This letter was written by Rev. Joseph Hulbert Nichols (1805-1862), a native of Fairfield County, Connecticut, and the son of Joseph and Sarah (Hulbert) Nichols. He studied at the Episcopal Academy of Cheshire and Yale College, graduating in 1825 at the latter. In 1829 he entered the General Episcopal Theological Seminary in New York and was ordained in 1831. He was rector of the Monumental Church in Richmond, Virginia, Christ Church in Greenwich, Connecticut, and an assistant minister of Trinity Church in New Haven. In 1850, Nichols resided in Cheshire, Connecticut. By 1860, Nichols resided in Racine, Wisconsin, where he was Rector of St. Luke’s Church and on the faculty of Racine College. His death in Washington, D. C. was on 11 December 1862 while serving as chaplain of the 18th Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers, according to Arlington Nation Cemetery Records. His death was attributed to delirium caused by fever. Curiously, military records also show his death in January 1863 at an Insane Asylum in Washington D. C. His grave is located at site 777 in Arlington. Some of Nichols’ poetry is posted on the internet; see Bennett’s Bridge and A Connecticut Christmas Eve.
Joseph wrote the letter to Mrs. Esther (Isaacs) Knapp (1766-1842), whom we learn was a member of his former parish in Greenwich, Connecticut, and with whom he boarded while serving there. She was the daughter of Capt. Benjamin Isaacs (1737-1775) and Sarah Scudder (1746-1824); and the widow of William Knapp (1730-1825).
The relative recent death of Jabez Mead (1777-1839) is mentioned in this letter. Jabez was Esther’s son-in-law, having married her daughter, Sarah Williams Knapp (1789-1847) in 1817.
Addressed to Mrs. Esther Knapp, Greenwich, Connecticut
January 25th 1840
My Dear Madam,
It was my intention to have written to you by the Rev. Mr. Farrington, but whilst he was here, we were so much together that I had hardly time for that purpose. His visit afforded me great pleasure. I had a thousand questions to ask about my old friends & I was rejoiced to hear that my former parish was in so prosperous & harmonious a state. Indeed, my dear friend, you know not how dear you all are to me still. I say all for there is not a member of my former congregation towards whom I do not cherish the kindest well wishes. Every thing like resentment or animosity has long since been laid aside on my part & often, very often, when in the retirement of my chamber, I bow my knees to my heavenly Father, do I invoke his blessing on those from whom I was the most estranged. I hope that they cherish the like feelings toward me.
When I was in Bridgefield last summer, I wrote to Mr. Bush owning my deep sorrow for many harsh expressions I had used respecting himself & some members of his family, & asking their forgiveness for what was rather my infirmity than my sin, as I was weakened by sickness, both in body & mind. I pray that my letter had the desired effect. If you, Madam, have ever seen it, I think you will approve of its spirit, & will admit that I could not well go farther in making overtures towards a reconciliation. Time was that your brother & his family had a high esteem, nay, a strong affection for me. Shall that esteem & affection be forfeited by aught that I may have said when stricken by the hand of God with sickness, & when the affects of that sickness lasted nearly all winter & spring? You know how ill I was & how much my constitution was shattered & that my reason, as I most freely confess, was partially affected. Is it right, is it this ____-like, then, to harbor any ill-will towards such an invalid, when perhaps that invalid had some wrongs to forgive likewise!
You may be assured that I was deeply affected last autumn when I heard of the death of Jabez Mead, Esqr. He was indeed a good man & he is now reaping the good man’s reward in the bosom of that Lord & Savior whom he so faithfully served on earth. I was grieved, too, to hear of the affliction your son William has been called to endure. May God in his own good time restore him to health & fit him for usefulness in society & above all in that church of which he is so exemplary a member! How sorely, my dear honored friend, are you tried in your old age! Yet do not drop beneath these heavy burdens. They are laid upon you by your Father in heaven by one who loves you; who hears your sighs, who sees your tears, & who means to fit you by these repeated chastisements for a more congenial fellowship with the saints in light. Our Savior himself was made perfect through suffering & how can we reach that Savior’s crown unless we are conformed to him in sorrow?
I have been in this parish ever since the middle of last November & am engaged here until Easter. The people are plain, but pious, kind & ___ible. The weather has been so severe that I have not been able to visit many families at their homes. I live with Mr. William Merriam — one of the vestry — & whose family do everything for my comfort. My Father returned from the West just after I left home for this place. He & all our family were well when he last wrote. I expect to make a visit home in the course of next month.
I am in hopes in the course of the spring to make you some remittance for the board-bill which you have against me. The whole amount, or a large part of it, I know I shall not be able to pay according to the promise I made last March. I will do the best I can. What can a poor parson do more?
And so old Bony is no more. There have been swifter horses & there have been handsomer horses, but a gentler one never stood on four legs. He was not as famous as his mighty namesake, but he was far more useful.
I should very much like to hear from you personally but I know that you are not in the habit of writing. Will not then your son Henry or Albert drop me a line?
Remember me to all your family connections; to your neighbors & to the congregation in general. I cannot specify names for it would occupy far more room than I have.
That God may ever have you & all my cherished friends in Greenwich under his holy keeping is the prayer of your affectionate & grateful friend, — Joseph H. Nichols