1845: Jonathan Westcott to John N. Smith

Ezra Westcott (Jonathan’s brother)

This letter was written by Jonathan Wescott (1789-1856), a son of Ezra Westcott (1762-1798) and Mary Wood (1762-1848). He resided in Saratoga Springs, New York. His brother was Ezra Prescott (1798-1873). His sister was Polly Mary (Westcott) Gleason (1796-1871), the mother of Caroline Gleason (1816-18xx) whose marriage to Samuel Togard Livermore (1813-1891) is announced in this letter. The letter is not dated (by year) but the aforementioned marriage and the content devoted to the debate of the controversial “License Bill” by the New York Legislature tells us it was written in 1845.

Jonathan was married to Abigail Drake (1792-1867) in 1811. They had several children, one of whom (Isaac) was killed when he was run over by a train and beheaded. A daughter (Eliza) married Ebenezer Holmes was an undertaker and family tradition says that he was prepared Ulysses S. Grant’s body for burial and made his coffin.

Jonathan wrote the letter to his friend, John N. Smith, the post master of Wethersfield, New York at the time.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to John N. Smith, Esq., Post Master, Wethersfield, New York

[Saratoga Springs, New York]
March 21st & 22nd [1845]

My dear Sir,

With feelings of gratitude to the great giver of every good and perfect gift, I sit down after a day of toil and fatigue after having communed with my own heart to hold correspondence with you. Altho’ between us the distance is considerable, yet the power of locomotion soon overcomes it and the cheapness of postage obviates the burdensome.

Yours of the 14 inst. was received the 20th with pleasure and grief right chilishly. Glad to hear but pained to hear that  very much esteemed and kind friend — your Father — was afflicted with so severe sickness and my first thoughts were, if I were there, I could nurse and comfort him in his afflictions; not because there is not others to do it as well or better that I could, but because I could do it with such free good will. And further, I am in the right state of mind. But when you informed me that Cole had gone to State prison, I thought, Ah, the frailty and folly of poor human nature. The way of the transgressor is hard. In my present state of mind, I could exhort the whole human family to deal justly, love mercy, and walk humbly to live soberly and righteously in this present evil world. Be ye temperate in all things.

I feel grateful for health while others are on languishing beds of sickness. I feel grateful that I sit clothed in my right mind while I see others staggering under the influence of alcoholic poisons — a slave to its bewitching influences. I am thankful to hear of the health and prosperity of my children and particularly Eliza Ann who has come so near the door of death. My anxiety on her account has been great. She possesses goodness of heart that I was not aware of until her mother left. On the other hand, I experience such scenes of poverty which at times depresses my spirit exceedingly.

The winter here has been very severe and situated as I was I could do very little towards getting rich. The snow at this time is going away under the influence of the fountain of light and heat. Some small spots are bad. The cars on the railroad started out yesterday. You will see by the papers that the democracy of this County are divided into the factions of Old Hunkers & Barnburners and the breach is widening the license question is exciting. The bump of combativeness is largely developed on the craniums of the people of this County and a paper war and a war of words is continually going on. Not much bloodshed. While wonder feelings is much complained of, what will be the result or where it will end, time can determine. This fills this column.

Sat. night. My aged mother still continues to live altho’ exceedingly infirm. Her once strong mind completely in view while her body is almost decrepit as her mind. She can feed herself and that is all. It will be difficult for me to leave here at present. I wish you would have some person put up the fences on my land and speak to Akerley to see they are kept up. I do not want any animals to go on the premises if it were possible to have it so. See what you can get for the use of the land between the roads for the season and get pay if the fences could be kept up till I get back. I had rather keep the use of the land if I can get back soon enough to occupy. I want my rights and I ought to have them.

The contest on the license question runs high and waxes warm. The Sticklers for _____ contend that moral suasion is all that ought to be use of to convince the mind of the pernicious consequences of the use of intoxicating drinks that, as friends of equal rights, every democrat should contend for that right and a surrender of the right to retail liquors amounts in fact tantamount to a surrender of our liberties and amounts defacto to a union of Church and State or nearly so. Others on the constitutionality of the question that as Congress has a right to levy imports and duties state governments has no legal rights to create an Excise law, but is free (after paying import duties) for individuals to drink, sell, barter, exchange, or do as they please with for one would say would to God the breast of every individual was a temperance society in which he was pledged to the fact that limits use as a beverage. There is not the least possible advantage if we except the vendor. He receives a profit without rendering to the purchaser an equivalent for money had and received _____ to the user all the evils and miseries ever _____ charge stand in bod and horrible ___irens. Then why cannot we see and avoid these as we would the serpent who beguiles to sting and whose bite is certain death? How many examples have we now? Almost every day brings new cares to our views. You can imagine all. It undoubtedly unbarred the door of States prison to let Cole enter and that is not its worst deed. My mind is sedately convinced and firmly fixed in opposition both to its use as a beverage and as an article of commerce. If our state has authority to create excise laws, they have a right to leave the question with the towns whether they sanction or authorize the traffic. I for one think the time has come to take action on the question…

One cheering word was contained in your last and that was altho’ your father by disease had near paid the last debt of nature, yet there was strong hopes of his convalescence. I have for fifteen years been anxious that your father should enjoy the Christian’s hope and faith in the fruition of the universal benevolence and impartial grace of a God infinite in love whose tender mercies are all over his works. From an expression in his letter to me, I learnt that the terrors of the limitation punishment in future state of existence still had a place in his mind. The force of education received in early life is hard to eradicate. This kind of education was undoubtedly piously given ans as such honestly treasured up in the childish hearts and becomes in a measure incorporated with our maturer years and we religiously believe it and consider it truism to doubt so long as a majority of professed Christians by their teachers daily and surely weekly proclaim it from the sacred desks. It would be a useless play of words for me to say I disbelieve the notion for I know it is false in theory. Common sense, the character of Deity and the gospel of Jesus Christ, all say to the unprejudiced mind the doctrine is false. The lights of science and equal rights guarantee to us the right to reflect, to examine and review the evidences for and against. Then why not improve them and not cling to the doctrines of the dark and barbarous ages when priests only were allowed to reason and explain scripture when one who has been chained down by the dogmas of a vindictive God. The notion of a hell of liquid fire and brimstone as a place of punishment in a future existence for all those whom the priests shall dub ungodly and corperial penalties and sufferings by man in this life for wrongs to man or disobedience to parents comes into glorious liberty of the doctrines taught and the precepts exemplified in the precepts and examples of Jesus Christ. It is like emerging from a dungeon for life into unrestrained liberty. The doctrine of the gospel teaches that we should love God because he is good and his tender mercies are over all his works and that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. That we should love man because he was created in the image of God that is free from sin if he has sinned for all have, it was his own folly and so far he like us we should endeavor to do right because it is right to do right. It is directly calculated to insure our own happiness and that of neighbors. The requirements of a perfect law is obedience and nothing else will be received in its stead. If we transgress a righteous law, we bring upon ourselves misery just in proportion to our transgression because it is a concomitant and follows as a natural consequence. Witness the care of Cole and others. The gospel teaches that the kingdom of heaven was to consist of the happiness resulting from righteous conduct and hell as a consequence of disobedience of a righteous law. If sin produces misery, why not be visited upon the individual in the same state of being that he is in when he commits the sin for it is he __ reward everyone according as his works shall be whether they be good or evil. The scripture teaches that the rewards and punishments shall take place at his second appearance which appearance the same scriptures teaches shall take place in the then lifetime of that generation…

With regard to the result of the town meeting, come to look at it as it really is, we might safely calculate for such a result: the Whigs will stick to their candidate, let the rule that will govern his conduct be what it may. They go for party. A number of our folks are in favor of license. They think public houses cannot be sustained without and therefore will not support a man unless they think he will carry out their views. C. Doolittle is not as popular a man as Blodget. He has taken heretofore a proscriptive course. The rest of the ticket was principally elected and I am glad Esqr. Green was elected in the stead of Rood. If you see him, give him my compliments and say to him I am pleased with such result. Give my compliments to your father & mother in her new relation & wife and the Doct. & D____ and for yourself receive my best compliments, — John Westcott

I expect one of my nieces will be married this week — Caroline Gleason to Samuel Livermore.


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