1846: Rev. William Warner Backus to Dr. Isaac Moreau Ward

Cleveland, Ohio in 1846

This letter was written by Rev. William Warner Backus (1807-1888), the son of Thomas L. Backus (1781-1821) and Rebecca Couch (1781-1860) of Lansing, Tompkins County, New York. After graduating from Yale (1832) and studying for the ministry, William became a clergyman of the Presbyterian Church. He filled many pastoral charges in the west, including a year (1846) in Chester Township, Geauga County, Ohio. He had four wives but his first, Frances Matilda Ward (1818-1842), died 14 May 1842, six days after the birth of her fourth child. Their children were: Frederick Moreau Backus (1838-1874), Frances E. or “Fanny” Backus (1841-1898), William Richards Backus (1840-1909; Fanny’s twin), and Frank Ward Backus (1842-1913).

The brother of Rev. Backus residing in Cleveleland, Ohio, was Franklin Thomas Backus (1811-1870), the husband of Lucy M. Mygatt (1821-1907). Lucy’s parents were George Mygatt (1797-1885) and Eliza Freeman (1797-1883). In this letter, we learn that George Mygatt has recently relocated to Cleveland from Painesville, Ohio, having accepted the Presidency of the City Bank of Cleveland.

George Mygatt

Rev. Backus wrote the letter to his brother-in-law, Dr. Isaac Moreau Ward (1806-1895), the son of Joseph Smith Ward (1784-1833) and Lucy Dodd (1786-1842). Dr. Ward was married to Mary Ogden Rankin (1812-1896) in 1832. Dr. Ward’s sister, Emily Theresa Ward (1813-1867) was married (1839) to Elias J. Richards who is mentioned a couple of times in this letter.

Isaac Moreau Ward was a homeopathic doctor for most of his life and was very active in the medical community in Newark, New Jersey, where his homestead and family were. He also helped with the formation and organization of the American Institute of Homeopathy in Albany (1841), and while living there was president of the New York State Homeopathic Medical Society. He was also instrumental in establishing a Homeopathic Medical College for Women in Philadelphia (1853).

In the letter, Rev. Backus alludes to “unutterable trials” that he has endured for the past year and a half. I have not been able to find any references to these in internet searches.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Dr. I. M. Ward, Albany, New York

Chester, Geauga County, Ohio
September 25, 1846

Dear Brother Morean,

Your last favour now duly received and perused wit pleasure, and would have been answered before this but for various causes which I hardly need mention. Among these, however, there is one which it may not be unwise to mention. I mean the question of a permanent settlement in this place, or a removal to the state of New York. It is now settled so far as the people are concerned that I settle with them with the mutual expectation that it will be for life. Some weeks ago I called a meeting of the Society and fully explained to them my situation, my trials (which you have learned I presume through brother Richards) and expectations for the future. They had long been anxious that I should go after my Mother and commence housekeeping. I now told them on what conditions I would do so and they unanimously sent forward and met these conditions. They raised the sum named — five hundred dollars — and voted the “call” unanimously. This is the largest sum paid on the Reserve out of the commercial cities, and considering the fact that I can rent a fine large house — as large as yours in Newark, and well furnished — for less than fifty dollars and can get all things to live on very low, it does very well for a support. I hope to save one hundred a year out of it.

I am now about to start for Western New York for my mother and if nothing unforeseen occurs, I shall bring her out and commence keeping house in November. Mother and most of my friends have been very anxious for me to return to Western New York and but for one thing I should have done so, and may still, though that is not my present expectation. If I remain in this state, I can and shall undoubtedly be freed from my past before the winter is gone and this has determined me to stay at present. My people all stand by me though they know the whole, and this endears them to me. I would tell you some of my trials, but I presume Richards showed you my last letter, and if so you know enough.

You may all think strange of me that I so long kept silence on the subject of my unutterable trials. But you need not wonder. Never did a man more need the sympathy of his friend than I for the last year and a half past. But I was ashamed to seem to ask it by letting my situation be known. And I knew that you could not help me and that I should cause vastly more suffering and anguish in your breasts than your deepest and purest sympathy could possibly heal in mine. Hence, in love to you I kept you all in darkness till the die was cast and the “Rubicon passed forever.” I shall soon be free and I trust come forth purified from the fire. If this is “Greek” to you, ask Richards for my last letter. I cannot write it again.

My own health has been very good since I wrote you though I have been lame some weeks from having broken the smaller bone of my leg below the knee. It is now nearly well. The children are all very healthy and happy. They were never better cared for or more hearty in their lives. They go to school and learn well. Little Frances has been with me most of the summer, has been to school while here, and grown very much. She is near three inches taller than William though not so heavy. William is very fleshy and stout, but does not run up like Francis. I did not intend to keep her here when I brought her out from Cleveland, but she was so happy and the boys were so happy with her and all so in love with her, and I so delighted with her society that I could not take her back against her will. After spending a few weeks with us in the Spring, she was very lonesome at brothers as she had no one to play with and did not go to school. They felt bad that I kept her so long, but I could not force the dear little thing away from me. She loved so dearly to be with us and then she is so much the living image of her dear mother that I cannot deny her anything reasonable. But last week I took her to Cleveland and as Mr. Mygatt had moved there (The father of brother’s wife), and was to live in brother’s house this winter (till he can get his own) as brother expects to spend the winter at Columbus, Frances was willing to stay there while I was gone east after my mother. Indeed, she has always been most happy to stay in Mr. Mygatt’s family as there is  plenty of company and they all think everything of her. I don’t know that I shall have her again with me this winter, but I may if she seems very curious for it____ I get my mother her. I know she is better off where she is than I can make her, but still she loves to live with me and her brothers better than anywhere else, and I cannot deny her when I remember her dear mother’s last request that “I should always keep her with me if possible,” if I could none of the rest. I long to bring her on and have you and all the friends see her. She is so much like her mother that you cannot but love her. The others are not behind her in anything except that they have not so much the looks and ways of her mother.

This is a fine healthy region, about twelve miles from the Lake and so high as to command a nice view of the same. The country is rich and well cultivated, and abounds in fruit of every kind.

My church and congregation are the largest I ever ministered to and as large as any on the Reserve out of the commercial cities. We are eighteen miles from Cleveland and fifteen from Painesville. It is about as desirable a place as I know of in Ohio out of the principle cities.

What has become of Richards? Is he dead? Or has my last letter struck him dumb? I have been waiting these six weeks for an answer! I was glad to hear from the various members of the family by you. My interest in the Ward family will never die. I have found great pleasure in reading over all the family correspondence this summer from before our marriage to the present. I have all Frances’ letters to “Mama” and all Mamas to Frances. I have arranged them in the order they were written as well as all those of the family to us. I wish to get a part of Frances’ letters to you and Emily and put with them to preserve as a treasure for my children. From there they can become acquainted with their mother. Moreau already begins to read them and they all love to have me read their Mama’s letter to them. I have a few of Elizabeth’s own letters and quite a number written to her and a volume of her diary. These all I have read much this summer and they have afforded me much happiness. Indeed, I have had much “elegant care” and “literary leisure” this summer, and have had much pleasure. We board very happily. Give my love to M. and all the children and friends.

Yours in Christ, — W. W. Backus


Census records and family notes indicate that Rev. William W. Backus resided in Bloomfield, Connecticut; Geauga County, Ohio; Friendship, New York; Rock Island, Illinois; Decatur, Wisconsin; Leavenworth, Kansas Territory; and Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory.


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