These two letters were written by William Martin Lewis (1798-1881) to his 15 year-old son, William Frederick Lewis (1831-1891), while he was attending school in Bristol, New Hampshire. To simplify references to these two, I will call them WMF and WFL. The WMF family resided in Gainesville, Alabama, where WMF’s father, Moses Lewis is credited with being the town founder. WMF’s first wife was Mary Bartlett (1802-1831). Mary was the mother of WFL; she died just weeks after delivering WFL. WMF’s second wife was Aurelia Hiley Axtell (1811-1865). Her first two children were named Sylvester Creswell Lewis and Eliza “Lida” Jane Lewis — both of whom are mentioned in this letter. WFL served as a private in Co. B, 2d Mississippi Cavalry (Confederate) during the Civil War. WFL married Mary Ann Ridgeway (1835-1883) in 1855.
The Lewis home was built around 1840 in Gainesville and was located on Yankee Street. The house combined two elements of antebellum architecture: the two-room plan with separate entrances and the elongated Greek Revival style façade with inset portico. It still stands today and is known as the “Lewis-Jones-Fields” House. Wild strawberries grow in the backyard.
“Uncle Rufus” is also mentioned in the letters. This was Rufus Graves Lewis (1800-1869) — a younger brother of WML. He was married to Sally Smith (1806-1878) in 1828. He was a merchant in New Hampton, New Hampshire and a dealer in real estate in Alabama and Mississippi. Their son, Rufus Smith Lewis was born in 1833.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to Master William F. Lewis, Bristol, New Hampshire
April 1st 1846
My dear son,
I hoped long before this to have received an answer to one at least of 6 letters since the 1st of January which remain unanswered. Through others I am gratified to hear of your health but how much more pleasant to hear direct from you. Was my head as clear as my heart is full of sorrow at your long silence, I could write well on the fatal — the very fatal — effects of procrastination, but as I intimated long since I wish to make it a subject of a letter not of chiding character but of plain affectionate reasoning.
I am left entirely in the dark as to your progress or what you are studying and I have written so much without answer that my letters for aught I know may be repetitive. If so, if they only make a permanent impression, I shall be thankful. I was gratified to hear from you through a note to your honored grandmother from Mrs. Levi Bartlett and was pleased for the account she gave of your affectionate disposition.
I send by the same mail with this two of the New Orleans Protestant. The paper is now to be published weekly and to be edited by Mr. [John Holt] Rice, a nephew of Mrs. Kirkpatrick’s and Mr. [Elias R.] Beadle, formerly of Syrian Mission. I have the pleasure of personal acquaintance with both & hope the paper will be profitable & improved much in its character with the last. I am grateful and trust you will find many good pieces — especially as to the valuing the time of the young. I hope you will read it regularly hereafter unless the fatal disease of procrastination shall prove an incurable malady.
I was reminded of you today when Sylvester brought in some strawberries. Your strawberry patch looks finely and bids fair to furnish us abundantly. Figs are now half grown. Peaches are very large for the season should no disaster befall them.
Your grandmother will have at least fifteen bushels of green grapes — mine that I budded the year you went North and loaded with fruit. We have had a cold winter but I have never seen fruit look better. I am now being richly paid for all my grafting & budding & hope yet to see you and your brother & sister enjoying the fruit of my care for the last four years. Our neighbors are having Irish potatoes & green peas, but ours are later.
Your Uncle Rufus [Lewis] has improved much in health. Rufus Smith [Lewis] has been to Uncle Dr. Creswell’s and spent a few days. While there he manifested a strong desire for hunting & shooting birds — a business which neither I or his Father approve. Your Aunt Sally has improved & I think the sojourn south will be a permanent use to them all.
Your aged grandmother thinks of you, talks about you, prays for you, and hopes yet to see you. Sylvester & E. Jane are very joyful though their health is not quite so good as usual. Rev. Mr. [John Lycan] Kirkpatrick goes as delegate to General Assembly convened at Philadelphia & will visit New York & Boston & Andover & Lowell. Your Uncle Rufus leaves about the 10th next month on Steamboat Hewit & goes by the way of Mobile, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Wheeling, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York & Boston. Remember us all very affectionately to our Bristol friends & relatives, not forgetting our good Aunt & _______ Martha.
Very affectionately, your father, — Wm. M. Lewis
Strawberries are just getting ripe & your bed is enlarged and about to give us as many as we shall want. A letter addressed to E. Jane & Sylvester would be a rich treat. You would be amused to see their eyes — Sylvester with joy to have a letter from you. From your Aunt Sally [Smith] I learn you are to have a long vacation. Can you not appropriate a part of each day to pleasant & useful reading and especially answer my letters?
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Addressed to Master William Frederick Lewis, Bristol, New Hampshire
December 7th 1846
My very dear son,
Yours of the 24th ult. was received this morning. Long before this I hoped to give you an affectionate Father’s embrace at home and see you very happy with your Brothers & Sisters and Mother, all of whom have been anxiously waiting your return and making preparations to give you a hearty & happy reception. Could you have heard how often your name has been mentioned & with what anticipation your return would be hailed, you would have enjoyed it much even if it were but imaginary.
Can you imagine my feelings for a moment when I found you in your intreating not to judge hastily of you by reports to others but wait till I saw you. My dear son, if you know the deep full fountain of your Father’s love for you, you would be sure it would never dry while I have life. Never, no never — even if you did conduct yourself unworthily, I could not cease to love you & pray for you. But my dear son, I have never heard any unworthy remark about you by any one nor has your mother.
Your Uncle & Aunt spoke well of you and how you could possibly think they had in any way said anything that should lessen you in my estimation, I am wholly unable to imagine. I found when your uncle was here last winter that he was greatly changed — that his nervous complaint had made his extremely irritable & did not doubt he had been so at home & possibly at sometimes to you as well as his own children. On this I anticipate something might be said to you at sometimes that would pain you & begged you to be patient with your uncle’s distressing infirmity of body which preyed so much on his mind.
I stated we were loving brothers & never had an unkind expression that I remembered but once in our lives. Few will ever make allowance for your uncle’s suffering the last 7 years and I must again renew my request that you do not judge him nor your aunt uncharitably. They love you & have done something for you for which with others they are entitled to gratitude for the care they have bestowed which has not been ever as much as they would have cheerfully granted of health had been permitted. Your Aunt Sally deserves and has my gratitude for deep devotion and patience with your uncle. He has needed such a wife & I hope yet to see your uncle in health & spirits to make his society as usual as it was before disease had laid his a g____ arm hold of the chords of his life.
I found Rufus Smith had grown old quite too fast. That he was a very selfish boy and know your patience must have had a flu exercise with him. He may and probably has tried your feelings in his taunting way of making remarks & from this I suppose your apprehension must have answer respecting your uncle & aunt. I would not have said as much respecting Rufus Smith but in connection with this subject. He is a child, has the foibles of a child, & when he knows more will be wiser that he now is. I am sorry for him but have had better grief of heart that you had in the morning of life to endure for a day the faults of his pettishness & selfishness.
When you think of me, think of me as casting the mantle of a father’s affectionate charity over your youthful foibles. That I feel that the son of such a mother as yours leaving her dying benediction and your head will not do anything unworthy of her or your father’s name. I promise myself much happiness in your speedy return home. If I have already intimated your uncle had some important business which prevented his coming at a suitable time, you will know all about it and be fully satisfied. The long days of delayed hope have been no doubt painful but I have not spared any means in my power. I have written to New York to have you come out with Mr. McRea. You know him. He would take a brother’s care of you. I expect he will come to Mobile by land & you could come from there in one day.
I was sorry to hear of Sister Jones affliction with her eyes & hope she may be restored. I also notice the deaths mentioned & have written to your Uncle Levi & will give my love to your honored grandfather & mother & other relatives.
Your ever affectionate father, — Wm. M. Lewis