1840: Oliver Starr to Dr. Dennis Cooley

Dr. Dennis Cooley

Dr. Dennis Cooley

This letter was written by Oliver Starr (1791-1870) of Deerfield, Franklin County, Massachusetts. Oliver and his wife, Lavina Allen (1786-1864) lived in the Mill River section of Deerfield where Oliver was engaged in milling and running a carding machine, fulling mill, and dye-house. In 185, he removed to Laona, Winnebago County, Illinois. Their children were Caleb Allen Starr (b. 1822), Eliza Ann Starr (b. 1824), Eunice Allen Starr (b. 1827), and Oliver Starr, Jr. (1830-1845).

Oliver wrote the letter to his friend, Dr. Dennis Cooley (1789-1860), an early settler in Michigan who established “Cooley’s Corners” (at the intersection of 24 and Schoenherr Roads) in Shelby Township of Macomb County. Dr. Cooley served as the Washington Post Master from 1836 to 1859. He was also a botanist and wrote several papers on the area’s plant life.

The substance of this letter regards the chronic illness of Lavina (Allen) Starr who seems to have suffered from some digestive malady.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Doc. Denis Cooley, Post Master, Washington, Macomb County, Michigan

Deerfield [Massachusetts]
February 23d 1840

To my friend D. Cooley,

Sir, I will not attempt to make up a regular built excuse for not answering your letter of June ’39 which was duly received, and for which I now acknowledge myself your debtor. It gave us much pleasure to hear from your own hand, your own story. It should have been answered at an earlier date. About the time I received your letter, my wife commenced taking a new medicine altho’ a simple one. It seemed to touch her case and in as much as we wished to see the effect which time would produce we have neglected to comply with your kind offer up to this time. The medicine I allude to is simply soft soap – one tablespoon full every morning in gill of mew milk. This simple dose has had a wonderful effect. She has had but two slight turns of sick headache since September last, until the last week [when] she had rather an ill turn. Not, however, like her former turns. She is on the whole suppressing better — not to say perfectly well, for she is confined to her medicine daily and takes nothing else. As to emetics and cathartics, she has not taken them for the last six months. How long she will remain better, or that her medicine will have its effects, I know not. It may cease to have its first effects. If so, she must resort to what, I know not. As to her symptoms or feelings which produce her ill turns, they are not easily described. She may retire to bed at a late hour of the night well to appearances as usual, and awake in the morning with sullen eyes, pain in the head, sickness at the stomach, which causes her to faint if she attempts to rise. At such times her only resort has been to cleanse the stomach by emetics and powerful cathartics. After evacuating the whole system, the machine again begins to move and the same over again when it becomes fowl. The want of action to the stomach seems to be the great difficulty.

Your opinion in regard to her case and the medicine she is now taking would be gratefully received. I do not know but you may get a letter from her containing more particulars respecting her case. It is not sure, however. She is quite off the track of writing.

The Starr Family Homestead in Deerfield, Massachusetts

The Starr Family Homestead in Deerfield, Massachusetts

My family [are] all well and fast growing. Caleb is outweighing me this moment. Eliza up to the size of a woman. I began life rather late you know, as well as yourself. The Friends, I believe, are well in general. Your Father has been quite ill but I hear he is better. Have not seen him for some time. I suppose I am telling no news when I inform you that Almarin has got an heir. Eli has also another. Have not seen them. Eli is growing old fast. You would be surprised to see him. The sickness which he had has added at least ten years to his age. The loss of his teeth alters him very much. He has likewise been unfortunate in closing some of his concerns — particularly with the town. I may be censured for informing you but it is in friendship to him and confidence with you. I will venture to state briefly his situation. In time past, he has been one of the select men of the town — Collector of Taxes, &c. during which time and before, he had been in the habit of taking charge of Negro Charles Paine in sickness and in health. In receiving his pension in part pay — sometimes by order of the selectmen — in the space of 5 or 6 years, there was not a settlement with the town or the overseer of the town’s poor who had the poor on contract for the last five years. Now during all this time, a balance of several hundred dollars has become due to Eli which he had supposed would be allowed in affect for taxes committed to him for collection. This the Treasurer refused to do and has sued his bondsmen (Brother Sedgewick on Allen) this being a deficiency on the part of Eli as Collector of some five or six hundred dollars on the receipt of taxes committed to him for collection. The error with Eli seems to have been in neglecting to settling with the town yearly and drawing from the selectmen their order on the Treasurer for the balance. This would have stopped payment for the same amount to the overseer of the poor on whom the town has now no claim, having paid him the full amount of his contract. The case has been laid before the town and the committee chosen to investigate the subject and report at the coming March Meeting. Thus the matter stands. I think it a fair claim in equity, if not a legal one, and intend to use my influence in having it allowed.

My stock of news must be small and dry to the Post Master. It is no news to say that times are hard but a matter of speculation when they will be better. Produce plenty, money scarce, markets dull, nothing wanting but a free circulation of money to make beef, pork, and produce bear a good price. Beef worth from 6½ to $7.00 per H. Pork same. Wheat #1.50. Rye $1.00, Corn 83 to 92 cts. Oats 42 cts. Flour $7.00 per barrel and no money in the country to buy it. I have been looking for a purchaser for your farm [but] do not find him yet. Wish my location was such an one as would suit your professional business. I would give you a try. But no use. I think I see what you want.

Cousin Carlos Allen is now doing good business in Richmond in company with Joseph Stebbins. Is in a fair way to cancel his debts. Cousin Josiah Allen in same place. Has $600.00 per year salary. The prospect is now fair with both of them. Cousin Caleb is at home with his father [and] is not yet married. Several young lads have recently married in this town. Uncle Consider Dickinson, aged 79. Uncle Eben Saxton, 74. The former to Miss Esther Harding. ¹ The latter to the buxom young Widow Graham of Sunderland, aged 45. We have dismissed our minister, Rev. John Fesenden. Leaves us in May.

We are about hanging a new bell upon our Meeting House, weight 1,700 pounds. Said to be a superior bell having taken a premium. Bloody-Brook is growing fast. Quite a number of moneyed men having moved in of late. Business has taken quite a start.

But come and see us and we will tell you all. Want to see you much. The friends send love to you. My wife sends not only love but wishes you happiness both in mind and location.

I am in sincerity yours, — O. Starr


Esther (Harding) Dickinson

¹ Esther (Harding) Dickinson was born in the Mill River section of Deerfield, Massachusetts, the daughter of farmer and chairmaker Abijah Harding (1760-1844) and his wife Lydia Dickinson. Esther kept house for widower Consider Dickinson (1761-1854) before she married him in 1840 at the age of fifty. When Consider died in his nineties, Esther, then in her sixties, continued to live in the house on the Ministry Lot in the village of Deerfield. After her death, in keeping with her will that a “high school, library, and reading room shall be located on my homelot on the Deerfield street,” the town moved the 1760 Dickinson house west on the homelot to make room for a new brick building to house a library, a public high school, and Deerfield Academy, a private high school that had opened in Deerfield in 1799. The Dickinson house was rented out to Deerfield Academy and in 1916 it was converted for use as a dormitory. The school building, in use until 1930, was taken down to make way for an administration building for Deerfield Academy.

² The “buxom young” widow Elizabeth Graham of Sunderland married Ebenezer Saxton [or Sexton] on 8 November 1839 according to the Deerfield Vital Records.


One response to “1840: Oliver Starr to Dr. Dennis Cooley

  • Susan Elliott

    Thanks for posting the letter. I discovered it in a search for information on Charles Paine, an African American who had formerly been enslaved in my hometown in Massachusetts, sometime before moving to Deerfield, Massachusetts.

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