1843: Hannah (Furber) May to Dr. Jeremiah Spofford

This letter was written by Hannah (Furber) May (1801-18xx), the daughter of John Daniel Furber and Prudence Tucker (17xx-1812) of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Hannah married Ebenezer May (1803-18xx) in Boston on 4 December 1836, the ceremony officiated by Rev. William M. Rogers. In the 1830s, prior to his relocation to Illinois, Ebenezer May was employed by William B. Fessenden and A. C. Haskell in the furniture and feathers business in Boston.¹

Hannah wrote the letter to Dr. Jeremiah Spofford (1787-1880), the postmaster of East Bradford [Groveland], Massachusetts. He was married to Mary Ayer (1789-1876) in 1810.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Dr. J. Spofford, Post Master, Bradford, Massachusetts

Griggsville [Illinois]
March 16, 1843

Respected Friends,

Page 1

Yours of December 22 was duly received. I have delayed answering it hoping the weather would be more mild so that I could sit in my chamber with comfort, as I did last season at this time. But there is so little probability of a change, I wait no longer, but seat myself by the side of a blazing fire in the midst of the family to thank you kindly for a share of your affection (which notwithstanding the distance) you so warmly manifest.

Was gratified to hear of the prosperity of your family — especially so, as “Times are so hard.” Your son at Boston will find increased facilities to gain information, the advantages to which he can have access to, will promote his happiness. I trust his judgment is sufficiently matured, and that his mind is so deeply imbued with paternal instruction and example that he will be well fortified against the temptations which his high station will be likely to impose upon him. You omitted to mention Laura, or rather Mrs. Atwood. I have felt must interested for her. Please write particularly of her situation. Was sorry to hear of the illness you had suffered. Hope you are all enjoying uninterrupted health, which is the richest temporal blessing kind Providence can bestow upon us.

Page 2

Our family have enjoyed uninterrupted health since our arrival in the far West. Had no symptoms of chills or of congestive fever, but on the contrary have been more healthy than we even were at the East. Our children do not look like the same. They are as ruddy as any of the native children and enjoy a country life. Celia gained much strength and flesh in her lame limb during the past year, but the severity of the past winter had had some affect on it. But she is still very active and can run almost as fast as any one need to.

As you had not heard from us since we left Boston, and request particulars of our adventure, I will give you a detail, allowing you full time to quit reading and rest.

We left Boston October 24th, visited brother Edward ² at New York, took the steamboat for Philadelphia, came by the way of Pittsburg [and] was much pleased with the country as we passed through. The weather was pleasant and could sit on deck most of the time and interest ourselves by observing the variety presented to the eyes. The boats were commodious and well commanded except those that passed through the canal. They were small but the ground was smooth and we changed the scene by walking occasionally. Our progress was impeded in the Ohio and Illinois [Rivers] by the lowness of the water.

Bottom Page 2

We landed ___ on the Illinois shore three weeks from the day we left Boston. As the morning was unpleasant, we took advantage of two horse wagons. After having our goods placed in them, we seated ourselves on the trunk and rode four miles where we were cordially met by our friend’s family, Dr. Hatch. As our goods from Boston by way of New Orleans had not arrived, we passed one week in their house, when we received them and came to our own home, which is a pleasant location four miles and 3/4 from the river, 3/4 from the center of the village — which is a pleasant town. It has three Meeting houses — Baptist, Congregational, and Methodist; two Academies — male and female;  post office and several large two-story houses; several stores resembling Mr. P. Parker’s, a little of everything.

Through the whole of the winter, with the exception of a few days, we kept our doors open and rambled round without any extra covering. The fields of wheat were green through the winter, peach trees were in full bloom the 15th of March, and the fields of clover and grass looked as forward as I ever saw in May at the East. The crops of wheat were very heavy. We have in bins about 3,000 bushels of good wheat, ready for market. Our vegetables were all of the largest size, potatoes superior and abundant. The crops are very easily taken care of. Corn grows to the height of from 10 to 15 feet, and equal or superior to the eastern corn.

We have a large house containing two parlors, kitchen, five chamber shed, barn &c. Husband commenced making an addition of bedroom and kitchen, also to build a large barn, but the cold has prevented finishing.

Page 3

We have nine horses, a flock of sheep, over a hundred hogs, hens, turkeys, and young creature too numerous to count, six or eight milking cows, and we can, and do live upon the fat of the land. Produce is very low; wheat 25 cents per bushel, corn 6 cents, pork 150 per hundred, fowls 1.00 per dozen, lard four cents, butter 10. Money is wholly out of the question. The trade has been barter. Wheat, pork, and corn are the staple articles which the storekeepers take for goods, and they make shipments to St. Louis in return for groceries and dry goods on which they make a great profit. The wealthy farmers carry their own produce to St. Louis which is only 12 hours sail when the water is ordinarily high. Goods of all kinds can be bought as cheap there as in Boston.

This country is destined to be a great place of business. The roads are good and the water privileges for manufactories and for transportation are without a parallel where there is so much fertile land.

By the time you will want to know how I like the change to which I have subjected myself. Without any scruple, I can cheerfully say I am much pleased. I like the simplicity of a country life. I enjoy some of the first rate society, and I also enjoy many privileges that I could not find time for in a city, such as reading and thinking. And what religious opportunities I have seem sweetened by the scarcity of them. [Rev.] Mr. [John] Ballard is our minister. He is a fine man [and] an excellent preacher. We have regular preaching on the Sabbath, lecture on Tuesday eve, prayer meeting on Friday eve, concert on the first and second Monday nights in the month, female prayer meeting weekly, Maternal association sewing circle, &c.

We take three Boston papers, one from St. Louis, and our eastern friends often let us know they think of us by sending a paper or pamphlet. I enjoy a walk round our premises more than I used to round Boston Common. We could pluck the greatest variety of wild flowers I ever saw last season from the first of March until the last of October. The first week in November, the cold commenced and has continued uninterrupted with the exception of a few days in January when the river was open three days. Since then, it has been and still is bound with ice. Had Mr. Miller ³ predicted cold weather, I think we might have been firm believing in his doctrine for the oldest inhabitants have never experienced the like before.

I think it time to bring my journal to a close. Please remember me affectionately to your children. Say to them I shall be pleased to hear from them often, and if you and they should ever come to this country, we will give you a hearty welcome. Before you write again, please enquire of some of your friends who are acquainted with Newburyport people if Miss Rebecca Tucker is living. I have written her twice but had no answer. Should you go to Newburyport, please call if she is living and let her know of our welfare. You will excuse my mistakes and imperfections  when  I tell you I have had to lay down my pen and entertain six different individuals. It is so mild today the people from the village are looking up their country friends. Our fence on the east bounds the town, so that we are quite in the country.

With sincere respect. Your friend, — H. May

P.S. Please write soon.


¹ In this article appearing in the 28 October 1843 issue of the Daily Atlas, published in Boston, a person signing their name Daniel Boon, Jr., mocks Ebenezer May for his “discovery” of the properties of gunpowder:

“Mr. Ebenezer May writes in the Boston Post of this morning (October 25th 1843) that he made an experiment with the “Lady Johnson” powder, before he took a pound of it with him to Griggsville, Illinois — and, like all experimentalists, he is particular in dwelling upon his mode of operations — or, as you would say, modus operandi. From his name, this philosophic experimentalist is, doubtless, in the green time of life. If all his experiments are conducted with the same knowledge of the elements of nature, this Mr. May will rank high, one day, in the scale of the enlightened. Fire and gunpowder would seem to be his elements. Let us see the process of this wonderful trial. Well, then, Mr. May says: “I accordingly, when in the store of Messrs Haskell & Fessenden, in Milk Street, turned out a small quantity of the powder upon a piece of white paper, and rolled up a piece of paper, lighted it at the stove, and applied it to the gunpowder, and was not a little surprised to find it would not ignite!” But mark the sequel — he “then lighted the match, and with a good deal of trouble, rubbing the end of the match in the powder, succeeded in getting it off.”

Now the whole mystery is unravelled. The powder would not ignite from flame, but it did from a spark rubbed into it. I have an old pointer, named Tippoo, that will, at any time, hold his nose over a pound of any sort of powder, for all day, if Mr. May will engage to apply flame only, to it; but he would get out of the way, before the force of his own instinct, if he could foresee would “rub the end of the match in the powder,” till a spark or a flameless bit of fire, came in contact with it.”

The author of this article, Daniel Boon, Jr., claims that “everybody, but Mr. May” knows this fact about gunpowder to be true, whether the “Lady Johnson” powder, or any other powder. He concludes by saying, “I fear if that Isle of Nuts, which the French call Illinois, does not export some better chemists than Mr. Ebenezer May, we shall not profit much by their discoveries, down our way, especially in the “Lady Johnson” Powder.”

² Hannah’s brother was Edward Grant Furber, 1807-1885).

³ Hannah is referring to Rev. William Miller and his belief in the second coming Second Advent of Jesus Christ in the year 1843. His followers were called Millerites.


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