1839: Cunningham Family Letters

These three letters were written by members of the Cunningham Family in March 1839. The first and third letters were written by Boston Trader Charles Cunningham (1782-1852) to his son, Charles Cunningham, Jr. (1810-Aft1850) who was traveling to New Orleans with his uncle, John Adams Merritt (1803-1846).

Ad in New Orleans paper placed by John Adams Merritt

Ad in New Orleans paper placed by John Adams Merritt

The second letter was written by Lucy Sutton Cunningham (1796-Aft1876), the daughter of John Sutton (1749-1826) and Alice Stephenson (1768-1860) of Cohassett, Massachusetts. Lucy was the second wife of Charles Cunningham; they were married in May 1820. Charles’ first wife was Lucy’s half-sister, Anna Sutton (1784-Bef1820). Adding a note at the bottom of the second letter was Lucy A. Cunningham, Charles and Lucy’s daughter.

The second letter mentions the possibility of war with England. This is a reference to the “Aroostook War” which amounted to saber-rattling between the United States and England over the disputed boundary between the British colony of New Brunswick and the state of Maine.

Lucy’s husband should not be confused with Charles Cunningham — the well-known Boston merchant and ship-owner — who partnered with his brother Andrew Cunningham. This Charles Cunningham (born @ 1795) was married to Roxalina Dabney, the daughter of John Bass Dabney, and was enumerated in Boston’s 6th Ward.


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Addressed to Mr. Charles Cunningham, New Orleans, Care of John A. Merritt

Boston [Massachusetts]
March 9th 1839

My dear  & beloved son,

I feel very anxious and shall feel so till you return home. I hope this letter will find you safe landed in New Orleans. I expect you will have a sick and tedious time on your passage. If the sea agrees with you and the ship goes to England, you had better [?] the voyage and return in the ship. If not, and we are likely to have war with England, you had better come home by land. You will be constantly liable to accidents. Therefore, I hope you will be on your guard and take care of yourself and baggage. We are at a great distance from each other but you are on my mind every moment. All the family miss you very much. I never should been willing to had you take so long a journey if had not been the advice of all your friends that it would be a benefit to you. Time will seem long to me and I shall count every day while you are gone.

You may not [hear] from me after you leave New Orleans as I shall not know where to direct a line. I hope you will not fail to write every opportunity. I shall send you another letter with your protection which I have this day received. I send you this letter by mail in case you should not receive the one by the packet ship Narangansett.

I received your letter from the pilot expressing your good wishes and gratitude. I hope I shall have the pleasure and it will be in my power to do more than I ever have done for you.

I have nothing new to write — only to say we are all well at present.

Juliann intends to send you a letter. When I receive it, I will send it on to you. All the family love to you and your Uncle David.

I hope the Lord will bless you on your journey and you will return home in perfect health and peace of mind.

Your affectionate father, — Charles Cunningham

Please to write as soon as you arrive at New Orleans. Nothing will give me more pleasure than to hear from you and you are well.


1839 Letter

1839 Letter

Addressed to Mr. Charles Cunningham, New Orleans, Care of John A. Merritt ¹

Boston [Massachusetts]
March 21 [1839]

Dear Charles,

As your father mentioned this morning, it was time another letter was on its way to you by mail, I will try and write a few lines, altho my head aches and I do not feel much like writing. Your Father has written two letters, the same date, one by mail and one by Ship. Your sister has written one.

I have nothing of importance to write but suppose it will interest you to know we are all well and jogging on in the same old way. No changes have taken place except the change that your absence makes in the family. [We] often say to one another we should like to know how Charles feels now, wonder if he is still sick, &c., but have to content ourselves to have those inquiries remain unanswered for the present. We all miss you very much — I particularly so at our evening meetings. Our Sewing Society met at Doc. Sharp’s ² last evening. We had a little sale of fancy articles – full meeting — the young gentlemen were there. I wished you were there. Friends often speak of you.

They are about forming a church at the South end. Twenty-five have gone off from our church. Our house is well filled on Sabbath day. Doc. Sharp has been preaching to husbands and wives. That has drawn a full house, but I suppose you will say that does not interest me — I am not married. But he did apply it to the young supposing they will get married by the by. The money is subscribed for the repairs of the meeting house and it will have to be shut up for a few Sabbaths.

We have had fine weather here this month, hoping you have had the same. Expect you may have arrived by this time. We feel almost impatient to hear from you. Shall begin to count the days till we have letters. You must be very particular. Write all about your voyage, your seasickness, how you feel in body and mind. Do most sincerely hope that you have not only gained strength of body but that your faith in Christ is strengthened and you are enabled to read your title clean to Mansions in the ship. [?]

I have just been interrupted by a call from our minister. He was going to assist in forming the church at the Hall, was too early, and stopt in a few minutes. He says I suppose you do not hear from Charles yet. My unfinished letter lay on the table. It is a stormy day and so dark that I am obliged to get close to the window to see to write.

Give my love to your Captain. Tell him we have heard from his wife since she went home, but she will write all he wishes to know.

Your Father says tell Charles to keep a sharp look out when he is traveling. Be sure and take care of his money.

I have been sitting here trying to think of something more to write that will interest you but seem destitute of thoughts. My mind is barren today. I have got no ideas and I feel as if this miserable scrawl was not worth sending to you but your Father thought it would not do to put it off till I felt more in the mood of writing. I tried to get him to write one page of this sheet as it is not worth while to send two sheets but, but as he had written, he says you must excuse him. He sends his love. So does your grandmother — both to you and David.

Wishing you health of body, peace of mind, a pleasant voyage, and a safe return to our own pleasant fireside, I remain yours affectionately, — Lucy S. Cunningham

Dear Brother,

I wanted to write. As Mother was not willing to pay the postage of another letter, she let me write on hers. I was very lonesome after you and sister was gone — especially on Sunday nights. I hope you will have a pleasant journey and recover your health and return home pleased with what you have seen. It would give me pleasure to have you write me a letter. Aunt Maria [Sutton] and Libbie Julia D sister were well when I heard from them. Please to give my love to Uncle D. ³ We have had an addition to our Sabbath School library of 90 books.

From your affectionate sister, — Lucy A. Cunningham

¹ John Adams Merritt (1803-1846), was the son of Paul Merritt (1761-1850) and Deborah Nash (1763-1820) of Scituate, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.

The Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, MA) ran the following obituary notice in the 4 May 1846 issue:

At the McLean Asylum [for the Insane], Somerville, [Mass.] 1st inst., Mr. John A. Merritt, 43, late resident at New Orleans. [53 Camp Street, New Orleans]

Rev. Sharp, D. D.

Rev. Daniel Sharp, D. D.

² Rev. Daniel Sharp, D. D. (1783-1853) was pastor of the Charles Street Baptist Church, Boston, Massachusetts, for more than forty years (1812-1853) and was one of the founders of the Newton Theological Society.

³ “Uncle D” is probably a reference to Lucy A. Cunningham’s Uncle David S. Sutton, born in 1802. “He is mentioned as captain of the new ship Ohio, in 1848, and as owner of one-third interest, and in 1849 as captain and three-eighths owner of the same vessel. He is also remembered as master of the bark Amazon out of Boston to New Orleans. In 1857 he is recorded as captain of the bark J. A. Lee.” Most likely, Charles Cunningham had sailed to New Orleans from Boston with his uncle, Capt. Sutton.




Boston [Massachusetts]
April 9th 1839

My dear son,

I never was more rejoiced then when I was when I saw your safe arrival at New Orleans and it rejoiced me still more when I received your letter giving a history of your voyage. It was very gratifying and interesting to us all. I was very sorry to hear that you had such a tremendous blow as to tear your sails to pieces. I think you must [have] felt alarmed, not being used to the sea, but I am very thankful you have gone safe so far.

Freights I have heard was very dull. I hope you will be able to get a cargo for Europe for which I think that will be the pleasantest part of your journey.

The war business in Maine appears to be settled at present. We may have some news from England will loathing hostile but I do not think we shall have any war at present as I anticipated in my last letter.

I received your letter from the pilot and the one from New Orleans yesterday dated 25 March. I went down the wharf soon after you left home and found your Bark had just got underway and I waited to see Daniel Hart. He sailed a little before 11 o’clock. I think he must get along fast. He arrived at the Havana the 19th. His passage was as long as yours according to the distance.

I shall send your letter immediately to Julia Ann. I think she will feel very anxious to hear from you. After the 20th of March, I began to feel very uneasy about you. All the family were overjoyed to hear from you.

I hope you will write often while you are in New Orleans and let me know whether your uncle is like to get freight and for what place. You said in your letter that you had kept a journal of your journey. I shall be pleased to see it. You can do as you please. Send it or keep it all together till you return home.

Your Uncle Andrew was in our house the 2st of April and went down to Cohasset and stayed one night and found the families all well. There is nothing happened since you went away except your Uncle Enoch lost a few articles out of his shop. He has got a person locked up in jail which he thinks is the rogue and is in hopes of recovering his property. The door, he says, was opened by false keys. I went in the shop the next day and should not know by the looks of the shop or his appearance that he had lost anything.

I expect you find New Orleans very different from Boston and warm and some mosquitoes.

I have sent one letter the same as I sent by mail in case you might not receive one, you might the other, and one from Julia Ann by the ship Narragansett and one from your mother by mail. You may not had anything more from home while you stay in New Orleans after this letter. We are very well at home. Things go on as usual. Not much business.

As you have gone so far from home, I hope you will go to Europe and the Lord will bless you with good health and safe passage out and home. Please to give my love to your Uncle David and I thank him for writing a few lines to the bottom of your letter. As you are in a strange land, I hope you will be on your guard for yourself and baggage.

All the family love to you and best wishes. With affection, your father, — C. Cunningham

[P.S.] Since I wrote this letter, I heard that your Uncle Enoch has got one half of his watch and an officer of the thief which has got the other half.

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