Radical Equality: 1842-1846

Letter, Dolly W. Stetson to James A. Stetson, July 26, 1844

Dolly shares the events of daily life at the Association, including her confidence in the Association despite its mounting debt.
She also mentions David Ruggles.

Transcript

[July 26, 1844]

Friday Evening July 26th [1844]

My Dear Husband — I have a few moments of leisure and commence a letter hoping to get a sheet full before Mr Bassett sends a box to you —
I hardly know where to commence a diary of affairs that have occured here since you left as I do not know how or what the girls wrote to you.The first thing that occurs to me is the fall that Almira had last Saturday. She was feeding in the upper story of the cocoonery and fell down backword to the ground her head and one shoulder striking a beam. She was brought home insensible and remained so nearly two hours – I had no idea but that she had injured her head so that she would never recover- and my first thought was to send for you but by the use of cold water she soon began to recover and was next day able to go down stairs and is now quite well except a lameness across her back and shoulders – she goes to school and work now She said that allmost the first thing she thought was I am glad Father was not here he would have sufferd so much on my account – I was very much alarmed myself but perfectly self-possessed — Mr Boyle saw her fall and thought from the manner that she fell she must have been faint She thinks so herself as she has no recollection of any sensation that she was about to fall — we received the attention and sympathy of all the people of the Association — The next thing of importance was the reception of your letters which afforded us a great deal of pleasure altho rather of a melancholly sort – we were glad to hear that you were well and to hear from so many of our Brooklyn friends were well – but joy and sorrow seems mingled in their cup as well as in ours – It is and must be so with every place and every person and they who expect to be exsempt from sorrows will find themselves bitterly disappointed —- I sometimes feel that I want to go to Brooklyn myself but I do not know but a visit there would give me more pain than pleasure – I think it has been so with your visits there – I wish you would tell us how Angeline Smith is —- Mother returned from Hadley on Wednesday She has got thro with her services at Mr H —1 She says your letter has rather discouraged her from thinking of fixing up the house not so much that Uncle George2 does not think of going as that you think that there is no inducement to go there yourself – with regard to going onto the farm – it seems to me that the time for our going there under the most favourable circumstances has passed had we gone there when Father was alive or soon after his discease when the farm was in good repair and stocked it would have been much better for us than now when there is neither stock or tools or any conveniencies for doing the work in doors or out — 3

On Thursday Mr Hammonds little child passed to the spirit land – It has been a great sufferer a long time it flesh was all wasted off its body ^ the funeral was Thursday 4 oclock P.M. ^ Mary Bryant composed a hymn which was one sung by the young people at the funerall another hymn selected by Mrs Hammond was sung Remarks were made by Mr Boyle Mack and Bassett Sojourn4 also spoke with much feeling and sang something on the death of an infant – The services were said to be very solemn and impressive – it rained very fast and I did not go over – Each of the children belonging to the Junior and Infant class had boquets of evergreen and flowers mingled which they intended to have thrown into the grave upon the coffin but as it rained they put them into the coffin as they went to look at the corpse5 – Last evening after the funeral two of Sojourners daughters came from New York – their meeting was very affecting one of them came like the prodigals son – haveing disobayed her mother and gone to live with a man who is a widower and under promise of marrying her kept her to take care of his family and I do not know what more untill she became afraid of him and he abused her shamefilly some friends of Sojourners rescued her from his grasp and wrote up to see if she could come here they said she could and her sister came to accompany her they are two fine looking negresses as you ever saw and are energetic like their mother6

Louisa Rosebrook has another severe attack of lung complaint Doct Barratt from town is attending her – her case I should think doubtfull – 7
And now with regard to your questions and first, “do you have all the work to do.” I can tell you how we proceed Stephen getts up in the morning makes the fire, puts over the kettles, cuts the bread, stirs the pudding, etc while I excercise a general supervision of affairs, the Hayden girls you know set the tables and wash the dishes – After breakfast David Ruggles gets in the wood shells peas strings beans or prepares potatoes as the case may be with the assistance of Mrs Bradbury I make the bread gingerbread pies etc when we have any – I cook the dinner and Mrs Bradbury gets the tea8 Aunt Mary takes care of James makes my beds and keeps my rooms in order – so you see that my task is not very hard – second – “how have you settled the marriage question!? – I dont know as it has been settled in any way or even discussed. I have not attended any meeting since you left and if it has been brot up I do not know it – Lucy Hayden returned from Bath the day you left – She sayed that she had felt very unhappy ever since she had received Harriets letter and did not know what to make of it – but when she returned home and found how the matter was she sayed that she considered them engaged and nothing more – she says that as long as they do not live together as man and wife they have not sinned but she thinks they have acted foolishly – Lucy is not willing to go to Ohio with them so it was indefinitely postponed. David Ruggles told them the other day that he knew from the opinions he had heard expressed by a great many that they never could be admitd here as members and they had better go while the weather was warm than to wait untill fall when Sydneys year was up. that set them in motion again to go but about this time Harriet was taken raising blood from her lungs and has raised more or less every day since — I do not know how the matter will end I think Lucy does not like Sydney much they often have long and warm discussions in their room —–9

With regard to our staying in the Association with an Accumilating debt10 – I can only say that if we have not full confidence that this will be a pleasant home for us and our children it cannot be right for us to stay long in this way – but I do not know how we can know whether or not we are accumuleting a debt untill the end of the year – business at presant seems looking up Lumber sells well and they have a lot of very good stock for the silk factory on hand – the silk growing is doing well and Pain11 has got his reeling opperations started reeling onto bobbins or little reels about the size of bobbins whether it answers his expectations or not I do not know — your question with regard to the paying of debts would depend upon the other if we stay here I should prefer that this money we should receive for the place should go to pay debts as far as it would than any other way12 —- If Almira stays here I think she must with the advantigies she receives here (altho they are not all we wish) in two years more pick up a much better education than we ever received or than we should ever be able to give our other children if we went on to the farm —

With regard to you feelings toward this Associaton you aught to know their origin much better than I do but I tell you frankly that I think you have embibid a very bitter feeling toward …13 and you consider him as the associat[ion] and in disliking him you dislike the whole altho you may not have the same feeling toward another member of the Association – Your business too has been very perplexing ever since you came here and that has still farther embittered your feelings.- I hope your business in Boston will be better now that they have started up the manufactoring with new life –

With regard to your being a Jonah I dont know – but it would seem rather hazerdous for a Jonah to put to sea alone — There are things here that I do not like myself, but I do not know where we could go in this world and find every thing to our minds but it does seem to me that if you could be at home with us we might be happyer here than we could be to return to Brooklyn – but if you cannot stay connected with the Association and feel differently from what you have for some months past if you cannot be happy I think we had better go I will say as Ruth sayd to her Mother in law, “Whither thou goest I will go – where there lodgest I will lodge thy people shall be my people and thy God my God. Where thou diest I will die and there will I be buried – The Lord do so to me and more also if aught but death part thee and me 14
———————–

They are to have a conference of the three communites in this state and another convention the last of August I hope you [mean to be?][he]re at that time.15
I had a very pleasant call from David Reed and an invitation to make his house my home if I went to Boston – but Mother says – “I dont think you will go” which in other words means I think I dont want you to go. I hardly think I shall myself

Charles May wishes you to ask the Father of Chs Haslett if he ever received a letter which he wrote him and say that he had heard from Chs Haslett and he had arived safe at Chicago———–

David Ruggles wishes me to warn you agains trusting George W. Sullivan about your store or recommending him any where as a trusty Servant he said he was going to Boston when he left.
Many of our people are suffering with bad colds amounting to influenza – I have had it but not to make me really sick – the children are all well I presume they would send love and kisses if they were awake but they and all the rest in the house are fast asleep and nothing is heard but the snore of the sleepers — I cannot flatter myself that this long scroll can give you one half the pleasure that your letters do us if it does I am fully recompenced for writing – This is a spendid evening – the moon looks so bright and beautiful contrasted with the dark trees down the lawn – I fancy you have been taking a walk on the common thinking of home and us, or what would be worse thinking over the difficulties that exist with regard to the Association – I do hope you will not worry any more flesh off – for do remember that it does no good to the Association or ourselves

Octavia tells me that she has had a letter from a brother of James and that you have got you a new coat.16 I am glad of it – Theodore and family leave in a few days for Brooklyn – they do not withdraw as member of the A neither do they take their furniture and they may possibly return in the fall if Herbert gets more cheerfull and Theodore gets better.17 they are going a trip to the ocean
Good night – I wish you pleasant dreams and a happy waking – truly thine, D.W. Stetson

Notes

  1. Dolly Witter had been working in the household of Rev. Dan Huntington or his son Theophilus, in Hadley a few miles east of Northampton. Like the Witters and the Stetsons, Dan Huntington and his wife were Unitarians.
  2. George Sharpe.
  3. Dolly Stetson’s father Ebenezer Witter had died in 1841.
  4. Sojourner Truth.
  5. On the Hammonds, see note 30; no evidence has come to light as to the age of this child, or that the Hammonds had any other children. Nothing is as yet known about Mary W. Bryant.
  6. Sojourner Truth’s daughters Elizabeth (c1825- ) and Sophia (c1826- ) are discussed in Painter, Sojourner Truth, pp. 19, 23, 25, 100-102. Noting that the daughters are not mentioned in the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, written by Olive Gilbert and first published in 1850, Painter explains this as “a commonplace erasure of … women who had not been shielded from predatory men or who were possibly unchaste” (p. 102). Dolly Stetson’s account appears to confirm the existence of a predatory man, and strongly hints at sexual impropriety. Though it is possible that she was merely retelling gossip that was passing round the community after Elizabeth and Sophia arrived, the fact that she and Sojourner lived in the same building and the implication that Dolly had witnessed the reunion between mother and daughters, suggest that Sojourner probably told her the story herself.
  7. Louisa C. Rosbrooks (1823-1901) had joined the NAEI from Cicero, N.Y., in January 1844 with her parents and siblings.
  8. Stephen Christopher Rush was a fugitive slave who had arrived at the NAEI in May 1843, been made a member in November, and remained until April 1846. For Elizabeth Bradbury, see note 28.
  9. Harriet Hayden and Sydney Southworth had become partners and, following nonresistant logic, proposed to consummate their relationship without taking formal marriage vows (see note 40). According to a sentimentalized account published under the pseudonym “Richard” in the Northampton Free Press (Northampton, Mass.), May 16, 1862, they declared themselves married after a night-time meeting under an oak tree without witnesses. In this letter Dolly reports substantial opposition in the NAEI to their action, from Lucy Hayden’s determination to regard her sister as engaged, not married, to the substantial number of members said by David Ruggles to be opposed to Hayden and Southworth’s formal admission to membership. “Richard’s” much later story claimed that Harriet Hayden had for several months resisted Southworth’s refusal to have a formal ceremony. Dolly Stetson’s remarks on the subject provide no evidence to support this, and it is possible that “Richard” conflated Lucy Hayden’s reaction with that of her sister.
  10. The debt she is referring to in the first part of this paragraph is the Association’s.
  11. Oliver D. Paine.
  12. This sentence refers to the Stetsons’ own debts and to the possible sale of their property in Brooklyn, Conn..
  13. The name written here has been deliberately cut out of the letter. From the context, it is clear that this was of one of the NAEI’s leaders. Although there are other possibilities, the name most likely to have caused upset or embarrassment from being left in the letter was that of George W. Benson, who was often recognized in this period as the NAEI’s principal leader, and was also James Stetson’s brother-in-law and close neighbor.
  14. Ruth, 1: 16-17.
  15. .On the call for the convention, see below, note 87.
  16. Octavia M. Damon (1823-1903) had been an employee of the Northampton Silk Company, whose factory the NAEI had purchased, and may have been among the local women the Association hired to work at silk manufacture. In September 1844 she would marry James D. Atkins, whose brother is being referred to here, and then join the NAEI as a member.
  17. She is referring to members of the Scarborough family from Brooklyn, Conn..
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