This letter was written by the widow Melinda (Gordon) Waller (1777-1857), the daughter of General James Gordon (1739-1810) and Mary Ball (1752-1803) of Ballston, Saratoga County, New York. Melinda was married in 1806 at Fishkill, New York, to Henry Waller (1774-1833).
Melinda wrote the letter to her son Henry Waller (1808-1854), who with his brother, William Gustavus Waller (1813-1891), were civil engineers and performed much of the early surveying and platting in Baton Rouge and vicinity. Also mentioned in the letter are Melinda’s other children: Elizabeth Waller, Joseph Ferando Waller (1811-1848), James (“Jemie”) Mathews Waller (1818-1884), and Mary Gordon (Waller) Brinckerhoff (1818-1885) who married Navy Surgeon, Isaac (“Brinck”) Brinckerhoff (1802-1874). Also mentioned is Melinda’s grandson, Henry Gordon Waller Brinckerhoff (1845-1909) who was less than three months old when this letter was written.
Addressed to Henry Waller, Esqr., Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Sing Sing [New York]
Tuesday, August 19th 1845
My dearest Henry,
I direct this to you, not because I have received so many from you (you bad child) but because Jemie says he will write to Will forthwith & answer “them there” questions about the Beliher property, etc. You must not think that I did not deliver your messages about that & about monies sent on by you; & about the American etc. etc. for I did, & have reminded him more than once since. Have likewise wished to know how he & I stand but don’t know yet. Think he will shortly attend to your request.
I yesterday received Will’s of 9th inst. It’s contents were indeed very gratifying in a worldly point of view, but let us be careful my beloved child that we be not too much lifted up. Prosperity oft imps proves a dangerous companion. It was only the night before last that poor Liz and I were seated on the steps of the front stoop (no one else being here just now but ourselves two) talking of those we loved from whom we were far removed, idly wishing for their presence & I said, “well, I will write them tomorrow.” But Will’s letter reaching here yesterday & something occurring to prevent me, I’ve set myself about it today. I’ve just said Liza & I were here alone. In my last (which you must have received a day or two after Will’s of the 9th was written) I mentioned that Brinck — agreeable to orders — left here on the 1st of July for Boston, there to join the Sloop of War Marion. There he remained until last saturday fortnight when he got a week’s furlough, came home, staid four days, then returned taking Mary & the child together with Mrs. Munroe back with him to remain until he should sail which he supposed might be about the 1st of next month. I have no doubt but the jaunt will be of service to Mary. She really need a little change very much & she is now just situated exactly to her liking. If I be not mistaken, I got a few lines from her last Saturday. They are in a large boarding house where there are a number of other naval officers & she seemed full of engagements.
A few days previous to Brinck’s return, Eliza had a conversation with Mary on the subject of our affairs, the substance of which Eliza will herself communicate to you in a few days as she intends writing.
The day before Mary left for Boston she came upstairs where Eliza and I were. Now that you may have some idea of matters, I will state that some little time after getting here I had purchased some flannel for shirts for you & Will which I wished to have ready to be shipped with those articles you had told me you should write for as soon as you thought we had reached here. These shirts were only partly done. My time had been much broken in upon for besides ironing all Eliza’s clothes & my own, I washed all our small things such as ____ stockings, caps, towels, pillow cases &c. & after Mrs. Munroe left, did my part in nursing as well as in fixing them off for Boston. Well thinks I to myself, I shall have fine times in working when they’re gone, but at the dinner table the day before they went, said the Doctor to me, Mrs. Don will be up with her two children while Mary will be away to spend ten days or a fortnight. “What?” said I. Not at first distinctly understanding him & not knowing exactly what reply to make, when he repeated, “Mrs. Don will be up, etc. “Well,” said I, “I’ll do the best I can by her.” I had been a little prepared for this as Mary had told me that before the Doctor came home. She had written for Caroline to come up with her children for the benefit of country air as one of them particularly was in poor health & they being very poor & having only two rooms in a house away uptown which contained two families besides theirs, she knew it would be gratifying to the Doctor to have them here awhile. Had Mary been going to stay at home, it might have done well enough, although I could not but observe the difference of feeling exhibited towards Mrs. Don’s children & poor Joe’s little ones, the youngest of which had been so ill, that when Jemie came up one day from town, he said he hardly thought she would live, & Joe had been trying for weeks to get a place up here to send them to.
Now here was a fine prospect for my work, to say nothing about the trouble of two noisy children, one of which was said to cry almost without ceasing. Eliza was outrageous about it & at first declared she would not stay but I told her it would not answer for us to say a word against it however we might be inconvenienced by it. There had been so much said of our having made it a matter of convenience in coming here among many other pleasant things, that were said.
I will now return to where Mary came into our room the day before leaving. After being in the room a few minutes, said I, “Mary, if Mrs. Don should come up, I would be glad that she would come up immediately that she might get through her visit & leave me liberty to attend to my own affairs.” She replied that twas very doubtful whether. ____ had seen Caroline on his way home from Boston & she had told him of Mary’s invitation & he had spoken to Mary to have her come as it would be too late when she returned from Boston. She would come, as she (Mary) was going to leave home. Eliza then said something expressive of her feelings to which Mary replied, “Well, you know it’s the Doctor’s house & he can do as he pleases.” She then went on to say that she had been speaking with the Doctor about our board & he thought 10/a week was enough. Several remarks were made on both sides buy us that she knew we thought 20/high, but that of course we must submit to her terms. She said ‘twoud seem that we had studied our own convenience in coming here, that her present position in regard to us was that she had not sought, that she had not brought it on herself (for she had told Eliza she had not written for us) that we must know ‘twould be very unpleasant for her to have us here, & because we could not fix our own terms to be dissatisfied with hers which she had said that as we spoke plain, she would do the same — that she thought it best to do so. In allusion to this finally said I, “Mary, perhaps you would rather not have us here at all.” She hesitated somewhat, that said she thought it an improper question. I then observed your treatment of us after we first came up to the time that you had told us your terms certainly rather warranted us in thinking so. She then said, “Mother, I was very much hurt at some remarks you made because you did find things exactly as you thought they ought to be when you got here & went on to observe how miserable she had been all winter. That after the A____ left & she had moved her bed downstairs, she had not been up again at all. Of course had not had things regulated in that part of the house that the Cartwrights had mentioned in my first to you that Eliza came up here the very day we landed. I lost my passage & did not get up till next morning. Mary of course knew I was come. Eliza had taken possession of the West room the Doctor occupied. The ___ the ____ was filled with his creations & locked against everyone but himself & all. The East, or the long front room, had been used by their servants during the winter. The former now contained a large box of books, blanket box, my blue chests, trunks, etc. etc. The latter, E. & M. blue chests, a large box trunk, & other trunks, etc. The cot I used to lay on having been taken down in Mary’s room for her nurse. After being in the house awhile, I went upstairs & found things thus.
Well, where was I to be put, if put at all? I did not know. In the course of the day, she said she would send & borrow Mrs. Cartwright’s cot for me which was done & set in the long room about the middle of the east side, the large box trunk with a bed & bedding on it, standing at the head thereof. Nothing was taken out of the room, nor did she say to me, “Mother, if you will take Jemie or one of my women, & have those chests & trunks moved out of your room, you can do so.” But no, she said two or three times she would endeavor to have them taken away as soon as she could & so they remained nearly or quite a week, I very soon saw ‘twould not do for me to undertake (without directions) the regulating of things. (I have since understood that she said she would not wrote for me & if I did come, I was not expect to have the direction of anything here.) At this state of things, I must say I did feel very much hurt & once or twice observed I thought I had better to go up to Philo until things could be a little regulated. These were the remarks I had made which displeased her & also that I had shown so much indifference toward the child that even Mrs. Kemey had spoken of it. I told her that I had indeed felt very much hurt, that so little interest appeared to be taken in my comfort & that I dare say I showed that I did feel it. To her remarks about the child, I believe I made no reply. Did not think it worth while but concluded time would show whether I had any affection for it. t the time she gave these reasons for her cold unkind manner towards us, I did not think of it or I would have asked her why she had observed the same course of conduct toward Eliza that she had towards me? for one fared no better than the other. Did she visit my sins upon Eliza & was that just? The truth is Mary has got Eliza & myself just about where she would like to have us: dependent in a measure (although we both expect to pay as we go) on her for a home. That is, I am privileged to board out $100 of what she owes me. Now we know our Heavenly Father orders all things & it is our duty to submit to his providences & this it is my desire to do. To do Mary justice, I will say that her conduct has been very different towards us since we have come to an understanding about our board although at the time I asked her if she would not rather we were not here. She would not commit herself by saying anything more than that she was willing we should stay here.
Now, after all that paper, I think you will agree with me in reading it to be rather an awkward, unpleasant thing for us to remain here & yet what better can we do — myself particularly, for I shall consider it as so much got out of the fire. I have therefore pretty much made up my mind to stay the winter here, at present. I think in about a fortnight I will go on to Geneva. They have written & written for me to come & make them a visit. Hop has entered college again at the earnest solicitation of his tutor & his own wishes. Eliza will probably go up the [Hudson] River with me as far as Newburg & Fishkill. I will write you as soon as I get to Geneva. Hope you will not want your things sent on before I return. Shall endeavor to get them all ready at any rate, but should like to be here when you write for those articles which are in the house as no one knows as much about your possessions here as I do. And I do wish you would write & say what you think about my remaining the winter here. If you don’t think on the whole that ‘twould be best, direct my letter to Joe if you wish to say anything particular. I have told him to keep it for me. One thing is certain, if I work out any of my debt here, it must be before Brinclk returns. Eliza will tell you.
We have had two letters from Mary since she left. She had not yet benefitted by her jaunt. Old Mrs. Ryder is dead. Her daughter Phoebe is down here now. Poor little Thornton K. Prime is here on a visit to his grandparents & about a fortnight ago he broke both bones of his left leg just above the ankle. He has suffered a good deal with it, etc., been reset two or three times. His father & mother were both sent for. She remains with him. Sam comes up as often as he can. He preached here last Sabbath. The Waller’s were among the missing. Mrs. Th. had gone on to Providence with Will & his little Edward when it happened. It’s the first time Sam’s wife was ever here. Eliza & I called down there one day to see the little fellow. She seemed a clever little body enough.
Eliza and I have boarded ourselves since Mary’s been gone. Have not heard anything of Jo. Shelden yet. The above I have read to Eliza that if I had said anything wrong or had said too much she might correct me. She sanctions all, but wishes me to state the remark she made about Mrs. Don’s coming here lest you might think she’s said more than she did. She merely observed she thought ‘twould be much pleasanter for her to come when Mary was home — that it would take up my time a good deal, &c. Mary after saying it was the Doctor’s house etc., said Dinah (the servant girl) might wait upon & desired she might be put in the South room upstairs & she was not willing to have the children in her room.
There is one more thing I would speak about before I close which is that I have not told Mary that I would give up all claim to receiving anything from this place. Joe said I ought not & as we have very good reasons to believe that Mary has been very free in communicating her troubles & trials to the Kemey’s, I think I shall speak to Mr. K about it & ask him what would be right.
I’m well assured the K’s have some strange impressions about myself & one more, which in a measure and for the remark Mrs. K made about the child. It seemed to be expected that I would make a great fuss over the dear little fellow & this very thing bid me to say & do things which was construed. I verily believe into something worse even than indifference. Nevertheless there are not many who love him more, or if he stood in need, would do more for him than his poor desolate feeling grandmother Waller. Does. Mr. Hebert fill Newcomb’s place? & are you in the same situation you were before? Do tell us. we don’t understand. Is Will staying at Waller’s & where is his office?
You must remember me with loving kindness to all my good friends — the Frenches, Grandma’s family & herself, cousin Adele & Mirian, Joe & his wife, etc. etc. & believe me your affectionate, — Mother M. Waller
Do tell us where you are located for we don’t know. Shall direct this to Baton Rouge so Will will find it if you don’t. I spoke to Joe about the American. Said he had paid. Believe he took a receipt. Told him to call & see about it.