1845: Isabella Holmes Beecher Hooker to Charlotte Lucina (Cowles) Hull

Isabella

Isabella Holmes Beecher Hooker

This letter was written by Isabella Holmes Beecher Hooker (1822-1907), the first child of Rev. Lyman Beecher and his second wife, Harriet Porter of Cincinnati, Ohio. Isabella was sister to Henry Ward Beecher and a half-sister to Harriet Beecher Stowe — her more famous siblings.

Isabella began her education at Catharine Beecher’s Hartford Female Seminary and after the death of her mother in 1835 lived with her sister Mary, wife of attorney Thomas C. Perkins in Hartford. In August 1841 she married John Hooker, (1816-1901), the son of Edward and Elizabeth (Daggett) Hooker of Farmington. They lived in Farmington until 1851 before moving to Hartford. In the early 1860s Isabella became involved in the woman’s suffrage movement. Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Isabella organized the National Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1869. She was also a founding member of the Connecticut Woman’s Suffrage Association. Isabella’s ideas of equality were influenced by John Stuart Mills’ political work, On Liberty and the Subjection of Women.

Isabella Beecher Hooker in later years

Isabella Holmes Beecher Hooker in later years

Isabella Beecher Hooker is best known for her suffrage work in Connecticut and New England. Her husband is best remembered for drafting the Connecticut married woman’s property law. Isabella was ostracized by her family and friends when she sided with those who thought her brother (Rev. Henry Ward Beecher) guilty of adultery.

Isabella wrote the letter to her friend, Charlotte Lucina (Cowles) Hull (182-1866), the wife of Rev. Joseph Darling Hull (1818-1899). Rev. Hull was an 1837 graduate of Yale and married Charlotte in Farmington in December 1843. It’s clear from this letter that the Hull’s were new parents, their eldest child, Richard Cowles Hull, being born on 5 January 1845.  Charlotte named their second child Mary Hawes Hull after her friend Mary Hawes who died a missionary’s wife in Turkey.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Mrs. Charlotte C. Hull, Essex, Connecticut

Farmington [Connecticut]
February 21, 1845

My very dear Charlotte,

I had set apart this day for writing you a long letter before receiving the welcome one from Joseph yesterday. That has only added a ___ impulse to my intentions & was especially gratifying to me because unexpected. I do think you are about the best friend in the world, as perhaps I may have told you before, because you can make allowances for all defects — especially failures in correspondence. I should have said that even you would scold a little ____ you thought best to write at all, at my long delay in answering Mary’s letter & your kind request to “write if you can” could only have seemed like heaping coals of fire &c. were it not that I am conscious of quite too good reasons for any tardiness to make any such application.

When I last wrote you a few hasty lines I was sick, & so I continued for some weeks — at least unable to endure or to enjoy anything — from weak eyes & head. Then I was hoping to go to Hartford soon & determined not to write you again till I had seen Mrs. Hawes & would tell you more accurately something about Mary. ¹ I did not succeed in reaching Hartford till last week but I stayed there with John, sustaining & cheering him amid his arduous cares & responsibilities, from Monday morn till this week Tuesday — making home with Mrs. D[avid] F. Robinson’s all the time.

I presume you have not heard much in your region of the famous case that has been upon trial all this time entitled, “State versus Higley” or the “Canton Case.” ²  It is sufficient for me to say that John was completely prostrated by his labors & all the lawyers on both sides were much exhausted. I was really fearful that John would find his profession incompatible with health if this was any specimen of common practice. But Mr. [Thomas C.] Perkins (who was on the opposite side — that is to say council for the scoundrel) told us it was the hardest weeks work he had ever known since he commenced practice — & Judge Williams pronounced it the longest case since he had been on the bench — so that altogether we are quite comforted that so severe an apprenticeship has terminated as favorably as it has.

We are both quite well now & rejoicing to be quietly at home once more. Let me tell you a little of what I have been doing these three days past & see if there be not some vigor left in this feeble frame. I rode home early on Tuesday morning with father from Hartford in wagon — found a great box sleigh commanded by your brother Samuel just starting for the musical convention at Canton — 11 miles distant. I was over persuaded to jump inside with them, after warming my feet five minutes at home — no backs to the seats — they being nothing more than two beams running the length of the wagon body & just on a level with its sides. Mr. Seely was in & a number of others so I talked much & fast, but could not keep off a most excruciating backache for the last three miles. You must know first that there was snow only about half the way & only mud or deep water the other half. But we arrived safely at about noon & there we staid singing and listening to musical visitations from Mr. Mason till 9 o’clock at night. I then begged a ride home with Austin Will behind his grey horse & the way we flew over the bare ground — which by the way had doubled in quantity since morning was a caution. We turned over only once, however, which considering the roads was doing well & I enjoyed that tumble finely — all wrapped up in a great fur & nerved to bear much greater disasters.

[My] Mother [-in-law] & myself sat up till one o’clock (having reached home at 11) talking over the events of the week like two schoolgirls & the next day I was tired. But the day after, a musical convention was held here which I attended afternoon & evening — entertaining Mr. Mason at our house between times. And this morning I rose early & had breakfast ready for him to start away at 7 o’clock, since which I have been quite well tho’ rather listless & now after a good nap am trying to amuse you with this narration of personal matters. After all my boasting this writing is beginning to be rather irksome & I must wait till tomorrow to finish. Let me just ask while I think of it if you knew that Mary [D.] Williams is engaged to [Rev. Charles Backus] McLean of Collinsville — a classmate of John’s & a nice young man — good as the day is long. But [your husband] Joseph will know about him. I am delighted to have her coming so near for John often has business in Canton & it is a charming ride in the summer — one that I always love to take — especially if there be a good friend at the end. Let me tell you too under what a mistake I have labored ever since the receipt of Mary’s letter. The part signed Charlotte happened to be in a poorer hand than the other — rather trembling I thought & such like a _____tion of yours for you both write a very similar hand & it never occurred to me that the signature could be any other than genuine. Accordingly, I have told of it to all your friends & added a ____ condemnation of such gross impudence. The expectation too of sending you such a token of displeasure as would forbid you ever attempting again such a hair brained undertaking. I conclude from a remark in your last that this letter is unnecessary & so humbly critical pardon for having suspected you of so serious a misdemeanor. I must proceed to rectify my mistake in other quarters or your reputation for prudence will be fairly forfeited & in so doing I shall certainly have my hands full — indeed, I scarcely know where to begin.

Saturday morning. I have just returned from your old house & from reading your letter to your mother. The latter fills me with some astonishment in view of the exposure contained of the careless statements not to use any harder term of your Rev. husband & gentle sister. I shall feel constrained to bring a certain letter or letters with me when next I visit you that they may be convicted on the spot of your misrepresentations entirely unbecoming their respectable standing in Essex County. I trust they may be prepared with a satisfactory defense. There will certainly be time enough for its preparation I trust before the condition above named is fulfilled.

Mary Hawes, wife of missionary Henry J. Van Lennepp

Mary Hawes, wife of missionary Henry J. Van Lennepp

And now as to our dear Mary [Hawes Van Lennep]. I saw Mrs. Hawes about an hour which was all the time I could spare, but not being half long enough. I promised to spend a day with her soon. The present warm weather & consequent state of roads will prevent this however for many weeks to come probably. Mrs. Hawes was more cheerful — even lively — than I had anticipated & seemed much interested in displaying her numerous packages of letters — many of them in Mary’s well known hand. These made my eyes glisten. I longed to read them all at once but had not time to attempt anything. It was the impression of Mary’s parents that her removal from the purer air of Smyrna & other favorable influences there to Constantinople & its new cares & probable responsibilities was the chief cause of the disease & death, tho’ they had no expectation of a long life for her in that country under the most favorable circumstances. I find all her friends are receiving much consolation from the conviction that she was removed in good tie to save her from a weight of care & anxiety inevitably approaching that would have mislead her — all unprepared as she was for such a burden. Her mother even rejoices that she was spared her pleasing hopes & pined away beneath new trials & unforeseen difficulties. It seems she resided about 7 miles from the city people on the other side of the water at a village called Para where indeed most Europeans are stationed. At the time of her illness, however, they were some miles the side of the city keeping house for a few weeks of the hot weather in some pleasant gardens to which they with other missionaries had retired. Here Maria Watkinson ³ spent a week with Mary having left Smyrna for the purpose of consulting about establishing a school at Constantinople. At the end of a week, she left Mary better in health & returned to Para on necessary business. Mary immediately after grew worse & in two weeks from her first attack was removed back to the former residence at Para. Maria in the meantime had commenced her school there & was therefore unable to be much with Mary till a day or two before her death — when she watched with her two or three times.  The best physicians that could be had were consulted but I much doubt whether they understood the nature of her disorder — not having been familiar with her constitution previously. I believe they called her disease typhus fever at last. At first, it was simply a diarrhea which they could never check for more than a day or two during the six weeks of her illness. She was excessively emaciated but suffered little pain. The last day (Friday) however there was a scene of dreadful distress for Henry & her friends — an apparent agony — as great, the physicians assured him as is ever witnessed — yet they said there was little or no suffering on her part. Henry fainted the moment she ceased to breathe & was carried from the room. She had not received a letter from her father since his return, but in a letter to one of the missionaries received a few days before her death, he sent a message to her to the effect that “she must love the missionaries.” She immediately replied, “tell father I do love the missionaries. I am sure I do. I love them all more & more.” For three days her mind was wandering most of the time but nothing painful occurred I believe. She was with her friends here — talking with them & longing to see her mother — mourned that her parents would not come sooner to her bedside. I suppose she was buried in Smyrna yet cannot remember that I have heard distinctly. Henry was there when last he wrote & expected to remain for some time to recruit her health & strength. Mrs. Hawes read a portion of his last letter to me, but I do not remember anything to repeat to you. Dr. Hawes’ sermon contained all that was to be known of her state of mind. She seemed to be quietly preparing for death from the beginning & so far as I can learn did not express any of that distress in parting with her husband that we might have anticipated, but I fully agree with a remark of yours some time since that we can conceive that all these affections even will fade in importance at the hour of dissolution — death is too absorbing in itself & its results to admit any conflict with its claims. Unless indeed Charlotte, our children are concerned. I have thought that nothing could make me cling to life like the thought of leaving tender, young children to —– whom? That is hard indeed to bear at least in prospect. But in this connection, have you seen my brother George [Beecher’s] Memoirs? If you have, you must have wept over his mother’s tender faith amid the most discouraging prospects. [Note: George Beecher was Isabella’s half-brother; son of Lyman Beecher and Roxanna Foote. George’s Memoirs were published by Catharine Beecher in 1844.] There is a beautiful passage concerning it. I should like to have you all read the whole book. It is more interesting altogether than I had dared hope it would be. Mrs. Hawes said she had thought of writing to you but hardly knew where to begin or what to say. I feel much the same in attempting to tell you anything of Mary, there have so many incidents been related at different times & in such various ways — but I have done the best I can for you & we must wait till we meet once more to talk further of our friend in heaven.

As to local news, we have but little. I wish Mary could have been here to our musical conventions this week & have seen & heard Mr. Mason. She must consider this letter an answer to hers & not insist upon exact payment. Dr. Thomson was taken suddenly ill of lung fever this morning. He took tea at Samuel’s last eve but was not well, nor indeed had been for a week. He is very ill your mother says & has sent for Dr. Pardie. We have had more sickness the last six months & more deaths than ever before since I have lived here, I think. Typhus Fever still prevails — whooping cough very common — Luna Wilcox has it badly. Mrs. Norton has had it in Albany & Charley also. Mrs. Norton wrote me a very pleasant note full of sympathetic feeling after receiving an account from me of your safety & happiness. She said she must write you immediately & I hope she has done so. Mr. Norton was here two days since but I saw him only a moment. We cannot certainly visit you now till the roads are settled & when that will be is impossible to tell. They are horrible now & the frost is but just beginning to come out. I fear it may be a long time before we meet unless you can come home in the summer — baby & all. Why _____ not — I should love to have you with me in my pleasant room for a week or so — ____ weather birds & all — do think of it. I hardly know what our plans will be for the summer after all ___ may possibly move permanently to Hartford early in summer, but nothing certain. A few weeks will decide & I will write more definitely. Don’t mention this to anyone — it is entirely private as yet. I cannot bear to think of leaving here in summertime, nor indeed at all but it will probably be best on John’s account to do so before a great while. If Joseph though his ….. not write very well I don’t know what he will say to my attempts as here exemplified, but you must take what I can send with the most ease for it is severe labor at best & be thankful for that.

Your mother wished me to say that Rebecca’s sister has a daughter, born one day before New Years. Mother & baby both very well & have been since that time. I hope Rebecca is as faithful as ever & I dare say she loves the baby dearly. I am sorry for your ______ as to a name but cannot suggest any relief. I would not have John Hooker — not for the reason Joseph suggests by any means but because it is not a pretty name. If you like the name Horace, I should not think you would hesitate at all. Clarice says you used to like it very much. Her baby is very large & strong — healthy — does not look like anybody at present.

I saw a notice of Amanda’s death † while at Hartford & was very glad to hear more fully from Joseph. I cannot realize that her sweet face so full of life and health as it seemed to me last summer is laid in the grave & her little children — that thought of thir future desolation grieves me more than anything else. How long does your mother intend to stay & what are Mr. Hardy’s plans? I am very glad if you are prudent. You cannot be too much so. How thankful we ought all be for your safety, comfort & happiness. I fear we do not think enough of it. I hardly dared hope for so much health & ease as you have experienced. My sheet is full & head tired. Write when you can. Love to all. From your affectionate, — Isabel. B. H.

Sunday eve. I have forgotten to say a word about your poor baby’s “best petticoat.” It has been finished this great while. It would have been sent by Mrs. H___ had she gone. I have been waiting to hear from you how to send it on. I can send to New Haven any day if you can get it from there & will tell me how to direct the package, whose care in New Haven? John says all business affairs will be duly attended to & he will write concerning them soon.

The Canton Case

The Canton Case

¹ Mrs. Louisa (Fisher) Hawes (1791-1867) was the wife of Rev. Joel Hawes (1788-1867), pastor of First Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut. Their daughter, Mary Hawes, married (4 September 1843) the widower Rev. Henry John Van Lennep (1815-1889), a missionary under the patronage of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), and sailed with him to Smyrna [Turkey]. Mary died on 27 September 1844 in Constantinople. She was buried at the Ferikoy-Istanbul Protestant Cemetery.

² The Canton Case refers to the trial of Alson Higley of Canton, Connecticut, who was charged with assault and attempt to commit rape on 17 June 1844 upon Mrs. Lucretia Allyn, wife of Albert Allyn of Canton. Higley was also charged with a solicitation to commit adultery. The trial ended in an acquittal on the charge of assault and attempted rape, Mrs. Allyn’s testimony being inconsistent. The jury could not reach agreement on the second charge and the case was dropped. Messrs. Toucey, Thomas C. Perkins, and Chapman represented Higley. Messrs. Truman Smith of Litchfield and John Hooker of Farmington were counsel for the prosecution.

³ Maria Watkinson (1817-1885) was the daughter of the Hartford merchant and iron trader Edward Watkinson (1783-1841). Her mother, Lavinia Hudson, came from the family that published Hartford’s Courant newspaper. The Watkinsons were generous benefactors to the Wadsworth Atheneum and Watkinson Library (now at Trinity College). Maria married landscape painter Edward W. Nichols in 1853.

Amanda J. Hull was married to Aaron Atwood Hardy on 30 September 1839. She died 31 January 1845 leaving Aaaron with three small children; Charles, Francis, and Amanda. He married second Mary Ann Cowles in November 1848.


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