The name of the woman who wrote this letter has not yet been revealed but it seems clear that she and her husband, Thomas Penney, were natives of London, England, who came to the United States in the early 1830s and settled in Apalachicola, Florida Territory. As revealed in this letter to Thomas’ sister, Sarah Penney, Thomas was successful in obtaining a charter from the territorial legislature in 1835 for the East Florida Railroad Company. From the letter we also learn that Thomas had two sisters in London — Sarah and Hester. His father was also named Thomas Penney.
Addressed to Miss Sarah Penney, No. 1 New Buckingham Square, New Kent Road, London
February 28th 1835
My beloved Sarah,
The constancy with which you in the midst of your numerous engagements keep to the engagement we made to keep each other constantly advised of each others welfare certainly deserves the highest praise and you may be assured is fully appreciated by us. We are in receipt of our of the 19th November. You ____ed that we will wonder why it is that you are always pressed for time to write as fully as you would wish. Now really, my wonder is that you can make out time when the whole of the correspondence ____ devolves upon you to write as frequently and fully as you do. There is one thing, however, that results from it that no one at home can feel jealous that almost all the letters are addressed to you as no one else will take the trouble to write. Did I say the trouble — if it is not a pleasure there cannot certainly be much to be desired in a correspondence. I do not in what I have said attend to my father because I knew that he is confused in body and mind in busies during the day and in the evening too tired to feel indisposed for the task, but Hester, what obstacle is there in her way to prevent our hearing from her? We have written to her several letters which she has not answered. Certainly they may be on the way but am I to be always first. We have both from the first written to her in ____ with the rest but she has nt answered any but one as yet. Well, I am afraid to say that she should not hear from me again until I see some return of cordiality which I have evinced and felt, Oh yes, and felt how truly you well know.
I lay awake half the night last night thinking of you all which indeed is no uncommon thing with either of us and it would be _____ to pretend to describe what you best understand by your ____ feelings how ardently I longed to see, to embrace, and to converse with you all. I do not know which my feelings towards those whom I dearly love when separated from them may be called amiable or otherwise but when you take then at home and from their family, I fear have more of the latter in them. I mean to say that when at home, I am apt to see more fault in them than they really possess but when away, I have always and more especially in this last long absence from you all delighted so much to dwell upon the more amiable features of your characters that I have been almost ready to conclude that you had no others. And it appears to me that if I could be once more with you, I should not know how to make enough of you.
Thomas has been at Tallahassee, the Capitol of Florida, until last Saturday. The council of the territory of Florida has been held there and he went to endeavor to get a charter for the projected rail road across the peninsula. I refer you to some of our former letters in which we mentioned it. It was altogether his ____ although several had been projected by others but none of them were calculated to benefit the country and trade generally, having some references & private interest, but this was highly approved by several wealthy merchants in Boston who considered _____ it received their ______ would be well invested as the capital to carry the project into existence. Tom had, however, to contend with some difficulty as another person offered a very similar plan for the approval of the Legislature. You may be very sure it was a time of much adversity with us and has commanded the assistance with _____ to God, leaving it to him to order whether to succeed or disappoint as he saw best. With these feelings our gratification was the greater on hearing that it had succeeded. Thomas returned in excellent spirits after an absence of nearly five weeks. He says there were several who strongly opposed him but he succeeded in showing clearly the advantages of his plans to a committee that sat for the purpose of examining such matters. He had also the Governor — Mr. [John Henry] Eaton on his side which was, of course, an advantage and on the whole succeeded beyond his expectations as they made more alterations in the charter which proved to be in his favor. The only remaining uncertainty of success is whether it will pass through Congress which is about hte same as a bill passing thro both houses of parliament with us. There is only a possibility that it may be rejected but all the probabilities are in its favor. He says he now considers that his fortune is made as the road is expected to be completed in 18 months or two years. There will be many opportunities of making money such as buying the most valuably situated land &c as well as that he hopes to be appointed to superintend it and has asked of the company in the north a twentieth part of the whole as a remuneration for his services and he hopes they will agree to the proposal.
We received my father’s letter to him enclosing one from you while he was absent. Although we are not in the habit of opening his letters, you may be sure we were too anxious to hear from you all to stand upon ceremony and were much pleased with hte judicious style of my father’s remarks; indeed as we remarked if we who could be best judge of circumstances here had been with you we should have __itated just such sentiments but not withstanding, it was all a chance whether it would be well received. But to our great pleasure, he remarked on reading it that he was pleased with the sentiments and believed he was understood and his intention to benefit the family appreciated and that now his object would be to procure my father asome situation connected with the railroad that would be easy and lucrative.
Thomas has just been in and we have been talking over matters together. I feel so agitated that I can scarcely write with composure. It is no new to us to be able to touch upon the subject of our meeting or indeed any reference to you with him that it confuses my mind. But I must tell you what passed. We brought up the subject cautiously to endeavor to find out when he int_____ you to come over. He says that he intend closing his concern in this place and devoting himself exclusively to the other: he asked if we thought my father could manage the closing of the store so as to leave him quite at liberty to attend to the other which of course we said he could and if so he thought you should come over next fall. We did not forget dearest Sarah that which connects itself so closely with you, but asked him if he thought something could not be done for Thomas C. We spoke of him as he merits as if he were a favorite brother. He replied that he did not like him to leave what would be perhaps more lucrative there as well as that he might not like the place but were there considerations waived. I have no doubt he could get him likewise a comfortable situation so that we might be together. Instead we said we could not be satisfied with any arrangement that would continue your separation from us. A thought likewise occurred to Mariam that I thought might make handsomely by purchasing shares. Thomas says that they have a great objection to foreigners having shareholders in such things but that perhaps it might be land. He said that we felt very desirous that something might be done to advance his interest on return for his many acts of purse and disinterested friendship and he says there is no doubt that we shall have that in our power in one way or another. His ____ would be to build a house for us at St. Augustine which though very warm in summer is a delightful climate in winter and healthy all the year round. You would have to bring a good many things over with you both in the way of furniture and clothes.
And now, my dear Sarah, let me tell you that even America begins to look to us both in a more agreeable light than we have ever seen it. I could not have believed that the thought of never seeing England again would be so supportable to me but more than I ever thought to be united to you all once more ___ be the first and last wish of my heart although it will not be easy to wean me of my longing to visit Old England again. But even then I should not despair of that coming about at some future time for you cannot think how little we think about traveling now so little that if we had a _____ to travel 2000 miles, we should think nothing of setting off tomorrow so that I have no notion of giving up the hope of seeing that happy land again. We need you when you leave it but although it is an expensive trip, there are many in this country who would if they were in possession of as many hundred dollars as would pay their expenses there and back again would not here take if an opportunity occurred of availing themselves of it and returning to make it up by future exertions. Therefore, if it is our convenience to partake of their spirit, we will do so, and I yet anticipate such an excursion part ___ or all together.
I should tell you that you will find St. Augustine on the eastern side of Florida. It is a barren country but some oranges are cultivated there. Mr. Tabor — a lad I think we mentioned meeting in Connecticut — a pious Calvinist — has a brother residing there who has an orange grove. I believe the population is small in summer but it is a place of great resort in the winter for invalids from the north. However, I dare say we should not be vary obliged to live there. On all these things, we shall converse when we meet. Now, dearest Sarah, do not make a long [paper torn] begin to cry as you used always to do and as I can almost see you do on reading this letter for after all my descriptions of ____ and the Americans, I will not forgive you if you cry at the thought of meeting us even though it should be here — particularly if you have Thomas with you (indeed if this could not be, I should be puzzled) as I trust will be the case, but I am at a loss to think what will be best to do about Muff and Jane. I have asked you in a former letter something more particularly about Mary….
… I see more clearly how much for the best it was that we came over first both because we kept up the feeling that might otherwise have died away and also that we can judge of what would be best brought over and what arrangements can be made for future comfort as it would be impossible to judge if it were not for this circumstance. When we consider all things, it would indeed be unbecoming us to reprove of our lot being cast in this country as …
We have generally of late written very close thinking you can read it more easily than so here crossed. It was not, therefore, my intention to do so in the present instance but I have so much to say that I can not leave off. Thomas is very certain of the success of the whole business but we have had so many disappointments that I am always fearful of being too sanguine — particularly respecting a matter upon the success of which depends my dearest and fondest hopes of coming happiness. But my greatest comfort is that the disposal of the whole is the Lord’s. We shall advise you now as often as possible how things go on respecting it and I believe Tom intends writing soon to my father. I fear, dearest Sarah, that you have had more fatigue and anxiety than has been ____able to you as you remark that you are better than have been. Now my darling Sarah, must I urge upon you to consider that your life and health are doubly valuable now to what they even were. I hope Hester’s health is improved as I hear nothing to the contrary. I do not question that the sea voyage would be highly beneficial to her and indeed to you all but I must remark that you would not think so at the time but would wonder that any thing could induce you to undertake it. But nothing is more easily forgotten and one reason probably is that the health and spirits are so ugh improved by it. As we by this time consider ourselves old sailors, we shall give you some hints hereafter which will tend to alieve the disagreeableness of your voyage. I think, however, that I ought to write on any other subject but this and leave it to Marian to discuss the topic who, I am sure, would do it with far more affection for the poor sea than I do. Indeed, she often says she would enjoy another voyage very much.
We have had such weather as has not been remembered in this latitude before. When I wrote last I remarked that it was so warm that it was like summer but since them we have it so cold that the thermometer has been within four degrees of ____ and that is very remarkable here at the time but five degrees difference between our port and Philadelphia. It has, however, been said the coldest winter in the north that has occurred for fifty years and there have been numerous instances of persons being frozen to death. I am glad enough we escaped it. We have now another spell of cold but not to compare with the last. In the intermediate time we have worn muslin dresses &c so you may form some ideas of the changeableness of the climate. I wonder what kind of winter have you had. Has my father had his cough bad? I do wish he would write us something on the subject of politics. It is with concern I learn that [Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of] Wellington is Prime Minister. You have heard, I suppose, that we (indeed I will not say so even in jest) the Americans are likely to go to war with France. In that case you must make it a point to come in an English vessel.
We are lamentably off for good preaching here. Mr. Kerr, the minister (by the bye, the first season they have had one) is very much liked here and well he may for he takes good care not to offend any by laying too great a stress on good works. He is a Calvanist but does not profess to labor to any particular body of Christians. He is about establishing a bible class to commence tomorrow (Sunday) and we shall join it. There have been two very stylish entertainments given here which we attended by McCleary Asher Merchants in this place. Mr. & Mrs. McCleary have been to England last summer. The party consisted of from fifty to seventy. The elegant entertainment formed a striking contrast with homeliness of this house. There was some dancing in which I need not say we did not join but in such house there was a pretty good piano which gave us entertainment. At Mr. Asher’s we met a Mr. Wolff — a Swiss gentleman who calls himself an Englishman as he lately resides in Liverpool. In the course of the conversation we found he knew the doctor but nothing was entered into about him. He played well on the piano. Our playing and singing so much admired. I hope you and Hester endeavor to practice. I also wish much that you could have a few lessons in drawing and bring over a nice drawing box — almost every thing of that kind could be got cheaper and better there.
You see I write on paper I brought from home. You can scarcely get any good in this country. We lost a good deal of ours by the ink spilling over it. …I have lost the opportunity of sending this by vessel which left this for Liverpool at daybreak. I must, therefore, send it by New York. I have set up very late to finish this. Merian is asleep. I intended to have told you a little about slavery but have only time to say do not believe all they tell you; that the condition…
I found another letter transcribed on the internet written by Thomas Penney in 1832:
New York [City]
October 19, 1832.
My dear sisters (Sarah and Hester),
I have recommended to your father to sail for N. Orleans rather than to any of these ports, but at the same time I would be understood as not in any manner pressing this advice, provided that circumstances may in any manner, of which I should be unable to judge, make it either more agreeable or more advantageous to take passage for some port on the Atlantic. Neither is it upon the whole a matter of such importance as to require you to put yourselves in any respect out of the way about because whether you go to New Orleans first, or to this place, you will in either case have to take shipping a second time to reach Appalachicola. And the facilities from hence are always as good as from New Orleans and in respect to vessels, better, so that on this point I wish you all to exercise your opinion and discretion freely, according to circumstances.
The voyage by the way of New Orleans would lead you within the tropics and in view probably of several of the West India islands, but your voyage also from hence to Appalachicola would take you by the Bahamas and along the coast of Cuba.
The new steamboat which I have lately built is now on her voyage, I presume from New Orleans to Appalachicola. When you reach the latter place, the intention is that you go up to Columbus [Georgia] in her. The distance up is estimated at 450 miles, but I think it not quite so much.
I have made no kind of arrangements in regard to house keeping when you get there and at first we shall have to do as well as we can. A house will have to be rented, and as for furnishing, we must put up with a few necessaries until you can secure what may be wanting either at this place or New Orleans.
In the hope of seeing you and speaking verbally on these matters before many months, I remain as ever, affectionately yours, — Thos. Penney
…every description. The contrast between a rude uncultivated country, partly inhabited by the natives, and one sophisticated and refined to the last pitch, where all the asperities of nature have been tempered and softened again and again, and when outward luxuries and conveniences are common property, cannot fail to be deeply felt at first. But it is to be hoped there may arise circumstances to compensate for these privations, and that if some luxuries be wanting, there may be greater certainty of always possessing the necessaries and comforts of life. As it regards society, I think you may probably meet with several agreeable persons of sentiment congenial with your own.
Since I came here, I have made a special enquiry at the Custom House, concerning goods or effects which have the privilege of entry free of duty; they are – wearing apparel in situ – any not used pays 50 pds, bed and bedding, linens etc, included provided in actual use, implements of trade or professional books — other books subject to high duties.
They generally are not quite strict on these points.
Musical instruments – unless professionally used, are prohibited without paying duty
Carpets, looking glasses, mantel ornaments, sideboards, tables, chairs, furniture of all kinds are dutiable.
I cannot tell of any articles which it would be advisable to purchase for shipment being entirely out of the way of knowing anything of the trade between this country and Europe. I know the business between the two continents is so systematised and regular that there is but little opening for profit or small adventures. Perhaps plated saddlery, purchased at Birmingham at their lowest prices would pay as well as anything else.
If after you arrive, and we have some consultation on future plans, it should appear that thro any connections which you might be able to form, a better or safer or more agreeable business could be established between any of the principal cities, here and England, and if with other prospects concurring we should think well to remove to this, certainly, more desirable part of the country.
It might be well for you in reference to such a prospect, or at least possibility to turn the thought in your mind before leaving and so far as opportunity offers, to lay a foundation, and furnish yourself with every information and learn what advantages you might be enabled to bring into use, in the way of friends or connections.
The idea I convey to you is but vague, and might refer to Agency or Commission, or a business on our own account, and I merely suggest it, because the information to be acquired or the views to be formed in reference to it, could only be accurately be determined whilst you are on the spot.
19th, my cold continues unabated, and lest it should settle I intend to confine myself tomorrow. The Sovereign for London is up for tomorrow – and this must go by her. The other side I employ for a few lines for my sisters.
As ever, yours — Thos. Penney