This letter was written by Volney Aldridge (1818-1895), the son of Benjamin Aldridge (1787-1845) and Lydia White Lewis of Dryden, Tompkins County, New York. Volney married Harriet Elisa Hull (1827-1904) in 1846 and was employed in the practice of Homeopathic Medicine.
Volney wrote to his cousin, Caroline J. Lewis (1825-1899), the daughter of Thomas George Lewis (1801-1876) and Caroline S____ (1809-1880) of Dryden. Caroline married Miles A. Culver in the late 1840s.
A portion of the letter is devoted to the subject of protracted religious meetings. Volney states he observed two such meetings in Angelica in 1835 and 1840 and that neither of them resulted in any permanent converts.
Addressed to Miss Caroline Lewis, Care of A. Lewis 2d, Dryden, Tompkins County, New York
Angelica [New York]
Sunday Evening, April 10th 1842
I have though of citing to you for a long time past. The idea has again occurred to me and I will obey the impulse instead of postponing it as I have hitherto done. I owe you an apology for remaining so long silent, which I am willing to make, besides asking your forgiveness, if it will meet your acceptance and pardon.
As you are well aware, when we last saw each other, we were both quite young — being separated at so early a period of existence, which has lasted for so great a length of time. I can scarcely realize that you have changed from what you was when we last met. I delight in hearing from companions with whom I associated in years gone by and I trust may hear from you, often as you can spend time to write to me.
Alfred arrived home in safety and good health, highly gratified to find his Father much better than he had reason to expect from my letter. He is now well enough to walk about some. Alfred staid with me the first night after his arrival and gave me a history of the people and times in your place which was quite cheering. He says you have a crazy minister (Mr. Todd) to deliver a discourse now and then, & from the description I have had of him, I should be pleased to hear the Reverend Gentleman give a lecture as I dare say it would be interesting. He also says you have other ministers professing to be rational some of who I presume to say are about as far from being rational as Mr. Todd himself. They however satisfy the people — or many of them at least — that they are not only rational but the most profound men in religious knowledge in the universe.
I have witnessed several revivals and their results so far as I can judge has produced no lasting benefit. Whilst the excitement continues, the converts are usually very pious, but as soon as that ceases, they are generally more worldly than before their conversion. Their religion, purchased at the expense of fanaticism vanishes by degrees until they are left with as little of a reasonable religious hope as before they had experienced “a change of heart” as they term it.
Seven years ago they had a protracted meeting in our village and one hundred and fifty was “hopefully converted to God.” Out of that number one alone remains a member of the church and this one from no other motive that that of self interest. In the winter of 1840 there was another protracted effort which lasted for several months. At this time desperate efforts was made to stop the sinner in his sad career. On the one hand, every inducement was held out to convert who would enlist under their banner — not only spiritually to be blest — but even temporal blessings should be added. Those who still persisted in their course of wickedness were denounced as unfit to live and still less to die. Their names was called and then all the ghosts of departed spirits was invoked to aid them in frightening them to heaven. More abuse came from the pulpit than from the public bar room.
The consequence was that for a time our Society was almost wholly destroyed. Converts were taught to look with scorn on all those who had remained indifferent. They must not even speak to a simmer as they were scarcely human, much less to associate with them as they had formerly done. If anything was said or done to arrest the state of things, it would be heralded from the pulpit in the next discourse [with] names called and the parties slandered.
The good minister who was so zealous in the work of reformation with us — and who prayed with so much fervor for the spiritual welfare of the citizens of Angelica — is now in an adjoining county learning to fiddle for a living. He says preaching is poor business and he will try fiddling for a livelihood. I hope this will not be the case with your protracted meeting or your minister. And for anything I know, you may be one of the converts. If so, don’t be discouraged at the poor success the converts have had with us. I think, however, I have given you piety enough for one letter. I commenced without intending to say three words on religion and here I have already written enough for a sermon if I had only taken a text — probably the reason is that I have been to church all day.
We have had many parties this winter & spring — all of which afforded a few hours of enjoyment — and I find them an excellent remedy for the horrors. I forget my troubles which by the way are not many or lasting.
We have had a Lyceum once a week which I attended the most of the time. I soon found that I could not easily make a Patrick Henry or a Henry Clay and concluded I might about as well continue my present profession as to attempt to make an oration.
Alfred sends his respects to all with whom he associated whilst at school. He may conclude to return in the fall or winter.
I shall probably go to New York this summer or fall. If so, I mean to return through your place if I can without making too much of a delay and see some of my old friends and acquaintances.
When I last heard from home, my Father’s health was improving. The rest are all in good health. There has been considerable sickness in the country — more deaths within eighteen months past than for seven years previous. Adelia has attended school this winter. I think she is one of the finest girls of her age in this or any other country. She has a good memory and learns fast. I may be somewhat prejudiced in her favor — being a relative — yet I think if I could lay aside all prejudice, I should have to acknowledge that she was a remarkable fine girl.
Alfred wishes your Father to have a letter which his Father wrote to him — remailed to him at Abbieville — unless it has been taken out of the office.
I think I have wrote you quite enough for some letter. I shall expect you to write me as much in answer and even more as I am acquainted there and you are not here. I cannot write you much to interest you — not even to give you the news of the day — as it would be of strangers in a strange land.
My respects to all. Good bye.
With respect, I remain &c. — V. Aldridge
Say to Cousin Mary Ann my respects & that I shall write her soon. It is now 10 o’clock — rather late for Sunday night, especially for me as I retire early. Tell Mary Ann she must do the same and not be up late as it endangers health.