1849: Rev. John Nelson Bellows to Rev. Henry Whitney Bellows

This letter was written by John Nelson Bellows (1805-1857), the son of John and Betsy (Eames) Bellows of Boston. John was married to Mary Nichols (1810-1887). He was educated at the school of his uncle, Jacob N. Knapp, at Jamiaica Plain, Massachusetts, and entered Harvard College but did not graduate. He established a school for girls at Cooperstown, New York, and was afterward principal of the academy at Walpole, New Hampshire. About 1840, he entered the Unitarian Ministry and was settled over the parishes in Taunton, Framingham, and Barnstable, Massachusetts, and Wilton, New Hampshire.

Henry Whitney Bellows, founder of the Sanitary Commission

Rev. Henry Whitney Bellows, founder of the U. S. Sanitary Commission

John wrote the letter to his brother, Henry Whitney Bellows (1814-1882), an 1832 graduate of Harvard College and an 1837 graduate of the Harvard Divinity School. Henry “held a brief pastorate (1837-1838) at Mobile, Alabama, and in 1839 became pastor of the First Congregational (Unitarian) church in New York City (afterwards All Souls church), in charge of which he remained until his death. Bellows acquired a high reputation as a pulpit orator and lyceum lecturer, and was a recognized leader in the Unitarian Church in America. For many years after 1846 he edited The Christian Inquirer, a Unitarian weekly paper, and he was also for some time an editor of The Christian Examiner. In 1857 he delivered a series of lectures in the Lowell Institute course, on The Treatment of Social Diseases. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he planned the United States Sanitary Commission, of which he was the only president (1861 to 1878).” [Source: Wikipedia]

Henry was married to Eliza Nevins Townsend (1818-1869) and the couple had at least six children but I believe that only two lived to be adults. In this letter, John extends his sympathy to Henry and Eliza over the loss of their “little Mary” — Mary Davis Bellows (1847-1849) — who died on 7 November 1849.

1849 Letter

1849 Letter

Addressed to Rev. H. W. Bellows, No 32, 20th Street, New York

Barnstable [Massachusetts]
November 12th 1849

Dear Henry,

Your letter of the 8th inst., received today, breathes so good & submissive a spirit, under a great & repeated loss, & your own thoughts & reflections are so right & consoling that you leave me nothing to say other than to extend to you my brotherly sympathy in your bereavement. I know how in sorrow & trouble & want, the human heart looks above all conventional ties to those God has united to us by blood. We ask the sympathy and assurance of love from our natural friends to fill the gap death makes in our hearts. We feel with you the mysterious bond of blood suffers rupture in our hearts, even when a little child, all pure & sweet snaps the slight end that holds it away from its native heaven.

But then we do not feel great grief because we see in the distance how good such discipline must be to mortals; garnering up for us against our wills, treasures in heaven. You recollect what you said of Uncle Abel when Hatty died; & it is good to think what we have said to others in affliction, & so bring our own feelings under the control of our reason.

I have sometimes thought that I was not good enough to meet the careful discipline of Heaven by affliction. My children live in robust health. We have known no sickness in a married life of nearly seventeen years. The child is taken away for the sake of the parents. If we believe anything, we must bless this; that all God’s working is good & kind. But the child loses this life, & it is a loss to it because it is God’s gift & given in love. Now it seems to me that believers ought to thank God that he loves them enough to make them the subjects of a careful discipline. Surely we stay out of this furnace of trial when we can, as boys stay out of school, to regret it in mature years.

Let not this seem cold reasoning to you for we grieve with you and for you, and still I think we ought to acknowledge his superior advantages & elevation of station in life & position regain peculiar ease. We often say in the family circle that Heaven has seemed to have you in its especial keeping. How do you know what part our mother has in your life on earth? Does she grieve in heaven to see your tears over the grave of little Mary? Believe it not. She sees how blessed are they that mourn; for she sees the end, how they shall be comforted.

I read your letter in our little family circle as a valuable lesson. Oh for a closer walk with God, a fuller realization of Christian truth, then none of those things would move us, neither should we count our own life dear so that we might finish our course with joy & the ministry which we have received, to testify the Gospel if the grace of God.

Mary joins me in love to Eliza & Russel & Anna & believe me my dear brother truly yours, — J. N. Bellows

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