1845: Martha Powell Sharpless to Edward Sharpless

What Martha P. Sharpless might have looked like

This letter was written by 18 year-old Martha Powell Sharpless (1827-1908), the daughter of Blakey Sharpless (1787-1853) and Mary Offley (1793-1865). Martha wrote the letter to her younger brother, Edward Sharpless (1831-1899) who was attending, at the time, the Westtown School — a Quaker boarding school. The school opened in 1799 and was attended by Blakey Sharpless when he was Edward’s age. Another sibling, Daniel Offley Sharpless (1821-1874) is referred to as “Offley” in the letter.

Daniel “Offley” Sharpless was a merchant in Philadelphia. According to family records, Offley’s “wife and two of the children spent a part of the summer of 1874 in Atlantic City, where he went to accompany them home. Before returning it was determined to take an ocean sail. The boat capsized and the two children drowned while Mr. Sharpless clung to the boat and supported his wife with one arm. When assured by the captain that his wife too was drowned, Mr. Sharpless clasped her in his arms and sank beneath the waves with her.” [Source: The Sharpless Family, Bart Anderson, Ed., Pg. 225]

Martha married Edward Bettle (1827-1894) in October 1850. They lived on a farm near Haddonfield. Edward took an active part in political affairs and was elected to the New Jersey Senate, of which he became the presiding officer.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Edward Sharpless, West Town Boarding School

Spring Hill Farm
First Day, 8 mo 10, 1845

As it is the wish of father and mother, my dear brother, that some of us should write to thee. The task (though I should not say that for I have taken quite a fancy to writing letters since I have been in Pennsylvania) has fallen to my lot. I have written two to Anne Harnall and I expect she was very much edified by them of course.

After we left thee, we had quite a delightful visit amongst our relations and since we have returned we have had company pretty much all the time. Lydia Shinn spent a week with me and I enjoyed her company very much as we had not seen one another for some time. Cousin Martha Wistar and Josiah spent 2nd day night with us and Cousin Elizabeth, Ann and Charles have spent this week. Last First day, Martha, Mary, and Newbold Reeve came down to invite us to a picnic to be held in their neighborhood. It was to be on 5th day and Zebedee was to take us. But alas! for all picnics, it rained so we could not go. We comforted ourselves by going to meeting in the morning and calling at Joseph Fox’s in the afternoon and riding through ____ field afterwards. We had our chicken fired, our biscuits baked, our tongue boiled, and our cake baked, and all ready the day before. We were to start at 6 o’clock. We consoled ourselves very readily as I did not care about going at all but mother thought I had better. We have not heard whether the rest of the company went or not.

The other evening, Isaac took us over to Fox’s and they would make us borrow their side saddle and 7th day morning, Isaac and I took quite a long ride. We went to Josiah Evan’s mill. I suffered for it the next day as I was so stiff I had to stay at home from meeting. I do not think thee will derive much edification from this writing as I am in a hurry. Has thee seen any of Uncle James’ family lately? Last evening we took a ride round by Snow Hill just to see the Camp Meeting, but if we did not get a scolding from grandmother. Today, Jane Eliza and various other such have come out in a carriage load. They are just about starting to afternoon meeting. Has thee any word to send? Our having so much company must plead excuse for not writing oftener. Cousin Ann is downstairs reading to grandmother who sends love. The fields look quite green after so much refreshing rain.

The bath room is completed and last 7th day, we all bathed. It was very delightful, I assure thee, after being deprived of it for so long. How rapidly the summer has passed and how soon the schools will be breaking up. “Tempis fugit” [Time flees] thee says. It does indeed. It seems only the other day that we were welcoming spring and now we are preparing to receive autumn. There is some talk of a Huckleberry party but I do not talk of going. Isaac has been out spending a few days with us and is now at the Delaware Water Gap. Offley has been out since 5th day but expects to return tomorrow. It is so warm here we hardly know what to do with ourselves and on that account, I must bring my letter to a close, and remain as ever thy affectionate sister, — Martha

All send love and maybe some of them will wish to add.

My dear son,

I have just been reading this sister Martha letter and she has left room for and proposes that some of us may add a postscript. I have concluded not to allow thee to be disappointed.

In thy last letter, thee mentions a fear thou will learn to swear! Because some of thy school fellows were so wicked and so neglectful of their parents wishes and requirings as to swear! The very suggestion caused thy dear mother and me to shudder when we read what thou hadst to say. Rather, my dear boy, than expose thyself to such contamination, flee from the wickedness and do not be with such naughty and wicked boys. There is not and cannot be any reason or necessity for thee to say such bad words or to say anything thou knowest to be wicked or wrong. Do, dear child, put the temptation away from thee of indeed to swear be to thee a temptation, which I hope is not the case.

Martha was informed about themselves and several matters that will interest thee. It is first day evening and after 9 o’clock and thy mother calls me to come to bed. It rains and lightens and thunders of which she has much dread. So I must, with much love, bid thee farewell and persevere in well doing.

Thy affectionate father, — Blakey Sharpless

4th Day at No. 50 North 4th Street, Philadelphia

My dear Son, I open thy letter to report to thee how we are at this time. Thy dear grandmother has had the Rheumatism in her head & neck since I wrote, but was so much better as to spend most of yesterday with cousin Martha Wister at Thomas Redman’s. The rest of the family are well. I intended to have sent this letter by Offley on 2d day last to go out by stage on 3d day but he was poorly and did not come to town, so that this letter will not reach thee before 7th day. And therefore, my dear boy, will be so much the longer without hearing from his dear ones at home. Thy affectionate son. — B. Sharpless


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