1830: Frances Hubard (Bowyer) Lewis to Frances St. Clair Griggs

Thorn Hill, the estate of Col.  John Bowyer outside of Lexington, Virginia

Thorn Hill, the estate of Col. John Bowyer outside of Lexington, VA

This letter was written by Frances Hubard (Bowyer) Lewis (1805-1899), the daughter of Col. John Bowyer (1767-1851) and Elizabeth Hubbard (1779-1857). Frances mentions many of her siblings in the letter; namely, Henry Morton Bowyer (1801-1893), Mary C. Bowyer (1806-1893), John Colston Bowyer (1807-1880), Louisa Merriweather Bowyer (1808-1882), Charlotte Griggs Bowyer (b. 1816), and Elizabeth (“Betsy”) St. Clair Bowyer (b. 1818). Frances was married to Robert Henry Lewis (b. 1806), an 1818 graduate of Washington & Lee University, but his premature death in 1824 left Frances a widow with a young son named Fielding Henry Bowyer Lewis (1823-1876) to care for and she apparently returned to live at Thorn Hill. In September 1834, she remarried with George Benskin Poindexter (1797-1860).

This letter had to have been written between 1824 and 1834. Since her brother Henry was already married, it had to have been written after 1828. I’m going to conjecture that it was written in the early 1830s.

Frances wrote the letter to her cousin, Frances St. Clair Griggs, the daughter of Thomas Grigg’s Jr. (1780-1860) and Charlotte Hubbard (1774-1857). Charlotte’s sister, Francis Hubbard, married Robert St. Clair (son of Gen. St. Clair) of Staunton, Virginia, whom I believe she was named after.

The Griggs family has a long history in Charles Town, Jefferson County, Virginia [now West Virginia]. The progenitor of this family was Thomas Griggs, Sr. (1746-1839) — the “wealthy Charlestown merchant and landowner” mentioned in the excerpt below which describes to Cool Spring Farm property, three miles southwest of Charles Town. I believe it may have been this property that Ms. Lewis planned to visit while enroute to Philadelphia in company with Capt. Willson and his wife.

The 1832 frame house on Thomas Griggs’ farm served Griggs and his family for more than twenty years. Griggs was the son of a wealthy Charlestown merchant and landowner, Thomas Griggs, Sr., and his stylish house reflected his relative position in Jefferson County society. His attention to the popular Greek Revival architectural features on his rural dwelling was more typical in urban settings in the 1830s. In 1840, Thomas Griggs was listed on the census ~60 years old with one female of similar age (wife?) and two younger adult females (daughters?). He also listed six male slaves and six female slaves in his household, with five engaged in agriculture indicating an active farming operation. In 1850, at age 70, Griggs listed four in his household and ten slaves.

Frances mentions that she and her sister Mary intended a trip to Philadelphia with a Capt. Wilson and his wife. This, I believe, was Capt. William Willson — whose home still stands in Lexington, Virginia. See footnote.

[Note: The Hubard name is sometimes spelled Hubbard. Click here for a video of the Thorn Hill Estate.]

Image 28

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Miss Frances St.C. Griggs, Charles Town, Jefferson County, Virginia

[Lexington, Virginia]
April 21st

Dear Fanny,

As the “dog-days” are at some distance of time from now, I have concluded not to wait their arrival but to answer your queries, “why I have not made my appearance in Charles Town &c.” In the first place then you can not have forgotten already how intolerably cold & wet the winter was and that bad roads were the natural consequence; in the next place our visit or Northern Tour has been postponed for good company several weeks longer than I anticipated when last I wrote. Capt. Wilson ¹ & his lady (with whom I believe you have some acquaintance) hearing that Mary & myself had this Philadelphia trip in view, persuaded us to wait for them, which we gladly did. He is an old gentleman that has been there 50 times and will be a more steady travelling companion than our wild brother John. We rode in yesterday evening to ascertain from them what day we should start and we now understand each other that it will be tomorrow week, which I believe the 29th this month, but we will remain in Staunton several days. You must not, therefore, look for us before the fifth or sixth of May. You see we have given you the preference to the University. I hope Uncle Griggs has not given us out and tripped off to Washington alone.

We were all much pleased to hear that Aunt Charlotte enjoys good health. We were somewhat apprehensive last spring that that pain in her face would prove a fixed rheumatism. You say cousin Charlotte has been puttering away at her crotchets & ______s this winter. Was there not shaking enough that cold season without the aid of an instrument? I have myself been passing off the last two days in copying Semigravers & Semisemigravers until I can scarcely hold a hand sufficiently steady to write as you may judge from the and-writing. I have copied 10 long pages of music in the last two days. You see I have not given up my music in my old age.

You said nothing about cousin Betsy & her family when you wrote. Have they moved to town? And Master Tom; what is he after? He is a fine, interesting little fellow. I hope we shall have the pleasure of seeing him at your house and his father & mother. You all must be there about the time I mentioned — the 5th or 6th of May. As we are travelling in the stage, we will only have time to say howdy & goodbye. I shall use all my influence tho’ with Capt. Wilson to remain a stage in Charles Town, but you know these old folks are very self-willed & stubborn. Is it not a pity that the younger part of the creation with their accommodating dispositions are not the guides? instead of these experienced & thinking, thoughtful animals that never moved without calculating the interest before hand.

You asked me about Aunt Fanny. She is very well and looks uncommonly well John & N. told me some days ago. They were here week before last; they came to look at their house to see how it was progressing. About the first of May, it will be completed and about that time John expects to move up. We look for [my brother] Henry & [his wife] Sarah this evening in the stage.

Ma is driving away at her garden & trimming up her trees & bushes today. This, I think, is the delight of her life. I hardly know what the girls are after. We scatter all over the house when breakfast is done. Mary & Lou[isa] in their room working lace; Charlotte & Bet in theirs fixing capes or reading novels & history; while I am half my time hunting [my son] Fielding & keeping him out of mischief. Occasionally I set a stitch or so (you know I never a great seamstress), write to my friends, & strum a little on the piano & guitar. And now you will say, what do I care about all this? What this one & that one is doing? How does it interest me? But I answer — when a person has nothing else to talk or write about, they will be certain to introduce self. And let me tell you, when you write to me, think nor grieve about your letter being filled with egotism (it never was so much so as I would wish) for I assure you any thing about you & your kind & much loved family would interest me.

Home of Capt. William Willson in Lexington, VA

Home of Capt. William Willson in Lexington, VA

I think they must be mustering in our town today for every minute I am startled with the firing of guns. This is a sideway apology for bad writing, but I am done with apologies & nonsense for this morning so “Fare thee well, and forever, still forever fare thee well.” With my love to all. Your affectionate cousin, — F. H. Lewis

¹ Captain William Willson (17xx-1840), a local merchant, postmaster, and treasurer of Washington College. His wife, Susan Willson, died in Staunton, Va., on 14 May 1863.

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