1852: Victor to Alfred Satterlee

This letter was written by a young man named Victor, probably born in the mid-1830s, who resided on or near Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. We know that his father was living at the time but he does not mention any family members by name.

Victor wrote the letter to his 17 year-old friend, Alfred Henry Satterlee (1835-1864), of Brooklyn — the son of John Rathbone Satterlee (1785-1848) and Elizabeth Diggins  (1792-1872). Alfred served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the New York National Guard in 1862. Alfred’s father was a New York City Merchant and a captain of Artillery during the War of 1812. At the time Victor wrote this letter in July 1852 Alfred was on a vacation to the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Victor’s letter contains a brief description of the Fourth of July activities in New York City, the loss of Lord Willoughby’s mansion on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, and the tragic accident at Clinton on Staten Island resulting in the drowning deaths of several persons who fell into the Hudson River when the Vanderbilt Bridge collapsed on July 5th, 1852.

1852 Cover

1852 Cover

Addressed to Mr. Alfred Satterlee, Albany, New York (forwarded to Brooklyn, Long Island)

Brooklyn [New York]
July 6th 1852

Dear  Al,

Carriage Road on Mount Washington

Carriage Road on Mount Washington

You are about this time, I suppose, on the tipest, topest point of Mount Washington.‡ I wish I was along and only hope you have a finer view than I have from my window, though I don’t believe you can describe the scene as well as I can the backs of the shanties on Atlantic Street. I expected a letter from you today but you probably have found out that disappointment is the common lot of man — at any rate, it’s been drilled into my mind.

Yesterday we had a fine procession in the city. I think there were about 5,000 soldiers out and about as much noise, heat and confusion as usual. There were not so many people as usual; on Saturday I saw crowds leaving the city and this morning crowds were coming in again. Almost every man I met in the street this morning had a carpet bag or valise in his hand. I suppose a great part of the poor devils belonging to this city — even those in comfortable circumstances — have no other holliday than the fourth.

I do hate New York. I like Brooklyn and always will, but still I always settle down to a new country. There’s nothing disagreeable about woods. Let them be ever so wild or even the most miserable log cabin or its most miserable occupant, but most of the streets of Brooklyn are disagreeable enough to give me the blues the instant I put my nose in them. And as for the poor and their habitations, bah; you have seen enough.

A dreadful accident happened at the Staten Island yesterday. ¹ Vanderbilt’s bridge at the lower landing broke down, letting about 50 people in the water, of whom 25 — mostly women — were drowned. Father saw a gentleman who was on the coroner’s jury this morning in the examination of the bodies of two women who were drowned, the husband of one of them was with them, drunk at the time, and this morning when the coroner held his inquest the man was drunk again. Probably the poor man wished to drown his misery in rum though perhaps one of his miseries was drowned yesterday. The morning papers were not out when I was in the city and I have heard of no other calamity except the burning of Lord [Samuel A.] Willoughby’s house which I consider a public calamity for it certainly was a great ornament to Fulton Avenue. ²

I met my old friend James T. Powers at the Library and found him just as entertaining as ever. We spent an hour very pleasantly together. The old place looks just as it did last winter. I went in the conversation room for the first time and considered it a disgrace to so wealthy an association. A lady gave me a beautiful little tortoise shell handled knife yesterday. Of course she is a very fine old lady — Mrs. Griffin by name; mother of Lieut. [Samuel P.] Griffin who commanded [the U.S.S. Rescue –] one of the vessels of the Grinnell expedition.

Some how or another, I have run out of ideas. I was full a few minutes ago. You must not expect more than three pages this time. I miss you dreadfully. I should have enjoyed the 5th twice as much if you had been here. I don’t know what to do in the evening. I don’t know any young ladies and I don’t care to visit the boys whom I know here except Sam Whittlesey and he went to Rockaway with Charley Coply and a few others to camp out and hunt and fish till Friday.

Robert Embree † is to be married on Thursday. I shall attend his wedding, probably speculating during performances when you and I will undergo the infliction. We are getting along towards manhood fast in spite of our dependence. I have just seen a Brooklyn paper which puts the number of drowned at Staten Island at 50. I don’t think there were as many as that though no one can tell yet.

Did you know that George’s marriage was a run away affair? You better not say much about it but there had been some row among the folks and the old lady threatened to take her daughter away if George visited her anymore. George happened to be in Poughkeepsie at the time and the old lady came to the city, so George went to the house and got Fanny and came to the city. They were married on the way down to make things shure.

I’ll have to stop now. “I’m stumped” so good bye. Yours ever, — Victor


¹ The Albany paper carried the following description of the accident in its 7 July 1852 edition:


² “Willoughby Street was named for Lord Willoughby, who came to this country from England, married, Miss Duffield, settled down and became a banker. Their grounds ran through, from Fulton to Willoughby Street and the mansion stood in the centre, surrounded by choice old trees and most beautiful flowers. His Lordship made money and built the church on the corner of Pearl and Willoughby Streets, which is now, Hegeman’s auction room. On the fourth of July 1855 [should be 1852], this house took fire while Lord Willoughby was celebrating the Declaration of Independence, and burned to the ground despite the efforts of the fire laddies who worked desperately to save it. The owner took his misfortune very much to heart, closed up his banking business in New York City and returned to England to die.” [Source: The Eastern District of Brooklyn website]  The house was located on Tarlton Avenue in Brooklyn.

Robert Cornell Embree (18251902) of Flushing, New York, married Phebe Seaman Birdsall (1830-1904) on 8 July 1852 in New York City.

‡ Mount Washington is in the White Mountains of upstate New Hampshire and was already a favorite tourist destination by the 1850’s. The first hotel built near the summit (1852) was called the Summit House. A rival hotel was built there in 1853 called the Tip-Top House.

Mt. Washington Carriage

Mt. Washington Carriage


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