1844: Joseph Howard to James William Howard

What Joseph Howard might have looked like

This letter was written by Joseph Howard to his brother, James William Howard (1816-1897), a bricklayer in Philadelphia. Little else is known about Joseph and his brother except that their mother — apparently a widow in 1844 — and their grandmother were still living. A portion of the letter was addressed to “Betsey” who was probably a sister, though possibly a sister-in-law.

We learn from this letter that Joseph Howard was employed as a clerk in a store owned by “Mr. Whitridge” in Miamisburg, Montgomery County, Ohio in 1844. The only merchant by that name that I find living in Miamisburg in 1840 was an “M. D. Whitridge” who, in 1842, purchased a distillery in the town that was built by Simon Hulot. This Whitridge was probably Mortimer Danville Whitridge (b. 1804) who married (1830) Charlotte Reddish (1812-1866) of Clark County, Ohio. There is some evidence that  Whitridge purchased land in Kosciusko County, Indiana about 1845 and sold it to a relative, Nathan Reddish, about 1849. By 1850, the Whitridge’s were residing in Springfield, Clark County, Ohio, where Mortimer was the editor of a newspaper.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mr. James W. Howard, No. 22 North Fifth Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Miamisburg [Ohio]
July 18th 1844

Dear Betsey,

I received your letter and feel very thankful for it for I was going to blame you with neglect for not answering my letter before the last. I am very happy the excuse I gave you was accepted for the only thing that kept me from writing was negligence and nothing to say that would be very interesting for this place is small and great scarcity of news prevails. I have thought a great deal of coming home and living with the family again. But to live upon you as I must inevitably do, I cannot. There is small prospects of getting a situation now as there is no business foing at any of the stores and my coming home just now would be a burthen to you which you are not able to bear. I think if I keep a steady look out for a situation, I will better myself than what I am now doing for I do  not intend to stay at these wages — $80 a year — no longer than I can help myself. I have counted up the expenses that it would cost me to come home. I have just enough and two or three dollars over — poor prospects indeed. I will live very close the next year and perhaps in the Spring I will come on if things don’t turn out better. You ask me if I have [forgotten] you all. I will say no, I never have. When I left home, it went rather tough with me. I thought I would choke. I never felt so before. It is somewhat of a difference in leaving home for a week or so, and staying away from home perhaps forever.

On the 4th of July we had a feast of cake and all other good things in this life. We celebrated this day with speeches, toasts & Etc. in the woods where the tables were set out. It was free of all expenses. The families of the town and country sent things as they thought proper in the morning. The President, Marshal, and others met at the Market House, then came the Ladies, next the Sunday School scholars, and after them came the gentlemen making a fine appearance as a procession. Tell us in the next how you enjoyed yourself on the 4th. Wishing you success in business and good health.

I remain your affectionate brother, — Joseph Howard

Dear Mother,

I must now make amends for neglecting you so long but knowing your repugnance to writing letters, I have wrote to the rest thinking they would write whatever you had to say to me. I don’t make this as an excuse for not writing you a line but having nothing to say that would be worth reading. You say that I have forgotten all the family. Now this is not so, for it is often that you and all the rest come into my mind. Then I feel anxious to see you all — everyone of you. But there is no use of fretting when one is so far away from home and not one of his kindred near him to talk over the pleasures he experienced in that home which I have left perhaps never to see it more. I believe my disposition is different from the rest of the family or else I would not have been in Ohio.

Mother, if you should want anything, why just send me word and anything that lays in my power or means, you shall have. I have sent to William a draft for you to use as you see proper either to pay part of Moor account or do with it as you see fit. I would have sent you more but at this time I did not know whether I should stay with Witridge or not. So please accept this in friendship and do not say that I have forgotten any of you.

Let me know how Grandmother is and Ellen, Joe, Charley, Mr. & Mrs. Von and all others. And be particular to let me know when you are hard pushed for money. If I have any, you can always get some. With hoping that you and the rest are well and giving a kiss to Teddy for me, I remain your affectionate son, — Joseph Howard

Dear Brother,

I have sent you a draft which you will call and get the money at C. D. Invileers in Third Street. I think their office is below the Mechanics Bank which you will please hand it over to Mother. It is a small amount but if you should at any time want any money if you send me a line I can send you some as I intend to be very saving.

I and the other clerk named James McKee the other day had a quarrel with Mrs. Whitridge. She was always grumbling that we did not want two clerks which made it very unpleasant for both of us. He had an offer of a situation in another store in town by name Hoff & Dechert.¹ The other clerk’s brother told Whitridge about it who said he could leave which he done last week. Now I am the only clerk. Whitridge has my year being out on Tuesday 16 July. I thought it was better to strike for higher wages. I spoke to Whitridge about it and at first he did not know whether he could raise it or no. I then told him I could not stay at $80 a year but was willing to stay at the same wages as the other clerk that was here before me got, which was $100 a year. I then spoke about the 25 percent on goods which I told him was ______. I told him I would allow him 12½ percent. He did not relish that at all. I stuck out for it and he agreed to let me have it as I wanted it.

I have studied over about coming home but think I can do as well here as to leave for an uncertainty. Perhaps I could not get more than $200 a year which is not so much as I get now for my board would come to $128 or 130 which would only leave me $70 and the expenses of coming home would be about $20 which would only leave me $50. So I shall stay here another year. I can get my $10 a month next year or more. I think this will convince you that I am alright.

I should like to know what business you are in for I think Betsy told me you had left Wiegand & Snowden ² and how much do you make a week? I don’t know whether I asked you this question before. I think I did [but] I got no answer.

I am glad mother & Betsy continues on in the store and I hope they will do well. I want them to make me some shirts this fall which I will send the money for as soon as Whitridge gets on his fall goods. You can get them packed up in his boxes. Tell Maria I shall not forget her in my next but have no room in this. I don’t want you to pay my postage. I can pay it myself. And tell H. Shewell I will write to him soon and when you can’t fill your letter, tell Charley to write to me. It is now near 12 o’clock at night and will close this tedious letter. I think you will find it so by wishing you success whatever you are at. I remain your affectionate brother, — Joseph Howard.

Dear Bill,

Whitridge told me to request you to call at Wood & Olivers and ask them if they received a draft from him and tell Harry Troutman if you see him to write a few lines to me and write yourself as well as the rest. I should like to know your opinion about my agreement. In haste, your brother, — Joseph Howard


¹ “Hoff & Dechert” was a mercantile firm operating in Miamisburg, Ohio, in 1844 in which Samuel Dechert (1808-1884) was one of the partners. He married Caroline E. Hoff (1808-1886) in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The “Hoff” partner was probably a brother-in-law.

A lancet manufactured by Wiegand & Snowden in the 1820s

² “Wiegand & Snowden” was a Philadelphia firm specializing in the manufacture of surgical instruments in their shop on North Fifth Street. John Wiegand (1800-1878) and Thomas Snowden (1798-18xx) formed their partnership in the early 1820s.


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