This December 1844 letter was written by 21 year-old Oliver P. Hills (1822-1845), the son of Isaac Hills (1782-1859) and Sarah Simons (1784-1838) of Grafton County, New Hampshire.
The letter conveys the tragic news that Oliver’s older brother, Thomas Hills, has died rather suddenly from a recent illness in Plaquemine Parish, Louisiana. We learn that Oliver went from New Hampshire to Louisiana for his health and that he had aspirations of being a select school teacher. Family records indicate that he died in December 1845.
Addressed to Isaac Hills, Rumney, New Hampshire
December 19th 1844
With an aching heart and trembling hand and worn out frame, I will attempt to pen the death of your eldest, and doubtless, most beloved son (Thomas Hills). Little did I think when I came here that I should in seven weeks and one day stand by the death bed of my brother Thomas and hold him by the hand while dying, but so it was. I followed him to this country for the improvement of my health and I trust that it will give you great satisfaction to know that he could have, or rather that he did, have one friend by him in his last sickness to convey the painful intelligence to the rest.
He was first taken down with a severe attack of the billious fever. He was attended by an excellent Physician who succeeded in breaking up the fever and he was thought to be doing well. He sat up more than half of the time and went outdoors some. I felt greatly encouraged but how soon all earthly hopes may be blasted. The fever returned upon him and in one week’s time he died. After the fever returned, medicine would have no effect on him.
He said in the first of his sickness that he thought he never should get well and so it proved. He has gone and left us to mourn. I trust that our loss is his gain for he said a few days before he died that he was ready to die if it was not for his little child. He worried a great deal about me and his little boy. He was a brother indeed to me, and a whole-hearted one. He would do anything pin the world that was in his power to do for his friends, but he has gone and left me to work out my own way. He has had a fever every month since last June. He ought not to have stayed in the swamp where he did last summer. I should not dare to risk them. A person in this country wants to be on the high land in the summer. The swamp is a place where anyone can make money if they have their health. He was trying to raise money to settle up his debts at the North and settle down in the world. He was industrious and when well, worked hard.
He has lumber enough I think to pay all his debts in this place but it has got to be hauled to the bank of the river, loaded on to a boat, taken to market, which will take three or four weeks. The work is so hard that I am not able to do it but shall hire hands to do it and go along to see to the selling of it.
After I get back, if I cannot get a school in this place, I do not know what I shall do unless there should be money left sufficient to take me to the State of Mississippi where there is a good chance and a better one than in Illinois. A teacher gets two dollars a month for every scholar that goes. Here they get three but there are so many teachers in this state, it makes it difficult to get a school. I believe this is the most expensive part of the world that we could have got into. Board is four and five dollars per week. Did you know, or could you see my circumstances, you would not hesitate to send me twenty-five dollars. With that I could get to Mississippi and do first rate, but if I can not, if I do not, that will be the end of me.
I have not room to explain any farther. Please write to friends in the East for I do not know where they are. Send a check on a bank in New Orleans with Mr. Brown. Show what I write to Brown to him.
Yours in love, — Oliver P. Hills
Mr. Brown, dear sir,
In consequence of my brother’s sickness and death, your B. El__ has not gained as I anticipated, but considering the circumstances he has done well. He sets up some, but not able to write. Will as soon as he is able & explain the whole matter. He wants you to send a check on a bank in N. Orleans for fifty dollars. You must do so or he will suffer. Cash at Plymouth. Will understand how the check can be given. He must have a little to give him a start. is board will be four or five dollars a week until he is able to work. In this country it takes twice as long to get one’s strength after being sick. I entreat you as a friend of your brother to send immediately. Perhaps he done wrong to come here but you must excuse him. Yours with respect. — O. P. Hills