This letter was written by 21 year-old George Miles Bonner (1822-1908), the son of Richard Harrison Bonner (1792-1843) and Elizabeth Lee Bowen (1799-1883). George was a lawyer trained at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
George wrote the letter to his sister, Mary Elizabeth (Bonner) Havens (1820-1896), the wife of Benjamin Franklin Havens (1810-1880) of Washington, North Carolina. The Havens’ were married on 19 December 1839. Mary Bonner and B. F. Havens’s sisters Fanny M. (Havens) Bryan and Sallie Havens were childhood friends whose relationship continued through adulthood. Mary and B. F. Havens had at least three children: Richard, Sarah, and Leroy. The couple lived in Washington, although letters show that Mary and the children often made months-long visits to Portsmouth, N. C., for health reasons. Benjamin’s parents were Jonathan Franklin Havens and Sally Martin Smith. [Source: University of North Carolina. Havens and Bonner Family Papers, 1829-1890]
Addressed to Mrs. Mary E. Havens, Washington, North Carolina
Chapel Hill, [North Carolina]
October 1st 1843
My Dear Sister,
To receive a letter from one to whom we are bound only by the ties of friendship and association is a circumstance productive of much pleasure; but how greatly is that pleasure enhanced when it comes from one who is as it were a part of ourself — one around whom the bright recollections of childhood’s days are clustered and by whom we know that we are remembered with a sister’s finest love. And although it comes (like yours) as a telegraph of mortality, having on its pages the characters of death and destruction, and although we learn that the funeral knell has become a familiar sound, and open graves and robes of wretchedness are accustomed sights, still it has its accompanying pleasure.
It tells us that God in the midst of the wasting pestilence has flung the everlasting arms of his protection around these who are near and dear to us, and that the mandate has gone forth (as we fondly trust) to the fell destroyer in the language of omnipotence “Thus far thou go and no farther.”
I was surprised to hear that Jonathan was sick. I thought that he was in New York. He favored me with some papers where there. He has been remembered before the Throne of Grace by me, and unworthy as I am I trust they are answered ‘ere this by his full restoration to health. Should his illness prove fatal (but oh I can’t for a moment conceive it) how great must be the shock his widowed mother must sustain. She has already seen her sons and daughters fall around her, the husband of her youth has been snatched by the unrelenting iron hand of death, one and another of her children have been separated in part from her by their own domestic concerns, and now should he on whose protection she has a more immediate claim than another be taken away, who can trace the result.
When many of the brittle threads which bind us down to earth are severed, grief like a canker work saps the remaining few & the liberated spirit seeks communion with those kindred ones from which it has for so long a time been separated.
I am glad to hear that Elizabeth [Bonner] is so very attentive to mother. We must all try to maker her short sojourn with us as pleasant as possible. Her spirit has so long with stood the fiery trials of this world (that like the gold in the alembic of the chemist) it has become pure. Earth then is not its dwelling place. Its claims are few and soon it will soar to those brighter & happier regions where I trust we all will meet her and enjoy that blessedness with her which remains for the children of God.
As my paper is not regular, many of the deaths related were new and unexpected. Mrs. Muse has suffered severe affliction in the loss of Edward. I think that he was a boy of some promise. She too has passed through a fiery ordeal thus far & has sustained it with an unbroken spirit.
I am sorry to hear that the negroes act so badly. Mr. Havens I know must be worried very much. Tell Washington that I shall be home next month (if I live) and that there must be no ground for complaint. I hired him through his own persuasion, allowed him to make his own terms, which for a man of the trade were very liberal indeed. I shall therefore expect them to be performed without any difficulties whatever.
I went to a singing meeting last night and a worse collection of choristers never assembled on any occasion surely. There is an old proverb which says, “When the God is a monkey what must the worshippers be?” When I was the leader what must the singers have been? Remember me affectionately to Aunt Fanny & the _____ Tower folks. I shall be anxious about you all until I hear that the sickness has abated. Affectionately your brother, — G. M. Bonner