This letter was written by Jeremiah Porter (1804-1893), the son of Dr. William P. Porter (1763-1847) and Charlotte Williams (1770-1842). Jeremiah married Eliza Emily Chappell in Chicago in 1833 — the same year he arrived in Illinois. She was Chicago’s first public school teacher. He is credited with being Chicago’s first reformer. He was “a Yankee Presbyterian evangelist, originally from Hadley, Massachusetts.” He was educated at Hopkins Academy and Williams College after which he attended the Princeton Theological Seminary and found employment with the Home Missionary Society. His first missionary work was at Fort Brady in Sault St. Marie, Michigan Territory, where he formed the acquaintance of Henry Schoolcraft. In May 1833, he relocated to Chicago, accompanying a detachment of the garrison at Fort Brady to Fort Dearborn, and “organized the first permanent Protestant Church, and dedicated the First Presbyterian Church at Clark and Lake on January 4, 1834. Later that year he began a campaign to eradicate gambling, which would fail fairly quickly.” During the Civil War, Jeremiah and Eliza played important roles serving in the U. S. Sanitary Commission.
Porter wrote this 1829 letter four years to the day after his graduation from Williams College in 1825. Since his graduation, he had attended the Andover Theological Seminary but left that institution after two years and in the spring of 1828, took charge of a high school in Troy, New York. We learn from this letter that while teaching that school, Jeremiah continued his studies in Latin, Hebrew, French, English and Geography. In 1830, he entered Princeton Theological Seminary and graduated in 1831.
Jeremiah wrote this letter to his older brother, James Bayard Porter (1803-18xx). James married Susannah Parsons (1806-1874) in January 1836.
Addressed to Mr. James B. Porter, Hadley, Massachusetts
Troy [New York]
September 1st 1829
My dear brother,
Many thanks for your letter by Mr. Willard. ¹ It was a very pleasant after piece to the one you had sent about a fortnight previous & I should have acknowledged my pleasure before but for the want of time. For I can assure you I have never in my life been more confined or a closer student than I now am. That you may have an idea of it, I will give you my course for a day.
I rise about five. From that till seven, after my morning preparations, I am obliged to hold close in intercourse with my Virgil to be prepared for one of my classes at school. After breakfast till nine, the Hebrew, Bible & Lexicon must have my attention, for Judge Burl’s son now recites Hebrew to me & if I am not prepared by previous study, he will stump me. Nine I must hasten to [the high] school [I teach] & have my mind upon the alert the whole time. 15 minutes past twelve ___, I must hasten home to Malte-Brune’s Geography for Sam Burl rehearses fifteen or twenty pages of this to me daily, which I must previously become acquainted with, that his recitation may be profitable to himself & me. I stop long enough to dine (in this respect not like Mother when she is in haste), then return to Geography till two, hasten to [my] school, storm till past five, then home to Malte-Brun till six, tea, ½ past seven or eight.
Mr. A. [de] Farancourt then comes to employ me with his French & English till nine. Then I have my first time to breath freely & take exercise in the day, having had my mind highly wrought up for about fifteen hours. After this hour, I must exercise, call upon friends, write letters &c. if I do any of these things. Exercise I have entirely neglected. And friends & letters very much. This so far has been written since I undressed myself for bed, but I will leave the remainder unsaid until I have been thro’ with my routine once more. So good night.
2nd. We another day’s course is so far completed & I am seated after a day of intense heat to have another wee bit of a tete a tate with you while a delightful shower of rain without is refreshing the earth & laying the dust which for some days has seemed like hot ashes.
This day I completed four collegiate years since I graduated, & this day our dear George † would have been graduated had it not pleased heaven to remove him to a world in which earthly honors & dignities would avail him little. And from which I cannot doubt he now looks down upon the busy scenes of earth with surprise to see after what most men are eagerly grasping. And from which could his voice be heard by us he would say, “seek first the kingdom of heaven” as his noble example has already said.
I was surprised that cousin Emily had not heard of his death or sickness when you wrote me which was three or four days after he died. I was with cousin William in Albany the day before his death when we spoke with pleasure of the anticipated meeting of the family at Commencement. Tho’ we knew of George’s sickness, [we] had [no] fears concerning his fate. His class must have felt today very much his loss. He was to have pronounced the Latin Address [and] of course would have been the first speaker. Emily I doubt not bore his death with Christian resignation. I have not yet learned that William has returned from Salem [New York].
Mrs. Selden wishes thro’ me to inform cousin Lucretia ² that she has a place in her house. She hopes Luca will be willing for some time, or in homely phrase, she wishes Lucretia to come & stay with her awhile. I hope she will come.
Does Mother wish to be at Andover anniversary week? [Paper torn] …not be in my vacation & I think I could not be well spared. If she will accompany me down near the 20th of October, it will gratify me much. Let me know soon her plan & wish. Do go to New York [City] & come this way & accompany Abby home. This, in my opinion, would be (as we used to say “at Marshall College. Aberdeen”] wheat. Do go & leave aside your foolish excuses. Come this way & I will give you one five dollar note towards your journey.
With regard to cousin T. D. Porter’s paper, it is called the “Atlas” and as its name imports, gives weekly a regular account of every country of the globe from which anything interesting has been heard, more systematically arranged than any other in the City. It has also a quantum of literary & commercial intelligence & is well conducted. The difference of price & the excellence of the object of the Mercury induce me to take it instead of the Atlas. I give but a trifle more for the Mercury & Obs’ than I would be obliged to give for the Atlas alone. Yet since each one should have a peculiar care for his own family, I should be glad to have this paper taken by someone of ours. This letter you will find a lasting token of friendship, if not a token of lasting friendship, so after sending love to all, I will go and say good night.
¹ This may have been John Willard, a stepson of Emma Hart Willard (1787-1870) — the preceptress of the celebrated Troy Female Seminary. Emma’s husband, John Willard, died in 1825.
² Jeremiah is referring to his cousin Lucretia Colt Porter (1810-1857), the daughter of his Uncle Moses Porter (1768-1854) and Aunt Amy (Colt) Porter (1773-1843)
³ Jeremiah’s cousin, Timothy Dwight Porter (1797-1880), was the son of his Uncle Jonathan Edwards Porter (1766-1821) and his Aunt Fidelia (Dwight) Porter (1768-1847). Fidelia was the sister of President Dwight of Harvard. Timothy Porter earned a medical degree in 1820 but did not pursue the profession. Instead, he became a tutor at the College of South Carolina in Columbia, but returned to New York City in 1823 to become proprietor of the Religious Chronicle. Later he became the editor of the Albion, a literary paper published in New York, and still later the editor of the Atlas. The Atlas was initially successful but failed in 1833 due to financial mismanagement that was attributed to his partner. Following the failure, Timothy joined his brother Theodore W. Porter as proprietors of The Washington Institute, a school for boys in New York City.
† George Ashley Williams (1811-1829) died on 16 August 1829, just days before he was to graduate from Williams College. He was a cousin on Jeremiah Porter. He was the son of William Williams (1772-1839) and Lucy Fitch (1777-1850). Jeremiah mentions his cousin William Henry Williams (b. 1803) and cousin Emily Huntington Williams (b. 1805) in the letter. An obituary for George appeared in the Albany Argus of 25 August 1829:
In Salem, Washington County, on the 16th instant, after a painful illness of six days, Mr. George Ashley Williams, son of William Williams, Esq. in his 19th year. The deceased was a member of the senior class in Williams College, and would have graduated with one of the highest honors of the Institution the first week in September next.