1845: Daniel Kendig to G. E. Wilson

This remarkable letter was written by Daniel Kendig (1824-1911), the son of Martin Kendig (1797-1850) and Rebecca McFarland (1800-1831). He later married Josephine Monges (1832-1928). Kendig served as the pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chester, Pennsylvania from 1855 until 1859, at which time he resigned to accept an appointment as an army chaplain. He remained in the Army until November 1888, when he retired at the rank of Major. In the late 1870’s and early 1880’s he appears to have stationed as chaplain at the Presidio in San Francisco, California. He died at his home in Mount Airy, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania in 1911.

Kengig wrote this letter to a chum named Wilson residing on Race Street in Philadelphia. I have not yet been able to confirm his identity so if you can assist me on this task, please let me know.

Kendig’s words are unusually detailed and descriptive regarding the classical boy’s school that he signed on to teach with Rev. Stephen Yerkes at Sherwood Park outside of Baltimore. But his remarks concerning the visit taken in September 1845 to Washington D.C. are particularly interesting — especially his comments about President Polk and his administration.

Stampless Cover


Addressed to Mr. G. E. Wilson, 161 Race Street, Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]

Sherwood Park, Baltimore County, Maryland
Monday, December 22, 1845

My Dear Wilson:

Page 1

Where — in the name of all the Gods at once — where are you? Doth the earth still hold you? Do you lie sub under? or — worst of all fates — do you reside in grim Pluto’s dome? I do think to step from the ancient to the modern, that you, Shute, and myself are three most incorrigibly lazy fellows. Let me see — September, October, November & December — 4 blessed months and not one of the many [latin] (erase that slip) which has passed through the ivory portal that guards the c____ of talk — not one of all those from one to either of use.

By this time, I dare say, you have looked at the heading of the letter and wonder why it is not Canonsburg. Let me tell you. I had no anticipation, although I could not speak positively, that I would not be able to go to Canonsburgh, until about the very last day of October (and I was to be in C. on the first of November). I got a letter from Father stating that it would be impossible for him at present to do it, and he could not say when he could be able. Here was a pretty job. But disappointments are not new matters to me. I have got to taking them as the eel does skinning — with just a little wiggle of the tail or so, and it is all over. I immediately determined that I would teach, and before one week, I had a situation partly engaged in a private family in Anne Arundale County, about half way between Washington & Baltimore. I was offered $200 per year with board &c. to teach three boys. Before this engagement was concluded, I effected another with the Rev. Mr. [Stephen] Yerkes ¹ (his family live near Hatboro in your neighborhood) — an old school Presbyterian clergyman who has a boarding school at this place. It is near Cockeysville on the Baltimore & York Railroad — 15 miles from Baltimore. It is in a fine wood of oaks (the holy tree of our Saxon fathers) and the owls with their “to whit” [and] “to whoo” (that’s Betty Foy’s idiot boy) bring on very reverential feelings for superstition, which at times still come over my spirit like a dream.

Page 2

The school contains about 25 boys and the number is limited — the most being from Baltimore. There is nothing extraordinary about the school. We content ourselves with teaching whatever branches are necessary for college or business. Our highest Latin Class is in Horace; the highest Greek in Xenophon. We have a class in Virgil too, & one in Caesar. So you see, with what justice I can say with Horace:

Pareus deorum culton et infrequent,
Insanients dum sapienriaw
Consultus erro, nure restrorsum
vela dase atque iterare cursus
cosor rebietos.”

Page 3

School hours are fro, 8 1/2 or 9 till 1, and from 2 1/2 or 3 till 5. Other times I am free. The boys are at study and a few recite from 7 – 9 in the evening; but with this I have nothing to do. They are now out skating which gives me a semi holiday this afternoon. We generally take them out one or two afternoons every week. They are going to present a pair of skates to Mr. Yerkes & myself on Christmas. For my part, I would sooner they would give me something that I could use without running the risk of breaking my neck. But no matter. Mr. Yerkes — although he is a very good skater — likes cigars better and would sooner have them. He learned that bad habit at New Haven, I expect. He is a good scholar — especially in classics, and was offered a tutorship at New Haven when he graduated [from Yale]. But he wanted to study theology and be an Old School Parson. New Haven then stunk in our nostrils and he despised it. I expect he will be called to the Professorship of Latin in Centre College, Danville, Kentucky, next spring. If he should, the school [here] will pass into other hands, or be broken up. In this latter case, and perhaps in the former, I shall remove either to the South or Southwest; or if we should have a brush with Great Britain, enlist and be a “soger.”

Robert J. Walker, Secretary of Treasury

But aside from joking, I am ready for any fate. If it is the Master’s Will that I should serve Him in the ministry, he will open the way. If it be not, I shrink from thrusting myself into the sacred office, and shall content myself with whatever it pleases him to impose upon me.

I was at Washington in September and saw President Polk, [James] Buchanon, [Robert J.] Walker,²  [George] Bancroft ³ &c. Walker looks equal to the whole pack. But John C. Calhoun will whip President, Cabinet & all in 1848, jump over all their heads and be President of these United States in the year of our grace 1849. Mr. Kerr had the honor of shaking hands with President Polk. I declined, and satisfied myself with a look of the man who by duplicity on the Tariff Question outstripped Henry Clay. He is the least intellectual man to be seen at Washington — at least among those who are in high office. But, notwithstanding all this, I have no doubt that his administration will be as efficient as if Old Hickory himself were at the head, and that is saying a great deal.

Page 4

I don’t know whether Mr. Kerr and myself will not go to Washington again on Christmas. How would you like to meet us? I would guarantee you a pleasant visit. If you come to Baltimore, stop at Barnum’s [City Hotel] till you call at [David] Owen [& Son]’s Book Store about a square from Barnum’s. The store is [at 56 W. Baltimore St.] on the north side of Baltimore Street — two doors east of Calvert Street. If we shall have gone before you come, Owen will tell you all about it, and where we will stop at Washington. But I can tell you that myself — Gadsby’s — not the old Gadsby’s — that is now Coleman’s. But Gadsby near the Capitol. If we should not go before you come, I can go with you then, or we can enjoy ourselves in Baltimore if you wish. Bed & Board you shall have with me, and we will spend a merry time. Do come. It would rejoice my heart to see the Domine once more.

Barnum’s City Hotel in Baltimore

But what if you don’t come? Just this. I will put as good a face on as possible, and expect a letter from you, telling me what you have been doing, what Shute (the lazy scoundrel) has been doing — Lord, and every body else. By the way, Lord promised to give me a copy of McClelland’s system of Hebrew Instruction — and he was to send it through you. If he should be in town, making pot hooks or scraping pots or, pottering in any other way, just jog his memory. Tell him I must have it. If he does not send it, I’ll have him brought up for breach of promise (he’ll never be charged with a very large breach of any other kind).

How is your history of Bucks County coming on? How is Shute’s Rhetoric? If I can get over my laziness, I shall write for the Whig Review next year.

I want you to write me a good long letter — telling me all about the college — about the Society. When I get richer, I mean to pay the Society what I owe them. I just remember I owe you something too. I mean to put you off till the last unless you become poorer than I do (which would be a tough matter). I get $300 here with board &c., and have a comfortable room with fire, and with all my poverty, I am contented and I would fill up this sheet, but the cars will soon be down with the mail from Baltimore and I must close. Come on if you can. Warmest regards to Shute & all the rest.

Affectionately yours, — Daniel Kendig

Correct the errors — I am in such a hurry.

Our address here is Golden P.O., Baltimore County, Maryland


Rev. Stephen Yerkes, D.D., later in life.

¹ “Rev. Stephen Yerkes, D.D., youngest son and fourth child of Stephen Yerkes by his wife Alice Watson, was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 27 June, 1817; died at Danville, Kentucky, 28 March, 1896. His father dying during his childhood, he was placed under the guardianship of his uncle, Harman Yerkes, by whom he was carefully educated. Having received all that could be obtained in the way of education at home and at the country schools, he was sent to a classical academy near Philadelphia. There he remained for three years; and in 1833, at the age of sixteen, entered the freshman class at Yale College, from which he was graduated in 1837. Among his classmates were Chief Justice Waite, Honorable William M. Evarts, Professor Edward Silliman, and Honorable Edwards Pierpont. A few months after graduation Mr. Yerkes went to Baltimore, Maryland, where he engaged in teaching, a work which, along varied lines and steadily ascending planes, he was so faithfully to prosecute for nearly sixty years. He connected himself with the church of which Reverend Robert J. Breckenridge, D.D., was pastor, under whose direction he studied theology. In 1840 he was Hcensed to preach, and was ordained to the ministry in 1843. He became pastor of the Chestnut Grove church, and afterwards of the Bethel church, in the Presbytery of Baltimore, and was for some years at the head of a classical academy which he established in Baltimore County. In 1851, in response to an urgent call from the Transylvania University, in Lexington, Kentucky, he became Professor of Greek in that institution, which position he retained until 1857, when, by a unanimous vote of the Presbyterian General Assembly, which met that year in Lexington, he was elected to the chair of Hebrew and Oriental Languages, in the new theological seminary located at Danville in that State, which position he filled with distinction for nearly forty years.” — Source: Chronicle of the Yerkes Family by Josiah Granville Leach

² Robert J. Walker (1801-1869) was born in Pennsylvania but relocated to Mississippi. “As a Mississippi senator, Walker was a passionate defender of slavery, both for economic benefits, and because he believed Negroes would fall into turpitude or insanity without firm masters. He claimed that independent Texas had to be annexed to prevent it from falling into the hands of Great Britain, which would use it to spread subversion throughout the South. He warned northerners that if Britain succeeded in undermining slavery, the freedmen would go north, where “the poor-house and the jail, the asylums of the deaf and dumb, the blind, the idiot and insane, would be filled to overflowing.” He was U.S. Secretary of the Treasury throughout the Polk administration, from March 8, 1845 until March 5, 1849, and was an influential member of the President’s Cabinet.”

³ George Bancroft (1800-1891) was an American historian and statesman who was prominent in promoting secondary education both in his home state and at the national level. During his tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Navy, he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845.

Editor’s note: Kendig says that he visited Washington D.C. in September 1845. Though he does not state the circumstances or name an event enabling him  to observe President Polk, and Buchanon, Walker, & Bancroft of the President’s cabinet, his words imply that he was able to see them at a single event and, most likely, one in which many citizens were present and could, if they wished, approach these men and shake their hands. According to President Polk’s diary, the only event that suited these circumstances when the particular cabinet member mentioned were known to be in town, occurred on 12 September 1845 at the White House. On this date, “Polk and his cabinet” met a large delegation of citizens from Baltimore celebrating the anniversary of the defense of Baltimore in 1812. They called themselves the “Old Defenders of Baltimore” and many of them were, no doubt, old veterans of that conflict, but I suspect that some younger folks tagged along and used the opportunity to visit the Capitol and meet the President. Accounts of the event state that somewhere between two and three hundred citizens crammed into the circular parlor of the White House to see the President and hear his remarks.


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