This letter was written by Abigail “Abby” (Burnham) Scholefield (1788-1868), the widow of Rev. Arnold Scholefield (1786-1836) — an itinerate Methodist minister of Madison County, New York. Abby was the daughter of George Burnham (1753-1830) and Nancy Bigelow (1754-1800) of Hartford, Connecticut. Their children were Charles Major Scholefield (1819-1869) [served as paymaster during the Civil War]; George Bowen Scholefield (1821-1857) [He was enumerated in 1850 Census in Whitesboro in hotel of brother-in-law, David L. Wood]; Jane Scholefield (1823-1862) [she married Harry Allen]; Charlotte Scholefield (1826-Aft1860); Dr. Harriet E. Scholefield (1828-1867) [She worked as a doctor of homœopathic medicine. She was member of the first class of students who attended the New York Medical College for Women, the first woman’s homœopathic medical college in the world, and she graduated in 1865]. See: Scholefield Family Tree: A Cold Genealogy Project.
Abby wrote the letter to her brother John Burnham (1791-1870), a silversmith residing in Brattleboro. Married Rachel Rossiter in 1815 in Hartford. He worked from circa 1815 to 1850 as a silversmith in Brattleboro VT. Cabot’s Annals of Brattleboro states “The handmade silver spoons of John Burnham Sr. won him a great reputation and every newly married couple was expected to have a half dozen made from six Spanish mill dollars.” In 1844, his shop was located next to the Unitarian Church, facing the Common in East Village of Brattleboro. He later gave up silver work and took up brass founding and plumbing.
She also addressed part of her letter to her niece, Cornelia Ann Thompson (1804-1879) of Litchfield who married Roger Wadsworth (1789-1870) of Hartford. Cornelia’s parents were Isaac Thompson (1777-1844) and Nancy Burnham (1778-1839), Nancy being Abby’s older sister. Cornelia’s father, Isaac, died on 8 December 1844 in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Addressed to Mrs. Cornelia Wadsworth, Brattleboro, Vermont
Siloam, Madison Co., New York
April 24th 
My Dear Niece,
On my return home after an absence of 4 weeks, I found your letter containing the melancholy tidings of your dear and only parents had taken it from time to an untried state of never ending existence. We all admit that there are very great mysteries in divine providence, and many — a great many — that never will be solved until the great day of final decision!!! Oh with what intense interest do we look upon the final exit of a kind Father, Mother, Brother, Sister, and a beloved child, and above all — an affectionate Husband & Wife. All the finer feelings of the soul appear to be roused into action, we almost entirely lose of ourselves and while the dread monster approaches, we raise an agonizing cry to Heaven & say from the depth of the soul, Spare, oh spare!! the precious boon a little longer. O how many tender recollections of kindness rush upon our minds while we gaze upon that form which once looked so beautiful, so desirable to us. But here lies the most important question: Have I as an individual discharged my duty faithfully to my dear, dear departing friend! If we can answer this question in the affirmative, O what peace, what calm serenity pervades the mind. I have thought many times if I should have cause of lamentation in a dying hour, it would be in consequence of not discharging my duty faithfully & perseveringly in warning my nearest relatives to see the wrath to come and lay hold on eternal life. I have not for some years past looked forward with any pleasing anticipation of any future temporal good. When young, anticipated happiness was delightful to me, I was one of the most happy little beings in the world. But oh! how soon did a heavy cloud arise and deprive me of one of the best of mothers when but 12 years of age and ever since, storm after storm has risen in constant succession — dark ‘oer my way & after all, I still am blessed.
My Dear Brother John (29th)
It seems impossible for me to tell you how much I desire to see all my friends in Brattleboro. When I visited Br. Charles last October, I though some of going to Hartford but found it not expedient. I had a good visit in old Litchfield. Brother Charles’ health has improved and if not in affluence, they were in very comfortable circumstances & I almost envied them their location or the place of residence. I have never lost for a moment my strong attachment to eastern people. They are altogether more friendly than the western folks.
I will answer now some of your inquiries in Mrs. Wadsworth’s last kind letter to me. You will recollect that I gave you a short account of my much lamented daughter’s death — Mary Ann Lawyer — who died one year ago last month leaving 3 daughters, the oldest & the 2d about 6, the youngest 2 years & 3 or 4 months. The youngest we have taken. She is a lovely child. As to her looks, she has a fair skin, very beautiful eyes — black, very black, very dark brown hair, curls some — temper mild contented. Her Pa has rented his place & gone now to the city of Troy to work in a gristmill. She often asks, “Where is me Pa gone?” O how my heart bleeds out for poor orphan children!
My oldest son [Charles Major Scholefield] has been studying law in Columbia County for 4 or 5 years past. He is called a first rate young man as to morals but am sorry to say don’t enjoy religion. He is called by some the handsomest fellow in that part of the county.
My third child married a merchant’s son by name, Stafford D. Wood. They keep a public house 3 miles this side, or west of Utica in Whitesboro.
My 4th child now living who was named after my father and one of our preachers, George Bowen [Scholefield], has worked on part of the farm for several years, is one of the best young men in the place, first rate looking, but has not as much regard for religion as I have reason to hope he will have as he appears not to be destitute of reflection. He is 24 years. I feel very sorry for him. He has worked very hard ever since big enough to do anything & has never been able to get any amount ahead. He never would have worked our small place only on account of myself & his youngest sister.
My fifth child [Jane Scholefield] is now living in Augusta about 12 miles from us near Madison. She has an uncommonly kind husband [named Harry Allen who] is a Presbyterian; she a Methodist. He goes to the Stone Church & she to a schoolhouse to meeting. Her name is Jane _____ Allen. Her husband has but little property, is a farmer. They have one little bit of a child — a son they almost idolized it. They have been married about 4 years.
My youngest daughter but one [Charlotte Scholefield] has lived with her sister 4 or 5 years. She is called one of the best looking girls in Whitesboro. Wants nothing but religion and a good husband to make her one of the best lives in the county.
My youngest is Harriet Emeline [Scholefield, She] is 17. She is rather wild when in company, is passionately fond of reading. I suppose she has read several thousand pages in the course of a year or a little over that time. Is very fond of music & painting. She is much taller than I am, is called handsome by some. She understands all kinds of housework but don’t like spinning at all. She can take almost any notes of a piece of music, sing it of hand tunes she never heard sung. I have given you a very imperfect account of my children.
When my husband bought the farm, there was I suppose 96 acres after his decease. We sold fifty to our son-in-law which renders the remaining part quite unsaleable. Our land is a very good soil but very uneven. We have not one acre that is perfectly level. We could not sell it according to law until the youngest heir is of age and all heirs are called infants in the law until 21 years of age.
May 1st. This is the third time I have attempted to write this scrawl. I am very grateful to you, my very dear brother, for your kind offer of seeing you this summer or I should say early in the fall or the last of August. I hardly dare to think of the subject for fear of a disappointment. Human life appears to me so brief, so very uncertain, that I scarcely think of the morrow. A few hours of indisposition terminates the lives of many around us in this part of country who appear to profess the most rugged constitutions. No barrier against this most powerful enemy of human nature.
You have probably heard of the late horrid disaster of the steamboat Swallow while racing, striking upon a rock and plunging a large number of deathless spirits no doubt unprepared into an awful eternity. ¹ O horrid ambition this was but a short time since and we have heard of another race on the Hudson since that dreadful catastrophe!!
I received a beautiful letter from Nancy Burnham.
P. S. The fare on a journey to Brattleboro would not be so much as the ____ preparation for such a journey.
Love to all.
P. S. Brother, I have used those teaspoons you made for me ever since — about 20 years. Have lost 2 of them. If I shan’t ever go to Brattleboro, I should like to get a set worth $7 instead of 6. Please to excuse all blots and blunders. I am sorry to send this without paying the postage but have it not in my power to do so at present. The postage will soon be down, I hope. I cannot write a letter worth the cost.
Very affectionately yours, — Abby Scholefield
¹ “The steamboat Swallow, one of the most popular and speedy boats of her time, on her way down the river, in a snow squall, from Albany, on Monday evening, April 7, 1845, met with disaster. She was under command of Captain Squires and was known as a night boat. She left Albany in the evening and reached New York the next morning. When near Athens, which is nearly opposite the city of Hudson, she struck a rock, took fire, broke in two and rapidly sank. There is little doubt but that she was racing with the Express and Rochester. The reporter of the Hudson Rural Repository who, with characteristic enterprise, was on the spot, in his account of the disaster says:
…The alarm was immediately spread in Athens, and a large number of citizens soon rallied to the scene of disaster, and happily succeeded in rescuing many lives. Soon after the steamboats Express and Rochester came down and promptly rendered what assistance was in their power, taking many passengers with them to New York. The Swallow had on board a large number of passengers, but the exact loss of life is at present unknown (the number lost proved to be about fifteen). The night was exceedingly dark, and very cold. Our citizens are yet busy about the wreck.
…The place since the eventful wreck has always been called Swallow Rocks.” [Source: David Lear Buckman relates the story of the Wreck of the Swallow in Old Steamboat Days on the Hudson.]