1846: Mary Ann (Arnold) Stevens to Olivia (Arnold) Hitchcock

Mary Ann (Arnold) Stevens (1817-1857) was the second wife of Congregationalist minister, Rev. Alfred Stevens, D.D. (1816-1895). She wrote this letter just a couple of months following their marriage in June 1846. Mary Ann’s parents were Rev. Seth Shaler Arnold (1788-1871) and Anna House (1788-1841), the daughter of a merchant shipowner in Haddam, Connecticut. Following the death of Mary Ann’s mother in 1841, her father married Mary Grant (1845) as his second wife. Reference is made to “Cara” in the letter; this is Mary Ann’s younger sister, Caroline Arnold, who was born in 1827. The “Grandpa” labeled as “unwell” was Seth Arnold, Jr. (1747-1849) who was 99 years old at the time and lived to be almost 102 before his death in 1849.

The letter is addressed to Mary Ann’s sister, Olivia (Arnold) Hitchcock (1822-1913), the wife of Dr. Henry Dwight Hitchcock (1819-1847) — the son of David Hitchcock (1789-1861) and Hannah Owen (1790-1861). Dr. Hitchcock was tragically killed in a collision of railroad cars on the Fall River Railroad on 23 February 1847, just six months after this letter was written. Olivia sued the railroad and settled the claim for $4500. See footnotes below.

The “poor little Shalor” mentioned in the opening paragraph was Henry Shalor Hitchcock (1846-Bef1910) who was born the previous June and was an invalid.

Olivia married Newton Gage (1817-1894) as her second husband in May 1852 and had at least two more sons; Seth Newton Gage (1857-1940) and Alfred Stevens Gage (1860-1928).

We learn from this letter that the expression, “chief cook and bottle washer” was in common parlance as early as 1846 — much earlier than I had imagined. In researching the use of that expression, I found that it was, indeed, in widespread use by the 1840s and that its earliest use, in print, may have dated to 1802:

4 November 1802, New York (NY) Commercial Advertiser, pg. 3:  “Since we embarked on the last voyage, and our Captain has lost sight of his owners, almost every officer in the ship, from the purser to the cook and bottle washer, have been turned ashore to make room for a lazy set of land lubbers of his own kidney;..”

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Mrs. Olivia A. Hitchcock, Middleborough, Massachusetts

Westminster West [Vermont]
August 31st 1846

My dear sister,

Page 1

I have been expecting to hear every mail for a week that your poor little Shaler is no more. It is wonderful how he has been able to live through so much pain, and suffering. Hope you will not get sick, having the care so long, and being confined so long to the house. It is fortunate for you that Wealthy concluded to stay as Caroline cannot go down to be with you (although was quite disappointed not seeing her with Homer). Cara has been out here twice only — week before last she spent a week. I enjoyed her visit much. Father & mother came for her — the only time they have been out since I came here. Had it not been for the fact that they were confined on account of Grandpa being so unwell, I should have been disposed to complain. The week Cara was here, he was sick & required more than one to wait upon him. I fear he will not be able to stand it much longer if the warm weather continues. We have had exceeding warm weather this season.

I am quite alone today. My husband is at Newfane. There is a meeting of the county superintendents. He left Saturday expecting to exchange with Mr. Grases of Townsend but to my surprise about eight in the eve Mr. Bradford of Grafton made his appearance. Hannah came in and stayed with me so I was not as lonely as I otherwise would have been.

Page 2

Miss Sawyer has closed her school and left the neighborhood. I expect to miss her for she was very good to call & sit an hour to two, before school or after. I became quite attached to her. Was very sorry to have her leave. You mentioned in yours that I should find father Hitchcock family “good neighbors.” I should not know what to do without them for I go in there just as I would into my own fathers & feel much at home. It is the only place here that I can feel free to enter into any time. Tell __ that I enjoy the privilege very much. Her aunts are very good company — especially Mrs. Whipple. She is quite a lively, sociable lady. I know you would like her should you get acquainted.

Have made a good number of calls this month [and] begin to feel quite well acquainted. And I am happy to say that the more I become acquainted, the better I like. The ladies have been very polite to call on me. Mrs. Capt — Hall, has called a number of times. I think she is a very pleasant lady.

Page 3

I suppose if you were here, you would inquire what I find to busy myself about? It is true I have an easy time comparatively speaking. I am released from those domestic cares which I used to take when at fathers. Yet you know that a minister’s wife is not entirely free from care. More is expected of her than of a doctor’s wife, or farmer’s wife. A great responsibility rests upon her and if she feels interested as she ought, she fill find enough to do. I often feel my own insufficiency and weakness, and wish that I might be better qualified for my station. It is a great satisfaction to the Christian that there is one who is able to help at all times. I would not have you think that I do not enjoy myself for I can truly say that I never enjoyed myself so well. we have female prayer meetings once a month — think there is a very good sisterly spirit manifested in them. There are more ladies here that are capable to go forward & take the part in such meetings than there are in the other parish.

Margin 1

The sewing society meets once in two weeks. They are not preparing to send a box away, not dreaded, when they meet here this week. They have quilted four bedquilts since I have been here. Miss Sawyer & her scholars pieced & quilted one.

How does your society flourish? I suppose you have not been able to meet with them. They are expecting a fair in the other parish in a few weeks.

Margin 2

I have made my traveling bag into cricket coverings. Mr. Briggs of Hun made them — charged $2.25. They are handsome but rather dear. I call leave this letter unfinished until I see father or sister. Perhaps they may have a word to write. Let us hear from you soon. As ever, your affectionate sister — Mary Ann Stevens

It is town meeting tomorrow. I expect to go in to father’s and spend the day.

Sept 1. I am at father’s now. Cara is “chief cook & bottle washer.” Mother is at Ackworth. Aunt Smith is here. All desire love to you & family. M.A.S.


The first notice of the railroad accident that killed Dr. Hitchcock appeared in the 26 February 1847 issue of the New Bedford Mercury:


We learn that the morning train from Fall River for Boston, was run into at the Randolph Depot by another engine with a snow plough, by which the cars were badly broken and several of the passengers more or less injured. Mr. Seth H. Ingalls, of this town, one of the passengers, has favored us with the following particulars. The engine from Fall River stated before the usual time of leaving, with the snow-plough and went on ahead of the passenger train, as far as North Bridgewater, where they met the train from Boston, and thence proceeded on to Randolph. While stopping at the depot in Randolph for the purpose of taking in passengers from Boston, the train was run into by a locomotive with a snow-plough, under the direction of Mr. Coleman of Baintree, coming upon them at full speed. Dr. Hitchcock of Middleborough, and Mr. McKennison, connected with the affairs of the road, were standing on the platform outside of the car, and were both so seriously injured as to cause their death in Randolph a few hours afterwards — Mr. McKennison at about 2 o’clock and Dr. Hitchcock at about 4 o’clock, P.M. Dr. Hayward, from Boston, and other skillful medical attendance was resorted to, but without avail. We understand that the collision took place within the Depot at Randolph, and with such violence as to raise the bottom of the Fall River passenger car quite to a level with the top of the boiler of the Baintree locomotive. The blame is attributed wholly to the engineer of the Baintree locomotive, who alleges that he supposed the track was clear, and was prevented from seeing any distance ahead in consequence of the cloud of steam which enveloped the locomotive.

The following day, 27 February 1847 issue of the Spectator ran the following description of the Railroad Accident on the Fall River Line:


A collision took place upon the Fall River rail road this morning, at the Randolph Station, by which two persons were severely injured, one is feared fatally. The passenger train for Boston had stopped at Randolph with the purpose of taking in passengers, when a locomotive which had been put on the track for the purpose of clearing off the snow, and which was going at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, struck the train from behind. The shock of the collision broke the woodwork of every seat in the car, and the snowplough of the locomotive was wedged under the car, so that the passengers were thrown in a heap to the farther end.

Dr. Hitchcock, of Middleboro’, Mass., was in the act of going out of the farther door of the car on to the platform, when the collision took place. A part of the timbers detached by the collision mangled both of his legs so that they hung to the body but by a thread, and he was otherwise badly injured; it is feared that he will not survive. Mr. McKennison, the road master, had one leg badly bruised or broken, and was also somewhat bruised in the abdomen. — Boston Traveller of Tuesday

A followup story provided these additional details:


Both Dr. Hitchcock and Mr. Kennerson, who were injured at Randolph yesterday by the collision, died about two hours after the accident. Dr, Hitchcock was a practicing physician at Middleboro, in this state, about 35 years old, and was beloved and respected by all who knew him. He was in company with a young lady, who was coming to this city for the purpose of having an operation performed upon her arm. He has left a wife and one child. Mr. Kennerson was, at the time of his death, road-master, about 45 years old — came originally from Maine, and was formerly employed upon the Western railroad. He has left a wife and three children at South Baintree. The remainder of the passengers, though they received some bruises, are none of them seriously hurt.

A meeting of the directors of the road is to be held today to examine into the causes of the accident. As at present stated, it seems that the engineer was directed to take a locomotive and tender, and clear the road from snow. As there train from Boston came to the stopping place above Randolph, the locomotive was put upon the turnout to let the train pass, but soon after followed behind the train, and was running at the rate of twelve miles an hour at the time of the collision, when the engineer might have known that he was in dangerous proximity to the passenger train.

The latest English papers, in giving an account of a similar disaster in that country, relate the following sequel: — The engineer was arrested, brought before the authorities, the case investigated, and he was sentenced to three months imprisonment in the penitentiary, with an intimation that in case any of those injured died, he would be tried for manslaughter.

The following notice ran in the 24 February 1847 issue of the Boston Evening Transcript:

We learn that Dr. Hitchcock who was so severely injured on the Fall River Railroad yesterday, died of his wounds at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Dr. H. was a young physician, and has left a wife and one child. We also learn from Mr. Fales, conductor of the Fall River road, that Mr. Kennison, the other person who was injured by the accident, also died yesterday afternoon. With a few years, Mr. K. has had two sons killed by accidents on the Western railroad.


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