Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 18
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: July 1980 Volume 18 Number 3, Pages 69–81
Letters from John Craig and Katie Newlin
John Craig and Catherine Hains Newlin Craig were my paternal great-grandparents. They were married on December 6, 1860, at which time John, born on April 9, 1833, was 27 and Catherine (or Katie), born on June 30, 1835, was 25. Catherine, incidentally, was a direct descendant of Nicholas Newlin, who came from Mt. Mellick in Ireland to Chester County in 1683.
Following their marriage, the couple made their home at 519 Marshall Street in Philadelphia, John was a lumber merchant, with vast holdings in both Pennsylvania and Maryland, and traveled a great deal, as we shall see. While living in Philadelphia, they spent many of their summers on Darby Road in Paoli. Finally, on March 16, 1884, they purchased property there consisting of just over three (actually 3.019) acres. Craig Road, running between Darby and Chestnut roads near the eastern end of Paoli, takes its name from the family.
Only eighteen months later, on September 14, 1885, John Craig died in Paoli of typhoid. His widow survived him until June 20, 1913. The property in Paoli was retained until August 3, 1901, at which time it was sold for $1509.50.
The following excerpts, slightly edited for punctuation, are taken from their letters which have been in my possession for many years. They cover a portion of the years 1859 and 1860, shortly before they were married, and give us an insight into the life and times of the period. Let us look mentally now at these pre-Civil War days.
The first letter is dated May 9, 1859, a hand-delivered note from John to Katie at 816 Arch Street, where she lives with her widowed mother, brother Joe, and assorted friends and relatives who come and go. John advises Katie he must go to Wilmington — she has told him business before pleasure — and apologizes for such a large sheet to write a short note, but he is "in a hurry".
On May 17th he writes to her from Williamsport, where, he reports, he has been joined by Thomas, his brother, and visits Emma and the baby, who are staying with her sister 10 miles from town, "Her pleasant home," he writes, "is surrounded by mountains and it is wild in the extreme. A few yards from the door the Lycoming Creek runs on its rocky course... Thousands of wild flowers are blooming and I gathered a nice little bunch for Em's room, they looking so bright and pretty ... but I'm ahead of my story. You must know how I arrived at Williamsport. After due meditation, I concluded to take the Catawissa route (which you know leads via the mountain). So taking my seat in the Reading car (first having prepared a good lunch) at half past 7 o'clock, we started and had a pleasant run through the valley of the Schuylkill to Tamaqua. Here you leave the river and begin to ascend the mountains. At first, little to see, but on arriving at the summit, a distance of 24miles, the scene is truly beautiful. You see far over the tree tops and smaller hills and in the distance the beautiful sloping sides of a great mountain. At this season the new leaves are coming out with various shades of green and the sturdy pine and hemlock almost black in their dim winter clothing. I feel almost a new life as I look away, far away, and see them falling one above the other. He who could wander here and gaze on the thousand beauties of his country and not feel 'there is a spot of earth supremely bless'd' must be no patriot indeed... I love my country and here I feel it twice as much as when confined in the city amid the din and bustle... The town is looking very pretty in the early Spring. You cannot look out without seeing mountains ... and the river which spreads out wide here, for there is a large dam just below the town, and forms a beautiful sheet of water for sailing or paddling a nice little boat... Our mill is working and great piles of timber nearly ready to come to market." He asks Katie to write to him in Detroit; he is to be at the Russell House on Sunday on his way to Saganaw.
On May 20, Katie, in Philadelphia, writes John at the Russell House at "ten of eight, a rainy evening and no likelihood of any interruptions". It is a chatty letter, mentioning Cousin Martha and her father stopping in en route to New York and Europe.
On May 22, from Detroit, John writes Katie: "After writing you at Lockhaven, I walked quietly to the hotel to tea and found there Uncle Eli Wilson, Joseph and Samuel Richardson of Wilmington ... quite a surprise... Of course had to stay another day to show them the beauties of the city... After surveying ... the city, we took a carriage to Williamsport over the road that leads part of the way along the river, 'Tis a beautiful drive and from some of the high hills you overlook the valley with the beautiful Susquehanna winding in its course, for miles, I have seen it a thousand times, but it never grows less beautiful... We reached Williamsport in the evening and at 12 o'clock I took the cars for Suspension Bridge, leaving my friends ready for the morning train.
At 3 in the afternoon I arrived at the bridge and as the train for the west did not start for a few hours, I had a chance to peep at the falls. It looks very bright and beautiful along the river and the water roars and foams as it rushes to the Lake. I must tell you of a romantic walk I had here with a blooming young widow who fell to my lot in the cars, for you know I always find some poor, lone female who needs caring for as I travel along over the world. I took care of her to this city and started her on the train for the far west. I am now 230 miles west of the Falls, which distance I accomplished in one night, arriving here some the worse for wear, as I was right sick when I arrived at the hotel, owing to want of sleep and irregular meals, I suppose. A good nap and a nice dinner have set me all right again and I am only waiting for the morning to start for Saganaw, now 100 miles north from here... Vegetation is at least two weeks later here. Have I not seen a variety of climates this season — from the sunny south to this land of winter. I walked up this morning to hear our old Wilmington Pastor, Mr. Hogarth, preach... He was absent from the city ... a gentleman preached in his stead, with whom I was not one bit pleaaed: his voice was tiresome and his sermon uninteresting — a young lady went to sleep as he began — and the singers did not suit my fastidious taste... Shall, if not detained, reach this city on my return by Thursday evening next and will spend Sunday with Mary in Auburn, N.Y... May I hear from you there?.., This arrangement will bring me home about next Wednesday week..."
On the 26th he again writes Katie from Detroit: "Have just arrived from Saganaw and the boat starts in one-half hour for Cleveland and prefer that route for home as it is very dirty on the railroads. I started at 4 o ' clock yesterday from Saganaw, and have only arrived here in time for tea. The distance is 250 miles over the waters of Saganaw Bay, Lakes Huron and St. Clair, and the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers ... pleasant to sail over these great sheets of water..."
We hear nothing further until August 6 when John, now in Philadelphia, writes to Katie in Catskill, saying he had checked her home and found she had indeed departed. On August 8, from Mountain House, Catskill, Katie writes to John at First Wharf above Poplar Street in Philadelphia: "A bright Sunday morning... Coz. E., Mama and Joe have gone into the parlour to attend service... I have remained in my room... After leaving orders and bidding farewells at home last Thursday, we drove down to the boat, crossed the river and got very good seats in the cars and left Camden at 9 o'clock for N.Y. John met us at the wharf with news rooms were to be had at the Metropolitan, so we drove up there and it was just 10 minutes past 2 when we passed Tiffany's store.
We left N.Y. at 11 o'clock for Catskill, crossed the river, took the stage at 3:30 o'clock and was from that til 9 o'clock reaching here. What a journey... There's been a great deal of rain so the horses could hardly pull us ... stopped 34 times in the last 3 miles. When we did reach here, we were expected to sleep on the floor, but succeeded in getting a room with two other ladies. There were two beds and one on the floor for me. Poor Joe slept on a sofa. At noon yeaterday we got a good room ... with a little extra one for me. Poor Joe couldn't get a room so I gave him mine and we three ladies slept across the bed. We cannot complain for last night there were 30 in the barn and 20 ladies and some children on the parlour floor." On the 10th she tells him of walks and similar activities.
The same date he writes that he has stopped at the Newlin home to see if Bridget needs anything; on the 13th he tells her he hopes to get to Catskill via Albany where an order must be filled; and on the 16th he tells her of a call from his friend, Mr. Duncan, of Savannah: "A nice time in Germantown Sunday... Just received notice of the death of my Uncle William; he has seven children, well provided for and an excellent mother. He married late in life and must be past seventy."
During the rest of the month she writes of her woods walks with Joe and others, and he tells her of the commerce in the city.
On November 15 John writes from Pulaski House, Savannah: "Our life since leaving you, with the exception of the passage down our own bright Bay ... almost a blank... The wind and rain paid us such a visit that such a pair of sea-sick mortals will not be seen for many a day. We arrived here last night and were not able to reach the hotel until after 12 o'clock... After a night spent in a cold, hard bed ... not a very refreshing influence ... my head tossing with that ... ship still. We start for the woods at 10:30 this morning." Three days later, on the 13th, he writes from Johnston's Station, Liberty Co., Ga." "Your humble servant is dressed in an old black hat, gray woolen shirt and rather soiled pants." On the 21st: "I must tell you our bill of fare: first some good ham, which you do not like much, fine sweet potatoes, fresh tomatoes, and some good corn — fair for the woods, was it not? Now I must tell you about our coming here for I remember that the last letter I wrote I did not tell you of what a time we had of it. After leaving Savannah the cars brought us swiftly to the Station, where we hurried around, fixed up our teams, loaded them, and started. Although we worked hard, it was 3 o'clock before we got started and had then 13 miles to go. As far as Mr. Harris's, the road is good and we arrived there just before sunset. After this it is a wild wooded country and we were obligsd to get a negro to guide us over. He mounted a horse and rode first, then I followed, then our teams, then Mr. Shaw, and after him the other two negros, making on the whole quite a procession."
From her home at 816 Arch Street, Katie writes to John at Johnstons Station: "You must have had a terrible rough passage,.. Wednesday ... I went down to play cook and just got fully underway at a pie making ... when in came H. Hannah Somers. Eleven o'clock brought Lizzie Smith an Em up on a frolic.,. They staid til one... Coz. Martha and father to dine with us... I never got to take my walk on Chestnut St. until nearly dark..." On the 13th she writes: "Walk to Eleventh & Chestnut St... Joe christened a baby yeaterday, 'Joseph Newlin', but the little thing was so overcome with the honor it died today. Coz. Isaac Price's wife is very ill indeed... The rice pudding was splendid..." She continues, on the 15th: "I have to 'turn over several new leaves' and find it mighty hard work to get out of some of my bad habits, but maybe I'll conquer... There are no more naps to be taken this winter; I am to set aside all trifling work and pay more attention to the substancial, and last but not least go to the kitchen and try to make pies and bread. Ma and I went to a sale at 1231 Chestnut St. and judging from the furniture etc., I should not wonder much if Noah had lived there... This afternoon ... went to West Phila. Dave and Charlott were here to dinner," On the 23d, she writes: "Tomorrow I go to the country . . . Thanksgiving Day; also the anniversary of John's wedding ... to be a gathering of the family at his mansion in the evening, so we are all going down. I will remain to make a visit to Em for the space of a week. I went to Germantown on Monday ... a real pleasant day with Mrs. Somers... Conrads have moved into town again. They bought a house on Walnut above 20th ... she is tired of Germantown, it was too lonesome..."
November 28th finds John in Savannah at the Pulaski House, shopping for all the people under his care in the woods: "Lots of things to buy quite out of my line ... among them a dress for one of our ladies. I do hope ... a success for I don't like to have people out of humor... I take the head of the table in a great arm chair and preside over my family which has increased to twenty by the arrival of one more man from Lockhaven. I have to hire three more while here... Let me tell you how I spent yesterday: in the morning we put the horse in the carriage and drove to church, where we found, I suppose, 50 persons and had a sermon right good in language, but the preacher's force of delivery would about have driven words through a live oak and as you know I do not think much of this passionate style. You may judge I was not delighted... I applied to one of our neighbors to let us have a cow that we might be supplied with milk. This he consented to do with pleasure and drove over two of his best, each with a calf one year old. We put them in the field and after some time, I took Charity (our negro) down to milk. In this we succeeded admirable, for by dint of fast running I could just manage to keep within sight of their tails as they bounced around the field. You may judge, dear, that I did not preserve a perfect temper... We at last succeeded in getting one in a pen and making her eat a little.
Mr. Shaw stepped in lovingly and offered the feed, when the amiable little creature rushed at him, caught the pail in her horns, and tossed the feed in my direction. We cut the rope, let down the fence and started the whole party home again, glad to be rid of such troublesome creatures."
From Philadelphia, Katie writes on November 30th and December 2d that she has visited her Newlin relatives and returned home to airtend her "Ma", who has a bad cold. She is counting the days until John's return, and remembering his visit at Catskill helps pass the time. It's "a warm, sultry day with the thermometer at 70..."
From the Georgia woods, John recounts, on December 3d, how he has built some furniture for the new house in the woods; first a table, on which he can now write; then a shelf; and also a wash stand for Alice.
In the meantime, in Philadelphia the temperature must have dropped, as on the 4th of December Katie writes that the furnace is out and "Ma" has insisted that she (Katie) be in the sitting room where there is a fire, adding that because of "too many fussing around" she has gathered pen and paper and retreated to her own sanctum where, wrapped in a great cloak, she feels more at home: "Yesterday and today raining and hailing ... walking dreadful. Ten of the Linwood people here last week..."
At the same time, in Georgia, John reports on December 5th, there are more improvements: "Nice wash stand on which are a good bowl and pitcher purchased in Savannah... Not wintery... Yesterday in our last winter's home where some negros are living ... went to fix up some beds for two negro women we were obliged to hire to help with the work of the house..."
In Philadelpbia on the 7th Katie remarks: "It was 60 this morning but 20 now... I made biscuits for the first time and served them at tea... All said they!d tasted better, but fair for a beginning."
On the 10th John says they're expecting "the engin daily ... will set it up and make our woods home lively with the 'click of the mill'." On the 12th, he, Charlie and Orrin take a long walk in the woods, viewing some of their lands they were never on before. On December 16th he writes he is "particularly used up, having been up part of last night helping burn brick... We yet have this job on our hands although you know I made the contract for this last March and expected to find them all ready for me, but alas for all these poor Southern contractors, as near good for nothing as can be... I feel rather out of patience with some of them." Three days later, on the 19th, he writes: "I was obliged to pay another visit to the brick kiln and finding my place empty, had to remain until past midnight... Since then I have kept wondrous clear of them, only going near when there was no fear of my services being required!
I do hope they will soon get them done for I begin to think it is most like all Southern work — never half attended to. Charlie and I had a fine day at surveying, as we were selecting the best location for a railroad from the mill to the river..."
Katie writes on the 18th: "I came up Market St. yesterday and you have no idea how strange it looks, for in some places the market houses are entirely down, in others the pillars standing or half pulled down. It looks like some ruin. One week til Christmas ... there is a Kris Kringle at the corner of 9th Street." On the 29th, she advises: "Our roast beef dinner (Sunday) turned out to be roast mutton... Joe late as he preached at St. Peters ... carver I had to be. Poor Joe, do you condole with him, for he has lost one of his girls. Miss Emily McM. has found a friend in someone else. The folks at St. Marks plague Joe a great deal on account of his loss... I tell him all the girls will [be gone]] if he don!t stir around a little faster..." (John responds to this:' "I feel ... for Joe, but let him keep good heart for you know I met with a similar loss, once, to find some one a thousand times over more dear. May he be so fortunate. I guess like me, he wonft grieve much this time.") On the 21st, Katie continues: "I heard that Kris Kringle had sent a box down South by steamer 1 State of Georgia', and as said steamer has not yet sailed, I am very much afraid the contents will not be improved by the delay..."
Meanwhile, December 23d, in the woods: "One of our boilers ... arrived safely.... On Saturday morning next we are to have a grand negro wedding at Mr. Harris's... I shall most respectfully decline the pleasure of walking eight miles to the ceremony..."
Katie prepares for Christmas, she writes on: the 23d, and pays fashionable calls with her "Ma" on Mrs. Barnes and Mrs. Robins. She and Joe are in search of something for "Ma": "Must be useful ... a pair of matched vases... Went into Whitman's, bought lots of sugarplums... Money ran short ... May paid for them (later)... Cousin Martha Dodgson and father here to tea last evening... "Joe expects his ordination to take place the middle of next month... Great crowds on Chestnut, & Eighth, composed chiefly of rowdies making all the noise they could... We expect John, wife and children and perhaps Dave and wife up to dine... We try to be together on Christmas and New Years." She also reported that, Christmas being on a Sunday, they have to wait until Monday to celebrate and partake of goodies.
On Christmas Day in Georgia, John writes: "Sorry to hear of the death of Joe Baker; Lizzie has met with a great loss... Scarlet fever is prevailing near Wilmington... We had a great time here last evening... One of the old men sent home for a horn, it came last night, so we had a good dance in the old hall... Several of our men are Germans ... they generally dance well... We each took a male partner (ladies being scarce) and made the old woods ring with our noise... We think we have done wonders... Our machinery alone weighed 90,000 lbs. and all had to be hauled 12 miles from the station; that we were obliged to burn some 40,000 bricks before we could place our engine; that we have 2000 logs cut and 1000 of them hauled, beside cutting roads, fixing our house, and a thousand other odd jobs..."
He writes from Savannah on the 27th: "Many thanks for the nice box you sent me. I found the box at the steamer today."
That same day, from Philadelphia Katie reports: "Ma and I have been on a very nice frolic today ... out to Darby in the 10 o'clock cars and spent the day with Coz. Martha and returned on the 4 o'clock train. Home by 5 o'clock. Ten o'clock and Joe has gone to a party given by Miss Emily — now ain't that great hours for a preacher to keep? One who is almost a priest too, for he is to be ordained on the 19th [of January]." On the 29th Katie visits West Philadelphia, "the only lady in the car, although well filled", but between a veil and her book she got along "right bravely". "More company yesterday," she adds, "Em, her mother and Annie Larkin... See by the paper the steamer has reached that city [Savannah] and perhaps something on board besides engins and boilers... Happy New Year, John... A bitter cold day ... once in a great while I hear sleigh bells..."
In the New Year (1860), John writes on January 2d: "Only one minute ago since Charlie and I sat in our room trying how a beautiful mince pie would taste... It was mighty good... I wish you could have peeped and seen us open the box. Charlie, Mr. Shaw and I, we all got on the floor and I took one thing out at a time and we all tasted to see how good things were... All our heavy machinery, including the engin, is safe in the mill... I have read three chapters ... every Sunday night ... and have about finished the Book of Matthew. The men are not very attentive ... but a few are glad... Maybe it recalls ... when they were tiny little children..."
On the 3d of January Katie tells of a letter from Carrie telling about their Christmas tree, as high as the ceiling and lit with over 100 candles. Katie packs to go to New York, and on the 6th leaves at 9 o'clock with "Josey". They travel to Miss McConnell's, 23 Clinton Place, New York. Her brother returns to Philadelphia the next day.
John writes to her in New York: "The last of the machinery is at the station; we have four boilers for our engin, and they weigh about 4000 lbs. each... Obliged to haul them each at one load, and as our roads are not the best ... giving my usual tranquil mind no little uneasiness... Our lime and masons have arrived... To get our engine placed ... we must build a railroad to the river ... over a mile... I have in one of my pens four tiny little pigs, only a few days old, and last night their affectionate parent took it into her head to depart this life... I was obliged this morning to give them each a breakfast of mush from a small spoon ... took ever so kindly ... squealed all the time I held them... Out of our windows you could see a great fire with the negros busy around it.
They have taken a small job to do after hours and it looks very like some pictures I have seen of Southern life, probably in Harper's.' They work awhile, then stop, talk and sing and go to work again, as merry as ever. We now have eight of them at work for us: 6 men and 2 women. They occupy the old house we had last winter, which stands about 1/8 mile from our new one. Yet, they make so much noise with their dancing and singing I have been obliged to call them to order..."
A week later, he writes to Katie in Philadelphia: "Tomorrow it will be two months since we arrived... Wednesday week ... certainly fully ready ... to make lots of boards... It is a very nice strong mill, much better than any in the neighbourhood... This one is decidedly one century ahead of any in the State ... My little family that I was caring for last Sunday has departed this life..." On the 17th he continues: "I have never told you of a little love affair that is going on in our midst: we brought with us a nice little girl as cook and a tall young man to work in the mill. As usual, the extremes met and they seemed to be smitten at first sight... We plague him enough, I assure you."
January 20th Katie writes of Joe's ordination: "A sizeable party went to the service at 11 o'clock. Joe met us at the door and succeeded in getting good seats. My seat was by the side of Bishop White's granddaughter... Two Bishops officiated — Potter and Bowman."
Under date of January 22d, from "Everglade Mills", John reports: "Yesterday we raised our chimney... We have 3411 logs cut."
In Philadelphia Katie had a visit to her relatives "down country", some of whom wanted to know if John had been "taken up yet for being a Northerner", On her arrival home, "in came sister Sallie Richards. . .' Annie Trainer was here to tea and gone to the French Opera with a beau..."
On the 26th John writes: "We had the pleasure of starting our engine for the first time... Tomorrow I shall drive to the Station to send the bricklayers home,,.." He continues on the 29th: "The mill has beem going... I have never seen a new mill start so well... We worked away from 10 o'clock in the morning until four in the afternoon ... sawed seven thousand feet... We calculate to cut fifteen thousand feet per day ... expect to make one million of feet yet this season.,. Our first job is to build a stable, then to saw enough to make the railroad and then it won't be long before the first raft will go to Darwin."
On February 2d he writes: "For several days have noticed the woods on fire at a distance, but yesterday morning we were hurried out of bed at about five o1clock and could see the great flames ... fearfully near.
We all hurried out to meet it, but the wind was blowing a perfect hurricane at the time, could do nothing but take care of our log piles, railroad, mill and house... In this, successful... I understand the fire began about 10 miles above us and is still going on South, covering in width about four miles."
The last day of January Katie writes of a trip to Germantown to help with the wedding finery at Somers. On the 3d of February she was again in Germantown working on the bridal dress "18' around". After reminding John, on the 12th, that it has been three months since he went away, on the 17th she writes about the wedding held the previous day, for which John had been asked to be a groomsman: "In the two o!clock cars there were lots of people with great bundles, all going to the wedding... Mrs. Somers ... in good spirits ... Miss Lippincott is staying there. The bridal company ... included first Miss Hallowell and Mr. Jackson; 2nd. Miss Jackson and Mr. Palmer; 3rd. Miss Somers and Mr. Lewis... Lucretia Mott said a few words, reading a piece that was presented to her on the like occasion..."
John writes on the 18th: "Father has arrived and seems delighted with all our works..." And on the 26th: "Sunday. Father has kept me strolling in the woods ... magnolias reaching fifty to seventy-five feet high entwined with jasamine..." He continues, on the 29th: "Improvements ... greatest is a nice fence to keep off the pigs that have annoyed us, so very much, there are hundreds of them running here in the woods and they come about the house in swarms."
March in Philadelphia started, Katie writes on the 2d, with a visit from each of the principal characters at Linwood: "Coz. C., Em, and the one she has chosen ... Uncle David and wife and our Dave... A visit from the Germantown folk."
From Pulaski House, Savannah, on the 6th John writes: "I drove to Mr. Harris1s and found Miss Sue looking ever so pleasant with the exception ... she had been most too near a powder box... The ladies in this country appear in public looking ... as though they had been plumped into a barrel of flour. After dinner we drove to Hinesville ... stopped with my friend of last year, Mr. Hines ... very pleasant old gentleman who has a large estate and considered quite aristocratic. His house would scarce make a good stable with us. At table we had about $4000 worth of negros to distribute about fifty cents worth of provisions among us... The country is so poor that they cannot obtain any of our luxuries and so give with open hearts such as they have. He owns 120 negros and sits in the parlour calling with all his voice to those about the house to supply his wants.. Lots of strange things you would see here, deary, for they are all so unlike us bright northern folks... On Monday I took the cars and arrived here at about 4 ofclock... Went ... soon after to call on my friends Duncan and Johnston... Mr. Cancan ... an old Scotch gentleman ... insisted on my going to tea... Have hired enough men to make our work go nicely... A thousand flowers are blooming and the mocking birds sing sweetly..."
The next day, he continues: Walked to the depot this morning expecting to start for home... I had the satisfaction of seeing the train start and the men I had hired were no place to be found... Obliged to remain to hunt others. On my return to the Hotel I met Mr. George Whitney of our own city... They are large manufacturers of car wheels, on Callowhill St. between 16th and 17th. I went this afternoon with Mr. Duncan to buy a negro woman; the negros are placed in the hands of the persons in charge of the sale... If a negro behaves properly, he is allowed to walk around the city except in sale hours. ... I find as a general thing their wishes are consulted and they are sold in families with the agreement they are not to be separated, a very just and human arrangement. In fact, I think the negros are treated better than the whites, as they are the only thing of much value in the country and every man looks at his negro as thousand dollars over which he is watching. I seen two boys sold for $1100 each and the woman we were looking at was held at $1300, which Mr. D. declined to give..."
Katie, in Philadelphia, continued to count the days, reminding John on the 11th that it was four months since he left. She also notes: "Annie, with John, Charlotte and Mr. Haslin go to the opera..." Dave drove, her to her Uncle David's and she visits her relatives, including Aunt Mary Smith.
The same date in the South, John writes he's been strolling in the woods with his father. "The mill working nicely ... 250 thousand feet of lumber and now on hand a full vessel load of nice boards; our railroad is done to the river and we have enough hauled down to make a good large raft on which to sail down the river; I came down the Lehigh once thus and found it very beautiful." He continues, on the 14th: "We are building our raft... A man with a little cart came here for a load of boards today. He hauled 15 and the whole arrangement looked very like it had been used for hauling part of the stores to Noah's Ark... I judge they are about 200 years behind us folks from the north." And, on the 18th: "The men we procure here are so indifferent that it is impossible for Mr. Shaw to manage ... without me ... as we have one set of men in the woods cutting logs; one on the mill at work; one at the river rafting. We have two rafts ready for Darwin..."
From Savannah, on the 25th John writes: "On Tuesday morning bright and early we were off for the [Alatamaha] river by our own railroad, the sun shining as he came from his eastern bed, as though he had put on brightness for our pleasure. After some fixing, we had the rafts all ready and at ten o'clock pulled out into the stream and took a merry start: the river was in fine rafting order and we had every prospect for a pleasant journey. We sailed along nicely, enjoying the new scenes and places of interest that we passed, and as evening came, we sought a place where we might fasten our floating home and prepare for the night; we found a safe place... Were up bright and early in the morning and soon ready for another day' sailing.
The little birds whistled ever so merrily as we startled them with pur early laugh, and again the sun shone bright on our journey. This day was one of toil and we could scarce leave:our oars to take a dinner that would have tasted ever so good to us hungry ones... Night came and again we sought a harbour... The next morning we were up and off again and at three o'clock in the afternoon had our raft safely tied to the wharf at Darwin... I should like to show you this river, Katie, not for its great beauty, for I cannot say it's beautiful, but everything seems so strange to us who have ever lived in a country of hills. The banks, or I should say the forest (for there are large swamps filled with timber on each side) are covered with the long hanging moss particular to that country, and the wind sweeping along makes an ever changing picture of its thousand branches; sometimes it seems a great spider web and you can almost imagine some monarch spider busy with his plans; and again His like some beautiful tapestry that the busy hand of man has wrought. Occasionally you see some little spot higher than the surrounding country covered with beautiful flowers now in full bloom; many of them are white but prominent among them is the beautiful yellow jasamin... The distance is about 75 miles and you see but one inhabited house on the journey; two men were standing on the bank and we heard one cow bell in the distance; the only signs of civilization the whole way..."
On the 26th, he sees his father in the coach on his journey home, reporting: "Succeeded in procuring a fine vessel to carry our lumber... Lumber soon in Wilmington, where it has been sold for sometime; ... disposed of one half of all we shall make this season." On the 29th: "Two more rafts to Darwin in the morning."
On the 30th, Katie and Cousin Christy go off to Germantown, carrying a plate to bring in one of the famous cocoa-nut pies of the Harkinsons: "Got their pie, cheese cake and cream cakes — a frolic ... during Lent." (I can remember going to HarkinsorJs with my grandmother,- the daughter of Katie.) On April 1st Katie reports: "Sunday, sister Sallie Richards and husband in during the evening. ... A great sight on Chestnut St. yesterday: fourteen horses attached to a musical car which had a female for their driver, also seven more females on horseback and one elephant." On the 6th: "A rich Mrs. Bird at 9th and Chestnut died this morning ... very wealthy ... various relatives and friends coming and going."
John, on the 7th of April, relates that his foreman, Mr. Shaw, hurt his back, but that "last week we made at least 120,000 feet and sawed six hundred logs". He mentions coming home with some of his men, and expects to be sea sick again on the steamer.
On the 11th he writes of dreadful sad news: "Last night about 1 o'clock our mill took fire and was totally consumed... Cannot tell the cause ... an hour before it was all safe... Our lumber on hand all safe and sound and our engine and boilers not much damaged... Yet do not think, deary, that I feel badly about it for I must say I am not.
It was an enterprise started with the prospect of making something to compensate us for our work and trouble, and was done after careful thought and calculations, and we find that in all respects our figuring was correct. What little lumber we have made is of better quality than we expected to find on the lands; our mill sawed more than we believed was possible, and best of all we northern men have come thus far from home in a country supposed to be almost hostile to us, and have made friends that now come in our trouble and offer such aid as they are able to give, if we will come back next year and build up again; is not this much more than we could have hoped to accomplish? And I ever only think of it as a regular business venture unfortunately terminated. We have nothing to condemn ourselves for, for we have been as careful and done all that was in our power to keep it safe and fortune has this time frowned... I feel very happy to know that it was all paid for and so free to think that no judgments can be obtained for bills of any kind... And dear, you can tell Mrs. Somers that one person has gone away off in the land of negros and lived for almost six months and cow can come home, with the best wishes of many friends made in that time, and earnest invitations to come back once more among them. I am right proud of it, dear, for I have ever thought that those who speak ill of our Southern neighbours and tell great stories of their doings must thank only themselves for the troubles they have brought about, you know faults are never all on one side..."
Katie writes on the 8th and 10th of the family doings, including the arrival from Baltimore of Cousin Gus Winslow and Julie Hyde, and on the 14th she notes the death of Aunt Betsy Price, 82 years old.
On the 15th, in the Georgia woods John writes they have been rafting all lumber on hand, "five good rafts at our landing, making eleven and will close out all we have on hand. Tomorrow we shall get all the machinery together and build sheds..."
So ended the southern idyll. John must have returned shortly after he secured his property in Georgia. His next letter, a month later on May 18th, is from Williamsport.
Page last updated: 2010-03-03 at 3:05 EST