This letter was written in two parts. The first part was written by Dorcas (Sarle) Arnold (1782-1830) — the wife of Ichabod Arnold (1776-1840). The second part was written by Anna Arnold (1798-1867), their daughter, who would three years later marry Joseph Cole (1788-1836). The letter was written to Dorcas’ father, Joseph Sarle.
A collection of Sarle family papers are housed at the University of Michigan. They center on the experience of Rhobe Knight and Dorcas Arnold, the daughters of Joseph Sarle, who left their family in Rhode Island to move to New York State after they married, ca. 1805-1810. Both George and Rhobe Knight and Ichabod and Dorcas Arnold bought land to clear and farm near Ogdensburg in present-day St. Lawrence County. Knight also worked as a cooper, while Arnold operated a small-scale lumbering operation.
The Knights had five children: Luvana (b. 1814), Caroline, Emmeline and two others whose names are not mentioned. It appears that Caroline was the oldest, Luvana the youngest. The marriage was an unhappy one, and the difficulties began early on when George left his family and joined the army during the War of 1812. He seems never to have been a steady household presence after that, taking off for extended periods without making provision for Rhobe and the children, leaving legal and financial messes behind him. Parvis Round, a hired man who moved in during Knight’s military service, eventually took over the property, as well as the role of father and husband, it would seem. He was at first a suitor of Rhobe’s sister Luvana, but when George Knight died in 1826 there was speculation that his widow and Round, who had evidently cohabited all these years, would marry.
Though both families were poor, the Arnolds seemed to have a better time of it, although Ichabod was frequently quite ill and bore up by dosing himself with opium. It is difficult to estimate how many children Dorcas Arnold bore, for there is not one year in the scope of the letters where a new baby (one a stillborn) does not arrive. Anna Arnold Cole was the oldest. Other children mentioned are Joseph (b. 1812), Nancy (b. 1817), and Rhobe. Anna’s husband, Joseph Cole, was probably a cousin. They had at least two children: Polly Maria[h] (b. 1819) and a younger son, Joseph.
Dorcas Arnold was a fervent Methodist. Her religious enthusiasm was not shared by sister Rhobe, and this may have been the beginning of a rift between them which opened wider when their husbands began arguing over money and land titles and wound up in court over it. Dorcas blamed her sister for George’s estrangement, and even went so far (according to Rhobe) as to accuse her of having children by men other than him, maintaining that Knight was physically unable to father a child. According to one of Rhobe’s letters, the two sisters intended to make up, but it’s not clear whether they ever became close again.
Addressed to Mr. Joseph Sarle in the town of Cranston, Rhode Island
Decalb [De Kalb, St. Lawrence, New York]
October 15, 1815
I take this opportunity to inform you of our health, which is better then it has been. I have not been very well this last summer. The 5 of September I was eating my dinner [when] I was taken sick and that night my baby was taken sick. Wednesday morning I begun to puke and puke 48 hours. Thursday noon the Dr. came and gave me two portions of phrisia [?] and I puked them up. He gave me sumthing to stop me from puking but to no purpose. He gave some markery and that worked. During Friday, I kept down a few spoonfuls of chicken broth. Friday night, at half past one, my baby left time and has gone to try the reality of Eternity. I was so sick that I did not know how sick my baby was. He had the whooping cough five weeks. Thomas, Robert, Elisha all had the cough. I never felt more resigned than when my baby and I lay at the point of death. The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away and blessed be the name of the Lord. I don’t think that in two weeks I ate once ounce of bread [of any] kind. I had a little rice when I was at the sickest. I was kept from choosing life or death. It was impressed upon my mind that one of us would die. What blessed thing it is to have the Lord of heaven and earth to be our friend in a trying hour. I feel determined to seek salvation…
October the 23, 1815
My loving grandfather. I take this opportunity to inform you that my father is very sick. Last night we went to bed at seven o’clock. At ten o’clock he had a fit. We went for Dr. Rounds to come & bleed him. While he was a bleeding him, he had another fit about 2 o’clock, had another, & at four he had another fit. He has nt been up today yet & the clock has just struck eleven. I was in hopes he never would have no more fits, but it is not likely he will get over it very soon. It is and has been very sickly in this country this summer. Mr. Shaw has lost his youngest son. James Jackson is sick. I am troubled some with my stomach aching and swelling but I suppose it is house work that brings it on.
A week ago today, I wove thirteen yards of wide cloth & the day after but one. I spun seven …. but I don’t mean to expose my health so no more. Uncle Jeremiah got here the 5th of October. Aunt Phobe is not very well. Tell Aunt Curany (?) that Purvis is a waiting for her yet. He says he wants to see you very much.
We have heard that there has been dreadful times in them parts. I wish you would write and inform us of the particulars of he ruins there and in Providence. Mrs. Weeks’ wrote to me. I write to her but I hant time. I wish you would tell her that we received them presents to safe. Tell Wait Rice that I do thank her for that bonnet. I like it the best of any that ever I had one. Mother got me some very handsome silk and I got it made but not to suit me as that does. Mother wishes to be remembered to Mrs. Weeks…. She sends her love to Polly Cook…. I want to come down there very much but I can’t this winter. I expect to go to school this winter so as time and paper fails me, I must close… Your loving grand daughter, — Anna Arnold