1840: Catharine Van Rensselaer (Heaton) Offley to Mary (Offley) Sharpless

This letter was written by Catherine Van Rensselaer (Heaton) Offley (1806-1887), the wife of John Holmes Offley (1802-1845). They were married in December 1825. “Holmes” Offley was a “son of David Offley and Mary Ann (Greer) Offley. He was born at Brooke Court-House, Virginia, and educated in Philadelphia. He first traveled to Smyrna (Izmir), Turkey in 1815 where his father, David Offley, had established the first American commercial firm, Woodmans and Offley, in the Levant. John Holmes Offley later entered into a commercial partnership at Trieste with his brother Richard Jones Offley (Richard & John Holmes Offley Co.). He later served as a ship chandler, contracted to provide provisions for the American squadron then stationed in the Mediterranean. John Holmes Offley returned to the United States with his family in 1835. He served, for a time, as the Inspector of Customs for the port of New York City. He moved to Georgetown in Washington, D.C. in 1838. After serving on special assignment for the U.S. War Department, he was appointed as Corresponding Clerk in the U.S. War Department, and later saw service as the Acting Chief Clerk of the U.S. War Department.” [Source: Wikipedia]

The Offley’s had several children: Helen Jane Offley (1828-1910), Richard Howell Offley (1830-1830), John Richard Offley (1831-1900), Catharine Elizabeth Offley (1833-1834), Robert Hilton Offley (1836-1891), Holmes Edward Offley (1839-1919), Catharine Heaton Offley (1842-1873), and David Remsen Offley (1844-1912).

Catharine wrote the letter to her Aunt Mary (Offley) Sharpless (1793-1865), the wife of Blakey Sharpless (1797-1853) — a Philadelphia publisher. Kimber & Sharpless published Poor Will’s Pocket Almanac, among other things, during the 1820s.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Mrs. Mary Offley Sharpless, Care of Messrs. Kimber & Sharpless, Philadelphia

Georgetown [District of Columbia]
December 8th 1840

My Dear Aunt,

A Book on Slavery published in 1827 by Kember & Sharpless

A Book on Slavery published in 1827 by Kimber & Sharpless

I have waited since the receipt of your kind little letter hoping that the arrival of the Schooner Coquet would allow me to expatiate upon the excellence of the Philadelphia buckwheat, as well as upon Uncle Blakey’s kindness in sending it, and his generosity in making it a present. The schooner, true to her name, has cheated us thus far, and as the present state of our river seems to leave us little hopes that she will reach this place this winter, I have thought it best to wait no longer, but to write to you how much we all feel obliged to our Uncle for his kindness. It may be that said vessel has not yet left her moorings at the wharf in Philadelphia and if Uncle Blakey wold ascertain that she has not and it would not be putting him to a great deal of trouble, we would like to send the Buckwheat by the railroad.

Since your short visit to us, we have been very busy as usual with endless woman’s work. We had the house cleaned and were quietly consoling ourselves that that job was over when our Landlord was seized with a sudden fit of liberality and sent a painter to say that he had concluded to have the parlors, hall, and front door painted if we wished it (I believe he thought we would not accept at this season — if so, we disappointed him) and we lived in the 2nd story for a few days till the job was over.

Tell our cousins Offley & Isaac that their room is ready and they must come and see us this winter. Who knows, another winter may not see us here. Well, I am thankfull to God that thus far I have felt no uneasiness as to what the result may be, and I am thankful night after night that I have no sinful feelings of despondency to be penitent for. Once in my life I was presumptuous enough to wish for temptations to prove how much I loved God, but I did not know myself so well as I now do. For when trials did come, I found like too many, I could trust him with whatever concerned my soul but the paltry concerns of board, lodging and raiment I doubted his ability to procure. Was it not rather the fear that it might not be of such a nature as would satisfy my pride. Pardon this intrusion of my feelings. The truth is I have nothing of much interest to wrote about and I have written on just whatever came first to my thoughts.

We are all well. Holmes grows so fat that his clothes are getting too small for him. Mary sends love. Her eyes are still weak but they are much better than they were when you were here. Our little Edward begins to talk and tries his tongue at everything. He even says O.K. I think Hilton and your little Mary would have some very interesting political discussions could they meet. They would not dispute as from the first beginning of the Presidential contest. Hilton has, as he says, “Gone for Harrison.” He is singing all day, “Hurrah! for Old Tippacanoe Hurrah! for Old Tippacanoe. John, on the contrary, says he is a Locofoco but they both combine in singing one song which John learnt from the school boys and which I must insert, viz:

William Henry Harrison ("Old Tippecanoe")

William Henry Harrison (“Old Tippecanoe”)

“Hurrah for the Whigs of Ohio
Hurrah! for the Democrats too,
Hurrah for Old Martin VanBuren
Hurrah! for Old Tippacanoe!

We have had the heaviest fall of snow that has been known here for many years. It snowed all Saturday & Sunday.

Your lamp mat is in the process of being made and you must expect it some of these short days. I owe you an apology for not having finished it and sent it before this but you may judge from what I have written that I have been quite busy.

Mrs. Whitall was much grieved at hearing of the death of Uncle Josiah Reeves. She was taken last Tuesday in the night with a severe pain in the right arm. I heard from her today and that she was quite well again, but the attack seemed to threaten inflammatory rheumatism. As respects Sarah’s marriage, report says she is engaged and I know that a very clever young gentleman named Charles Rittenhouse visits there quite often.¹ But farther than that, I know not and I told Mrs. Whitall I did not intend to ask her any questions.

Give our love to Grandmother and tell her that as soon as Holmes gets $2000 salary, I have promised myself the pleasure of going to Philadelphia to see her. And until then, we would be happy indeed could she come and make us a visit. Helen sends love to Anna & Martha. Grandmother sends her best respects to Grandmother Offley, to you, and Uncle. Give our love to all our cousins and accept it for yourselves, and do please add to your kindness by writing very soon.

Your affectionate Niece, — C. V. Offley


Bellvue (Dunbarton) House in Georgetown

Bellevue (Dunbarton) House in Georgetown

¹ Charles Edwin Rittenhouse (1813-1880) married Sarah Matilda Whitall (1822-1892) in Georgetown on 14 September 1841. Sarah was the daughter of Samuel and Lydia (Newbold) Whitall. Charles was the son of David and Sarah (Hughes) Rittenhouse. Charles became President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and a principal in the banking house of “Rittenhouse, Fowler & Co.” of Washington. “Bellevue” — the Georgetown home of Samuel Whitall — was inherited by his daughter, Sara Rittenhouse. It is known today as the “Dumbarton” house on Q Street.


One response to “1840: Catharine Van Rensselaer (Heaton) Offley to Mary (Offley) Sharpless

  • Linda Bryan

    The young Mr. Rittenhouse would go on to be one of the investors in Bayfield Wisconsin. You can see the Old Rittenhouse Inn when you visit there. He also did investing in Superior, Wisconsin and other “western” places. No lack of money for this man.

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