This letter was written by Betsey (Sawyier) Webster (1793-1880), the widow of Nathaniel Greeley Webster (1781-1828) of Boscawen, Merrimack County, New Hampshire. Betsey was the daughter of Deacon Moses Sawyier (1750-1821) and Ann Fitz (1750-1836). Betsey mentions one of her children in this letter — Anna Ruth Webster (1823-1910) who married Horace Eaton in August 1845.
Betsey wrote the letter to her brother, Nathaniel Sawyier (1784-1853), an 1805 graduate of Dartmouth, who practiced law in Cincinnati, Ohio. Nathaniel was married to Pamelia Anderson (1791-1888) in 1821. Together they had at least four children: Mary Ann Fitz Sawyier (1822-1912), DeWitt Clinton Sawyier (1825-1899), Sarah (Sallie) Frances Sawyier (1829-1889) and Nathaniel Isaac Sawyier (1832-1910).
Betsey’s letter conveys the sad news of the death of their brother, Isaac Fitz Sawyier (1778-1846). Isaac was married first to Rebecca Pettengill (1779-1834). His second wife was Mehitable (“Hetta”) Colby (1792-1847).
Addressed to Nathaniel Sawyier, Esq., Cincinnati, Ohio
Boscawen, [Merrimack County, New Hampshire]
February 4, 1846
My Dear Brother,
I set down to tell you of the sudden death of our dear brother Isaac Sawyer. He died last Sabbath day at half past 3 o’clock. His disease was rheumatic fever. Sister Hetta told me he was taken Thursday morning while reading as usual before praying. He read longer than common; she thought he was more interested in the subject — which was the conversion of Saul of Tarsus — and she did not speak to him; let him read as long as he wished. He laid down his book, went and drank some water, turned round, said he felt bad, and had severe pain in his left arm. They got him on to the bed, rubbed him, gave him camphor, got Dr. Wilson to him as quick as possible. He bled him but he seemed struck with death at the first as Father was. The Old Dr. Wilson was to him on Saturday. He said he could not live. He was as his father was. Sister Hetta said the night before, he got some pumpkins out of the cellar and cut them. She thinks he took a violent cold. Mr. [Elijah] Foster wrote me Saturday brother had a rheumatic fever and would not probably live through it. I got the letter at 9 o’clock in the evening. Went with Nat in the morning to see him, hoping to find him so I could talk with him, but God see fit not to have it so. He had been speechless since twelve o’clock the night before; never opened his eyes or moved a finger. Died without a groan or struggle. Was buried Tuesday. Mr. [Elijah] Foster’s text was, “Help Lord for the Godly man ceaseth.” — Psalms 12 — 1 verse.
My health has not been good the last autumn and winter. My lungs are weak. I can’t be exposed to the cold air. I have to be very careful about exposing myself. Did not go to brothers funeral. Nat went alone. I expected Joseph Walker would come and go with him but the air is cold and such a body of snow on the ground. Anyone is liable to take cold. I don’t blame him for not going. Hope he is well.
Sister Mary & Sarah were at brother’s when he died. They look feeble and ill — both of them. Mary got cold and could not attend the funeral. Sarah was there and all of Isaac’s children. [Isaac’s son] Daniel [Fitz] Sawyer is married to a girl from Durham by the name of [Mary Ann] DeMerrit [and] lives where Nat use to. Nat lives in the old house of Father’s. Isaac had settled his affairs and got Nat to take care of him and wife. He had reserved a timber lot to himself which he has been offered $3,000 this winter, which is worth $4,000 as lumber is now. I can’t find he has given to the Lord one dollar except obligated his boys to do as much as he has done for preaching in his own town. I have felt bad that I could not see him and talk with him on the subject. Unless they each one do as much as he did, they cannot keep a regular minister there much longer and that will be missionary ground.
Brother talked with Old Dr. [Job] Wilson and Mr. [Elijah] Foster in regard to his own state and feelings. They think he was a Christian. The family seemed so much distressed and I come away immediately after he died. I did not learn from them his state of mind as I hope to.
O Brother & Sister Pamela, let us improve this dispensation of God to quicken us in our Christian course and examine our hope by the word of truth that we may be prepared to meet death at any moment. We know not which of us will be called next and what we do for God and to benefit our fellow creatures, we must do quickly. I think of you both often and your dear children and hope I shall some day see you all in the land of the living. But if not, pray we may meet in heaven.
Your affectionate sister, — Betsy Webster
I find I cannot send this till noon and will fill my sheet. I want to hear from you all. Where is Sally? Is DeWitt with you? How does Mary do? And little Natty? Are you going to keep dear little Nat Exeter and not let him go home until he gets through college? Let me know all about your family and health.
I live here as I used to. [My daughter] Ann was married to Horace Eaton last August [and] went immediately to the White Hills. Got to New York the first of September. She boards out with one of the Elders of Mr. Eaton’s church at No. 60 2nd Avenue. She likes the people and I find they love her. She will come home and stay through the hot weather that she engaged me before she went. Nat is not married nor will be at present.
The railroad is going on as fast as possible. It runs under the hill back of W. Webster’s garden. There is not far from a 1000 hands working between Concord and Lebanon. They are cutting a new channel for Merrimack River between this town and Concord and have got it almost done. ¹ There is ten or fifteen hands in our ledge back of our farm blowing stone; eight oxen drawing all of the time. The contractors give [paper torn] cents a perch by sledding and three by wheels, measured after the work is all completed. They have so much a perch for the stone work. They hope to get it to Franklin the first of July. J. Walker’s pond is to fill up and one by Dr. Peach; in this place they cross the Contoohook at Mrs. Dustin’s island. ² There is two bridges to make.
The Roman Catholic priest has been through and administered the sacrament to the Irish [laborers]. Did not sell indulgences but got over one hundred dollars from them in this town [and] expect to get a thousand between Concord and Lebanon. The shanties are scattered all along the road. Paddies are in all directions to be seen. They have a fight often. We have nothing to do with them. ³
I expect to see you and Pamela here the coming summer. Do not let the things of this world have so much of your attention. Think of dear Isaac. He wasn’t happy unless at work as hard as he could all of the time.
I expect to hear brother Moses is not living. Mrs. W. Webster saw a sister of young Moses’s wife. She said he was very feeble, had lost almost all his reason [and] did not know enough to go in to Mr. ___’s part of the house and Jessy was not healthy. I would set out and go to see him through Boston if it was not so cold. Young Moses and wife spent Thanksgiving at her father’s. Ben F. Kimball did not call on me nor any of the friends at Salisbury. They stayed a month. I was confined to my house with influenza or I should have called on them.
The tannery establishment where he worked was all burnt while he was here. I don’t learn he lost anything. It is stated here Moses & David Kimball have bought a tannery establishment in Salisbury where the oil mill was below Dr. Bartlett’s. He comes there in the spring.
Sister Pamelia, if you will come with your husband here in August, I will go to the White Mountains with you. We can go by stage one way and return another. Ann wants me to go there once. Brother Nat, I think, was never there.
Mr. [Elijah] Foster read and they sung at Isaac’s funeral the Fifteenth Psalm, 2nd Part. It would apply in some good degree to him, he thought. Please write me before long. Your affectionate sister, — Betsey Webster
¹ A new channel for the Merrimack River was cut across a peninsula known as Goodwin’s Point so that the railroad, then under construction, could be built across the peninsula and remain on the west side of the river. The excavation was begun in the fall of 1845.
² Dustin’s Island is a small island in the Merrimack River at the junction of that stream and the Contoocook river, a few miles above Concord, New Hampshire. It was named after Hannah Dustin who was the captive of an Indian that lived on the island in the 1690s.
³ Betsey’s remarks about the Irish laborers employed by the railroad who invaded the valley between Concord and Lebanon in 1845-7 convey typical stereotypical attitudes toward these outsiders.