1848: Seth Elisha Hills to C. Burgess

Seth Elisha Hills

This letter was written by Seth Elisha Hills (1826-Aft1900) of Nunda, Livingston County, New York. He was the son of Leander Hills (1801-1887) and Celestia Juliette Tyler (1803-18xx). He married Malvina Amanda Durand (1829-1887) in March 1857. He farmed in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin for awhile and then relocated to Marion County, Illinois.

When Seth wrote this letter, he was a Freshman at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. He graduated with the Class of 1851.

A significant portion of the letter is devoted to describing the relationship Seth had with Jane Steel Wicks (1820-1848) — the wife of Josiah Lorenzo Cook (1814-18xx) — whom Seth held in high esteem. Jane died of consumption on 26 September 1848. She was the daughter of Constant H. Wicks of Paris Hill, New York, and Sarah Head. Josiah was a dealer in coal and general produce in Clinton, New York.

Too few clues are offered in the letter to assist in the identification of C. Burgess — to whom Seth directed the letter. Burgess does not appear to have been a chum from Hamilton College. As Nunda and Mount Morris are both in Livingston County, New York, it is presumed they were childhood acquaintances. At least one Burgess family resided in Nunda, and there were others by that name in other Livingston County villages.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Mr. C. Burgess, Mt. Morris, Livingston County, New York

Hamilton College
[Clinton, New York]
July 15th 1848

Dear Friend Burgess,

Page 1

I have delayed (much longer than I was really aware) to answer your letter which I received nearly two months ago and which at the time of receiving it I thought I would strive to answer immediately. I have nothing to offer as a sufficient excuse for delaying thus long or an excuse which I think ought to be urged by one professing in any manner to “be punctual in his business.” But still I hope you will pardon me knowing that it is the “Summer Term” and what little time could be taken from necessary labors of the day would be employed in recreation such as rambling in the fields or engaged in sports more immediately connected with College grounds. The Summer Term is certainly the most pleasant term in the year. I never before thought there was really much difference in the seasons as regards the pleasures arising therefrom or if I had any preference, it was rather in favor of the winter season because that was the only I used to have to attend school and consequently obtain more enjoyment the other portions of the year being devoted to the “science of agriculture.”

During the first two terms of this year the weather was so very unpleasant; the fall rainy and disagreeable; the winter cold & uncomfortable that a person could not help partaking in some degree of the “spirit of the times” and if an individual was inclined to despondency, then was the time to indulge it. But when all nature puts on her best appearance and really looks jovial, there is no time for sad countenances or dejected spirits.

Page 2

Today we had our last recitation as Freshman for owing to the arrangements made to work on the plank walk, we have our examination the fore part of next week. And for fear I should not have an other opportunity before the close of the term to write to you, I occupy this evening for this purpose although I am well satisfied my studies need some more attention. I do not know whether you are acquainted with the project that is now but partially completed — that of building a plank walk from the college to the village — or not. For fear you are not, I will relate what has been done and what is contemplated will be done. We worked three days last week on the walk and nearly finished it as far as the bridge. Now we are to make a foot-bridge over the creek and thirty rods beyond, at which place the villagers and those living between here and the village take the responsibility of extending it the remainder of the way. It is doubted whether any number of working men have labored harder this summer than we have labored those three days for it was told us by those who had the most experience in these matters, that it would take us at least two weeks to accomplish what we have already done.

Page 3

I have been visiting this afternoon a lady in the village — although no relation — whom I have called Aunt Jane. She is the wife of Josiah Cook and as thy boarded at Uncle Cook’s last fall when I did and called Aunt by his family, it may account for my otherwise too great familiarity. I was not aware that she had any more regard for me than for others with whom she must have become better acquainted. Neither do I now know it, only she has admitted me as a visitor. She has been almost helpless since about the first of February (disease — the Consumption) during which time none have been permitted to see her except her intimate friends and those who take care of her. I had not seen her before since her confinement, although she has frequently expressed a wish to see me, but circumstances have heretofore prevented. I must say that I never was privileged with an acquaintance with a lady for whom I have so high an esteem, both as regards intelligence, morality, and religion — and also politeness and lady-like rearing, which renders company agreeable and conversation profitable. Always ready to converse and converse intelligibly upon any subject that might come up in common conversation (when well) that I did esteem it a privilege to stop a few moments after meals or spend an evening when it could well be spared. I cannot expect to see her more than once more, if I do that. She is aware she cannot live but a little while and is resigned to the will of Providence.

Malvina Amanda Durand, Hill’s 1st Wife

I wish that I could write to you that I have complied with the suggestions in your letter or rather complied with the requisitions of the gospel and thus have obtained for myself a lasting good, but doubts and fears continually arise. Should I again attempt it, I may again be deceived and thus be in a worse condition than I am now, which is certainly bad enough. Thus, I am continually procrastinating, continually placing the time for paying attention to this subject somewhere in the future. Many times I have made resolves and resolutions which have heretofore proved unavailing. And although they might not have been made in the right spirit, yet I must confess I do not know how to start aright.

I have many other things about which I might spin out another page of writing, but it is getting quite late and what I have already written has been done in altogether too much haste to have paid any attention to grammatical construction or neatness. You must excuse me. I shall expect to see you soon if I do not hear from you before I see you. I shall try to be in Mt. Morris on Friday the 28th. Much obliged for the Catalogues. Waldo is in New Hartford as Colporteur.¹

Good night. Yours truly, — S. E. Hill


¹ A colporteur is a peddler of religious books.


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