1849: Henry Swan Dana to Edward Dana

Henry Swan Dana in later years

Though unsigned, I feel confident this letter was written by Henry Swan Dana (1823-1905), the son of Charles Dana (1781-1857) and Mary Gay Swan (1784-1858) of Woodstock, Vermont. Charles wrote the letter to his brother, Edward Dana (1820-1883) who learned the hardware trade in Utica, N.Y. and New York City, and then established himself in business in Boston in 1848.

A newspaper account appearing in the St. Albans Daily Messenger on 10 October 1903 states that Henry Swan Dana was a scholar, and a student of literature and the languages who was recognized far beyond his hometown of Woodstock, Vermont. It says that he made his reputation as a teacher “there and elsewhere” and adds that “many pupils have the kindest recollections of a thorough master.”

Henry datelined this letter from “Red Knoll.” I believe this was Red Knoll Plantation — a large rice plantation outside of Savannah on Argyles Island. My hunch is that Henry was hired as a private tutor of the family residing on the plantation, which was a common practice prior to the emergence of public schools. Though the year of the letter is not provided, Henry says it is November 23rd and adds later that the day is a Saturday. That would make it November, 1850. Henry graduated from Dartmouth in August 1849 and the alumni catalogue claims that Henry was a teacher at Charleston, S.C., 1849-1857.


Addressed to Edward Dana, 24 Kilby Street, Boston, Massachusetts

Red Knoll
Nov. 23, [1850]

Dear Brother,

We have just reached this happy land. Left B__mcomb three weeks ago last Monday. I might call it four weeks now and done with. Have been in constant motion and hubbub ever since. We [are] now in a most delightful state of confusion. I scribble this letter leaning over my dressing table and standing. In the next room, Dr. King is helping a servant brick up a fireplace and put up a stove. The room is to be my schoolroom and quarters, but of it a little soon goes where I now am in which I am to sleep. The plastering may tumble down at any moment and when it rains, it comes in to the room in floods. These two evils are to be remedied and then I shall be comfortable. I have just space enough to turn around.

Went into Savannah Tuesday evening to hear Judge Berrier speak. About eleven, drank two glasses brandy and water and eat a bit of turkey at Mr. Higham’s house. Went to bed at twelve, was up at four with a violent attack of diarrhea, was confined to my bed Wednesday and Thursday with high fever, and after thorough puking and purging, had barely strength enough Friday morning to crawl out of bed, pack up, and jump into boat with the family and come up to Red Knoll. Today (Saturday) am feeling quite smart.

Should you suppose that I possess such recuperative energies now? The severe sickness at home would have lasted me two weeks. Without doubt the family had some fears lest I should be seized with bilious fever which here with a white man ends almost always in death. But Providence had charge of me.

I cannot scribble any more. My object in writing now is to tell you to direct your merchandise, when you forward it, to Dr. King, Care of Robert Habersham and Son, Savannah. I intended to send for “Hammond’s Political History of New York” but it is too late I suppose as you will scarcely be able to get it in Boston. If you can get a Vt. Almanac (Haskell’s), I wish you would put one in. And I hope you’ll not forget Dr. Chare’s Tooth Powder. Nothing more as boat goes to Savannah soon. When I get comfortably fixed, will write more fully.


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