This letter was written by William Lawson Carter (1828-1869) while attending the Episcopalian-affiliated Burlington College in Burlington, New Jersey. He transferred and graduated from New York University (A.B. 1846; A.M. 1850) and then became a prominent lawyer in Brooklyn. He committed suicide in March 1869 by shooting himself in the head during a “fit of temporary insanity.” ¹
Carter was the son of Rev. Lawson C. Carter (1793-1868) — an Episcopalian minister — and Mary Ann Steenback Gale (1806-1878). He married Jane Russell Averill (1833-1888) of Cooperstown, New York, in October 1857. After her husband’s suicide in 1869, Jane moved with their children back to her parents estate, which she inherited, in Cooperstown.
Carter addressed this letter to his aunt, Harriet (Rawson) Carter (1800-Aft1843) — the wife of James F. Carter of Paris, Oxford County, Maine.
Addressed to Mrs. H. Carter, Paris, Maine
Burlington, New Jersey
October 5th 1843
My Dear Aunt,
I am now at length settled. I suppose that you are now beginning to think that I have neglected you but it is far from being the case if neglect implies willful slight. I am now residing in the goodly city of Burlington. Jarvis has entered the Senior Class of the University while I have probably 4 more weary years to spend in acquiring that knowledge which can only make me miserable for a few years, for as far as I can see the more knowledge we obtain, the less happy we become and the more tempted we are to exclaim “Vanity of vanities, all is vanities and vexation of spirit.” I have found this to be the case and oh, would that I could act accordingly, but know it is easy to preach, but hard to practice.
You have, of course, seen the account of the proceedings of the last convention. The Bishop acted nobly. I am not a proffessor of religion but can admire firmness in any cause. Good old man — may he prosper in the course that he has adopted. I am now in that state that I believe nothing but what is distinctly evident to my senses and I have neither time or inclination to enquire into whether this particular doctrine is proper or not, or whether this tenet is sufficiently supported by scriptural proof. I saw it stated about a month ago in the N. Y. Express that the Hon. V. D. Parris ² had gone to Washington to get the office of Marshal of Maine. Was it true and did he succeed? I guess that you forgot to send me the account of the Election.
I like this place very much. My teacher is an English L.L.D. He says that he can fit me in 6 months for the Sophomore Class. I shall probably enter Princeton N. J. or Washington Ct. The reason that I did not enter College at once was that I was afraid that I might get sick again. My Uncle Charles thinks of sending one of his daughters here to St. Mary’s Hall.
“Please electioneer for me and tell all other candidates to get out of the way as I am going to run for Congress. Having failed in every honest means of getting my living, I am forced by hard times & an empty pocket to this extremity.”
I suppose that you have by this time become a good Whig. Please electioneer for me and tell all other candidates to get out of the way as I am going to run for Congress. Having failed in every honest means of getting my living, I am forced by hard times & an empty pocket to this extremity.
Please give my love to Aunt Marble and tell her that I am dying to see her. Remember me to all my friends. My address is:
W. Carter, Burlington, New Jersey.
Tell Mr. Cole that when he goes on to Washington to stop here and bring Hilly and the children & Aunt Marble. Please write soon.
Your affectionate Nephew, — W. L. Carter
¹ The Commercial Advertiser of 1 April 1869 ran the following death notice:
A man named William Lawson Carter of Cleveland, Ohio, shot himself through the heart, on Wednesday, while laboring under a fit of temporary insanity.
² Virgil Delphini Parris (1807-1874) was a U.S. Representative from Maine. The following biography was lifted from Wikipedia:
Born in Buckfield, Maine, Parris attended the common schools, whereupon he entered Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine, then Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He was graduated from Union College at Schenectady, New York in 1827. He studied law. Parris was admitted to the bar in 1830 and commenced practice in Buckfield, Maine. He served as assistant secretary of the Maine Senate in 1831, and as a member of the state House of Representatives between 1832-1837.
Parris was elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-fifth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Timothy J. Carter. He was reelected to the Twenty-sixth Congress and served from May 29, 1838, to March 3, 1841, but was an unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1840. He then served as a member of the State Senate in 1842 and 1843, part of the time serving as president pro tempore and as acting governor of the state. From 1844-1848, Parris served as United States marshal for the district of Maine, then as special mail agent for New England in 1853. He was appointed naval storekeeper at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 1856. He served as delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1852 and 1872.
Parris died in Paris, Maine, June 13, 1874. He was interred in the Rawson family knoll in the Old Cemetery.
[See also: 1836: Rev. Lawson C. Carter to Timothy Jarvis Carter ]