1847: Sophia Jenkins St John to Mary (Nichols) Bellows

This letter was written by Sophia Jenkins (Williams) St John (1798-1855), the wife of Samuel P. St. John (1793-1866). Sopia was the daughter of Howell Williams (1769-1819) and Dorothy Wheat (1768-1823). At the time this letter was written in 1847, the St Johns were living with Sophia’s sister, Mary Ann (Williams) Reed, whose husband, David Reed (1790-1870) was a publisher and the proprietor of a boarding house.

Children mentioned in the letter include: William Henry St. John (1829-1860) who went to Texas; Caroline (“Carrie”) Grosvenor St. John (b. 1831) who attended Madame Gilchrist’s boarding school; and Howell W. St. John (b. 1834).

Nathaniel Felton Williams

Nathaniel Felton Williams

Sophia’s brother, Nathaniel Felton Williams (1800-1884), we learn from the letter, had a sugar plantation on Oyster Creek in Fort Bend County, 100 miles from Galveston, Texas. Called the Imperial Sugar Company, Nathaniel sold his interest in the plantation in the 1850s, and moved back to Baltimore, Maryland. Another brother, Samuel May Williams (1795-1858) was a close personal friend of Stephen F. Austin and an early resident of Galveston.

Sophia wrote the letter to her friend, Mary (Nichols) Bellows (1810-1887) — the wife of Rev. John Nelson Bellows (1805-1857) of Framingham, Massachusetts. He was educated at the school of his uncle, Jacob N. Knapp, at Jamiaica Plain, Massachusetts, and entered Harvard College but did not graduate. He established a school for girls at Cooperstown, New York, and was afterward principal of the academy at Walpole, New Hampshire. About 1840, he entered the Unitarian Ministry and was settled over the parishes in Taunton, Framingham, and Barnstable, Massachusetts, and Wilton, New Hampshire.

The letter contains mentions a wind-driven “sailing carriage” for riding the beach on Galveston Bay.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Rev. John N. Bellows, Framingham, Massachusetts

Charlestown [New Hampshire]
7th January 1847

My dear Mrs. Bellows,

Image 11I have been wishing I could write to you for a long time but my eyes have been so exceedingly weak since my sickness in Boston that I have been obliged to give up reading and sewing. They are now somewhat stronger but I am not able to use them but little. I fully intended when in Boston to have made you a visit and was to have accompanied my sister — Miss Turlmin — but she was prevented by sickness from going until a short time previous to her leaving the city — then I was too sick to go. But we had the pleasure of seeing your Husband for a short time and he seemed to feel extremely anxious we should go with him. Said he came on purpose to prevail upon us to go and was desirous we should spend the winter. But it was impossible for us to conclude to do so upon the impulse of the moment. There were many things to be taken into consideration.

Image 9In the first place, my husband was in most miserable health and spirits and not in a state of feeling to wish to go among strangers and form new acquaintances. Here we begin to feel as though we were among old friends — and a delightful intercourse is kept up among our friends. But we thought your husband did not like it and indeed he evidently manifested a good deal of displeasure and left us very abruptly without taking leave — after he had consented to stay and dine with us. We should not have insisted upon his dining with us had we known it would have been perfectly convenient to Mrs. Reed — a number of her family being absent. (In fact, she and Mr. Turlmin had gone to Framingham that day, I now recollect.) I left him and my husband together for a few moments before dinner — having a Cousin upstairs whom I had not seen until that day for more than twenty years and who had come from Luninburg expressly to see me. My own health at the time was very miserable and he had made our arrangements to return here and had engaged board for the winter. I have been thus explicit with you for fear you might have imbibed a wrong impression from your husband of our real feelings toward you both. My husband’s feelings were very much wounded indeed at the time and it was a long time before he could get over it, but kept constantly speaking of it. For my own part, I did not allow it to trouble me at all. I could make allowances for your husband’s impulsive manner and replied if we had not hitherto said and done sufficient to convince him that we were his real friends, it was certain we never could.

Image 8We have received several interesting letters from William Henry since his arrival in Texas. He had a very long but pleasant passage to New Orleans. He kept a very interesting journal and forwarded it to us on his arrival. He is now at my brother Nathaniel’s plantation one hundred miles from Galveston. We have received but one letter from him since he reached there and that was written immediately upon his arrival. He spent two weeks in New Orleans and was perfectly delighted with everything he saw. He wrote he kept constantly upon the lookout for acquiring information. He sent us a drawing of a famous sail carriage for navigating the beach at Galveston (which is about thirty miles long). He had rode in the Carriage at the rate of seventeen miles an hour. I wish Mr. Bellows could see his letters. He would be interested in them as he always takes great interest in anything that concerns Willie.

Image 10Caroline has grown very much since you saw her. She is now on a visit at Chester about fourteen miles from here visiting a school girl acquaintance – Miss Abby Robinson. She will spend two weeks. She writes she is enjoying herself very much indeed. She accompanied her Father to Walpole to attend the New Year’s Festival. They both enjoyed it but did not find it so pleasant as it was last year — and was very much disappointed indeed to find Cousin Hattie absent. She is visiting her friends in Boston. They did not see Percy either — but heard that your Mother was pretty well. They had no opportunity of seeing her as they went down with a large party from this place and returned the same evening. I did not go. I heard the Festival was given for Mr. Willis ¹ and I cannot disguise my feelings. It would not have afforded me any pleasure to have attended a Festival given expressly for his benefit. We have heard of his having had some difficulty with some of the members of his society — but what we have not learned — he asked for a dismission — it was not granted. I think his society made a great mistake there. In my opinion, it was only done for effect. My prejudice carry me so far that I have not the least confidence in his sincerity. It is said by some that he is on a better footing with his society than ever. I doubt it. The wound may be healed for awhile, but it must break out again.

Mr. St. John saw many of our particular friends there but the crowd was so great he had not an opportunity of conversing much with them. He promised Uncle and Aunt Knapp that he would go down and make them a visit when Frederic and Frank returned. He thought Uncle Abel was looking very well for him, but Aunt Harriet not so well as usual. Little Hattie looked as pretty as ever — has grown a good deal. I don’t think of going down this winter. I don’t like to go far from home in cold weather.

We continue to like our residence her very much indeed. There is a great deal of social visiting. I took tea out every afternoon last week and have had social invitations this [week] but had to decline them, Mr. St. John not being able to go as he has been suffering very severely from a severe cold taken at Walpole. He is now better and his general health has very much improved. Since he came to Charlestown, he has been in very good spirits and has enjoyed himself very much. [He] has been under the Homeopathic treatment some time which he thinks has benefitted him.

I hear frequently from Howell whom we left at his Grandmothers in New Canaan. He is well and happy. He was averse to returning to Framingham to school. He complained of not receiving sufficient attention in his studies. There is a great falling off in the school, I understand, since it was opened. Howell is now attending an excellent private day school and I have no doubt is progressing rapidly. I feel  very lonely not having any of the children with me this winter. Carrie has thus far boarded at Madam Gilchrist’s. She liked there very much through the summer and I continued her there this winter, it being inconvenient for her to go out all weathers, and then she could be more regular in her studies there than at home. Her Cousin Fanny William is at the Moravian School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is very much pleased.

We have an excellent singing school taught by a Mr. Cussman — formerly of Luninburg — but the past summer has been at Walpole. He is liked very much indeed both as a gentleman and as a teacher.

I hope your patience will hold until you get to the end of this scrawl and that you will treat me in the same way. I want to hear all about your children and everything that concerns you and them. Mr. St. John joins me in much love to yourself and husband. We shall not cease to feel a great interest in his welfare, even if he does think to the contrary and he cannot prevent it.

Write soon and believe me as ever your affectionate friend, — S. J. St. John


¹ Sophia is probably referring to Rev. Martin W. Willis, who was the preacher of the Walpole Unitarian Society. He moved on to Nashua in 1854, and to Quincy, Illinois, in 1862 where he served the Unitarian Church and as a chaplain in the Civil War. It isn’t clear from the letter what action Rev. Willis was guilty, or accused, of that prompted him to render his resignation to the church but it appears most of the community forgave him.


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