Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Trinkets and Treasures - No. 2

The last item I showed you was a trinket, but this one is a real treasure, at least to me. I'm pretty sure the genealogy enthusiasts among you will appreciate it, too. It's the oldest thing I own--an original letter written in 1858 to my great-great-great-grandfather, Abraham H. Hetherington, by his brother, Isaac.

The letter came to me when my grandmother died in 1988. It was stuffed in an envelope with other family history documents. It was sealed in plastic then and remains in the same plastic today. Unfortunately, even in that protective environment,  a portion of the letter has separated from the rest along a fold line.

Here it is, front and back:

In this letter Isaac addressed the problem of moving his and Abraham's parents from where they lived then to a better place, and declined without much of an explanation to do the job himself. Here's a typed transcript of the text (blank lines denote illegible words):

          Brandonville, VA. May 17th, 1858 

Dear Brother, 

Yours of 30th Ult. came duly here. 
We are well. I was glad to hear you all enjoy 
good health. You write concerning Father & 
Mother. You think the matter of attending 
to their removal devolves on me. You will 
understand me, that I feel as you on this 
subject, but how under the present cir- 
cumstances I can go, I cannot see. I com- 
ply with your wish in informing you 
thus. If I could at all do it, I surely 
would attend to this duty without delay. 
I hope you or your son will proceed 
to attend to getting them out & that they 
may reach there in safety and that 
the Almighty may spare them long. 
It is heartrending to hear of their suffering and we 
well blame ourselves. I remember of sending the old 
folks some years ago five dollars. I believe this was 
when I lived in Selbysport. Since then he was 
here with us but a good many years ago. 
When he left here, I presented him with such 
articles as he could carry with him for their 
comfort. He was surely welcome and would 
have been to more, but he declined taking 
what I had in fact to force upon him. 
Since that time my circumstances have chan- 
ged so that I have not means to assist 
him at my command, otherwise Brother 
Abraham, they should not suffer. And if I 
could go and attend to them now I would 
go without delay. Well may you say this is 
a serious matter. We owe to Parents debts of gratitude 
we cannot repay. With regard to course of travel 
to their place, I can give you little or 
no information. You are surely aware of the two 
routes by rail, that of Balt. & Ohio and that 
of Pittsburg & Connellsville, or better perhaps by 
water from Pittsburg to Brownsville & then by 
coach to Cumberland. Or you could stop this 
side of Cumberland. Should you or your 
son come in after the old Parents & travel 
by the Balt. & Ohio Rail Rail, you could 
stop at Cranberry Summit 18 miles from 
this place & come here, Or if Boat from 
Pitt. to Brownsville you could stop at _____- 
__________ 12 miles from here & call here. 
I hope you will do so. You say you can 
not well send a constitution (the last) of 
Iowa. I am well aware you would if you 
could accomodate. I inquired of you 
concerning Bro. C. in my last letter. You 
must have forgotten to say something on 
this. Write me very shortly & inform me 
what you are going to do concerning 
the old Parents & when you intend to 
go or send for them and when we ex- 
pect you or your son here to see us 
on your or his way there, inform me al- 
so all you can about Christmas, in each 
particular, and ________ here & intended 
removing to one or the other of the two 
states, which you prefer, yours or Iowa. 
With the best wishes for your prosperity 
and that of your family, 
                           Your Brother 
A.H. Hetherington          I. Hetherington 

Henry and Margaret, the "old parents," were 87 and 65 years old, respectively, when this letter was written, so it's easy to understand the brothers' concern for their well-being. Isaac, in the letter, seemed to acknowledge that he was the logical choice to help Henry and Margaret move, but his reluctance to do so left me wondering how the problem was ultimately resolved.

I've never learned how Henry and Margaret were relocated or who actually tackled the job of moving them, but I was thrilled to find out that both of them were still alive at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census. (A misspelling of their last name had kept that fact hidden from me until last year.)

So where were Henry and Margaret in 1860?  In Southampton Township, Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

And who was the only other person living in the household with them? Why, it was their son Isaac, the shoemaker and former buck-passer.

I love a story with a good ending.


  1. This is a treasure indeed! I wonder what Isaac would think of all of us reading it?

  2. Wow, what a find! I'm glad there was a happy ending and that the old folks were safe, after all.

    this letter was written so long ago. I wonder sometimes if our blogs will be read years from now and what people will think about it all!

  3. I'm here by way of Ronni and I am just loving your blog!
    Thank you for sharing this letter, it brings these people so into the present and nothing changes does it?

  4. Fascinating reach back into history. Especially when I realize that I am reading a scanned copy of a handwritten letter, and it took me all of two "clicks" to get there. The need to communicate is still with us, though the method of doing so has changed so radically!

  5. I love the formal nature of the language used back then for written correspondence. In this modern age of instant messages and abbreviations for everything, I appreciate complete sentences, proper grammar and all the niceties that used to go into letters.

  6. Holly, I suspect Isaac would wish he had been more specific about the reasons he couldn't help.

    Marion, I never thought about whether or not our blogs will be read years from now. I just wish more people would read them now. :)

    Wisewebwoman, thank you for visiting; I hope you'll come back. Yes, it seems that the people who came years and years before us dealt with many of the same problems people are trying to handle today. The little problems might be different (due to mechanical and technological advances), but the big ones, the important family problems, are probably still very much the same.

    Duly Inspired, isn't it wonderful that the technology exists to let us share things like this letter with others? That capability is amazing when you think about it.

    Writing My Novel, I find the formality of the language usage interesting, too. I wonder how much of that formality was retained in their spoken conversations.

  7. How wonderful to have such a treasure! I love the copperplate writing of the old times, always wished I could write like that. And his vocabulary! it sounded rather stilted and formal, but that's men for you, I guess. It sounds like they weren't close at all.

    The final part of the letter had me dizzy wondering what the heck he was talking about. Isn't it a great twist of fate that he ended up with the 'rents after all?

  8. Janet, the "Christmas" Isaac was referring to was Christmas Hetherington, the "Bro. C" he referred to earlier in the letter. Yes, Christmas was born on Dec. 25th.

    I did a little more research after I posted this and learned that the parents were in Southampton Township, Somerset County, Pennsylvania ten years earlier, at the time of the 1950 census, also, so it looks to me as though they never were "removed." I think Isaac just moved in with them instead.


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