This letter was written by James Henry Stuart (1828-1854) to his mother, Margaret Snodgrass Law (1804-1891), the wife of General John Forster (1777-1863), and widow of Rev. James H. Stuart (1800-1831) — a Presbyterian minister of the Kishacoquillas Valley.
James H. Stuart wrote this letter while a student at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1846. He earned an M.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1850; his thesis concerned physical education. Afterwards, he opened a medical practice in Erie and then became an Assistant Surgeon in the U.S. Navy. He was a member of Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition to Japan in the 1850s and was lost at sea off the Chinese coast in September 1854.
The following biography was found for General John Forster:
“He received a good education and was at Princeton when a call was made by President Washington for volunteers to march to Western Pennsylvania to put down the so-called “Whiskey Insurrection” of 1794, and was on that expedition as an aid to General Murray. He subsequently read law with General Hanna, but never applied for admission, turning his attention to mercantile pursuits, in which he was very successful. During the military era of the Government prior to the war of 1812 he was colonel of the State militia, and in 1814, when the troops from Pennsylvania marched to the defense of the beleaguered city of Baltimore, he was placed in command of a brigade of volunteers. For his gallant services in that campaign the thanks of the general commanding were tendered in special orders. He served in the State Senate from 1814 to 1818. General Forster was cashier of the Harrisburg Bank for a period of at least sixteen years, established the Bank of Lewistown, and in 1837 was cashier of the Exchange Bank of Pittsburgh. He subsequently became president of the Branch Bank at Hollidaysburg, but in a few years retired from all business pursuits and returned to his home at Harrisburg. General Forster was faithful, honest and upright in all his business connections, and a good financier. His first marriage was to Mary Elder (1779-1831), the daughter of John Elder and Elizabeth Awl.”
The “Ben” mentioned occasionally in the letter was Benjamin L. Forster (b. 1835), the step-brother of James H. Stuart.
Addressed to Mrs. General John Forster, River Bank, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
La Fayette [Lafayette College, Easton, PA]
May 11th 1846
I delayed answering your kind epistle thus long, in order that I might write from Easton as I only received yours a day or so before I started. Since I have been up, my time has been so limited that I could hardly write Levi the letter which I promised him positively he should have, mentioning the day I would write (which was Saturday).
On last Thursday, we started in the stage, during a pouring rain which did not cease until our arrival at Easton. The rain has been very abundant lately, indeed, so much so that the farmers began to fear it would injure their crops. Grandfather told me before I left P. to give his best love to you and Father. By the way, I forgot to tell you in my last that he relished the jelly very much indeed and is greatly obliged to you for it, He now takes quite long rides occasionally. Tell Father I am very much obliged to him indeed for taking so much trouble in regard to the judgement. I hope that all will go right. Mr. Shearer was perfectly correct in his statement. He did send the trousers and I did also return the pair which he had given me by mistake. It is a pity the poor fellow was put to so much trouble. It will teach him to be more careful in future, however.
I went down this afternoon to ascertain the amount of my Doctor’s bill. He was not in when I went but I got one of his students to look in his account book and he said that, according to it, the bill was about seventeen dollars. I had not supposed it to be so much. However, his visits were very frequent and he was very attentive indeed. Still, considering the present state of Father’s circumstances, I could wish it were less.
The weather is very cold here and the wind blows almost a perfect gale since it has cleared off, which was only done last night after almost a week of rainy drizzly weather. I presume you have it rather different at Harrisburg.
How is the bridge coming on? And the house? The cellar is completely dug by this time, is it not? We anticipate a short and pleasant session. During the vacation, the college was painted and whitewashed which improves the appearance of the place wonderfully. Our room looks almost like the rooms at home. Everything is neat and clean.
How does Mrs. and the Misses Steele come on? Are they in good health? Have you got any boarders yet? If not, it must seem rather lonely to you ladies when father is away. Cousin Mary & my Aunts and Uncles send love in great abundance to you all. I was glad to hear that Ben cared more for the substance than the shadow and preferred gaining an education without being rigged out in fine clothes to being “booted & spurred” and remaining uneducated. That little incident, small as it may appear, has raised my opinion of Ben’s character (although it was already good) at least ten per cent. I was sorry though that he avoided seeing me go. He must get used to such things soon or it will be very hard to do it when necessity compels him. Tell him I expect to find an accomplished scholar when I return to Harrisburg.
Give my best respects to the ladies in our house, also my love to Father, Ben, Aunt & Uncle, and my respects to Dr. Andrews (if he’s home), Dr. & Mrs. Rutherford, Levi and all my acquaintances. I found everything here about as I left them in vacation. Write very soon & let Ben put a Postscript to your letter. May God bless you. Adieu.
Your Son, — James H. Stuart