This letter was written by Melissa Phelps (1809-1903), the daughter of Anson Greene Phelps (1781-1853) and Olivia Eggleston (1781-1859), from her residence at 37 Fifth Street in New York City.
Melissa wrote the letter to her husband, William Earle Dodge (1805-1883), the son of David and Sarah (Cleveland) Dodge. William Dodge began his career in the dry-goods business. In 1833 he and his father-in-law, Anson G. Phelps, organized the firm of Phelps, Dodge & Company, a dealer in metals. The company soon established a prosperous trade throughout the United States and abroad, eventually becoming the largest American importer of metals. Dodge’s extensive investments included timberland in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and elsewhere; a copper mine in Minnesota; an iron mine in New Jersey; and mills in Connecticut, New Jersey, and other states. Dodge also had interests in a number of railroads, several of which served his metals companies. In 1882 the company purchased the Copper Queen mine in Arizona, which signaled its entry into the front ranks of American mining companies, although metals extraction did not become the firm’s primary business until after Dodge’s death.
Considered an energetic and conservative man, Dodge was noted for his civic activities and his efforts on behalf of religious and temperance societies. He also served one term as a member of the U. S. Congress (1866–67), where he was an outspoken advocate of moderate postwar Reconstruction policies.
Addressed to Mr. William E. Dodge, New Orleans, Louisiana
New York [City, New York]
December 2d 1839
My dear, dear William,
I am sure I never felt more willing to have time speed its rapid flight than I do now. It has been a long twelve days to me. I cannot compare the effect of your absence upon me to anything but when I have been sick and tossed with pain at night I have longed for the morning dawn. But I must wait patiently hoping and praying that He who holds his people as in the hollow of his hand and who guards them as the apple of his eye will keep you in safety and return you in his own good time laden with the rich experience of his mercy. I intended to have written you last evening but (an unusual thing for me) I had a bad headache, owing I suppose to eating some baked beans, and the peculiar solemnities of the day made me feel obliged to go to bed quite early. I am well this morning and feel determined to attend to the advice which I can imagine you to give me not very soon to eat those things again.
You have probably noticed in the papers the death of Mrs. Owen. Her remains were taken into the church yesterday. Mr. [Charles S.] Porter preached a sermon from Roman 6th [Chapter] 9th Verse. Mr. Patten made a most affecting and interesting prayer. There were a great many strangers present. Mr. Patten prayed that God would comfort and support the bereaved husband not only then, but when he should have retired home to his own private chamber after the array of funeral ceremonies had passed [and] that then God would fill him with a sense of his glory and enable him to say, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” I felt for him deeply and for those dear motherless boys. They always seemed to be a very affectionate couple.
Many thanks, dear husband, for your long and interesting letter received on Saturday. It was a real feast to me. I read it first and then partly again to the children and sent it up with the other one to sister Mary’s as Elizabeth was there and expected to go to Plainfield that afternoon for her to take over with her. She arrived the day before from Hudson. I hardly think that Elizabeth with her present feelings can settle down to what is necessary to her comfort and happiness. I was quite pleased with the account of your sea-sickness, though it was very unpleasant for the time I have no doubt. It will be of benefit to you to cleanse the bile from your stomach.
My heart ache’s for the poor slaves when I think of their being chained together and sold in the manner of which you speak. I expect when you come home, if God spares your life, you will be taxed to tell a great many stories. I heard William say to Anson the other evening, I mean to ask Papa to tell us some story of what he has seen every day for a great while. You would have been amused to have seen the position that I found little Anson in on Saturday. He had the large notebook laid on the chair before him with his left hand upon it and a hymn book in his right hand beating time with his foot and singing very loud — do, ra, me, fa, sol — with all the airs of a finished music teacher. I did not know that he knew even the names of any of the notes but they take singing lessons every day in school and I suppose he has learned them like a parrot.
Master David gets along about as usual — sometimes an uncommonly good boy; at other shows self will. I read him your message in the letter. He said tell Papa I am a good boy.
As for little Sis, I have said many times what would Papa give to see her rosy cheeks and bright eyes. She is as sweet and pleasant as ever, sits for a long time together on the floor singing da da. She makes fine use of her little tooth making a little piece of apple look as if the mice had eaten it. I have seen no more coal since that one ton of which I wrote you. Father and Mother Dodge sent me both quite a long letter the other day. It was quite uncommon to be thus favored from Father. I suppose you have received the Thanksgiving Day letter.
Mr. Boot called here this afternoon to get the Sailor’s Magazine. It was quite a Christian call. I really enjoyed his conversation. I have been to Monthly Concert this evening. It was very interesting. Mr. Porter asked if anyone would volunteer to take your place until you returned, but no one did. Mr. Porter called in the other day and said he was very busy but he thought he must come and see how the widow did. I told him she was as well as could be expected. Mrs. Porter has been quite sick but is better.
William went to concert with me and wanted me to leave a place for him to write here but I must wait till the next letter and let him write first and I fill it up. After you left I thought to myself the only thing you hae forgotten is a book and blame myself for not asking you which you would take. I was very glad you had taken Bridges. No doubt in it will be a comfort to you.
Now dear William, it is late. I must send a kiss with good night and believe me your ever affectionate wife, — Melissa