1846: Susan Melcher Coombs to Abby Sayward

What Susan M. Coombs might have looked like

Though the letter is signed “Susan M. C.” and there are few clues in the letter that would confirm her identity, I feel certain this letter was written by Susan Melcher Coombs (1820-1905), the daughter of Rev. Abner Coombs (1794-1880) and Anstrus Melcher (1799-1874). Abner Coombs was a Free Will Baptist minister in 1860. Susan married George Washington Hoyt (1819-1886), a farmer, in July 1846. Hoyt was a Captain in Co. E., 39th Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War.

Susan wrote the letter to Abby Sayward (1819-Aft1889) of Shapleigh, York County, Maine, the daughter of William Sayward (1786-1870) and Betsy Ricker (1790-1876). Abby resided in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1850 where she boarded with Eben and Susan Roberts. In 1870, she resided in Lawrence, Essex County, Massachusetts, where she worked as a milliner. In December 1872, at the age of 53, Abby married William Mead who was 70 years old.

We learn from this letter that Susan Coombs, like Abby Sayward and so many other young women of that period, also worked in the factory mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, prior to relocating with her parents from Maine to Wisconsin Territory. Susan implores her friend Abby to “fetch” a lot of young unmarried ladies and come to Wisconsin Territory where there were a ‘lot of first rate men” looking for wives.

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Miss Abby Sayward, Lowell, Massachusetts

Rochester [Wisconsin Territory]
February 1846

Long absent though not forgotten friend,

It is with great pleasure that I take the pen — that silent confessor — to place a few thoughts in black and white as they may occur to my mind. It is an inestimable privilege although we are separated far apart to converse together by the silent language of the pen. If it were not for this, how could friends bare to be so far apart? Dear Abby, I received your letter about two weeks ago and was glad to hear from you. I have thought many times that I would write to you but I did not know where to direct a letter, not knowing whether you was in Lowell or at home. I have sent you a number of papers but have received none from you.

Dear Abby, this is a delightful country. I wish you could see some of the wheat fields where there is 5 or 6 hundred acres of wheat altogether. It is not an uncommon thing for a man to raise a thousand bushels of wheat in this country. It is a good country for corn, potatoes, and anything than can be raised East. I wish you would see some of the gardens here. I guess it would make your eyes stick out. There are beets that grow here that weight 10 or 11 lbs. and I have seen cabbages bigger ones than a water pail.

I wish you was here for I have a thousand things I want to tell you. Dear Abby, I never have seen the day that I was sorry that I came into this country. I never enjoyed myself better. I don’t have no such crying spells here as I use to have in that old Factory. I got all over having those down spells. After my dear sister ¹ died, I did not feel as I did before. Everything grieved me more than it ever did before. I often think of the kind and consoling music that escaped your lips. They were a source of comfort to me. Dear Abby, you don’t know how glad I should be to go into that old Factory and see you and the rest that I am acquainted with, but mind you, I would not go back there to stay for the whole of Lowell.

Dear Abby, you wished to know if I was married or was agoing to be soon and I answer no. I am not married but I shall be sometime this Spring if I can get anybody to have me. Now Abby, I’ll tell you just what it is. There are some first rate young men here that need some good wives and a great many that choose to keep old batch because girls are so scarce. And if you have any feelings of sympathy at all, do come on and fetch a lot of girls with you. It’s no matter if they are not so handsome if they are good.

Dear Abby, I want you should go and see Elize Weston if she is in Lowell. Tell her I want that she should write to me immediately and write in particular about her sisters and her folks and how  she is getting along. Tell her to send me papers often. Give my best respects to all enquiring friends. Give my best respects to Mr. Fulsom. Tell him I am getting along first rate and that I want him to send me papers often. Tell him to kiss Adelaide and Kitten for me and the older one if it is good looking. I never shall forget Mr. Fulsom and Mr. Peabody. They were so kind to me.

Dear Abby, you don’t know how much I want to see you. I hope you never will forget me nor forget to write and to send me papers often. You don’t know how much good they do me.

We have very warm winters here. We have had but a very little snow yet — not enough to make sleighing. Last spring it was all settled going by the middle of March.

Gravemarker of Rev. Abner Coombs and wife

Perhaps you would like to know about the society and I would just say it is very good. The neighborhood where we live  is thickly settled. We have meetings every Sabbath. Before I came into this country, I had [an] idea that people were very poor, but it is not so. The people here live as well as they do East. We have had our house all finished this winter and now we have a good house and everything to make us comfortable.

Dear Abby, remember and pray for me. Perhaps I will not say perhaps, but it is not very likely we ever shall meet again in this world to shake the friendly hand. But may we strive to meet in heaven where parting will be no more.

Goodbye Abby. Send me a paper as soon as you receive this. From your friend, — Susan M. C.


Gravemarker of Angeline M. Coombs

¹ Susan Melcher Coombs had a sister named Angeline M. Coombs who died 1 December 1842. This is probably the sister referred to in this letter.


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