1819: Latitia Preston [Breckinridge] Porter to Zachariah Allen

Latitia Breckenridge Porter

Latitia Breckenridge Porter

This letter was written by Latitia Preston [Breckinridge] Porter, wife of Gen. Peter Buell Porter (1773-1844) — a New York politician and John Q. Adams’s Secretary of War. Latitia’s first husband was Alfred William Grayson (17xx-1810). She married Gen. Porter in 1818. Latitia was the daughter of John Breckinridge (1760-1806) and the aunt of John Cabell Breckinridge (the Presidential Candidate of 1860). The Porters lived in Niagara County, New York, but Latitia (spelled variously Latitia, Letitia, Laetitia) was apparently visiting relatives in Lexington, Kentucky when this letter was written in 1819.

Zachariah Allen

Zachariah Allen

Latitia wrote to Zachariah Allen (1795-1882) and his wife, Eliza Harriet Arnold (1796-1873). Zachariah was an American textile manufacturer, scientist, lawyer, writer, inventor and civil leader from Providence, Rhode Island. He was educated at Philips Exeter Academy and at Brown University where he graduated in 1813. Allen became a textile manufacturer and in 1822 constructed a woolen mill in which he incorporated innovative fire-safety features and his own mechanical improvements. He also built the first hot-air furnace system for the heating of homes. In 1833 he patented his best-known device, the automatic cut-off valve for steam engines. He founded the Manufacturers’ Mutual Fire Insurance Company in 1835, the forerunner of the present day insurance company FM Global. Allen was also a prolific writer of scientific texts and wrote numerous books and articles during his lifetime.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mr. Zachariah Allen, Providence, Rhode Island

Lexington, Kentucky
December 29th 1819

My Dear Mrs. Allen,

I have intended daily to write you since my arrival in this state, but the death of an uncle, my own indisposition & a house full of company has not left me an hour to devote to a friend. You & Mr. Allen have often been the subject of conversation & two years has not impaired  the sense of gratitude myself & family feel to your husband & ___ for all your kindness to me & my brothers though Mrs. ___ and I heard that neither Mr. Allen nor yourself were in good health. I hope the assurity of the ___ importance to your dear children & family do not trifle with your health, Dear Mrs. Allen, but if you are indisposed take immediate steps to improve upon your confluent by every means in your power, & you have all the world affords. I am thus _____ because I am deeply interested in all that concerns you & yours & without health we are not allowed to enjoy the most desirable situation in life that is ___ all you want to complete your trip.

Gen. Peter Buell Porter

Gen. Peter Buell Porter

Mr. D___ I met in Pittsburgh. We passed without speaking, each thinking they had seen the other before. I spent several hours with him & I am confident tired him with questions. I gave him a letter to my brother Cahill but his family was in so much distress that it was out of his power to entertain Mr. D at his house then. The family here hoped to see him as did Cahill on his return from Louisville. John & Gen. Porter went to Lexington but he had left that place for Providence two days before. My best respects to him & Mrs. D.

Myself & family are truly mortified that we had not an opportunity to even our dispositions to return in a small degree some of his courtesy to us when in Pittsburgh. I hope & beg that when he comes to Niagara, he will not forget his promise of coming to our house with Mr. Ives & Mr. Burnell. I have seen Mr. Porter & all the family. They have improved the farm much, finished the new house in a plain gentile style. It is well furnished & they are very comfortable. The old lady looks very well. Mr. C. badly. Mrs. Bradford better than Ives saw her & has a remarkable handsome fine child. Susan is very pretty & she & Elizabeth have  both become quite slender to what they were when you seen them. Francis has not al all changed but H as not is as tall as any of her sister & the home ___ of the family. Yours is practicing medicine miles from his fathers at a place called Centreville. John has a store at the same place. Joseph & Charles are at home.

Lexington has gone through many changes since you were there. Mrs. James Prentiss & Sarah Gardner are in Boston, her two elder girls at Bethlehem, her small children & crippled daughter boarding out. Young Hart has wrote & all the family are moved to a farm in the country. Mr. H___ occupies the house. Mrs. H. ___ ___ entertains a great deal of company. Mrs. H is a fine woman & much admired. Mrs. Jordan is married to a Mr. Mason — a relation of J. Mason of Providence. They live in ______. Maria Von Phal ____ still at Col. Mead’s. Graff V. P. then rather who you saw drowned ____ not long since. Mary Hunt & Mr. Harman at last married. The H. is the side of Kentucky & is really a cultivated fine woman. Mr. Castleman courted her but to his great mortification she rebuked him. He is here & single. John is busy exhorting [and] teaching Sunday School & doing all the good he can. He looks dreadfully. William & he will go home with me in April & then join the college & the Seminary in Princeton. Both will be clergymen.

Robert has lately returned from Schenectady, the same wild boy he was when in P. Mary Burhennaize had a son about six weeks since is in dreadful health. This is her seventh child — three since we left K. She has her three eldest girls living. Mary Ann Castleman is a fine child. Gen. Porter will leave me in four weeks for Washington City & will meet me at home. My mother will go home with me. She looks very well, has patience ______ as lame & has to walk with a cane. I came by water almost all the way to Erie in the Steam Boat, to Waterford in a carriage, then we bought a skiff & came to the mouth of French Creek down the Allegheny [River] to Pittsburgh & to Limestone. We were at Col. Wilkins who is married to Miss Dallas of Philadelphia. ¹ He enquired after you with great interest. Capt. Rough came to Pittsburgh with us. Jenny, you _____ indeed she was all to me. Where is your brother Richard & how are all your family & ____? Write me soon & tell me about all the good people of Providence that I know. Kiss your children for me. I am joined by all my family in love to Mr. Allen & yourself.  — Latitia Porter

¹ “Matilda Dallas, daughter of Alexander J. Dallas (1759-1817), Secretary of War, was married to William Wilkins (1779-1865) of the U.S. Senate.


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