1827: Zephaniah Webster Bunce to Louisa Ann Duryea

Judge in later life

Judge Z. W. Bunce in later life

This letter was written by Zephaniah Webster Bunce (1787-1889), a native of Hartford County, Connecticut. The famous “Charter Oak” of Hartford stood on what was the original Bunce farm. Zephaniah engaged in the hattery business at Claremont, New Hampshire, and later worked in a clothing store in Albany, New York. He then came to St. Clair, County, Michigan Territory in the spring of 1817, traveling most of the way in a one-horse wagon and $8,000 worth of goods for Detroit. He settled near a mill operated by Duperon Baby at a place that would eventually become Bunceville (later Marysville), Michigan. The Ojibwe were still in the area and early on Bunce was involved with trading with them. He was later involved in the lumber industry and served as a judge. He was elected to the Michigan Territorial Legislature in 1824, serving in the Michigan Territorial Council. Bunce died in St. Clair County, Michigan

In September 1827, at age 40, Bunce married Louisa Ann Duryee [Duryea] (1801-1861), daughter of John T. Duryea (1770-18xx) and Ann Mumford (1773-1825) of New York City. They lived one year in Detroit before relocating to their home on the St. Clair River.

1826 Letter

1827 Letter

Addressed to Miss Louisa Ann Duryee, No. 61 Water Street, New York

Detroit [Michigan Territory]
26 May 1827

Fortunate in an opportunity of introducing my friend Judge Hunt ¹ to your attention, I avail myself of this politeness in delivering this hasty scrawl and perhaps awakening the recollection of an absent friend in the generous bosom of my dearest Louisa.

I said in my last [letter], tomorrow I leave for St. Clair. I went no farther than Macomb where I met with the Road Commissioners & accompanied them back again. I found the Judge ready to leave on a tour East for the improvement of his health. He says he probably will go by the way of New York. If so, you will see him. He promises to deliver this personally. Should he alter his mind, you [will] receive by post from Albany. He is one of the Supreme Judges of the Territory, possesses first rate talents without the least affect & dignity. Our dear mother must have a real chat with the judge. He is fully qualified to give that information on local matters which cannot be condensed in letters. He was my confidential attorney before he was appointed Judge and altho political opponents, always friends in the main. You heard me speak of the death of Mrs. Hunt. It occurred when I was with you last fall. She was sister to Col. Larned — a lovely woman & possessed a superior mind. The Judge — altho a man of great firmness,– has not been able to conquer his grief. His daughter Harriet — a very small accomplished girl about sixteen “has just returned from the City of Washington where she has been for the two last years completing her education. Doctor Saturley is to be here about the first of June. Then Hyman ties a knot. I am requested to be present at the ceremony. The Doctor is stationed at the Isle of Mackinac where he expects to reside for the present. I have almost filled this sheet with a description of the Judge and his family believing you would get from him as he is one of the most familiar communicative men in the world. More local news in one hour’s interview than I could write in a week.

I have taken the liberty of introducing several of my Detroit friends to you from a wish that on your arrival here, you would enter a circle in which you would not be altogether a stranger in.

It appears by your last kind letter that you understood me to have promised one that I did not send. If you will have the goodness to compare dates, I think you will be able to correct this mistake as Mr. Palmer remained some days in the City before he called on you. Dear Louisa, is it possible you received a letter of a subsequent date before Mr. Palmer delivered his, which I presume had led to his misapprehension. You complain, my dear Louise, of a want of regularity in my writing to you, and threaten “a good scolding.” You do know I love to write you and that nothing in this world affords me so much pleasure as receiving of your generous affectionate communications. And if I thought that absence in the country which deprived me of that pleasure or their arrival here, was no apology, perhaps you would say that a systematic attention to correspondents cannot be considered a test of affection, nor the flippant tongue always the organ of a feeling heart.

“The Soul intent on offices of honor
Will oft neglect or scorn the weaker proof
Which promises or words can give.

Applying this sentiment to Friendship says an ardent & elegant female writer and then, my dearest L., scold me if you can. However, I must admit in candor that you have just cause as the hasty manner in which I have lately addressed you is susceptible of an unfavorable interpretation and has rendered it impossible for me to reply to my dear Louisa [with] letters as fully as I would have done under other circumstances. This may have given to my letters a cast which you seemed to think arose from “Secret Care” to my dear Louisa. I have & will cond=fide without reverse what secrets I possess; suspension at present may cause a momentary anxiety, but it certainly is not tinged with much melancholy.

The Mercantile business which you think laborious is different here from what it is in your city. The sales are not so frequent but are more than amply allowed for by a heavy profit. This renders business here less laborious, more lucrative without the drudgery attending such establishments in the Atlantic cities.

You seem [to] indulge some unhappy sensations by anticipating family “discord.” There is no doubt my friends will love my Louisa and if she doubts my affection for her relatives, I refer her for proof to her excellent cousin Ann.

Col. Larned has just called & says the Judge is not well enough to go today. I regret he is not so well but am happy that he remains today.

You seem apprehensive of going into a strange family on your arrival in this country. It is far from my intention that you should. Neither is it my calculation to reside at St. Clair at present. I have let that place to My brother for three years and my arrangements are not to introduce my Louisa in another family however well disposed they may be to show her the most marked attention. I am confident with my brother’s skill & attention, our place at St. Clair will be well improved by the time we may wish to go there to reside. I have this Spring ingrafted two thousand sections of the choicest fruits from the Linean Garden.

You say, “I have had an invitation to pass the summer at the eastward and cousin Ann is persuasive with me to go but will not until I see you.” You must go my dear. Do not wait for me tho’ can hardly forgo the idea of not seeing you until October but to be the cause of depriving you of that pleasure would be painful to me in the extreme. You have also had an invitation to pass the summer to the westward tho’ the latter cannot be so interesting to you. But should it be the arrangement I might perhaps give you a call as I pass down.

You desire me to let you know the exact time I shall be in the city. I may not be able at this distance to do so but rest satisfied I shall not alarm you without some short notice to my arrival, as I certainly would feel some reluctance in being accessory to the confinement of my good friend Louisa in a closet.

You ask me what is the reason my letter is dated 19th April & mail marked 25th. I know not unless it lay over in the post office. But what is the reason your two last letters are dated on the 8th May and the 19th of April and by some singular coincidence you will find I had written you letters of the same date. “Is not this sympathy” my Louisa? I wrote you by Dr. [Justin] Rice,² also by Major Forsyth ³ and no answer to either. Have you received them? And are ___ paying me off? If so, be merciful. Don’t keep me on the rack so long. I can now sympathize with my dearest friend and begin to have many conjectures. You ask me, “Do you believe the following?”

“Woman’s true save once placed is due
The strongest trial to insure.”

Yes, my dear Louisa, I do believe, and so must anyone who marked occasion to remark the fortitude which woman sustains the most overwhelming reverses of fortune, those disasters which break down the spirit of man, seem to call forth all the energies of your sex & yes, such elevations to their character that at times it approaches to sublimity to see the tender female who has seen all weakness and dependance and alive to evil roughness while in prosperity, suddenly rising in mental force to be the comforter and support of her companion & abiding with _____ firmness the bitterest blasts of adversity. And so you ought, my dearest Louisa. For she is really a lovely being. I would profess a little too, but you have grown so cross and threatened me with such scoldings of ___, I dare not risj it.

My my best regards to your dear parents. You kindly tell me you look to me for aid todry a “tear of sorrow.” Would to heaven that mortal means could insure you and your amiable family happiness to which your virtues & generous feelings entitle you. Cheerfully & gratefully well I contribute my will to this agreeable task & yield to my adored Louisa that protection & friendship which I shall always be proud to anticipate. I close this in full belief that you do not doubt that I am & ever! Ever shall be, without reserve, the unalterable friend of those so dear to thee! — the first elected object of my heart. — Z. W. Bunce

Have I mentioned your dear brother, Mrs. Vote, & your cousin Miss Mumford.

I should write this again but you are so generous as to overlook blots on my sheet so. Detroit is full of strangers. The prospect of emigration, so far, is quite favorable. The boats & ships come crowded with people. After the mail arrives tomorrow, I set out again for St. Clair (If no letter from Louisa, in woeful suspense, which I think the only insupportable misfortune in life). Your communications heretofore have come so regular to me that your present silence feels me with a thousand alarms. Remember me with best of feelings to all friends & particularly those from the West. I will expect to see them soon. Love to Miss Miles & Cousin Ann. Say you, “love that cousin dearly.”

¹ John Hunt was appointed to the Michigan Territorial Supreme Court on February 20, 1824 by President James Monroe and died in office on June 15, 1827 — less than a month after this letter was written.

“Hunt was tall and thin, about five feet eleven inches and weighing around 155 pounds. He was “dignified in bearing, straight as an arrow, of medium complexion, dark-brown hair, bright blue eyes and clean shaven face.”

Upon his arrival in Michigan, he began practicing law with General Charles Larned. He was married to Larned’s sister, Martha Ball Larned. Together, Hunt and his brother-in-law built a very successful practice.

In 1820, Hunt was elected to the Board of Trustees of Detroit. This board was organized in 1815 and was the result of the first successful effort of the inhabitants of Michigan to obtain a measure of self-government, which had been previously denied them under the rule of the Governor and Judges. The Board of Trustees came to an end in 1824 when the Common Legislative Council was created.

In 1824, as the reorganization of the Territorial government was taking place, Hunt was appointed to the newly established Michigan Supreme Court. At this point, he dissolved his partnership with Larned and began his judicial duties. He served the Court until 1827.

After his service on the Bench, Hunt’s health failed significantly and he became afflicted with delusions. One delusion was that his legs were made of straw and that he could not walk. Finally, his doctor came over with a rawhide whip and struck Hunt on the legs. Hunt sprang up from his bed and marveled at his ability to walk. Unfortunately, other delusions followed.

He and his family moved to Washington, D.C. following the death of his wife in 1826. John Hunt died near Ithaca, New York, in June of 1827 due to his increasing problems with delusions.” (Ross, Robert B. The Early Bench and Bar of Detroit: 1805 – 1850. Detroit: Richard P. Joy and Clarence M. Burton, 1907.)

² Dr. Justin Rice was a prominent Detroit physician and one of the owners of the Detroit and Black River Steam Saw Mill Company.

³ This is probably Major Robert Allen Forsyth (1798-1849), said to have been the first school teacher in Chicago. He was a cadet at West Point 1814-1817 and a major in the US Army.

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