1842: Samuel Hutchins to Lydia Putnam (Learned) Hutchins

This letter was written by Samuel Hutchins (1806-1884) to his wife, Lydia Putnam (Learned) Hutchins (1817-18xx) who was visiting Samuel’s father, American clock-maker Levi Hutchins (1761-1855), and Samuel’s sister, Anna, in Concord, New Hampshire, with her infant son, Charles. Lydia was the daughter of David Learned (1790-1838) and Eliza Marsh (1792-1877).

From the age of 16 to 21, Samuel Hutchins was apprenticed to the book and job printing trade, under the instruction of Jacob B. Moore in his hometown of Concord, New Hampshire. After traveling for awhile, Samuel settled down in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he married Lydia in February 1841 and had his first of at least seven children, Charles Gordon Hutchins, born in January 1842. At the time this letter was written in 1842, Samuel appears to have been employed at Harvard University — possibly in the Printing Department. He later returned to the book publishing business. His most famous publication was Benjamin Franklin: a Book for the Young and the Old (1852). The 1849 City Directory for Cambridge shows Samuel Hutchins, Printer, residing on Ash Street. In 1851 and 1852, his residence is listed on Ash Court.

In the letter, Charles confesses to his wife that he recognizes himself to be “rather a queer mortal” and an unworthy husband. He mentions a Temperance Meeting in Cambridge and later, in a separate letter he addresses to his infant son (clearly intended for the eye and heart of his wife), he obsessively admonishes his son to lead a “temperate life.” One wonders if Samuel doesn’t struggle with alcoholism himself — especially in light of the following notices that were posted in newspapers in 1851.

An odd notice appeared in the 28 February 1851 edition of the Albany Evening Journal: “Samuel Hutchins, a printer in Boston, has been missing for several days. His family is in great distress. He was 45 years of age.”

Likewise, the 8 March 1851 issue of the New London Democrat (New London, CT) posted the following notice: “Samuel Hutchins, a printer in the employ of [Albert J.] Wright & [A. B.] Hasty, [at 3 Water Street] in Boston, and living in Cambridge, has been missing since Monday. His family are in deep distress on account of his absence.”

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mr. Levi Hutchins, Concord, New Hampshire

Cambridge [Massachusetts]
Wednesday Evening, Half past 8 o’clock
June 15, 1842

My dear Lydia,

I received your second letter today and am glad that you and the baby are well. I am glad too that you are not homesick. I hope your visit will be a useful one to you. If you do not worry about anything and keep yourself contented, I think the journey and visit will do you good. Everything goes on well enough here. I do my cooking to suit myself and what more is necessary?

I commenced work today and my prospect is pretty good. Griffin has accepted a situation in the city. He will leave the University Office in about nine days. There will be work enough for all three of us for at least a week — and perhaps longer. When Griffin is gone, I in all probability shall stand a better chance for work during dull times than if he remained here. So you see, my prospect is rather better for work than it has been.

John Pierpont, Temperance Orator

The Orthodox singers are now singing over at vestry. I suppose they have a regular meeting every week, Well, here I am all alone. They have had a great Temperance Celebration today. They marched to some grove, had a picnic party, and heard speeches from [John] Pierpont, [Frederick C.] Pierce, [John Henry Willis] Hawkins, &c. There is a Temperance Meeting at the Unitarian Meeting House tonight. You express a great deal of affection for me in your letters notwithstanding I am rather a queer mortal. I know my Lydia loves me, and I know also that I don’t always act worthily of that love. Hoping that I may better merit thy esteem, I will lay aside my pen for tonight, bidding thee and the baby, good little baby, a good night’s rest.

Thursday evening, 8 o’clock. I have been at work today. It is easier for me to work than to do nothing. I don’t wonder you laughed when I told you to engage a situation at farming for me. What a sight it would be — I, a farmer, and you a farmeress!

Samuel, a printer, has gone to the plow —
Lydia, a dress-maker, is milking a cow;
I guess they’ll wish that they’d stuck to their trades,
It’s sure they don’t know much of shovels and spades.

Well, if you laughed, I am glad of it for I dare say that the baby can do crying enough. But really if you and I had a bit of a farm somewhere, I think it would be better for us than to live here in Cambridge. I believe I shall take your sign down tomorrow; you know you have often wished it down and so down it shall come. Indeed, I don’t see what use it is on the side of the door and as it is of no use, it shall not be there.

I wish I had some news to write, but I am such a hermit I don’t hear any. I believe Tucker has failed and that he owes one of his hands a thousand dollars. Griffin said so, at any rate. I saw Greenleaf in the office today. I have not seen him out before today for as many as two months. He has been very sick, you know. I think he looks pretty well, but I guess he is not at work.

I have not used any of those sugar plums that you have said so much about. It is now precisely eight days since I have used any. I marked down the day and said I would use no more of them. I have stuck to the bargain as yet, and I think I shall continue to adhere to it. Griffin has made a good many attempts to leave off but he does not succeed very well. He sometimes takes what he has of them in his pockets and slings them out of doors. And so do a great many people do the same way. I had some of them in my pockets, and so eight days ago I took them out and put them in a piece of paper. I thought it was not best to throw them away, but I thought I would keep them awhile to let them know that they shall not tempt me. What a piece of work it is to get along in this world. It is hoped that we shall be safe and out of harm’s way one of these days. For my part, I would like to do right always, but somehow or other there is always something to cause a body to do, if not wrong, at least not exactly right.

What are you and the baby about now? Did you have a good night’s rest last night? You know I wished you would have. I suppose you are now trying to get the baby to sleep.

There, cuddle right up and go to sleep —
Now that’s a good boy, now go to sleep —
By, by, there now, there cuddle right up —
Now go to sleep, now cuddle right up —
Now shut your peepers and go to sleep,
That is a good boy, now go to sleep.

Well, Lydia, now you have got him to sleep, I guess you had best go to sleep yourself pretty soon. So good night.

Friday evening, 7 o’clock. I have been to work again today. I had boiled eggs, bread, butter, and coffee for breakfast. For dinner I had the same. For supper I had tea, bread, butter, and cheese. I do my own cooking; I keep the table standing on the floor all the time and all the dishes on it. It saves a great deal of work. I allow nobody to come into my rooms. I keep the doors locked. It has been extremely warm today. It is warm now in these rooms. I have not made up my bed yet. I generally let it air all day. I am not very particular about my housework. I get along very well notwithstanding.

Your mother says she has heard that Catharine is better. I have asked her and Elizabeth for news but they don’t know any. Elizabeth sends her love and says she still works for Jane. Your mother wants you and the baby to come home; but I think you both had best stay where you are until July at least. You may stay longer if you choose. I dare say you will be well taken care of. There is no danger of my going up there — of course you will not expect me. I suppose I shall have work most of the time, but whether I do or not, you must not expect me at Concord. I hope Lydia will not infer from this that I do not want to see her. If she does, she will misunderstand me. You know, Lydia, it is a good deal of trouble to get to Concord. Well, now considering that you are there, I think you had best make a good long visit. I can take care of myself. There is no two ways about that — therefore, don’t worry about me. I would have you think of me, but not so as to give yourself unpleasant anticipations.

I have just been downstairs — by the by, I have just made up my bed and been downstairs for a pitcher of water. The pitcher of water now sits on the table that stands in the middle of floor, together with a sugar bowl, two plates, a knife and fork, a tin pan, a teapot, a newspaper, and a piece of bread.

Well, I have just taken down your sign. I told you yesterday that I should. I guess there will be no need of your taking in dress-making to do. We will either do dressmaking all together or else quit it altogether and go to farming.

And so Ann likes the baker. I thought she would. And so Ann sits down by the fire every morning with the baby. Well, I am glad of it. I have almost forgot how the baby looks. Let me see, as I have no news to write and as there is a considerable room left, I believe I will write a letter to baby. I will suppose him, however, to have arrived at years of discretion and understanding.


I received your letter and was happy to see that you have made great improvement in writing. You not only write well but sensibly. Your observations upon beginning early to form correct habits are excellent. Certainly you cannot begin too soon to search for that path which leadeth to respectability. There are many winding ways in life that exhibit allurements to divert your attention from the straight path, but it will be well for you not to be allured from a straight forward, honest, and temperate course of life. There is much meaning in the word temperate, Charles, but as you grow older and wiser you will better understand the meaning of it from observation than from any definition that I might give you. I will, however, if we both live many years give you some opinion upon that word and I shall hope that you will consider well upon what I may speak to you on the subject.

You ask my opinion upon the propriety of your buying a new suit of clothes. I am glad that you are considerate enough to consult me upon such matters. I think then that you had better defer buying a whole suit at present. You know I only sent you a certain amount of money, believing that you would know the proper use to put it to. After paying your quarter’s board and tuition, you will have thirty dollars left. That thirty dollars I trusted you with to try your wisdom. Be careful then that you render me a wise account of it. I think it would be folly for you to lay it all out in clothes — be cautious. I shall only give you a few hints. You must learn to reflect. You have done very well to consult me about the clothes. You have my opinion. I wish now to see how you will act upon my opinion and hints. Your excellent mother takes much pleasure in reading your letters and in thinking of your correct deportment and intelligent management of your affairs. I hope you will always make her happy. Will you try? She sends you her blessing and her prayer is for your happiness and well doing.

I am, with much affection, your father.

Half past 9 o’clock. Well, Lydia, what do you think of that letter to Master Charles? He little knows yet what a hard world this is. Well, we must learn him a thing or two. I believe I have nothing more to say at this time. I shall expect to get a letter from you tomorrow or Monday, or Tuesday. Tomorrow — Saturday — I shall put this in the office and I suppose you will get it Sunday or Monday.

Goodbye. I am all alone; everything is still and in a few minutes I shall put out the light and shall try to get some forgetful sleep. I hope Father is well and Ann, and Antoinette. And I hope you, Lydia, and the baby are well, and I hope you are all happy. And so, Lydia, mayest thou ever be happy in the wish of thy, — S. H.


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