This letter was written by Henry Van Verst (1815-1872), son a Wallin Van Verst of Lodi, New Jersey. We learn from this letter that Henry was married to Mary Ann Coffin (1813-Bef1853). A search through census records shows them to be residing in Saddle River, Bergen County, New Jersey in 1850 where Henry’s occupation is given as “Blacksmith.” Two children are enumerated in the house with them: John Van Verst (1839-18xx), who may have been a son by a former marriage, and Mary Catharine Van Verst (1849-18xx) — the infant mentioned by both Henry and Mary in the letter that follows.
Apparently the Van Verst’s moved to Bellona, Yates County, New York, not long after 1850 for in December 1852, Henry took Sarah Deyo (1826-18xx) as his second (or third wife) there.
Addressed to Deborah Coffin, Bellona, Town of Benton, Yates County, [New] York State
[Bergen County, New Jersey]
September 30, 1849
After so long a time I have undertaken to write you a few lines to let you hear from us once more. We received your last letter and was happy to hear from you. We are all well at present and hope these few lines may find you all the same. We have enjoyed good health most of the summer. I had some sick spells this summer but feel quite well at present.
We had some very hot weather the last season and very dry, but crops are good. My corn and potatoes are good. I got my potatoes in the cellar yesterday that we planted last spring. We have about 90 bushels. The dry weather injured them very much.
I had one swarm of bees and they have almost filled the hive. I put them in. I will not take them up this fall. I will keep them over. We have some honey. They worked in a hive I set alongside of one old hive. We wish you had some of it for your tea. We are to have for tea honey, carolina potatoes, and some peaches cut up. They are all good. We have not had any frost yet this fall. It was very warm yesterday.
I have not been to York since you went away but I would like to go if I had the time to spare. I am to work to the old place at present. I commenced in August. I see Sandy everyday when I go to the mill.
Mrs. Cadmus was buried the 5 day of September. She was sick but one week before she died. It has been a very sickly summer as there have been several of my old acquaintance dropped off last summer and some died very sudden.
There was an accident happened last Monday about two miles from here. Two men was sawing ship plank in the woods and they had the body of a large tree on the benches and one of the benches broke and let the tree down and smashed him. It was a dreadful accident as I have heard of in some time.
I have my own oxen yet. We will butcher them both this fall if nothing happens. My hogs are both doing well. We have two small pigs to keep for next year.
Our little Mary C. has been very healthy since you left us. She is one of the best children that you ever seen. She is fat as a little pig. She eats at the table as regular as we do, She is very fond of potatoes and everything that is good.
You must write soon. I wish you could see our girl. Tell us if any of the folks are coming to see the Jersey’s this fall. We should be glad to see anybody from Benton. — H. Van Verst
October the 1st 1849
My dear sisters,
After waiting so long a time, I seat myself to write a few lines to you to let you know how we are getting along. We are all well at present, excepting myself. I have a very bad cold. My throat and stomach is very sore. I hope you will forgive me for not writing to you before as I have had so much to do I could not find the time to write. We have had four here to work a cutting up the corn and digging potatoes. It kept me very busy and take care of the babe. I have been trying yp dry some apples but I get so little time to work at them. O how I have wished for you to be here to help me. Our apples is not very good this fall. We have a fine lot of pole beans. O how good they are. I often wish you and Susan was here to eat with us. I have laid down 2 firkins of pickles now mother is salting down. She has most a firm in full.
Debby, how I thought of you when they dug them potatoes you helped plant. How I wish you was here to help eat them. How I wish you and Susan had a nice piece of our honey for your tea.
Mary Day has got well again and acts like herself again. Miss Worden has lost her daughter. She died the 2 day of September. They feel very bad. You will find the words of her ____ in Job, the VII Chapter and last verse.
Debby, we have lost a good neighbor. Dear Miss Cadmus is no more. She died on the 5 and was buried on the 6. Mary Catharine and I went to the funeral. O Deborah, how bad they all did feel. It seems as though they could not give her up. What a solemn time it was. Poor Harriet feels very lonely. William James has been very sick too but is better. He had the bloody dysentery too. Christian has been home a week sick but is better. William has been very sick with the bloody dysentery. There has been a great many died with it this summer. Letty’s health is very poor. She is not able to sit up all the time. They think she has got the consumption. She has a nice baby. It is so good.
Now I will tell you Martha Ann felt very bad to think you did not take her with you to the brook. She says Aunt Debby will come back and take me to the brook how she cried when she found you was gone. Miss Ranie’s baby is buried today. It had the whooping cough. It is all over Lodi [New Jersey]. George Calem’s wife has a young daughter.
Deborah, how Harriet does wish you was here to help her. She has brought her stocking wool for me to spin. She could not get everyone to spin. They think Catharine Bush has got a cancer in her nose. It begins to eat. Caty works at the mill yet. She has a plenty to do all the time. Coby and Caty keeps sparking yet once in a while.
You wanted me to tell who my Catharine looks like. I think the lower part of her face looks like her grandmother. Some says she looks like [my husband] Henry and [son] John. Those bare spots on her head are covered. Since I commenced this letter, Mary Catharine has taken a very bad cold. She coughs very bad. I was afraid it was the whooping cough. She is quite sick today. She has vomited very much today. I think she is cutting teeth too. It is the first time she ever was sick. She has always been very healthy. I lay her on a pillow on the floor when I go outdoors. When I come in, she is half way across the room. She rolls over and over. O Deborah, how I wish you could see her. You would not know her by her looks. She has altered very much.
I must now bring my letter to a close for this time. You must give our love to Uriah [Coffin] and Catharine. Give our love to father. Tell him we should be glad to see him here this fall if he can get here. Give our love to William’s family and Alva’s family, and all the dear children. How I want to see them. Do write soon as you get this. Don’t wait so long for I want to hear from you all very much indeed.
Mary C. and I are here alone today. Mother has gone up to Paterson. Letty is worse and her mother is sick too. Debby, Henry has the promise of that place next spring up by the bridge. You must tell me when you think you will come back again. I feel so lonely here alone. If I could see you, I could tell you many things I cannot write to you. I would write more if I had time but I will leave it be.
Good day. — Mary V. Verst
Mrs. Hale,¹ the giantess, is dead. I heard today she died at Toronto, Canada
¹ Eliza Simpson (1828-1849) was also known as the Scotch Giantess and the Quaker Giantess. She ‘married’ giant Robert Hales in 1849 when both worked for P.T. Barnum. This was, however, a showbusiness stunt created by P.T. Barnum. Hales was married at the time to Maria Charlotte of Great Yarmouth. Eliza Simpson was billed at 8’0″ in height but might have been just over 7’0″. Some sources say that she was measured at 7’2.”