1845: William Hathaway Stiles to Ebenezer Akin, Jr.

This letter was written by William Hathaway Stiles (1825-1904), the son of Alexander Stiles (1800-1862) and Mary Hathaway (1800-1868). William married Mary Coutant Halsted (1833-18xx). William and his father were proprietors of a clothing store on Williams Street in lower Manhattan in 1850. Years later, William had his store on Murray Street (NYC).

Stiles wrote to his cousin, Ebenezer Akin (1817-18xx), the son of Ebenezer Akin (1784-1870) and Susanna Blossom (1789-1875). Ebenezer married Elizabeth E. Thompson (1832-18xx) in 1854. He was employed as a merchant tailor.

1845 Letter

1845 Letter

Addressed to Mr. Ebenezer Akin, Jr., Fairhaven, Bristol County, Massachusetts

New York [City]
Glorious 8th January 1845

Dear Cousin,

Your letters and pamphlet I have received and read with pleasure and interest. The latter — if true — gives a color to the Whaleman’s life different from what I expected to find. I always thought their life was a toilsome one but never imagined they were subjected to such cruel treatment as this book describes. Cruelty to animals very properly in all Christian countries meets with severe punishment. How truly contemptible and criminal then it is in a man because possessed of a little authority, he must make a brute of himself in enforcing it. The scarcer such men are, the better for the cause of humanity.

Your last letter was handed to our girl at the door by a gentleman — whether by your brother or who — I am unable to say as I have not seen him since.

Business with the wholesale dealers has been very good — that is to say they have sold a large amount of goods. Getting the money for them is quite a different thing. The retailers, however, complain — and not without cause — for the weather has been against them. The prospect for good business in the spring is bad — very bad. We have just passed over the Holidays in an unusually quiet manner. I heartily wish you had been here for I never enjoyed myself better on New Year’s Day.

It is a custom here, I suppose you well know, to call on the above day on the Ladies & “eat, drink, and be merry.” We have had a young man here lately lecturing on Temperance by the name of [John B.] Gough.¹ He hails from the “Bay State” although an Englishman by birth [and] has much natural eloquence and is on the whole an uncommon smart young man. His lectures have been delivered principally in churches is some of which they were much needed. Great good has resulted.

Bishop Benjamin Treadwell Onderdonk

Bishop Benjamin Treadwell Onderdonk

The Episcopalians as you no doubt have seen by the paper have lately had a flare up among themselves. Bishop [Benjamin T.] Onderdonk charged with immoral conduct has been suspended for time indefinite which amounts to the same as being deposed. ² The particulars of the trial have not been made public, but will be in a few days. I would not be surprised if this link in the “vast chain of regular succession” would modestly resign himself to the out-stretched arms of mother Rome. “Birds of a feather alway flock together.”

George M. Dallas, the Vice President elect, is in town and tonight is to attend several places of public amusement.³

The weather is mild — unusually so for this season of the year. As yet, we have had no winter worth mentioning. You may perhaps recollect seeing a young married lady at our house by the name of Banta. She has a daughter but fur weeks old. Shortly after the birth of the child, it was discovered she acted strangely. Since then, two skillful doctors have done everything that laid in their power in vain. She grew worse & at last became so bad that yesterday she was removed to the Lunatic Asylum † by the advice of her physicians. They think is she is kept away from all her friends she may recover.

Our family enjoys good health and desires to be remembered to you & friends. Yours &c., — W. H. Stiles

“Oregon & the Union”


John B. Gough

¹ John B. Gough, (pronounced “Goff”), was born at Sandgate, Kent, London on August 22, 1817. Gough was an Englishman whose father was a pensioner. Gough was brought to America when his father, who could not pay for John to learn a trade, sent him to America with a family from their village. John’s father paid the family 10 guineas so that they would take John to America, teach him a trade and provide for him until he was 21 years old. Once in America, John lost employment and was continually in debt. When the death of his mother occurred and his employment problems continued, Gough turned to drinking. The following lines are how he described his addiction to alcohol, “I was now the slave of a habit which had become completely my master, and which fastened its remorseless fangs in my very vitals.” Soon after Gough realized what a mess his life was becoming because of the alcohol, a Temperance advocate approached him and convinced Gough to sign a pledge and come to a meeting. At this meeting that Gough attended, he made his first speech on Temperance.

² After William Meade, Bishop of Virginia, received a number of affidavits from women alleging that Onderdonk had made improper advances towards them and had engaged in improper touching, Onderdonk was placed on trial before the House of Bishops. Throughout the trial Onderdonk maintained his innocence. By all accounts the trial was a bitter affair with Onderdonk making accusations of a secret conspiracy to remove him due to his theological views by falsifying charges and Meade accusing the Onderdonk faction of witness intimidation. The trial resulted in the suspension of Onderdonk. Whether the trial was an appropriate act to punish a Bishop for improper behavior or a conspiracy to silence a proponent of the Oxford Movement may be ultimately unknowable. The debate continued in published letters throughout Onderdonk’s life and indeed continues today. What is clear though, as William Manross notes in A History of the American Episcopal Church (1935), was that the verdict against Onderdonk reflects “the bitter party feeling which prevailed at the time, especially as the voting throughout the trial was pretty much along party lines, all of the evangelicals voting to condemn Bishop Onderdonk and most, though not all, of the High Churchmen voting to acquit him.” Following his suspension, Onderdonk remained Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York but was suspended from performing his duties. [Wikipedia]


New York City Lunatic Asylum

† The New York City Lunatic Asylum opened in 1839 on Roosevelt Island (formerly Blackwell’s Island) in the East River. When Charles Dickens visited in the United States in 1842, he was taken on a tour of the Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum where he much admired the architecture, calling the building “handsome” and the Octagon an especially “elegant” feature; but he further commented in his American Notes (1842):… everything [at the Asylum] had a lounging, listless, madhouse air which was very painful.” Through the perserverance of the resident physicians and other concerned New Yorkers, conditions were gradually improved.

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