1851: Sherman Converse to George Sherman Converse

How Sherman Converse might have looked

How Sherman Converse might have looked

This letter was written by Sherman Converse (1790-1873). He married, first, Ann Huntington, daughter of Samuel and Nancy (Perkins) Huntington, of Windham, Conn. She died, 27 May 1821, aged 27 years; he married, second, Eliza Nott, daughter of Rev. Samuel Nott, D.D., of Franklin, Conn. She died in New York, 19 January 1845, aged 47. Sherman Converse was graduated from Yate in 1817. He was the first to go to Yale from Monson Academy, where he was graduated in 1813. After graduation from Yale he settled in New York City where he was in the book and publishing business. He removed with his family to Quebec, Canada, where his son was bring educated, and resided there for six years. He returned to the United States about 1844 and died in Boston. He was a friend of Noah Webster, and was the first publisher of Webster’s Dictionary (1828). Sherman suffered an attack of rheumatism in 1850 and never fully regained his health afterward. He is buried in New Haven, Connecticut, beside his two wives.

Sherman wrote the letter to his son, George Sherman Converse (1828-1895). George was born in New York City, 22 Sept. 1828, in a house near the Battery. He was graduated from Yale in 1849, and became a distinguished Episcopalian divine. He studied with Dr. Tyler of Grace Church, and was rector of St. Luke’s P. E. Church in Roxbury, Mass. He died, in Boston, about 1896, and his memorial was preached by Dr. Abbott of Boston in Grace Church. He married Ella Coles, daughter of Isaac M. Coles of New York City.

This letter was addressed to George while he was employed as a teacher at St. Timothy’s Hall — a boy’s boarding school — in Catonsville, Maryland (1850-52). The following year (1852-53), one of the institutions most famous students, 14 year-old John Wilkes Booth, entered the school.

February 1851 Letter

February 1851 Letter

Addressed to Mr. George S. Converse, St. Timothy’s Hall, Catonsville, Baltimore County, Maryland

No. 6 Amity Place, New York [City]
February 13th 1851

My Dear Son,

Your two letters of yesterday are both received — one con[ta]ining a check on the Bank of Commerce for 40 dollars for which you have my grateful acknowledgements. You have rendered me great service this winter and I do not know how I could have done without the aid you have given me. A hundred and one dollars is no small sum to me this winter and I am truly thankful for the kindness of my son for so great a favor. I trust I shall be able to repay you by the time you come on next summer. I am still very lame, cords contracted, and knees unsound, but I gain flesh daily, the circulation and secretions in my limbs are restored and those shrunk and flabby muscles of the legs above the knees have become hard and are filling up with new flesh that looks like that of a young child.

But the weather has been very unfavorable. Some time ago we had 4 or 5 days of very fine and mild weather and I gained wonderfully so that I nearly chased my nurse around the table once or twice without crutch or staff. And then the severe cold came all at once and almost killed me. I have not recovered from the effects of it yet. I must have settled, mild weather before I can get permanently well. Faushard says I will get out about the first to the middle of May and he will have the book ready for me then. I hope to be able to take hold of the sales by that time.

I have written a letter to L____ & Maltby today and have no doubt they will cheerfully wait on me till summer. The other little debts in New N____ I presume we can manage between us when you come. If I can only attend to the sales myself, we shall soon be relieved from the worst of the pressure. The man to whom I sold an interest in the plantation and who gave me his notes on long time has gone to California and left his note for 500 dollars unprovided for. So I have given the whole property back into the hands of Seymour and surrendered the contract on his agreeing to give me of my notes, which I gave him for the purchase. I was glad to do so as I should never succeed with it as I originally designed.

Booth has been in this evening and has just left me. He says Plumby got married without the knowledge of friends on either side. His wife is the daughter of a widow and no property. They are living with his father.

Mrs. Wm. Niblo was buried this afternoon. ¹ Her loss to Niblo himself will be irreparable. She was truly a business woman and his main stay. Had it been his brother’s wife, it would have been of little consequence. No news yet of the Atlantic and I never expect any.

I wish you could drop in on me. I should like you to see my nurse and hear some of her Irishisms. I foment my knees frequently with hot wet cloths, and the other night she said come now, I want to cement your knees. You would have split to hear her tell about a dream she had last night, “O such a dream, my gracious, and I don’t think it was a dream at all for I was really awake and if ‘ye know I thot my brother was dead and he had come to spake to me and he lifted up the mattress you know for I thought he was under the bed — and O, my d’let two screeches and covered up my head and sm____ down to the little girl!!! I don’t use her language all as she uses it, and then you should have seen her f____ to enjoy it. How does Bliss like and how is he liked — what salary does he get? Write me a long letter of particulars.

Your affectionate father, — S. Converse

¹ The Weekly Herald (New York) reported that Mrs. Martha [King] Niblo, wife of William Niblo, died on 11 February 1851.

“William B. Niblo was born in Ireland, the son of Mary and John Niblo, and came to New York in the earliest years of the 19th century. He found work in the politically connected David King’s porter house on Sloat-lane near Wall Street, and by 1813 struck out on his own, taking over the mansion of former Tory-sympathizer Frederick Phillipse at 47 Pine Street. There he opened the Bank Coffee House, which rapidly became THE place for politicians, actors and businessman to gather, eat and do business in lower Manhattan. A “coffee house” in early New York was no Starbucks! Niblo’s establishment was part hostelry, part tavern, and very much a well-known dining establishment. His larder was legendary, with the freshest wild game brought from all over the Eastern seaboard. Green turtles from the South Seas were stored in an East River pen off Brooklyn Heights; a whole bear was roasted and brought in staked and erect, for a banquet in 1823.

Niblo was part Toots Shor and part Daryl F. Zanuck: in 1828 he sold the Bank Coffee House (by then one of two under that name that he operated). While keeping other hospitality enterprises going, Niblo acquired a former circus grounds and equestrian yard in a part of town that was then ex-urban. The block bounded by Broadway, Crosby, Houston and Prince Streets was leased in toto by him where he opened the first version of “Niblo’s Garden” on July 4th, 1828. His wife since 1819, Martha King Niblo, daughter of David King, was his full business partner in all that Niblo essayed.

Niblo's Garden Opera House

Niblo’s Garden Opera House

Niblo’s Garden was an instant success, with its lavishly planted outdoor spaces, genteel refreshment saloon, and extravagant proscenium amphitheater. Niblo commissioned magnificent coaches to ferry his customers from the hotel he operated with his brother John at Broadway and Cedar Street out into the “country” for the evening. In contradistinction to the rowdy environments on the Bowery and elsewhere downtown, Niblo’s Garden admitted only escorted ladies, and its prices were not cheap. Performers from all over the world vied for Niblo’s attention. Acrobats, musicians, thespians, equestrians: all aspired to appear on his stage. When the Garden burned to the ground in 1846, it was rebuilt and re-opened ever more magnificent in 1849, and then incorporated into the site of the Metropolitan Hotel when it was built in 1852.

A devout Episcopalian, Niblo was instrumental in the founding of Calvary Episcopal Church on Park Avenue South and 21st Street, where to this day one can sit in his pew #113, and see his name inscribed as donor on the large stained glass window dedicated to his dear friend and one-time pastor of Calvary, the famed cleric of mid-century America, Reverend Francis Lister Hawkes. Niblo was a warden and vestryman of Calvary and a substantial donor over the years.

Sadly, Martha King Niblo died in 1851, childless, and William never re-married. He was said to have visited the mausoleum he built for her and their family members in 1854 on a daily basis, especially after his retirement from the theater business in 1861. His name continued to grace the marquee of Niblo’s Garden until its demolition for a loft building in 1894.” [Source: http://newyorkwanderer.com/william-niblo-stars-at-open-house-new-york/]

1851 Letter

March 1851 Letter

Addressed to Mr. George S. Converse, St. Timothy’s Hall, Catonsville, Baltimore County, Maryland

No. 6 Amity Place, New York [City]
March 3d 1851

My Dear Son,

I have nothing to do and nothing to say and to improve time I have taken pen to address you and say nothing. The truth is my limbs are nervous and annoy me and I want to do something to beguile the moments and make me forget them.

I had a most beautiful dream last night and one of the kind which used to auger good for me and I hope it may be so now. I was at someplace next to broad and deep water and waiting for some one but don’t know whom. The surface of the water was partly covered with ice and I had in my hand a long cane fishing rod with a long line and very small hook attached and I thought I would just try my luck a little till the party should arrive for whom I was waiting. So I examined the hook and found it very small and no bait on it, but I had plenty of angler da__ in my left side breeches pocket and put my hand in and pulled out a bunch from which I stitched one and let another drop which ____d h____ to make off with himself — but I received the gentleman and put him back with the rest and carefully baited my hook with the others. My next movement was to seek a large open place in the ice which I could reach from the shore and I soon found one broad and deep into which I threw mu hook and long line. I remained but a moment or two when some thing took strong hold of the hook and walked off. I pulled and I saw turn up in the water the bright sides of a large striped bass that would weigh 20 or 30 pounds. My concern now was for my little hook but I managed gently and finally brought up the hand so that I could stoop and put my hand under, when to my surprise I found that I had got some 15 or 20 splendid fellows of different kinds, all of which I landed safely on shore. Immediately my brother came up and several other persons and one gentleman said I had caught about 500 pounds — and all wondered at the mighty haul. I told them I guessed it was the largest haul that had been made with such a little hook for some time and I awoke. If we live to go to Bosrah [Bozrah, Connecticut?] next summer, I will show you “how it was did.”

My poor legs don’t get well yet and I suppose they gain strength and improve a little every day although scarcely perceptible. Two or three days of mild weather makes a great difference with the cords and when I can get a few weeks of it, I hope to be quite restored. Had I means, I would go South at once, but I can’t get away and if I were away, I couldn’t get back. I am becoming very impatient to get out. If I could only go down town and walk about a little and by the means strengthen my limbs and strengthen the cords at the same time, I should be comparatively contented. All the winter mostly I have been a prisoner confined within doors, and some time to come, to attempt going out. Still I look for recovery with strong hope and expectation and feel that I am warranted in doing so from the progress already made.

A French lady just from Paris has arrived at our house who can’t speak a word of English. I wish you were here to bring your French into exercise. I don’t attempt to speak at all. I find I have forgotten most of the little I ever knew. If your French Master possesses general intelligence & if you will not fail to converse with him on subjects out of the common course of remark, that you may learn new terms and enlarge your colloquial knowledge and use of the language. I raised this subject some time ago but you have never replied to me whether you do so or not.

I wrote you long ago respecting a ticket for the gold watch in purgatory but you have never replied. I hope you will not fail to look at it.

March is here and soon we shall have April Fool’s Day, and summer on its heels. How wonderfully the time advances. We shall be over at Bosrah with Josey if we live before we think of it. You don’t write me about father’s note. I want to hear how is and has been this winter. Write me all particulars of yourself. I am so lonesome and solitary that I should die if I had not my Irish nurse to amuse myself with. But the poor girl is getting unwell and I fear I shall lose her and I can’t yet do without a nurse.

My God bless you, my son. Ever your affectionate Father. — S. Converse

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