This letter was written by Rachel (Wilbur) Lambdin (1800-1882), the widow of the late Jonathan Harrison Lambdin (1798-1826) of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, whose business ventures failed before his death. Rachel addressed the letter to her brother, Jeremiah Wilbur (1805-18xx) and his wife, Sarah Rowley Masters. Jeremiah and Sarah lived in New York City where Jeremiah worked for his father-in-law’s firm of Masters & Markoe.
From this letter we learn that Rachel is attempting to raise her three children in Pittsburg by teaching a school for young ladies and girls, supplemented by taking in boarders as necessary. She eventually gave up and returned to her family in New Jersey. It appears she was particularly vexed as to what she should do about her eldest daughter Sarah (1819-1867) who had far too many unacceptable suitors in Pittsburg.
The “Brother James” mentioned in the letter is a reference to Rachel’s brother-in-law, James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889) who was married to Mary O’Hara Cochrane (1810-1866). He was an itinerant accomplished artist and opened the Museum of Natural History and Gallery of Painting in Pittsburg in 1828. In 1832, he moved to Louisville, Kentucky and spent several years traveling between Pittsburg and Mobile, Alabama. In 1837, he settled in Philadelphia where he taught as a professor of fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania.
There appears to have been a rift developing between the Lambdin and Wilbur families over the question of slavery. The Lambdin family defended the institution while the Wilbur family became increasingly outspoken against it. It is interesting to read that Rachel had received letters from women in Boston and Philadelphia on the subject of a Women’s Convention as early as 1836. This was more than a decade before the Seneca Falls Convention was held.
Addressed to Mr. Jeremiah Wilbur, Master, Markoe & Co., New York, NY
September 6th 1836
My Dear Brother,
I ought to have written to you long ago in answer to the many kind favors received, but really my time is so occupied that I can hardly find time to attend to necessary duties. During the month of August I though we should have a little leisure as we had a vacation in our school three weeks, but we were obliged to take a gentleman and his wife to board with us and as we could get no girl to do our work, it kept us pretty busy. We have now commenced school again, prospects about the same as during the summer, only 20 scholars, 12 at 5 dollars, 8 at 3. So you see we shall not be able to get along entirely without help, as marketing now is, but I have much reason to be thankful that we have our health, and as many scholars as we have.
What do you think of my sending Sarah to Steubenville next winter? There is a young lady here who would be willing to assist me with the young children for her board and some instruction in the higher branches and I do not know but it would be the best thing I could do to let her go now, altho’ we should miss her very much. You had some opportunity to judge of the temptations to which Sarah is exposed here from young company while you are here, but it has been a great deal worse since you left — sometimes four or five young men at once to see her and some that I do not consider suitable companions at all. It is extremely difficult for me to know how to proceed in these matters without some male relative. I had almost determined to send her over the mountains to your care when Mr. Riddle went. Indeed, if he had been going directly to New York, I believe I should have sent her as it was. If you were now living in your own house, I should not hesitate but give her to you at once to keep until she is married for I am so much afraid she will not make a judicious choice on this all important subject.
I hardly know whether I have mentioned to you the offer she had from Mr. Jones — a brother of Mrs. Atwood. I do not know a family anywhere with whom I had rather have been connected than theirs, but Sarah did not like him and so dismissed him forthwith. I am afraid if she stays at home this winter, there will be so many inducements for her to be in company from singing schools &c. that it will be a serious disadvantage to her and yet it seems hard for me to be deprived of her society. I really do not know what is best to be done and shall therefore abide by your decision, let it be what it may. Perhaps you had better keep this letter a secret from all our friends as I would not have said the same to any other person but yourself and wife.
Mr. Beaty has not sent the five dollars, but presume he will in due time. I had sold the piano before your letter arrived to Mr. Dickey for 80 dollars, 20 of which I was obliged to pay for repairing it before it could be sold for anything so that there will only be enough to pay Mr. Hitely the fifty dollars I borrowed of him in April. I have just written to him to know whether he intends to send me one of his daughters this winter, according to his proposition when here, viz: to make an exchange instead of sending her to Steubenville pay Sarah’s bills there. She is too young to send there. I hope the Lord will provide and direct in all these matters. He has ever done so, and I have the fullest confidence that he will do so still.
Our dear pastor has not returned yet. He will probably be in New York when this reaches you. I know he intends to find you out and I hope you will have an opportunity to pay him some attention. I shall be obliged to get something for a cloak this winter. I have thought perhaps you might meet with something at auction that would be cheaper than I could get it here. Sarah has a great desire to have a fur cape but I tell her they are too expensive for her.
We spent a day at Mr. Cochran’s during the vacation. Brother James and all his family are there and their son Alfred from Natchez was there on a visit. They were all very kind and friendly, but between ourselves, James acts very little like an uncle or brother to us. He still owes me 15 dollars of the account with Marcus and does not offer to pay. He expects to leave his family here six months and reside in Mobile, Alabama. We had some real warm arguments on the subject of slavery. They try to persuade themselves that it is perfectly right to treat their fellow creatures like the brute creation. I am becoming quite conspicuous it seems at the North. I have received two letters from ladies in Boston and another recently from a lady in Philadelphia on the subject. A proposal from one of the Boston letters I cannot agree with, viz: to hold a convention of females from the different states. This I think almost too much for the natural delicacy of our sex. What say you?
Mr. John Halsey was in our pulpit last Sabbath from Elizabethtown. I was rejoiced to see a face I had seen in Jersey. He said he would call and see us. If he does, I will try and have a letter ready to send to sister Betsey altho’ she has almost given up writing to me. Shall we not soon see the time when we shall all be nearer each other? I confess I am tired of living so far from you all. I believe we might do just as well teaching in New York if we could live in the family with you and not try to keep two establishments.
Much love to sister Sarah and as this is only intended for you two, I shall [say] nothing about the rest.
From your affectionate and deeply indebted sister, — R. W. Lambdin