1841: Thomas Mayo Brewer to Gardner Brewer

Thomas Mayo Brewer

Thomas Mayo Brewer

This letter was written by Thomas Mayo Brewer (1814-1880) to his brother, Gardner Brewer (1806-1874). They were the sons of James Brewer (1742-1818) and Abigail Stone (1777-1860) of Boston, Massachusetts.

Thomas Brewer is best known as the joint author, with Baird and Ridgway, of A History of North American Birds (3 volumes, 1874), which was the first attempt since John James Audubon’s (thirty years prior) to complete the study of American ornithology.

Brewer was born in Boston. He graduated from Harvard College in 1835 and from Harvard Medical School three years later. He abandoned his career as a doctor after a few years to concentrate on writing and politics, later becoming editor of the Boston Atlas — an organ for the Whig Party. He then joined the printing firm of Swan & Tileston, which became Brewer & Tileston when he became a partner in 1857.

Brewer spent his spare time contributing to a number of ornithological publications, including John James Audubon’s Ornithological Biography. Brewer was a companion to Audubon, who gave Brewer’s name to a duck, a blackbird and a rodent (Brewer’s shrew mole) found on Martha’s vineyard.

Gardner Brewer became one of the wealthiest men in Boston. He was for some time a distiller, but afterward engaged in the dry-goods trade, and founded the house of Gardner Brewer & Co., which represented some of the largest mills in New England, and had branches in New York and Philadelphia.

In the dry-goods business, by accurate method combined with great sagacity, he accumulated a fortune which, at his death, was estimated at several million dollars.

Gardner Brewer at one time took an active part in politics as a Republican. He was also a strong protectionist, and took great interest in the industrial development of the country. He used his large wealth liberally for the public good, and shortly before his death gave to the city of Boston the beautiful fountain which stands on Boston Common.

Note: Members of congress could mail letters to their constituents for free and it was not uncommon for others to take advantage of this perk from time to time, but it remains a mystery to me why Thomas Brewer used Sampson Hale Butler’s name to “free frank” this letter. Butler was a Democrat from South Carolina serving in the House of Representatives at the time. Thomas, a Whig, does not even mention Butler in his letter.

1841 Letter

1841 Letter

Addressed to Gardner Brewer, Esq., Boston, Massachusetts

House of Representatives
[Washington D. C.]
February 12, 18[41]

Dear Gardner,

Your kind letter of the 5th inst. has been longer unanswered than I intended it should have been, but what with the arrival of General Harrison ¹ and the multitude of matters I have had to write about the time has crept way imperceptibly. I have written no less than fifty-six close pages for the [Boston] Atlas since I arrived here not counting the long article on China which I see is published at last. I called upon the General yesterday. He was very civil, expressed great obligation to Major [Richard] Haughton,² [and] said he should be pleased to see me only a few minutes. I understand him to intimate he was extremely busy just then and I scattered and have not been to see him since. He was very civil and told me to call at all hours and consult him freely. I have, however, not felt in the mood to trouble him — especially while Harrison is here and there is so much ado about cabinet making.

Robert Charles Winthrop, Speaker of House of Representatives

Robert Charles Winthrop, Speaker of House of Representatives

I had a kind note from [Robert Charles] Winthrop yesterday apologizing for not having called to see me but asking me to ______ evening & come to see him as he was not well enough to make visits as yet. I accordingly went last evening. He was very polite and I spent a couple of hours very pleasantly. He told me he should expect me to dine with him before I left the City.

I received a paper from you last evening on which it was written that Major was out. I have just seen a ___ of the Atlas since I have been here. I do not think they have been remarkable for interest or spirit. Perhaps, however, it is egotism in me to think so. As my letters thus far must have averaged more than a volume a day, I do not think anybody can charge me with want of industry. Whatever the quality may be thought to be, the quantity has been enough in all conscience.

I am afraid Capt. Parrott will have his journey for his pains. Mr. Winthrop told me last evening that there was very little question but that Isaac C. Davis would receive the appointment through the influence of Mr. [Daniel] Webster.

When I was in Newark, Father had given up all thoughts of the situation at Chelsea but was very desirous of obtaining the office of appraiser, I believe it is. He says he feels fully competent to fill it and wants you to try what can be done. Had you not better make a point of seeing Major and of asking him what had better be done. It is understood that all appointments by the departments will be referred to them and that General Harrison will in no case intermeddle with or assume the responsibility of appointments which belong to the secretaries. This is the right doctrine and I hope he will stick to it. It will diminish amazingly the direct power of the Executive.

The proceedings of Congress have been farcically stupid ever since I have been here. I do not fancy at all a living in Washington and hope I may never look to come here again. The reformers are almost without exception a forsaken, degraded set with which to have to associate and to be put at a level with by others is a degradation it is almost getting [impossible] to have to submit to. If it was fully appreciated at home, I could not undergo such _______.

In haste. Your affectionate brother, — Thomas

¹ Though president, contemporaries usually referred to William Henry Harrison as the “General.”

Signal of Liberty, 5 May 1841

Signal of Liberty, 5 May 1841

² Richard Haughton, referred to as the “Major,” was the editor of the Boston Atlas. He was a warm friend and supporter of Daniel Webster. He was born in Connecticut and graduated from Yale. The “Major” died in May 1841, struck down with apoplexy. he died in his room in the Tremont House. It was Major Haughton who perhaps more than any other editor, persuaded the Whig Party to throw their support to William Henry Harrison rather than Webster or Clay.

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