1866: Matilda Wightman to Mrs. Bliss

What Matilda Wightman might have looked like in 1866

This letter was written by a woman named Matilda Wightman who resided in Yonkers with her sister Sophia and her mother. The date is difficult to decipher but it looks like May 1866 and the content of the letter seems to confirm that it was written after the close of the Civil War. There is no  envelope to aid in the identification of the recipient who is identified only as “Mrs. Bliss.” She is apparently a married woman whose family clearly resides somewhere in the South — perhaps Florence, South Carolina, where the author of the letter had visited sometime prior to the Civil War.

We learn from the letter that Matilda and her mother and sister are teachers and that they call their residence in Yonkers “Vista Cottage.” We learn that Matilda has a sister named Mary Drake who is married and has five children. And we also learn that the Bliss family homestead in the South survived the war, though the family lost a son during the war, and that they have a surviving son named John Bliss.

My hunch is that Matilda is the same Matilda Wightman who came to the United States from Ireland and was naturalized in New York City in May 1857.


Vista Cottage, Yonkers, New York
May 8, 1866

My dear Mrs. Bliss,

Your letter came to hand a few days ago. I was truly pleased to hear of yourself, husband, and children and glad too that you have your little homestead [is] left when so many have lost all their property. It is to be hoped now that our country will flourish and that our government will be based on a surer foundation when that fearful institution slavery has been abolished forever. I am very sure there is a hard feeling towards the North, or the “Yankees” as the South call the whole North, — which by the way is rather stupid as the New England people only are Yankees — however, there is no disgrace in the name. I should be very proud to be a true Massachusetts Yankee. The people of this state have acted nobly and supported their government well — loyal and true from first to last.

In our immediate vicinity we should not have known there was war only that provisions and rents were so exorbitant and houses so dearer. All our cities were crowded with Southerners. Indeed, they are so yet, but I am happy to say they are more silent and behave with more discretion than they did 3 and 4 years ago!

Since you visited us, my mother and sister Sophie made a visit to Ireland. They both enjoyed the trip and the latter’s health was much improved by her journey. My mother, Sophie, and self, live together in our little cottage in Yonkers where you visited us when my brother lived. Sister Jenny lives in the city during the winter. We have all been teaching for some years and continue to do so, having our classes in the house. The situation is charming in summer. In winter, it is severe. We should like to spend all the cold winters in the South. In fact, would take situations there if it was possible. Just to think, we were obliged to burn fires for nine months of the year. Do not you remember how I enjoyed the climate of Florence? I have some very pleasant remembrances of this place and always think of your hospitality and kindness and of your dear sister giving up her nice comfortable room to me. I am very sorry too that we did not know Mr. Bliss was in the very town with us. Is his sister living yet in New York? Her name has escaped my memory.

Well, my dear friend. you have lost your son but oh what a comfort that he was at home at the time. Has Mary Walker many children? Does she wear well? I suppose she feels badly enough about losing her slaves but she will have to come down to the stern realities of life. We all have our ups & downs. I never was a favorite of hers because I came from the North, I suppose.

How are you off for schools? Would a Northern woman be tolerable among you as a teacher? Have you a settled minister? I should certainly go to see you if money was not so scarce this summer.

With kind regards to your husband and much love to yourself. I remain yours affectionately, — Matilda Wightman

My married sister Mary Drake has just rented her house (which is quite near us) to a family for one year. She is going to the city for the present. Her husband’s health is not good. They have five children and talk of going to Europe. He is only gone a little while before you and surely we must be resigned to God’s will. It must be gratifying to you that your son John is doing so well. Poor Sarah. I am pleased to hear that she is yet in that institution, It is the very best thing for her and for you, As for the other sons, they have grown out of my remembrance.

So Mr. Simpson is gone. Was he long ill? Was it not strange that Anne Wiightman was married? I should like to have a talk with you if I could run in to see you. — Adieu


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