1840: Thomas Wadsworth Ripley to Franklin Ripley Allen

Lt. Thomas W. Ripley in Civil War Uniform

This letter was written by Thomas Wadsworth Ripley (1822-1878) of Greenfield, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas W. Ripley (1787-1823) and Susan Clapp (1795-1870). During the Civil War, Ripley enlisted as the 2d Lieut. of Co. F., 34th Massachusetts Infantry in 1862 and was mustered out of service in 1865 as Full Adjutant. He married Ella Lydia Grinnell (1839-1914) in 1868.

Ripley wrote the letter to his cousin, Franklin Ripley Allen (1822-1906) of Greenfield, Massachusetts, the son of Sylvester Allen (1782-1848) and Harriet Ripley (1795-1876). Harriet’s brother, George Ripley (1802-1880) was associated with Transcendentalism, and was a founder of the short-lived Utopian community, Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Frank Allen’s brother, Charles Allen (1827-1913) was Massachusetts State Attorney General (1867-72) and Justice of the Massachusetts State supreme court (1882-98). Frank Allen was a merchant in Greenfield, Massachusetts. He married Josephine Parkhurst (1834-1919) in 1861.

Thomas W. Ripley graduated from the Leicester Academy in Leicester, Massachusetts in 1839. Frank R. Ripley graduated in 1841. In the letter, Thomas references the “charms” of Miss Caroline Henshaw (1824-1903), a beautiful young woman residing in Leicester. She was the daughter of Horatio Gates Henshaw (1788-1860) and Elizabeth Hastings (1792-18xx). She graduated from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1843 and married Nathaniel Whiting Metcalf in 1850.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Franklin R. Allen, Leicester, Massachusetts

Greenfield [Massachusetts]
December 23, 1840

Dear Frank,

It seems to me that you were devilish slow in keeping your promises. I had been looking for a fortnight for a letter from you but the old adage proves true in this case as well as in most others — “better late than never.” I do not wonder that your folks jawed you for not writing before, If I had been in their place, I would have disowned you. Your father was wondering round why the devil you did not write, and Henry began to think that you had turned away for all that he knew.

I am glad that you have found so good a boarding place. Patridge ¹ is a first rate man in school and out. He did not take boarders when I was there but lived in the house with Mr. Nelson.

About the “prayers” business, I should be glad to give you some advice if I thought that you would receive it as becometh a Christian but I think that I had better leave that for another time. I agree with you, however, in thinking that “prayers” do not sit very well after breakfast.

It is strange that there is no more music in Leicester. When I was there, the old building was full of [musical] instruments. Old [Luther] Haven jawed me for playing Sunday once, and — curse him — I paid him for it. How do you like that old Cock? We were pretty good friends the first time, but the second [time] he was savage with me. I never cared one fig for him.

Now to be sober. Are there not an almighty slew of pious folks in Leicester? I declare, I believe that heaven will be half full of Leiscester folks. Which church do you attend? As I told you before, you will find pretty good preaching at the Orthodox.

I want to know if Jim Lambert ² has got back to that old school. He was considerable of a character and his brothers were rousers. Give my respect and say to him that he owes me a letter.

It seems to me that it is too bad if they do not let you go to Smith’s. I spent half of my time there and three quarters of my money. In fact, it was the only place we had to go to.

How do you like that tall hill? It is a most glorious place to coast as you will probably find before the winter is out. I used to poke down to old Chilson’s and eat his victuals and then tug up that hill. I vow it was a hard case.

If your roommate [Charles F. Pitkin] is anything like his brother, he is a devilish fool. I vow I did used to hate that fellow about least, d___d c__ting, hypocritical, dough-faced, sap headed c___t. He roomed in the room west of ours in the same wing and would get out on the piazza and look into my room and see what was going on, curse him. I wanted to shoot him. If your roommate is touched with too much piety, tell him to go into No. 3 and with a bottle of wine and a pack of cards, sit down to a game of whist, and then see if the shades of Jack Sibley ³ and Tom Ripley do not appear and tell him that this world was made to spree in. There was more going on in that old room than any one besides  the occupants and two other fellows were aware of, in spite of that d___d eavesdropper [Solomon Dwight] Pitkin.†

Why do you not plug whist? Lord, it was strong enough against the rules when I was there, but we played with the rule of “the devil take the hindermost” or “each one take care of himself.” Neither Sibley or myself ever had a word spoken to us on the subject, although most all of the rest received a lecture.

I want to know if you are already touched with the charms of the pretty Caroline Hinshaw? When I was there, she bid fair to be a beauty. There was a Joice girl that lived in Cherry Valley that was a screamer. And then there was Liz Sergeant who lived in a large brick house opposite the Academy who was very pretty.

News is scarce and business is dull and with that I will close. Write as soon as you conveniently can.

Yours truly, — Thomas W. Ripley

P. S. I give you my deep and sincere thanks for the excellent advice you gave me and will try and profit by it. We are going here about as usual — up every night until after twelve, whist with the usual trimmings. We have had one ride up to Thayer’s and shall probably have more the first sleighing. It is a grand place to go — good cheer, good cigars, and good _____ — you know what.

Spencer gets along like a book up in his sky parlor. That is considerable of a room after all. The whole town might burn up and he not hear it and it might half burn before he could come down all those stairs.

“Cheer Up my Lively Lads” — Sketch of students playing ‘whist’ and smoking cigars by Ripley


¹ Probably a reference to Joseph L. Partridge who was a teacher, then Associate Preceptor at the Leicester Academy. He graduated there in 1834.

² James H. Lambert attended Leicester Academy from 1839 to 1841.

³ John (“Jack”) M. Sibley attended Leicester Academy from 1837-1839.

Solomon Dwight Pitkin (1822-1858), the “damned eavesdropper” who attended Leicester Academy in 1839 and roomed next door to Thomas W. Ripley, went on to Theological School at Yale and became a Presbyterian minister in 1847. He later got into the hardware business in Kansas City and died there in 1858.


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