This letter was written by 20 year-old Mehitable Gilman Shaw (1827-1880), the daughter of Daniel Shaw, Jr. (1784-1852) and Mehitable Gilman (1787-1827). 1850 Census records show that Daniel Shaw was a farmer and resided next door to his older brother, Albert Shaw (1782-18xx) in Industry, Franklin County, Maine. Mehitable mentions her brother Milton Gilman Shaw (1820-1880) in the letter. Milton was married to Eunice Spinney Hinkley (1824-1880) in June 1847. She also mentions “Sis A.” who was Adeline (or Adelaide) Shaw (1825-1863) who married Charles A. Bullen in 1854. Another brother, Albert Shaw (1811-1868) with his wife Betsey Cornforth, is mentioned.
Mehitable married William Sylvester Oliver about 1852 and they relocated to Alma, Allegany, New York, and eventually to Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
A portion of the letter is devoted to a description of the death of Mehitable’s cousin, Virginia (Shaw) Foster (1825-1847), who died of consumption on 16 September 1847 in Wenham, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Samuel Shaw (b. 1792) and Ruth Gilman (1793-1837) of Tamworth, New Hampshire. She was married (1844) to sea captain Aaron Foster (1819-18xx), the son of Moses Foster (1782-1857) and Abigail Choate Smith (1783-1863) of Wenham. Aaron married again (date unknown) to Elizabeth Putnam (1825-1865), daughter of Samuel Putnam.
We learn from this letter that Mehitable has been working in a Rubber Shop in Salem. A city directory from the period shows that there were several firms advertising the manufacture and sale of rubber boots and shoes — a burgeoning industry in the late 1840s. She had previously worked in one of the mills — probably a cotton mill — in Newburyport, Massachusetts, though she isn’t specific as who her employer was.
Addressed to Mr. Daniel Shaw, Bangor, Maine
September 26th 1847
I must acknowledge that I have been very negligent in not writing before, but it is not for the want of love, dear Father, that I do not write oftener, but I feel myself very incapable of addressing one so far my superior, but I trust my friends will excuse all mistakes. We received a letter from you soon after we left Newburyport and I suppose you have thought strange in not receiving an answer before but you must forgive us in delaying so long. Sis Adeline left here last Wednesday morning for Boston and some thought of going to Providence before she stopped but I expect to here tomorrow as I have not yet heard where she intends to settle herself. Her object in leaving was because she could not make wages to suit her and then it is most impossible to get a decent boarding place. I have changed once since sis left being the fourth time and think of changing again this week. I believe Salem is the worst place in the world to get a boarding place. It is noted for being the most aristocratic place in the state and I believe it is.
I am working in the rubber shop and have been ever since I left Newburyport. I like the work very well — better than the work in the mill — but we cannot make as good wages as we could in the mill. I think I shall not stay here much longer but I am undecided where I shall go. I had a letter from brother Milton last week. They were all well. He gave me an invitation to come there and make it my home and I have no doubt but what he would do much better by me than what I could do for myself, but I feel it my duty to try and earn my living as long as I have my health, It is very good now and has been ever since I left home.
We received a letter from cousin Eliza a week ago before last Tuesday saying that Virginia was very sick and wishing us to come there immediately. We went and found hr very low. Her complaint was the consumption — that fatal disease. Sis Adelaide sat up with her Tuesday night. She had a very bad cough and did not rest but very little. She had no pain through her sickness, she said, or if she did, she did not seem willing to own it for she was never heard to murmur during her sickness. I was with her Wednesday night and Thursday morning. She died without a groan or a struggle. She seemed as calm as though she was dropping to sleep. She has left many friends that mourn her loss for she had but few enemies, if any. Her loss is great to her friends and also to society for she was beloved by everyone that knew her. It seems as though the forest flowers are the first to decay. She was buried Saturday afternoon. We stopped until after the funeral and then came home that night. Foster is away to sea and knows not of her death and cannot know at present. They had a letter from him last Tuesday. He was then in port at Hamburg and was soon to sail for some other port so that he cannot hear very soon. He wrote that he should be at home the first of December if he had good luck. It will be sad news to him to hear of his loss for it is great. I think if he should go the world over, he could not find one that could fill her place.
[Brother] Albert and [his wife] Betsey came to Wenham while we were there. They knew not of Virginia’s death until they got to Salem. Albert was here and gone this week so we see some of our friends once in a while. I have not heard from Maria since I was there last July. Adaline was a going to call and see her for we have wanted to hear from her very much. I must close for it is getting late. Give my love to mother and all the friends and please to accept a good share for yourself. Write often. From your unworthy daughter, — Mehitable G. Shaw