1871. His reputation as a lawyer was enviably high, as regards both legal acumen and honorable character; he was also painstaking and faithful in the discharge of his various duties. He possessed fine literary taste and ability as a writer, in verse as well as in prose.

Stewart wrote the letter to his college chum, Johnson Pearson (1819-1911), of Mercer, Pennsylvania. Pearson grew up on his father’s farm in Neshannnock Township, then Mercer, now Lawrence County, about four miles north of New Castle. He attended Allegheny College at Meadville from 1837-1840, graduating with Stewart in 1840, and then settled in Mercer to study law with John J. Pearson. He was admitted to practice in 1842. He married (1846) to Sarah Jane Templeton. In 1848, Pearson was appointed Deputy Attorney General in Mercer County and from 1850 to 1854, he was elected District Attorney.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Mr. Johnson Pearson, Mercer, Pennsylvania

Huntingdon [Pennsylvania]
December 10th 1840

Dear Brother Pearson,

Page 1

Sir, I now take up my pen no less to perform a duty than fulfill a promise. The delay has been long, but I thought I would get settled before I would open much of a correspondence. I have finally taken up my abode in the town of Huntingdon and commenced the study of the law, with the determination of someday turning out a pettifogger. God only knows the result — but let the result be as it will, I am going to make a trial.

The political elements have settled down into a Harrison calm ‘ere long, probably, to be set in motion again. The excitement ¹ has died away, the bosom is placid, and I now feel inclined to cultivate and cherish the warmer and purer feelings of the soul. I am therefore very strongly inclined to write a short but friendly epistle to one of my old and cherished friends — one with whom I have spent many a pleasant hour and one who has often accompanied me up that big hill of our Alma Mater. Our hours there, often come up in splendid review before my mind, throwing a delightful feeling over the soul. O have often thought since that those were the happiest times I will ever see again.

Page 2

The world at large possesses nothing so calculated to interest and delight as a body of students living together in harmony. They have a unity of design which you will find no where else. All they have to do is to read, talk, and laugh. Such are the blessed times of a student. I look back with supreme pleasure on some of those [scenes] in which yourself was an actor. When you get into the wholesale system of pettifogging, we will be better able to judge.

And now, friend Pearson, it is about time to talk something of those fair beings whose influence over man is irresistible. I cannot say much on this head, owing to my very  partial acquaintance in this town having but lately arrived. I must, therefore, wish you great prosperity with the fair ones of Mercer & say nothing more about it.

Remember to all your fine gals. For want of time, I must close my letter. The next one shall be longer. Your old friend would be particularly gratified to hear from you. I remain with the greatest respect, your friend, — J. Sewell Stewart


¹ Stewart is referring to the excitement of the William Henry Harrison candidacy for President during the fall of 1840, sometimes called the “log cabin and hard cider” campaign.


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