This letter was written by Margaretta (“Molly”) La Motte (1807-1898), the wife of Alfred Victor du Pont (1798-1856). Alfred’s father, Eleuthere Irenee du Pont (1771-1834), started the Du Pont de Nemours black powder company on Brandywine Creek near Wilmington, Delaware.
Molly was the daughter of Daniel La Motte (1782-1877) and Susan Beck (1786-1817). In 1843, Daniel La Motte had a cotton factory on Chester Creek which sustained great losses of goods, yarns, etc. in the August 1843 freshet described in this letter. We learn from this letter that Daniel’s entire office, books, and papers were washed away by the flood waters.
Molly mentions her brother, Ferdinand (“Ferd”) Fairfax Lammot (b. 1808-18xx) in this letter. Family oral history says that Margaretta “made life misery for her husband, bullied her sons, and even drove one of her daughter-in-law to the mad house.”
Molly wrote the letter to Elizabeth (“Eliza”) Julia Schlatter, daughter of William Schlatter (1785-1827) and Catherine Vaughn Lyon (1783-1825) of Philadelphia, PA. Eliza was married (1837) to Theophilus Parsons Chandler (1807-1886), son of Peleg and Esther Chandler.
Addressed to Mrs. T. P. Chandler, Care of T. P. Chandler, Esqr., Boston, Massachusetts
August 6th 1843
My dear Eliza,
I received your welcome letter a week ago and I waited to answer it to tell you all the news. Maryetta and Ferd only left us on Tuesday. She spent five weeks with us and enjoyed it very much for sister gave her the girl to nurse and she had time to visit, sew, or anything she liked. Ferd asked Father if he thought they would be allowed a servant. He told them no and they had better prepare for housekeeping. They are going to do so, but on a very moderate scale. I am very glad for some reasons for Ella had too much to do, and we all thought as Ferd’s wife she should have a little more consideration shown her.
We have had company all the time, most delightful music during Mr. Huppfeld’s visit; and now we have Adele Picot who plays most splendidly. She is a lovely unassuming girl highly accomplished and very pleasant in the house.
During Mr. Hupp’s visit, we had boating and riding & fishing excursions — very pleasant indeed. All went and were disposed to be happy. How often I wished for you. Our house was literally filled, every one congregates here.
Mita and Vic[torine] have been out paying visits all round the country, for Vic has persuaded her Mother to give her a dance upon her birthday instead of a present and the eventful day or evening is to be the 15th of this month. She looks forward to it with the greatest pleasure. I hope she may not be disappointed. We muster about 60 persons which will be quite a respectable gathering for the Brandywine. There is to be music from Philadelphia which will add to the pleasure of dancing. I hope I may not be considered too old to dance for I know I should enjoy it more than the young ones who only saunter along.
Last Saturday we were to have had a boating excursion up to Mr. Young’s to get out there and take his boat above the dam and go some miles up to a fountain and rock which is very pretty. I made cake, we had our drinkables &c. all ready when a gust came up and we had to postpone it until yesterday when unfortunately the most terrible rain there has been known since 1805 came up. The water rose 16 feet in two hours. ¹ It pound all day. The creek rose over the new road up to the [Saltpeter] Refinery and a great deal of damage done; some of the dams were washed away and it is a scene of desolation. The garden walks are washed 3 feet deep, the whole width of the walk swept entirely away; some of the onions washed into the Powder yard. No one could possibly believe or understand the immense amount of mischief done.
Our house was flooded. We had to take up the mats in parlor, spare room & mine, and with the exception of one room we were wiping up water by the bucket full in every room. Such a thing has never happened before. The school room all afloat. We could not help laughing at our own trouble for no sooner had we one place partly wiped up when a child would run down with the news of another being deluged. The accounts from Chester Creek are very bad but we hope they are very much exaggerated and shall be extremely anxious until we have a letter from Lenni, particularly as Ferd was very unwell when he left us and we have not heard a word from him.
Julia Shubrick is very ill indeed. The account today is very unfavorable. I fear something will happen to disappoint poor Vic of her party.
Harriet Buck is at Ella Bucks. Eliza Grimshaw at Elenthera’s. Adele Picot here and Wilhemina Ridgeley over the week at Mary’s so we have some merry ones all ready for fun.
I went to Philadelphia on Friday; went up in the morning and came down in the evening. I saw your Uncle, Aunt, & Kate. They were all very well. Sarah was quite well. She had just left her Father a few minutes before I got there and I had not time to call upon her. Your Aunt had merry and amusing letters from Ellis. He was quite well and enjoyed his journey very much. It was too amusing. I was called Mrs, duPont by every one to Alfred’s great amusement. I saw Nora for a few minutes on my return. She was very well, entirely gotten over her attack of the Grippe. I have commenced her little baby dress. My cap is done and all think it handsome.
I must stop now and get ready for dinner for I smell a very savory odor, which tells me it is time.
When Father and Mother came home from New York, they did not mention having received a letter from you, so I don’t think they did, but they were so anxious to get home, not having left it dor so long a time before.
I commenced this two weeks ago and now I hasten to conclude it, our home still full of company. The part took place and it was beautiful. We decorated the hall with wreaths of laurel, bay, and flowers over all the doors and pictures, and hung festoons of laurel round the piazza, plenty of light, and a collection of extremely pretty girls. The music was delightful. They kept it up until 3 o’clock and were then unwilling to go. All enjoyed it and none more than Frank. He danced all evening. You may judge how many we see when we are not a single day without company. 20 people on Saturday and 16 gentlemen on Sunday. We have had Anna & Harriet, Kate and Charles Buck here for some time. The latter is a dose. All the girls hate him, he makes such a fool of himself. He can’t see that he is laughed at. Mary Ellen Bayard, Kate Milligan, Rosalie Thomson, Adele Picot, Vic & Peney — all ran him, laughed at him until we were ready to scream and he goose-like could not see it. Fortunately he goes tomorrow. The girls call him sticking plaister and family secrets. The gentlemen are as bad and it only makes matters worse.
The freshet at Chester Creek was dreadful. Both of Father’s offices were carried away, all his books and papers lost. The dam went and a dreadful scene of desolation. Mr. Crozer’s two [cotton factory] mills were washed entirely away — not a stone left standing. Mr. Richard Smith suffered very much. 5 houses were carried off and you cannot see where they stood. 6 people were lost out of the houses. There never was so much damage done by a freshet. At 5 o’clock, Father was in the office, at half past, the offices were gone. He had only left them a few minutes not dreaming of a freshet and before he could return it was all over. Does there not seem a spell upon that place? I wish they were away from it with all my heart. I have not been able to see now for some time — company here preparing for party then clearing away and I was not well enough for the last two days. I was overdone.
Yesterday afternoon we went boating only up to Mr. Young’s for the young people were engaged out and only the old ones and very young went. I only enjoyed myself tolerably for I was too much worried to feel comfortable but did not want to show it.
Mrs. Shubrick is quite well again. Frank ² is ordered off. Has the command of the Brig. Perry to China to be gone 2 years. We are all very sorry for poor Sophie.
I had a letter from Mr. H. which worried me so much. The letter was threatening and applying for money. I showed it to Alfred and he thinks I should send it as he says Mr. H. may say and do many things to make me feel badly. I will not let Alfred send it and of course it will lighten my purse. I don’t know where it may stop. Do not say a word about it. I feel as if I could tell you for I know how much interested you will feel in my concerns. I have felt very badly since I received it. I did not want to trouble Alfred and did not know how to act, but I gave him the letter today and we are to conclude tonight what to do.
Goodbye dearest. My love to [your] Husband, a kiss to little ones. Believe me as ever your own, — Molly
¹ In August 1843, “there occurred in this neighborhood one of the most remarkable phenomena of which local history gives an account. “The Flood of 1843″ is considered by those who remember it as one of the milestones of Delaware County history. So extraordinary was this flood and so great the damage done, that shortly after the occurrence a committee of the Delaware County Institute of Science was appointed to investigate and make report in regard to it.” That report can be found at: The Flood of 1843 in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
² Samuel Francis (“Frank”) Du Pont was promoted to Commander in 1843 and set sail for China aboard the brig Perry, but was forced to return home and give up his command because of severe illness. Du Pont married his first cousin, Sophie Madeleine du Pont in 1833.