This interesting letter was written by John B. Van Wyck (1807-1878), a merchant at 84 Pearl Street and a residence on Amity Street in New York City in 1834. He was the son of General John Brinckerhoff Van Wyck (1762-1841) and Susan Schenck (1776-1842). John was married on 28 November 1831 at Trinity Church in NYC to Sarah Sherred Mesier (1811-1898), the daughter of Peter Abraham Mesier, a prominent bookseller on Wall Street, and his wife Catherine Mesier. There is a reference to “little sis” in the letter which is John and Sarah’s first born child, Catherine Elizabeth Van Wyck (b. March 1833).
The letter contains Van Wyck’s account of his visit to the Senate Chamber on 13 January 1834 to hear John C. Calhoun deliver a speech on the Bank Question and to hear Henry Clay speak on the Tariff Law — a rare opportunity to hear both statesmen in the prime of their congressional careers.
Note: Family name is sometimes spelled by others as Vanwyck.
Addressed to Mrs. John Van Wyck, Care of Peter A. Mesier, Esq., No 28 Wall Street, City of New York
January 13th 1834
My Dear Wife,
I draft[ed] you a line from Philadelphia by Mr. Smith giving you a little sketch of my travels & I will now continue it.
I started from Philadelphia the next morning at 5 & arrived in Baltimore at one o’clock at night after a very agreeable ride which was much enhanced by the agreeable company of Judge [Joseph] Story, D. B. Ogden, ¹ & a East India Captain — the latter person I was very much amused with for his excessive fear of crossing the Susquehanna on the ice just before you arrive at Baltimore (he — the Captain — weighed 220 lbs). ² Mr. Ogden together with all of the company was a little apprehensive of the consequences but our fears was not in comparison with those of the Captain. He said that he was so alarmed that he was in a complete state of perspiration when he got over the river. We crossed over in the night & the danger was not altogether ideal but Mr. Ogden could not let the Captain alone with regard of the danger of the ice but kept the stage in a continual uproar of laughing at the Captain’s expense, he taking it very good naturely.
I started from Baltimore the next morning at eleven o’clock & arrived here the same evening (that is Saturday). I have been very fortunate in meeting Mr. Peters from New York who has been a great deal more than I could have any reason to expect. He obtained for me a companion to accompany me on my southern route (which by the by is a very fine man who has been a traveller all of his life and is acquainted intimately with the route I intend to take) & he introduced me to our member [of Congress] Mr. [Dudley] Selden from New York who invited me to accompany himself & wife to hear Mr. [John C.] Calhoun speak on the Bank Question. By that means, I got on the floor with the Ladies. Mr. Calhoun spoke an hour & a half & was very much animated & displayed all that southern spirit which is so characteristic of the South. ³
Before Mr. Calhoun commenced speaking, Mr. [Henry] Clay commenced spattering with the opposition on the construction of the Tariff Laws which gave me an opportunity to hear him also.
I went from there to the House of Representatives & was very much pleased with the appearance of the house. It far surpassed everything I have seen before of the kind. I have not yet determined which route I shall take but I think of starting on Wednesday next. I hope, dear wife, you get along as well without me as with me & you have so many kind friends which will make up my loss, which will not be long, I hope. I expect a letter from you tomorrow which, if I do not get, I shall be very much disappointed & shall begin to think you have not done your duty. But I must not blame you before you deserve it. Kiss little sis for me & ask her to say Papa for me.
Give my best respects to your father & tell him for me that I will write to him when I have more to communicate that will interest him & when I get in a more southern clime. And tell him also that there is a great excitement here with regard to the deposit question & our hotel rings from morning till night with Jackson & Anti-Jackson, & I never was in a place where there was so much excitement as there is here. And tell him I delivered his letter this afternoon to Mr. Davis & found him not at home & I had some difficulty in finding him — he being 2 miles out of town.
I shall write you again before I leave here & now I must wind up by giving my best love to you & kiss besides together. My best respects to all my friends & I remain your affectionate husband — John Van Wyck
¹ Probably David Bayard Ogden, a descendant of John and Jane Ogden who immigrated to America from England in 1640, was born on October 31, 1775 in Morrisania, New York. He was the eldest of the twelve children of Euphemia Morris and Samuel Ogden. David B. Ogden received a Bachelors of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1792 and then studied law with his uncle, Abraham Ogden. He was admitted to the bar as an attorney in 1796 and as a counselor in 1799; and settled in New York City where he set up a law practice. David B. Ogden married Margaretta Ogden with whom he had eight children: Samuel M., Sarah Ludlow, Gouverneur, Thomas L., Euphemia, Eliza de Luze, Frances L., and David Bayard, Jr. He died on Staten Island, New York on July 16, 1849. He was best known for the cases he argued before the United States Supreme Court.
² This crossing of the Susquehanna River would have been at Havre de Grace where a ferry operated most of the year. The river was nearly a mile wide near its mouth on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
³ John C. Calhoun’s speech, delivered on Monday, January 13, 1834, on the floor of the U. S. Senate, can be found in the Papers of John C. Calhoun.