1818: Daniel McDonald to Catharine H. McDonald

This letter between siblings was written by Daniel McDonald, a notable educator in the United States, following a trip to Connecticut and New York City in the fall of 1818. Daniel was born at Watertown, Connecticut on June 28, 1785, the son of James McDonald (1759-1837) and Huldah Foote (1762-1796).Following Huldah’s death, James McDonald married Rachel Davies (1761-1849). James and his second wife Rachel are believed to have lived for a time in Auburn but died in Lyons, New York. James and Rachel McDonald are buried in the cemetery behind St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Auburn, Cayuga County, New York.

Daniel attended the academy of Cheshire, Connecticut, where he also served as an assistant teacher from 1808 to 1813. He also attended Middlebury College in Vermont for a time. In 1810, he took orders from the Protestant Episcopal church and was made rector of St. Peter’s in Auburn, New York from 1813 to 1817, and of St. Paul’s in Waterloo, New York from 1822 to 1826.

At the time this letter was written, Daniel was serving as Principal of the Academy & Theological School at Fairfield, New York (1817-1821), and would later become Principal of Geneva Academy and a Professor of Latin and Greek Languages and Antiquities at Geneva (later Hobart) College (1821-1830). He was acting President at Hobart College from 1825-1826, and a Professor in the Geneeral Theological Seminary from 1823-1825.

He was married in 1807 to Percy Talmage of Cheshire, Connecticut, and after she died, to her sister Phebe Talmage. The Talmage sisters are believed to be the daughters of Samuel Talmage (1760-1844) and Phoebe Hall, who were married in Cheshire in 1781. Daniel McDonald was president of the Christian Knowledge Society. He died in Geneva, New York, on March 25, 1830.

Source: The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans.


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Fairfield [Herkimer County, New York]
15 October 1818

Sister Catharine.

We received your letter last week and also one from Dr. Tuttle, and were not a little pleased to find Dennis to be on the gain. We returned from Connecticut on the 3rd Instant, but I had been so fully employed in adjusting the Academy affairs at the beginning of the Term that I could find little time to write. We staid in Cheshire [CT] almost 3 weeks, but of that I spent one week in going to New York [City]. As we went down we called at Mr. Gridley’s and found them all well, and anxious to enquire about our family at Bratry. Laura was at home, but Susan was in New Jersey, keeping school in a sort of Academy under Mr. Perine, formerly Presbyterian minister in Cheshire. Squire Fenn is dead and Mr. Gridley thinks some of taking his house in exchange for his own. Mr. Gridley grows old & gray, and very fleshy. Mrs. Gridley does not alter materially, but I do not know any of the younger children.

Hawkins paid up the note I carried down. I went to the old house, but it is fast going to decay, and looks worse in the inside than on the outer. Hawkins wife seems to be a dripping creature. The house was very dirty and did not smell very pleasant. The bed stands in the old south room both summer and winter, hot weather & cold, I believe. But Hawkins brushes up the farm & makes it look well. He has removed the horse shed and made a cow house of it by the barn. I found mother’s saddle but so eaten by worms that the seat was all gone, and I left it as being good for nothing. Mr. Gridley said he would try to sell the old desk.

It rained when we went through Watertown [CT] and I saw no body but Mr. Holcomb & family. We returned through Plymouth [CT] and went to see Esq. Curtiss. I found the old gentleman decrepit and almost blind, but his memory and mental faculties all good. Mrs. Curtiss has not altered any, but is the same polite and odd being she always was. They enquired minutely about the family. I there met with Mr. William Scovill, Deacon Bill, as folks call him, who had just returned from Nova Scotia. He is becoming an old man, but continues pretty healthful. He expects to finish his days in Watertown.

As I passed through Albany [NY] I found Almira Gregory who keeps a millinery shop, but I expect they are rather low in circumstances. She has two children. Her mother was with her on a visit.

You must write and let me know how you all do, and Dennis’ progress in health. He must be pretty careful of himself. We are all well except the children all caught the [w]hooping cough at Cheshire. We found Alexander well, but left him with the above mentioned disorder.

I am &c. — D. McDonald


  • The “Squire Fenn” mentioned in this letter is presumed to be Deacon Thomas Fenn (1735-1818) of Wallingford, Connecticut, who married Abiah Welton of Waterbury, Connecticut. He was a captain in the Revolutionary war, a representative, first from Waterbury, and next from Watertown, in all, thirty-five sessions, beginning in 1778. He was also a justice of the peace and a deacon of the Congregational church of Watertown for many years.
  • The “Mr. Hawkins” mentioned in the letter was William Hawkins (1785-1844) who must have purchased the McDonald family home in Watertown, Connecticut. In this letter, it appears he finally paid off the note for the property.
  • The “Mr. Gridley” mentioned in the letter was Rev. Uriel Gridley (1762-1820) who graduated from Yale College in 1783. He was married to Susannah Norton and had several children, two of whom are mentioned in this letter; Laura and Susan, who must have been good friends with Catharine McDonald. The Gridley’s and the McDonald’s lived next door to each other in Watertown, Connecticut before the McDonald’s sold their property.
  • The “Mr. Holcomb” mentioned in the letter was Rev. Frederick Holcomb of the Protestant Episcopalian Church who resided in Waterford, Connecticut in 1818 when this letter was written.
  • The only Almira Gregory I can find in Albany, New York in 1818 was the wife of Col. William R. Gregory (1794-1831). An Almira Gregory appears in the NY State mortality records with a death date of 27 February 1879. It’s conceivable that this is the same woman.

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