This letter was written by Mary Sherrill Dwight (1822-1845) to her younger sister, Laura Worthington Dwight (1833-1914). They were the orphaned daughters of Rev. Edwin Welles Dwight (1789-1841) and Mary Sherrill (1801-1839) of Richmond, Massachusetts. Rev. Dwight was an 1809 graduate of Yale, the first headmaster of the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut, and the pastor of the Congregational Church in Richmond, Massachusetts. Other siblings of Mary and Laura mentioned in the letter include Abby Louisa Dwight (1828-1883) and Frances Eliza Dwight (1836-1907).
An “Uncle Louis” is mentioned in the letter. This was Edwin’s brother, Louis Dwight (1793-1854) who graduated from Yale in 1813 and at the Andover Theological Seminary in 1819. He was an agent of the American tract society and of the Education society — a job that required his to distribute bible to inmates of prisons. He later became involved with the Prison discipline society. He married Louisa Willis, a sister of the poet Nathaniel P. Willis.
From this letter we learn that after her parents death, 8 year-old Laura went to live with the Tracey family in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. This may have been the Sylvester Tracey family. It appears that the wardrobe of the orphaned girls was kept by their “Aunt Perry” in Richmond, Massachusetts. Aunt Perry was their mother’s sister, Zerujah (Sherrill) Perry (1785-1867) who was the wife of Frederick Perry (1778-1875).
Mary died in February 1845, less than four years after this letter was written. Laura was married (1859) to Alexander Dalrymple Napier (1826-1913) of Brooklyn, New York.
Addressed to Miss Laura W. Dwight, at Mr. S. Tracey’s, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
New York [City, New York]
September 10th 1841
My dear little Laura,
I have some good news for you this morning and hope you will be as much pleased as I am. I am in the great city of New York and am going to be a teacher in a school ¹ of 130 little girls & young ladies, many of them just your age, and I want to have you come right down to New York [City] — your own little self — and go to school to your sister Mary, & sleep with her in a nice room which we shall have all to ourselves, and let her be your mother and teacher and sister all in one, and take the whole care of you. How shall you like that, my dear little sister? I am so glad that I could almost cry for joy. Yes, I feel the tears coming now.
Oh! We shall be so happy! And if we want to go to Stockbridge, we can go to bed in te boat and wake up in Hudson and get into the cars and be in Stockbridge to dinner. And you will be my own dear little girl and live with me always. I will not tell you now how all this happened because it would take too long, but you must come right down just as soon as you can, and then you shall hear all about it. I have written to Uncle Louis [Dwight] and asked him to send you, and you must go to Stockbridge and get ready, & I guess Mr. Williams or somebody will be coming down that you can come with. And you must tell them to let you come to Miss Scammer Norris, 74 Hammond Street, and there you will find your sister Mary.
And I want you to go to Aunt Perry’s and ask her to give you that black merino frock that is in one of your drawers, and if there is a black crape one — that too. Not any of those in Frances’ bureau, but in yours, and you bring them with you. And if there is anything else in these that Aunt Perry thinks you will want, you may bring it. I have forgotten what is there, but you will not want any of the eight dresses at present.
Thank Mr. & Mrs. Tracy a great deal for all their kindness to you and give a great deal of love to them from me and tell them I never shall forget it. Kiss little Frances for me when you see her and give a great deal of love to her and to Abby and tell Abby to write me a long letter by you. And come just as soon as you can for I shall be very lonesome till you come. I can’t write any more now because I have got a great many letters to write and am in a great hurry. Goodbye.
Your affectionate sister, — Mary S. Dwight
¹ The name of the girls school in New York City where Mary S. Dwight found employment in 1841 is not revealed in the letter. We know, however, that at the time of Mary’s death in 1845, she was employed as a teacher at the Albany Female Academy. An article appearing in the Albany Argus newspaper (18 March 1845) reads:
“The purpose of God, in the early death of a Christian illustrated.” — This is the theme of a Sermon, occasioned by the death of Miss Mary S. Dwight, a teacher in the Albany Female Academy, delivered on the 2nd inst. by the Rev. Samuel W. Fisher. It is worthy of the subject, and of such an occasion. It is an affectionate tribute to the graces and virtues of one whose loveliness, in all the relations of life, lent a charm even to her sex and to the Christian character, and whose memory will be cherished, in the Academy and by all to whom she was known, in the language of the sermon, “as a delightful vision of the past.”