1848: Benjamin Fry to William Cromwell

How Benjamin Fry might have looked

How Benjamin Fry might have looked

This letter was written by 72 year-old Benjamin Fry (1776-1868), the son of Silas Fry (1746-1805) and Mary Folsom. Benjamin was a selectman, a trustee of the Sandwich Academy, and a prominent Quaker in Sandwich, New Hampshire. He was married to Lydia Bean in 1802. In 1797, Benjamin Fry wrote “A Friend’s Astronomical Diary or Almanac.”

Fry wrote the letter to William Cromwell, (1800-1871), a farmer of Monroe, Orange Co., New York, who also kept a dry goods store in New York City. He was the son of James Cromwell (1752-1828) and Charlotte Hunt (1762-1839). William was married to Caroline Underhill (1803-184*), the daughter of Joshua Underhill (1765-1839) and Mary Sutton (1767-1820).

The 1850 and 1860 Census records enumerate William Cromwell residing in New York City. From 1860-1863, William Cromwell’s NYC Dry Goods business was located at 118 Chambers Street in a an Italianate-style, store-and-loft building that was constructed in 1855 and owned by Luke H. Holmes, a merchant whose business was located on Maiden Lane. It is believed he relocated to NYC permanently after his wife Caroline’s death in 1848. Cromwell was an elder in the New York City Quaker Society with his brother Daniel Cromwell. He was described as “portly” in the diary of William W. S. Wood’s mother in 1864. She also wrote of him that “his open heart and open house made him love and respected by many strangers in the city.”

Another member of the New York Meeting was William F. Mott (@1785-18xx), mentioned in this letter.

1848 Letter

1848 Letter

Addressed to William Cromwell, New York

Sandwich, New Hampshire
12th Mo. 9th 1848

My dear friend, Wm. Cromwell,

Since seeing you in “Friends Review” the announcement of the death of thy precious partner in life, which not a little affected my mind in tenderness & sympathy with thee, bereaved as thou art in the meridian of life of so valuable a treasure; I have frequently tho’t of addressing thee with a few lines of condolence; but a sense of my unfitness has been such as to prevent the attempt until now, my own mind much weighed down & depressed — & I must now probably be very brief — hoping I shall not add to thy trial — wading along, as thou art, under the weighty sense of thy great privation . May the heavy stroke this dispensation of Divine Providence, be so sanctified to thee that thou mayest be enabled to adopt the language of Job — “the Lord giveth & the Lord taketh away & blessed be the name of the Lord.” Perhaps we may sometimes place too much dependence on the continuance of such a blessing as she was to thee — we find it no easy attainment to be able unreservedly to say with the Poet, “I bless for all & I most for the severe.” I hope thou art mercifully sustained by him who “doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” with delight, but for our good — & while “no affliction for the present seemeth joyous but grievous,” we find it testified — “yet it after ward yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that we exercised thereby.” It is also recorded in the sacred volume that, “when the Lord loveth, he chasteneth & scourgeth every one whom he receiveth” — &c.

I humbly trust this sore affliction is made supportable, tho’ at times almost overwhelming — it must after all be a source of consolation to thee that she evidently was prepared for her final change. I seem indeed to go a little into thy lot, feeling drawn forth in this manner to manifest my sympathy with one I sincerely love in the Truth. I received in due course of mail thy letter of 3d mo. last. It was seasonable, salutary, & fraught with interest. Thy dear wife’s message of love inserted therein was & still is truly a cordial to my oft drooping mind. The mention in thine of the satisfaction it afforded thee to hear of the favor the great kindness I received from James Harard in conveying me so far on my arduous journey & that “he loves the Truth.” This was to me fully verified in that very friendly act of his. When I wrote to thee, he had not informed me of his success in getting home &c. He has had very little literary education but barely enough to enable him to communicate by writing his sentiments to any of his friends. He feels much embarrassed on the account & in his letter, when he mustered courage to let me hear from him, he excused the neglect by saying his incapacity to write intelligibly was one reason he had so long omitted it. I never criticize in the smallest degree such productions when I have every reason to believe, as I have in his case, that it proceeds from an “honest & good heart.” I can pick out almost anything from the pen of such an one — his letter was to me a treat indeed, informing as he did that he got home well, found his family well — & it appeared that he & his friends were well satisfied in his having performed the said service (in aid of one so little deserving such attention as I felt myself to be) in carrying out what I apprehended the Master called to th performance of & I feel assured he will not lose his reward. I do not feel at liberty to neglect to advert to thy so kindly accompanying me to Philadelphia. It was the means of enabling me to perform what I considered required of me & that a willingness was wrought in my mind to leave thy family & outward concerns & so cheerfully attend me, is cause of grateful acknowledgement both to thee & to him who gives the disposition so to of — thou wast them bro’t very near to my best feelings — & I greet thee as a brother beloved — * if he who gives a cup of cold water only does not lose his reward, I most surely believe thou canst not, thine, for that act of dedication — how shall I ever be thankful enough for all the favors in various ways, received from my friends, where my lot, from time to time, in my pilgrimage, has been cast?

That way was made for me in Philadelphia, a good open time in each meeting, nothing suffered to prevent the opportunity to fully clear my mind, in all of them, I cannot otherwise account for that that it was the Lord’s doing — & it was & is marvelous in mine eyes! Blessed forever be his Holy name!

Oh! that I may be favored to get safely thro’ this vale of tears. I feel that I need the effectual, fervent prayers of the living members of the Church for my preservation while here (which may not be long) & safe landing in the Haven of rest & peace. The exercises & conflicts of my mind of latter time are not easily described & if they only work the right effect, to prepare for a resting place hereafter, it will be enough — an ample compensation. Those mentioned in thine, the very satisfactory interview at dear Stephen Grellet’s ¹ — I believe I may say that when taking leave of him & family on my return from Philadelphia to Burlington, his precious farewell address evidently under the anointing & unction from the Holy One, I tho’t rather exceeded anything of the kind I ever witnessed — a theme & strain, truly Angelic!

My bodily infirmities have so increased as to render me unfit for exertion or exposure. I am, however, not confined to house yet. I most tenderly feel & sympathize with our dear friends John Clap & family in their sorrowing — as also with our equally dear friends William F. Mott & wife. My love affectionate extends to them & to as many more, mine acquaintances thereaway, as thou canst, without a burden to thyself communicate it to — at the same time, taking a large portion to thyself, of the feeling sympathy & encouragement of thy poor & deeply exercised friend, to endeavor, thro’ the aid of the Highest, to bear, with Christian fortitude & resignation, all that he may see necessary to permit for thy refinement, as a preparation for usefulness while here & for the fruition of happiness of an endless duration.

Thy assured friend, — Benjamin Fry

P. S. I, not long since, received a pretty full & a very satisfactory letter from our mutual friend John Scott. He said he reached his outward habitation in good health of body & peace of mind, found his family well — gave an excellent account of their very favored yearly meeting, more fully than in in Friends’ Review. I want to hear from thee & how it fares with others also in N. Y. & Burlington. Such epistles as thine from the pen of many others, occasionally drawn to drop a word of encouragement, have had a cheering effect in my dreary passage on the boisterous sea of life. I know not but they have been made a means of preventing me from quite sinking below the surface of the water. Once more, farewell, dear William. Wilt thou accept my acknowledgement of thy favor in sending me the addresses on the awfully affecting War subject? It is a valuable production. May it have an extensive usefulness.


Stephen Grellet

¹ Stephen Grellet (1773-1855) “was a prominent French Quaker missionary. He was born Étienne de Grellet du Mabillier in Limoges, the son of a counsellor of King Louis XVI. Raised as a Roman Catholic, he was educated at the military College of Lyons, and at the age of seventeen he entered the body-guard of Louis XVI. During the French Revolution he was sentenced to be executed, but escaped and eventually fled Europe to the United States in 1795. Impressed by the writings of William Penn, George Fox, and Quaker beliefs, in 1796 he joined the Society of Friends. He became involved in extensive missionary work across North America and most of the countries of Europe, in prisons and hospitals, and was respectfully granted meetings with many rulers and dignitaries, including Pope Pius VII, Czar Alexander I, and the Kings of Spain and Prussia. He encouraged many reforms in educational policies and in hospital and prison conditions. He died in Burlington, New Jersey on 16 November 1855 and his body was buried there behind the Quaker Meeting House at 340 High Street.” [Wikipedia]

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