This letter was written by John B. Shaw (1823-1865) while a student at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. John B. Shaw was the son of Joseph Shaw (1794-1866) and Sarah Bird (1798-Aft1846). He graduated in 1846 and was a founding member of Sigma Pi, the oldest of four literary societies at Illinois College. In 1850, Shaw resided in Beardstown, Cass County, Illinois where he worked as an attorney. He married Mary Jane Chandler (1830-1908) in January 1847. [Note: Historical records indicate John’s middle name was either “Barnwell” or “Bird.” Since his mother’s maiden name was Bird, I’m inclined to think it was the latter.]
Shaw wrote the later to his sister, Eliza Ann C. (Shaw) Kimball (1820-1888), the wife of William Gustavus Kimball (1814-1892) of Portland, Maine.
Addressed to Mrs. E. A. C. Kimball, Portland, Maine
Illinois College [Jacksonville, Illinois]
February 15, 1846
I have waited, waited dear sister Eliza Ann, until I can’t wait any longer for your letter & I will write anyhow. I’m your brother and I have a right to defy etiquette. I cannot conceive what has kept you silent so long. Is it possible that you have been sick or that your husband has been, or is, so disposed as to require all your time, not even allowing a moment to friendship! No, that is not possible. Why then have I waited so long for your letter? You must have written weeks ago & the precious document has been miscarried or lost. I cannot believe that my sympathizing sister has shut herself within her own soul, in trouble, & I will not believe that my noble, warm-hearted sister has deferred writing from any other motive. You have written, I know you have, and the fault is all mine that I have not been sensible sooner, & taken ut for granted.
I have not heard from our friends at the East — any of them — since…, oh, I can’t tell when. It seems an age. It almost makes me sick to think of such a dreadful falling off of interest between those united not only by former companionship & friendship but by the closer sacred bond of blood. If God forgives me my remissness in this particular during the past, I resolve never to have it to repent of again. Is it not an awful thing, dear sister, to have no answer to the common questions of those whom we may happen to meet in the street, with reference to our dearest absent friends. No answer because we have neglected to enquire! While I think of it, it seems to me almost a fiendish, heathenish lack of humanity, to say nothing of a purer feeling.
We are all well here in Illinois. I speak of our family. I saw father on day before yesterday & I did not wonder at what our P.M. said to him some time ago. He called at the office to enquire &c. Said the good man your brother called some time ago, & took &c. that brother, was….myself, the smooth-faced John that used to bother you, &c.
Henry is at home with father & is a large & handsome a looking Mr. as you ever saw. I’m proud of him for he is not only large in limb, but he has a great soul. Caroline, Sarah, & Helen, I have not seen for some time. Have not been able to go home for some time, but they are well & happy & am particular friends of mine. God bless them. Mother is the same tried choice spirit whom I know you remember. It would do your heart good to look into her kind, pious eyes, & hear her talk just as she used to do. She is the noblest being that ever inhabited clay. I worship her. You must write to her. She loves you dearly & thinks everything of a word from you. I know you. You’ll not fail to do it, will you?
And now, before I close, I wish to urge upon you not only to answer this immediately but to enter into more intimate relations with me. My, you are my sister, did you ever hear of that? Let’s be a little more sociable. I won’t always write such hasty, half-expressed sentences as these. I’ll endeavor to correspond in earnest, won’t you do it?
I have some secrets I want to tell you pretty soon. Give me an opportunity soon. In haste, but in earnest.
Your brother, — John
A word of love & affection to your husband.