1839: Capt. John Rogers Vinton to Martha Brown

Major Vinton's Grave

Grave of Major John Rogers Vinton

This letter was written by Capt. John Rogers Vinton (1801-1847), the son of David and Mary (Atwell) Vinton. He entered the Academy at West Point at the age of 14 and finished all of the required courses in 2 1/2 years, receiving a commission 17 Jul 1817 as 3rd Lieut. in the Artillery, at the age of 16; 2nd Lieut. 31 Oct 1817; and 1st Lieut. 30 Sep 1819. Retained as 1st Lieut. 4th Artillery, in the re-organization of the army 1 Jun 1821. Adjutant of the Artillery School for Practice at Fort Monroe, Va., 1824-5. Aid-de-camp to Maj. Gen. Brown, then General-in-Chief of the Army, from 1 Mar 1825 to 24 May 1828. Brevet Capt. 30 Sep 1829, Capt. 28 Dec 1835.

Sketch of Osceola attributed to Vinton

Sketch of Osceola attributed to Vinton

In Florida, during the Seminole war, his thoughts turned towards religion and a life in the Christian ministry. He resolved to resign his commission, and to take holy orders, as soon as possible. However, after the battle of Lake Monroe, 8 Feb 1837, he abandoned his plans to join the church. He remained in military service, and distinguished himself in the battle of Monterey, Sep 1846. After some time spent at Monterey and Saltillo, He was then ordered to join Gen. Scott in the attack on Vera Cruz. In the evening of 22 Mar 1847, he had just returned to his post when a large shell, hit the top of a parapet, glanced and struck his head, fracturing his skull, and killing him instantly. The shell did not burst, and it is supposedly that very cannon ball, that now adorns his grave. Sadly, a few days after his death, a dispatch dated 23 Sep 1846 reached the camp for his promotion to Brevet Major “for gallant conduct in the several conflicts at Monterey, Mexico, Sept. 21, 22, and 23, 1846.”

Aside from his military career, he was a scholar in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; theology, metaphysics, ethics, constitutional and international law; a master of mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, and Fine Art: his paintings now hang in museums and are highly prized by todays collectors.

Vinton was married to Lucretia Dutton Parker (1810-1858). His children were Helena Lucretia Vinton (1830-18xx), Louise (“Lulu”) Claire Vinton (1832-1891) and Francis Laurens Vinton (1835-1879).

Vinton wrote the letter to Martha Brown who apparently kept a boarding school for young girls in Warren, Rhode Island.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Miss Martha Brown, Warren, Rhode Island

New Smyrna, Florida
29th July 1839

Madam,

I venture to enclose to your address a pencil drawing for my children which, if preserved, may contribute much to impress on their memory the features of their father. From the nature of my calling, I shall necessarily be much absent from them for a year or two at least, and although they will often commune with me, I trust, through the medium of letters, this communion will be more perfect of the visible impression of their father’s face be in this manner retained by them. Will you do me the favor to have a cheap wooden frame made for the drawing and when thus preserved, with a glass over it, to have it hung up in the chamber of my daughters. They will show it always to my little boy, I hope, whenever he calls to see them. The expense of the frame &c. you will please note in the quarterly bill for tuitions.

A letter received today from my mother gives me the blessed assurance of the well being of my dear children and repeats what she has on several former occasions expressed, her high approbation of your mode of government & tuition. The inculcation of moral truth, industrious & frugal habits, benevolent affections, obedient dispositions, & gentle manners, in one word the building of a pure Christian character — these are certainly great & admirable purposes, and if you perfect them, you will lay me under a perpetual weight of grateful obligation. That God will lend you of His grace, all the spirit & the power necessary to these righteous ends, is the fervent prayer of, dear Madam, your friend & servant, N. Vinton

To my dear daughters,

I have already written you a letter from this place which is called New Smyrna, though as a town it has been deserted by all its former inhabitants. My letter you have not yet answered, I presume, as I did not request you to write immediately, but only when you had time to spare. I was made so happy, however, by your first letter that I wish very much to hear from you again, and you must ask Miss Brown if she will permit you at your first leisure moment to sit down and write to your dear father.

I send in this letter a likeness which I have drawn in pencil that may be thought to resemble your father. Miss Brown will have it framed and you can hang it up in your room so that you may always have it in your power to see your father’s portrait & to show it to your brother also. It must be a pleasant thing to have the dear little boy so near you. Grandma tells me you are knitting him some stockings and a pair also for your dear father. I shall be very proud to receive them, not only as a valuable present, but as a token of industry and of your affection. If I should not get to Warren before winter to get them, Grandma will send them to me by the first opportunity. The little bags &c. which you made for the missionary sale have been bought for me & I shall keep them long, as the first fruits of your industry & devotion in the blessed cause of the Savior & His church. Continue, my dear daughters, to labor for this pious object. Do not weary of well doing but go on from one thing to another, always improving, but having always the same aim — to serve your Master & to do good to all His creatures.

I have collected some pretty shells for you as I believe I told you, and when I come home, I shall probably have one or two pretty books for each of you. Helena must have her teeth fixed by a dentist when Grandma decides upon it. Lulu must learn to write soon for I long to hear from her. Both of you must be very kind & affectionate to your little brother & take good care of him. And when he grows up, he will take good care of you. Now may blessings unnumbered rest upon all my dear children prays their affectionate father.

A Page from Capt. Vinton's diary written on the same day he wrote this letter to his daughters in Rhode Island.

A Page from Capt. Vinton’s diary written on the same day he wrote this letter to his daughters in Rhode Island.


One response to “1839: Capt. John Rogers Vinton to Martha Brown

  • fenwicksyckes

    I wrote a novella entitled, “The Unexploded Shell or the Perils of Masculinity” featuring this man’s life and based on my research into his life and letters, journals, gravesite, etc. There are 100 numbered copies of which several are still in my possession. The novella is illustrated by my Brown University colleague, Roger Mayer. I am currently working on a biography of the man as well as a plan for a novel featuring a possible second son born perhaps to a liaison from his brief visits to New Orleans prior to the Mexican War. There are living descendants including a California resident who provided me with information about her branch of the family descended from a brother of John Rogers and of course the tomb and gravesite in the Swan Point Cemetery with its unique funereal architecture featuring the alleged and hopefully empty shell which supposedly killed him by grazing his head or simply by causing a fatal concussion as it flew past him. The then historian of the National Cemetery at Arlington wrote me that he had never encountered a memorial of this kind in which the killing device surmounts the tomb as is wonderfully described in the engraved inscription that runs around all four sides of the rectangular tomb. I would be happy to hear from any other persons interested in the man, his family, his career, his art works, or his letters and journal, the latter at the University of Delaware Library and the former in the special collections of writings of military persons stationed in the south prior to the Civil War, located at Duke University.

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