1840: William H. Smith to John Smith

This 1840 letter was written by William H. Smith (1811-18xx), a native of Virginia, who lived in Bowling Green, Warren County, Kentucky, with his wife, Elizabeth. He wrote the letter to his brother, John Smith, of Warrenton, Fauquier County, Virginia. The Smith brothers were sons of William H. Smith (1785-Aft1850) and his wife Polly (1790-Aft1850) who also lived in Warren County, Kentucky.

Several family slaves — Isaac, Peter, and Jake — are mentioned in this letter. William also mentions his brother, James Smith.

Addressed to Mr. John Smith, Warrenton, Virginia

Bowling Green, [Kentucky]
16 September 1840

Dear Brother,

Your letter of the 18th of August has been received giving us the pleasing intelligence of your safe arrival at home. We were much gratified to learn that you stood your trip so well & are in hopes a trip to Kentucky for the future will not present such objections as you have formerly expressed but will be to you a trip of recreation & pleasure. Your letter containing an order on Mr. Briggs has also been received and I have been out to see him & had it accepted, but fear it will be some time before he collects the amount. I urged him to set some time when he could pay it without disappointment but he did not, but said he should use all possible exertions to get it soon.

James did not get off on time for the great Western Convention owing to his wife’s ill health. I am very sorry indeed you did not remain & go to it. Our good people all came back highly delighted and said it was a grand & imposing scene — one that will be long remembered by those who had the good fortune to be present. We are to have a long & grand Whig festival here on the 5 October to celebrate the Battle of the Thames. We started a subscription here & in a week had twice as much as will be needed to carry it on. No Whig here withholds his hand in these trying times. You all should be up and a doing & pare neither time & money to carry your state.

We received a letter from Mrs. Lansdale about the 20th August saying there were all well & highly pleased with the country & their future prospects. I am in hopes they may realize their highest expectations.

I will now attempt to give you a description how mother & her family has got along since you left. In attempting this, I am sure I shall fall short of my undertaking. On the 26th August, Ellen was taken with a severe chill & burning fever. The doctor was forthwith sent for. He gave her his strongest medicines & failed breaking the chill three times, but on the seventh day finally succeeded by giving Quinine every hour for 12 hours before it was expected. Elizabeth went out every day as well as myself that the chill was the severest and aided in giving her attention that she stood so much in need of. Two evenings before we broke the chill, I thought it was very doubtful whether she could get through the night. The Doctor left a little after dark & thought she would do well. After all the white family had retired to bed, I heard some loud talking at the cabin. I got up & went there & found Ellen up in the floor, entirely deranged & urging the negroes to pour water on her, & went back to the house & waked up Elizabeth and went to the cabin & found here extremities quite cold, her head & breast very hot, & she breathing very hard. We forthwith heated salt, red pepper, & whiskey & had all hands rubbing of her for some time & then put blisters on her extremities & everywhere else that we thought they would aid in getting the circulation to return to the extremities, and finally did so though with much difficulty. Two days after this time, we broke her chill. With prudence & care, I think she will get well, though she mends very slow.

Two days after Ellen was taken, Mrs. Griswold was taken with a chill & if possible, sicker than Ellen, the day we broke the chill in Ellen. We all thought Mrs. G. would die. This was a Saturday, the day her chill was expected to be the most severe, as well as that of Ellens. Elizabeth went out very early in the morning to aid in keeping off both the chills, and I went out about dinner time & found Isaac gone to his wife’s house although forbid not to do so by Mother & Mrs. Griswold when both Ellen & Mrs. Griswold was as sick as they could live. When I went in to see Mrs. Griswold, I found the chill on him and as all of us thought she was sinking very fast, I sent Peter for the doctor, though she said it was not worthwhile, for she was certain she was dying & gave some directions about her children, but before the doctor got there, we had succeeded by blistering & rubbing to through the blood to the extremities. The doctor commenced that night & gave the Quinine for two days which finally broke the chill on her. On Saturday evening & night, I was constant with Ellen until the time had passed for her chill.

Jenny, in the meantime, was sick that she was out of her head several hours everyday, and I was kept at the cabin that night trying to do something for her until I was taken very sick myself & vomited all night & had a burning fever until morning (Sunday). Elizabeth thought it was best we should go home & we returned in the baroush, though I was very weak. The ride, I think, helped me. I was able to be out in 5 or 6 days. On Monday following, Mr. Griswold was taken with a very severe chill fever, out of his head all of that day. The doctor was sent for immediately & he was relieved by the Saturday following. So you discern it has pleased kind Providence to raise us all up on our feet again, which we should be very thankful for.

After Isaac had gone off in the _______, I wrote Mr. G. word to keep him at home on the following Sunday, he directed him to do so & I soon told him he would not do it & went off. I went out on Sunday & on Monday morning called him up to talk to him about it. [page torn] …enough to me but when he found out I returned to whip him [page torn], what he said to Mr. G., he ran off before my face & was gone several days. He has come up & has begged so hard that I have consented not to whip him although I know I should have done so. Peter, if anything, has behaved worse than Isaac. I am well satisfied that this thing has been a plot to get Mr. G. off from them & that they do not intend to mind what is said to them if they can help it. What to do with them — it is more than I can devise. If Mr. Griswold and myself had not of been sick, they should have shared another fate. You may think I have described the dark side of the picture, but I tell you I have not made it dark enough. I have seen more trouble since you left here than I have see in all my life before.

Elizabeth’s health had been very delicate since you left & she is quite unwell at this time. She says I must leave her a place for a line or two, but she will have to wait until next time. Mother, Ann, & Robert has been as well as common. Our town has been very healthy but in the country very sickly  and more so than it has been for many years. James Briggs & Mr. Card’s families have all been very sick.

Your brother, — W. H. Smith

I have not made the arrangement with Mr. Davis that I expected to make since this difficulty with the negroes. I have tried him again & if I can make it without losing too much, I will do so & go there & stay until night fall at which time you must come out. I have heard a great deal expressed at Mother behind _____ She appeared to be so much distressed at the idea of their being whipped, they never can be managed so long as she should so much partiality for them. I think it startling strange that the negroes should be such favorites with Father & Mother.

I have tried ever since you left to buy a negro boy & I could not hear of the first one that would suit. A few days since, I have bought Jake — the boy that I had hired at $700 payable 1st February. It is a high price [but it] is the best that could be done. I consulted several men who are better judges than I and they said it [is the best price that] can be had & moreover, he has been raised in a white family & can be more depended on & I thought I would not ______ when I knew he would suit. I intend to put him with Robert & _____ if he is attentive & a good boy. It will put me up to all I can do to meet the payment. There ought to be one bought & put with the other house to learn to work. I have sold 8 mules at $59. The others were so _______, I could not sell them. I think I got a high price, but it is in a credit.

Times are very hard here in deed & not much prospect of there getting better State bonds was sold here in last week at 82.50 if you want any at that price I can buy them and draw on you at 23 or 4 months payable in Baltimore if you wish it Give me the authority to draw on what _____ the Banks here would only charge interest, I thought I would ____ this as it would be a good investment for you to ___ _____ it ___ you ____ you must write any more in the newspapers you send as the P M here says he will be both _____


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