This letter was written by Bennett Chew Fitzhugh (1794-1866), the son of Peregrine Fitzhugh (1759-1811) and Elizabeth Crowley Chew (1766-1854). Bennett married Sarah Phelps (1800-1882) in 1819 and raised nine children with birth years ranging from 1824 to 1841. She was the daughter of Rev. Davenport Phelps, one of the pioneer missionaries of Western New York. Bennett was appointed keeper of the Sodus Point Light in 1829. In this 1846 letter we learn that Fitzhugh is being replaced by a gentleman named Tillotson as the Collector of Customs at Sodus Point. It isn’t clear whether this position was held in conjunction with the light keeper’s duties though clearly a government-supplied residence came with the post. The Fitzhugh family eventually moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Slavery was introduced into Sodus by Bennett’s father, Col. Peregrine Fitzhugh, who had served in the Revolutionary war and held a position in Washington’s life guard. He migrated from Maryland to Geneva in 1800 and thence to Sodus Point in 1803, bringing his family and thirty to forty slaves. The slaves were freed in a few years and for some time composed a colony of their own in the neighborhood of the Point; at one time they numbered eighty persons.
Bennett wrote the letter to George Holl McWhorter (1795-1862) of Oswego, New York. A county history described him as “a citizen of importance in the infant City of Oswego. Beman Brockway, the editor of the Oswego Palladium, described him as a refined-appearing man with the habit of gazing at one over the top of his gold-rimmed glasses. He had been collector of the port under President Tyler and was a prominent man in the Democratic party, often being mentioned in the correspondence of Silas Wright and Martin Van Buren.”
Addressed to George H. McWharten, Esq., U.S. Collector, Oswego, New York
Sodus Point [New York]
March 13th 1846
Your favor of the 19th inst. was cult received and the information which it contained was somewhat surprising and unlooked for, in as much as 10 months had not elapsed since I was reinstated by Mr. Walker knowing that I had been removed upon the (alleged) grounds of “Rotation in Office” not deeming it at that time a sufficient cause. Notwithstanding, Mr. Tillotson states that to be the only cause for which the present change is now made.
Mr. Tillotson urges very hard to take immediate possession of the dwelling now occupied by myself & family (wife & nine children) saying that his Orders from you were so to do and thought his duty prompted him to obey them.
This is the 6th time the Office has changed holders, and in no case has the house been vacated in less than 3 weeks — and generally 5 or 6 — according to the convenience of the parties.
I have a house building nearby, but cannot possibly render it tenable for my family in less than two weeks. [I] must then ___ be indulged with a continuance here during that period. Should it be necessary for Mr. Tillatson to enter upon the duties of his office before the expiration of time, he can reside with me or some other person nearby, enabling him to perform them. You will, therefore, much oblige me by dropping him a note to that effect.
When I was first appointed, my predecessor had made improvements at his own expense amounting to $60* for which I paid him, and also for fruit trees and shrubbery &c. $10. I have since built a stable shed, entry to the dwelling, & smoke-house, with an understanding that I should either be paid for them, or permitted to take them off when I left. You will therefore oblige me by stating your opinion on the subject and what will be done by the government. All I ask is justice.
I am, sir, very respectfully your obedient servant, — B. C. Fitzhugh
* This $60 I was reimbursed by the government.