This letter was written by Ann Allen (Dorr) Ives (1810-1884), the wife of Moses Brown Ives (1794-1857). Ann was the daughter of Sullivan Dorr (1778-1858) and Lydia Allen (1782-1859). Moses was the son of Thomas Poynton Ives (1769-1835) and Hope Brown (1773-1855). Thomas Poynton Ives died in May 1835, as referenced in the letter. He was a partner in the Providence-based mercantile house of Brown & Ives — known throughout the US, Europe, & West Indies. Moses also was employed by his father’s firm and also served as President of Providence Bank, as a trustee of Brown University, and as treasurer of the Butler Hospital for the Insane.
Ann wrote the letter to her friend, Elizabeth (“Lizzy”) Hunter (1807-1890), the daughter of William Hunter (1774-1849) and Mary Robinson (1787-1863). Elizabeth married James Birckhead (1791-1880) — a man 16 years her senior– in 1837 in Rio de Janeiro.
Mary Robinson’s diary was published in 2000. The following introduction comes from the book, “A Diplomat’s Lady in Brazil: Selections from the Diary of Mary Robinson Hunter, 1834-1848:
In November 1834, Mary Robinson Hunter sailed to Rio de Janeiro with her husband William, a prominent Newport lawyer and newly appointed charge d’ affaires to the Imperial Court, and five of their six children. President Andrew Jackson had named Hunter to the post in June 1834 on the recommendation of their son, William, a clerk with the State Department. The Hunters had experienced financial difficulties over the years, and a diplomatic assignment offered them a steady income, prestige, and a unique travel opportunity.
Addressed to Hon. William Hunter, for Miss Hunter, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Providence [Rhode Island]
January 3rd 1836
Many Happy New Years to you my dear Eliza! and although the day is passed on which that salutation is offered, it is never too late or too early for the good wishes of a friend. I have sinned I know, dear Eliza, in not having written. I throw myself entirely on your generosity. My thoughts I can assure you have often wandered to Brazil. If you only knew how often, you would feel inclined to forgive me. One thing I am sure of, if your angry passions do rise, as children say, you are too far off to “do anything to me.” I shall waste no paper upon apologies.
I feel as if I had obtained from one source and another & especially from your delightful letters quite a correct idea of the country which is the present place of your nativity. Your climate must be delightful now and while we are perishing with the thermometer ranging from 10 to 16 degrees below zero, you are enjoying no doubt all the pleasant sensations resulting from an agreeable warmth. The weather now is delightful but near and about the 16th of last month was really tremendous. I never knew anything like it and I do believe with Major Jack Downing ¹ that if the thermometer had been longer, it would have been colder still! Jack Frost seemed to have laid his icy fingers upon everything. A Lehigh coal fire was no protestation at all against the intense cold: everybody went shivering and shuddering about in search of the warmest place.
Your letters, dear Eliza, have afforded us all the greatest pleasure. Your last I received in the country where I passed eleven weeks in seclusion for the first time in my life. You would have laughed, I am sure, to hear Mary D. tell Candace that our letters could not be seen by anybody but just us, and that she must not expect to be enlightened by their contents. Mr. Ives and Miss Candace both pretended great indifference and we shut ourselves up to peruse at our leisure your delightful epistles, excluding even dear little Tom, who they assured us would remember and respect everything when he could talk!
My husband’s family have sustained an irreparable loss in the death of Mr. Ives. I believe I merely mentioned his indisposition in my last letter as we did not think his attack, though severe, would prove fatal. But Providence had otherwise ordained it and doubtless for the best, His disease (which was pleurisy) is one speedily terminated, and his illness lasted but little more than five days. His family thought his complaints had taken a more favorable turn the night preceding his decrease, but his apparent comfort was only that calm as often the forerunner of immediate dissolution. I had only reason to love and respect may father-in-law during the eight months I resided under his roof [smudged ink] …from him the greatest kindness. I witnessed death, dear Eliza, the first time and although my friends assured me that I beheld it divested of many of its terrors, still it was truly awful and the impression made upon my mind is ineffaceable. I had formed no idea at all of death as I found when I actually saw it. Mrs. Ives and Hope seem desolate and lonely enough in that large house, the health of the latter is still very precarious. They both desired their kind remembrances to your mother and yourself when I wrote.
One’s only child is a dangerous subject to begin upon and yet you have asked so many questions that I feel in a degree authorized to impose upon you. The dear little fellow was very sick all last summer and it was for his health that I remained so long in the country, the doctor thinking a change of air would be beneficial as the event proved. He gradually gained strength and we brought him back to town much better since what time he has continued to improve, and now quite well. He is learning to talk and your mother will smile, I know, when I say that his father and myself take the greatest pleasure in him and look upon him as but little lower than the angels. I you could see him, Eliza Hunter, in his rose colored merino worked with green, you would I am sure, pine away with envy. I was so sad last summer when I feared for several weeks that this treasure would be snatched from me! I wished for some memories of him and so I kept a journal and noted down all his cunning little ways that I might have it to refer to when other days should come. Parker still has the sole charge of him and he loves her as dearly as ever.
Julia’s baby was a year old the 17th of last month. I sent her on that day a simple pin containing my hair and borrowed a fair lock from her son’s head which appears in relief against mine, and renders the gift of friendship more valuable by an appeal also to maternal feeling. He is a sweet child. May he realize all Julia’s fond hopes. He is altogether unlike Julia, having the eyes and a fair complexion like his father.
My paper, I fear, will not prove large enough to contain all those items of news so acceptable in a foreign land. In the first place, Mrs. Eleanor Burge [paper smudged] …good deal of remark. Mrs. B. is a sly engaging lady, you know, [paper smudged]… Miss Elizabeth A____ was married some time since and as is usual in such occasions “never looked as well in her life.” She made no attempt, but appeared unostentatiously attired with no ornament but a _____. Miss Cornelia Elizabeth Arnold (daughter of Sam G. Arnold) for whom nature has done nothing, and art less than nothing, appeared as bride in a splendid dress of french cashmere embroidered with white floss, the cost of which was 800 dollars so that like John the Baptist, her “raiment was camel’s hair,” whether her meal was locusts & wild honey or not, ___ ___ over. She married Timothy R. Green sometimes called Timo!
My dear friend Jane Shell is betrothed to an excellent young man by the name of Swift. I lately spent a fortnight in New York [City] which is quite a long visit for a married woman, and saw a good deal of Mr. Swift. I feel very much pleased and satisfied with the match. He is very genteel in his appearance — perhaps I may say handsome. Your old admirer L. Clifford is unfortunately settled down in Howard Castle, the lady __ ___ taken him in. Mrs. Clifford was afflicted with a slow fever she [paper smudged] …still hovers round the ___, knowing not which one ___. He has … Potter is still in the …
I suppose Julia will tell you all about her brother Joe’s indisposition, and her mother’s trial of feeling to leave M__ Potter who expects to be confined in March. Mrs. B’s health is quite feeble but what will not a mother undergo for a sick child. She went to Charleston alone with Joe. They write that he is very comfortable though he had both this winter & last an attack of bleeding at the lungs. William Dorrane is perfectly well, has grown fat, and is studying medicine with our friend Dr. P.
Mr. Goddard is at the South this winter for his health. Daniel Karny who married H. Richmond is thought to be in a decline. He is in Italy this winter. Miss Esther Wetmore has again crossed the Atlantic, it is said to marry her cousin William Wetmore.
The daughter of Commodore [Charles] Morris — aged 17 — eloped last week with a man 24 years older than herself [named William Wilson Corcoran] with no pretensions to anything — even sense — and not moving in the same circle with herself. The family are in great distress. They live now in Georgetown. But I suppose your brother William will give you a detailed account of the whole affair.
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Speaking of such things reminds me of the sanctuary called the “tin top” in the “West Side” which is let to those suffering lambs who have no fold. Very well, they have made a circus of it, and call it the “______th arena” and the pit is in the gallery. I wonder some of our goodies did not rise up and redeem it from defilement in the shape of the “wild beasts of Ephesus” To think of the ____ of beast tracks filling the space between the four walls of that noble “arena” where men spoke — George Taft!!
Mrs. ___ had a fair the Monday before Christmas for the benefit of churches that are not yet but are to be in Rhode Island of the right kind, of course. More than $400 was taken from the sale of all kind of fancy articles, some of them very ____. [Remainder of page blurred]
…I have several times heard that she is positively engaged to a lieutenant in the English navy. Whether the report be true or not, you are the best judge. So William Hunter, Jr. is married at last, and Mrs. William Hunter, Jr. is no doubt wearing the ring you so highly prized that Mr. William Hunter — your late grandfather — gave to Mrs. William Hunter, your late grandmother! I have made many inquiries touching the bride but no one I have yet seen knows her personally. I feel very anxious to see her as you may suppose from having so long known her Lord and Master. I suppose I ought to add — though that is a word of fear unpleasing to a married ear.
Dear Lizzy, when next you write, do send me 2 sheets instead of one written across. I am not a ready reader and I wish to peruse your letter without “let or hindrance.” I suppose you have before this read long accounts of the dreadful fire at New York. It has effectually put a stop to the balls, parties, &c. It must be felt all over the country. My husband home, I am happy to say, loose but a small amount. I have staid at home from church to write this my dear Eliza, thereby endangering my soul & I think it at least deserves a speedy answer on that account. Mary D. sends her best love & intends writing soon. When she does, I shall again take pen in hand. I have lots of news for you from all hands — Candace, Mother, Mrs. Harriet Allen, Miss Brocker — all wish to be remembered to your mother & yourself most kindly. Mrs. Ives joins them in their respects to you.
Affectionately & truly your friend, Ann A. Ives
¹ Major Jack Downing was a fictitious character from New England from the creative mind of Seba Smith. His dry, satirical humor became very popular in the 1830s.