1850: Sarah Fry Tobey to Dr. Samuel Boyd Tobey

Dr. Samuel B. Tobey, ca. 1864

Dr. Samuel Boyd Tobey, ca. 1864

This letter was written by Sarah Fry Tobey (1807-1894) to her husband, Dr. Samuel Boyd Tobey (1805-1867) — a pominent physician, trustee and officer of Brown University, and an approved minister of the Society of Friends in Providence, Rhode Island. Sarah was Dr. Tobey’s second wife, and had several children with him, viz: John (“Johnnie”) Fry Tobey (1835-1882), Edward Tobey (1838-1839), Thomas Fry Tobey (1840-1920), Sarah Caroline (“Carrie”) Tobey (1844-1924), and Lydia (“Lillie”) Anne Tobey (1846-1899).

Sarah wrote this undated letter while at sea on a passage from Boston, Massachusetts to Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was accompanied by her son, Johnny, who I’m going to guess was about 12 years old. I have not yet confirmed my hunch, but I believe that Sarah was on the first leg of a trip to England where she most likely met with other women who were leaders in the Quaker Church. Sarah was made an Elder in the church in the late 1850s. Sarah also makes reference to the “gold in California” which suggests that this letter was written in at least 1849/50. The blue stationary used for this letter is also typical of very early 1850s.

Sarah mentions Gilbert Congdon in her letter. Gilbert was a minister of the Quaker Church in Providence, Rhode Island.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Charles R. Tucker & Dorcas F. Tucker, New Bedford, Massachusetts

Sixth Day Morning

My Dear Husband,

They tell me that we shall soon be in Halifax and I will try to tell thee how it has fared with me since we parted. we looked at you as long as we could see you and then looked where you were till we were called to lunch when all the passengers — 41, I believe — assembled. I looked round upon them and came to the conclusion that they were a well-bred, unpretending sort of people and thought I should quite like it if I were acquainted with some of them. When dinner came, but few could go the table — neither Johnny or myself — and we were both soon obliged to go to our berths. I have been very sick; he not so much so.

Reputed to be Johnny Fry Tobey, ca 1864

Reputed to be John Fry Tobey, ca 1864

I could not leave my berth or be raised out of it all day yesterday without being faint, but this is a bright morning and I am in the Ladies Cabin upon a settee and feel very comfortable. I can not get up yet but I think I shall be able to soon. Johnny was pretty sick yesterday forenoon but in the afternoon he laid in his berth and read and sung and was very happy. It was so cold and William Howland not able to go on deck with him that I prevailed on him to lay in his berth. This morning the first sounds I heard was his voice singing, “Life on the ocean wave.” He was up bright for breakfast and William Howland says he ate heartily. I too have taken a little bit of ham as salt[y] as the ocean itself which seemed quite to meet the case — a little dry to eat — and a cup of black tea that tasted as if it had been boiling ever since we left Boston. I have thrown up great quantities of bile and it seems to me I must be better for it. My weak side of course feels the effects of so much excretion but that will be better I doubt not.

I thought of you all the day yesterday but felt very quiet about you and myself. We have all tried to do right in this move, I believe. I am sure the prayer of my heart from the time it was first mentioned was, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not hence” and if His presence go with me who am so unworthy, how much mopre will it be with you my loved ones at home. I hope you got home from Boston well and that dear little Tommy made purchases that were satisfactory and precious little Carry and Lilly. He must write me about it. I want Sammy and Aunt Lydia to keep a journal for me — write every evening — tell me everything — even what the dear children say, when I cannot hear their prattle it will be a great satisfaction to hear of it.

Reputed to be Carry Tobey, ca. 1864

Reputed to be Carry Tobey, ca. 1864

We are in Halifax. All have gone on deck but myself. Johnny is driving about as if he had the general oversight of things. He is I see going to enjoy the voyage highly. I must not omit to say that nothing can exceed the kindness of the stewardess to me. She remembers thee and no doubt has an eye to the recompense of reward and she shall have it. One would give all the gold in California (if somebody else would dig it) to feel better when they are seasick. I hope you will feel no anxiety about me as I feel sure that I shall do well. Do remember me to all my friends — the kindness and sympathy manifested by them for me will never be forgotten, I am sure by me.

I did not see Phebe and ___ Hanes which I regretted. Please tell them so. I must close with dear love to you all and a kiss to the precious, darling children.

Reputed to be Lillie Tobey, ca. 1864

Reputed to be Lillie Tobey, ca. 1864

I have written this laying down and that must be my apology for its appearance. I can not see whether I have spelled right or not. I smiled yesterday when I remembered the remark that I made which so much amused Gilbert Congdon and which I believe you all thought was quite original with me.  Don’t let anyone see this who does not love me and who will not make due allowance for it. Hoping and trusting that all is well with you. I am as ever, thine truly, — S. F. Tobey

Johnnie has just been down and says give my love to all and tell them that I am having a first rate time. We had a head wind yesterday and nearly all on board were sick but this bright morning is cheering to us all. Think of us leaving Halifax in good spirits with a clear sky, fair wind, and cold weather almost like winter. Thine, — S. F. T.


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