This letter was written by Mary Christopher (Van Doorn) Couch a few days after the death of her husband, Dr. John Whitfield Couch (1797-1845), who we learn from this letter died on 16 February 1845. Dr. Couch was the son of John and Rhoda (Bennett) Couch. Mary and John were married in May 1828.
Mary wrote the letter to her brother, Anthony Van Doorn (1792-1871) of Brattleboro, Vermont. Anthony and Mary Van Doorn were the children of Moses Van Doorn (1758-1825) and his second wife, Sarah Swan Wardwell (1770-18xx). Anthony had a home on Main Street that was destroyed by a fire three years after this letter was written. The following account appeared in the local papers:
About 4 o-clock, Thursday morning, our citizens were aroused by the cry of fire, which broke out in Anthony Van Doorn’s dwelling House, on Main Street. That building was soon in flames, and also the adjoining Store and House of Mr Frederic Franks. They were both consumed, and nothing but the most strenuous and persevering efforts on the part of Fire-men and Citizens saved the Phoenix House, and probably the whole range of Stores and other buildings north of it. Mr. Van Doorn’s house was insured in the Vermont Mutual for about $1,200, and as the building was old, the loss will not be much beyond that amount. The most of his furniture was saved.
Addressed to Mr. Anthony Van Doorn, Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont
Great Barrington [Massachusetts]
February 24th 1845
My dear brother & my dear sister,
The Lord has come very near to me and I am sorely afflicted — but how can I proceed? How can I write it? My dear husband has been taken from me — yes, he is gone, and I am left a poor, lone widow in this (to me) lonely world. And my poor dear children are bereft of one of the best of fathers. Here methinks you will stop & drop the sympathizing tear, & send up a petition that we may be supported and protected in this hour of need. But I must proceed, and as far as my health & strength will allow, I will relate the circumstances.
He departed this life on Sabbath, the 16th inst. about 15 minutes past 4 o’clock P.M. in a bit of apoplexy, caused by some derangement of the blood vessels about the heart. Since last fall, I think he has not felt quite as well as formerly, ‘tho he did not complain. After the weather became cold, I noticed that he was unusually affected & chilled by it. Of course he took extra pains to guard himself when exposed, but could not prevent it. On the 7th of January he was called to visit the sick about two miles from home where he remained until 12 at night — as he was called in the middle of the day. He did not take an extra garment as was his custom in the night. When he came home he was remarkably cold, & as he said “chilled through.” He immediately went to bed & soon complained of pain in the right side, said it had been very severe for two hours. I immediately started to get something for him. He objected on account of the severe cold weather. Said he thought I would get cold. About 4 o’clock he consented for me to call Alfred. When there was a fire made, I was enabled to relieve the pain by inward and outward remedies. He visited patients every day thro’ the week, tho’ I presume he was not able. Sabbath morning [he] complained of severe pain in the breast but took some warm peppermint & was so much relieved that he went with me (for the last time) to meeting.
On Monday, he did not complain much in the morning. He thought it was necessary for him to visit a patient about nine miles from home and Alfred went with him to drive Bling exposed to the cold brought on the pain again in the stomach & while there he took some cathartic pills. On Tuesday, he suffered very much from pain — mostly confined to his breast or stomach, but part of the time it was in his arms. He took some medicine and gradually gained until his second attack, previous to which he visited patients every day & often in the night. On Wednesday morning the 5th inst., my dear husband ate freely of very hearty food. He had found it necessary to be particular about his diet because his stomach was very weak, but thought he had got about well & indulged himself in eating what proved an injury. Alfred had gone to one of the neighbors on an errand, and the Dr. went out to harness his horse and in turning the waggon around by hand, he hurt his stomach which together with his breakfast & then immediately riding in the cold produced intense suffering. Without telling me how he felt, he left home to see a patient about one mile & a half distant. When he reached there, he was in extreme pain. The people were very kind & tried every way to relieve him. He afterwards regretted that he had not then took an emetic as je thought the breakfast was the greatest cause of the pain. He came home about noon a complete picture of distress. We applied a mustard poultice to his chest & gave him anodynes according to his own directions. In the evening, he bled himself, took cathartics &c. but he had a distressing night. In about one week the paid had very nearly left his stomach and as it left there it fixed upon his left side directly over his heart attended by a cough. For some days he did not feel alarmed, [and] said the pain was in the muscles.
Friday previous to his death, he was quite feeble [and] if he was of a consumptive family, he should soon go in that way, which was the most discouraging word that he spoke thro’ all his sickness. Wednesday & Thursday previous he had said a number of times that he was much better & from that time expected to ride the first pleasant day. Saturday & Sabbath day he said several times that he believed he had been much sicker than he had been aware of, but still said, “I am very much better. I feel more like getting well than at any time before.” The last three days he did not lie down but once in the day. Sabbath — about noon — a young man called to converse with him about his father & mother who were sick & had been his patients while he could go out. He talked too much & got fatigued. When he was gone, I said, “My dear, you are very tired. Will you have some porridge & lie down?” He said he would. I prepared it as he like to have it. He took it & without saying anything at all, went into the bedroom to lie down & shut the door. This was about 15 minutes before 2. The house was kept still that he might rest and altho’ I thought several times I would open the door & see if he was comfortable, I did not do it for fear of waking him if he should be asleep. He was on the bed about 2 hours. Between 3 & 4 we got our supper, as is usual on the Sabbath. At the same time I had some oysters in readiness to cook the moment he should get up. While at the table, I heard an indistinct noise, which was almost immediately followed by a much louder noise. I ran immediately to the bedroom and O my dear brother and sister, what did I behold! And how can I describe to you my feelings? My dear, dear husband was stretched upon the floor, senseless. He breathed about 20 minutes & life was gone. O how shall I describe my feelings? Words cannot do it. I must leave you to imagine, & then, the half you do not know.
27th. Since the death of my dear husband, I have been most of the time so feeble that I have not been able to write only what is on this sheet. I have felt anxious to have you know the particulars & chose to tell you myself. Today I feel more comfortable in body, & will try to fill the sheet. You will feel anxious to know whether I feel reconciled to this very trying dispensation of Providence. Dear Mother Couch once said to me, “if the Dr. should be taken from you Mary, I fear you would be like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.” For a few hours that was the case. But forever praised be the name of my dear Father in heaven. He kindly sent the Holy Spirit to comfort & support. Think I can say, thy will be done, for thine is best. I feel that there are many precious promises and O for faith to claim them mine. I know that my great loss is his unspeakable gain, and what unpardonable selfishness it would be for me to wish him back. I dare not do it. I could not do it. “To mourn & to suffer is mine while bound in this prison of day.” But I feel that the prayers of my dear husband will be had in remembrance & will be answered in good to me & my dear children.
The night after his decease was of course a sleepless night, but the Lord comforted me beyond what I should have dared to expect, & the departed spirit returned & hovered over my head and soothed my breaking heart, & I heard such sweet, such heavenly music as my ears never heard before. Now dear brother & sister, you may think this s all imaginary but not so — it was real.
The funeral was appointed on Wednesday at 10 o’clock at the house. The dear remains were then carried to the meeting house & the Rev. Mr. Turner preached a very comforting sermon from St. John 11th Chapter, 25 & 26 Verses. The corpse was indeed beautiful. There was but little appearance of death, owing I presume to his very sudden death. It was thought there were a thousand people at the funeral. I believe the loss is very generally & very deeply felt in Barrington. Our house has been thronged ever since the memorable day with sympathizing friends. Sister S. Husted is with us & one of the sisters will remain for a time certainly. I have tho’t of Brother Charles Couch for administrator. He will have more leisure to attend yp the business than any other brother & I have perfect confidence in him.
My paper is almost filled & I have not said half I wish to. When I look forward, my heart would sink within me were it not for the confidence I feel that the Lord will be my helper. I shall wait for advice from my dear friends, at the same time hope I may watch the leadings of Providence, before I can decide what course to pursue. I shall probably remain here thro’ the summer. It is a dear spot. How can I leave? How can I stay with so many cares with my feeble health? The Lord direct.
Can my dear brother & sister come & see us? Do come. Do give me such advice as I need. Do pray for us. O may the children be led by this afflicting stroke to seek God to be their reconciled Father & friend. A few weeks before my dear husband left me, he said one morning, “My dear, I have been thinking that you must go to Brattleboro next summer. I think it will be safe for Alfred to drive our horse, & you can take all the children if you choose.” Of course I replied that I would like much to go. He then said, “you ought to have gone before & perhaps I have been the one to blame; you had better go sometime in May & be sure to have what you and the children need & be in readiness.” I was forcibly struck at the time that there was something unusual in his manner of speaking and did not know how to solve it. He afterwards asked Alfred if he thought he could have time to go & still get thro’ with his studies preparatory to entering college in September. All my dear friends know that I have had one of the kindest of husbands, but he has endeared himself more than ever this winter to me & to all with whom he has associated by an unusual desire to make everyone happy. I have lately been told by a number that he has said several times this winter that he felt ready & willing to go, with the exception of leaving a helpless family. I received a letter from Mother a few days ago. He cancer has broke out, as she says, & troubles very much. Said she had heard from ____ in some time. Will you write soon & prepare her mind as she is feeble by saying you had heard the Dr. had been sick and may not be living — or something as you please. As it is very fatiguing for me to write, I designed this to be copied for brother F & Matilda. Do write soon.
Your very affectionate & afflicted sister, — Mary
Sister Sally is a good comfort to us. Do come if convenient. I shall write to Mother soon as possible.