1823: Dr. Henry Wise Farley to Lucy Mary Farley

Maid of Orleans, built in 1818

This letter was written by Dr. Henry Wise Farley (1795-1839) to his sister Lucy Mary Farley (1797-1872) of Ipswich, Massachusetts. They were two of several children born to Lt. Jabez Farley (1754-1836) and Susanna Swasey (1771-1846).  After graduating from the Harvard Medical College in 1815, Henry Farley settled successively in Ohio, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

Kevin Ladd, chairman of the Liberty County (Texas) Historical Commission researched the life of Dr. Henry W. Farley and wrote the following:

“When he was in his late teens, Henry, went off to the Harvard Medical College. The late Camilla Davis Trammell wrote of him: “When Henry Wise Farley finished at Harvard Medical College in 1814, he practiced in his home town of Ipswich, Massachusetts. The came ‘the year without sun’ followed by two crop failures, and Henry decided to leave that land of hunger. Farley’s two brothers had previously gone to the West Indies, but they both lost their lives there. He decided to go to New Orleans instead. However, behind New Orleans’ outward glitter and joie de vivre, he discovered shocking slavery and sanitation problems. As one observor wrote, ‘New Orleans is a dreadful place in the eyes of the New England man. They keep Sunday as we in Boston keep the Fourth of July.’ Yellow fever was often followed by cholera. Debauchery and bribery were as rampant as he had heard they were in the West Indies.

“Dr. Farley decided to move westward. He found employment on the Berwick plantation, where he treated slaves and owners alike. There were also French refugees in the area from the destruction of Champ d’Asile, across the Sabine River in Texas, and he treated them. They spoke highly of that land to the west in Texas. In 1824, the gentle young doctor courted and married Catherine, the eldest daughter of Ann [Berwick] and Christopher O’Brien, Jr.”

“A few years later, with their two young sons — Henry and Brien — in tow, the Farleys moved to the village called Atascosito, the forerunner to the Town of Liberty [Texas]. Two more sons, Swazey and Frank, were born here. As we mentioned previously, Dr. Farley became active in the Revolution, serving with the Texian Army in the capacity of a surgeon. Soon thereafter, he appears in 1837 records as both the mayor of the Town of Liberty and as Justice of the Peace for the same area.

“In late 1839, as he juggled numerous business responsibilities, Dr. Farley was compelled by necessity to travel back to New Orleans to purchase medical instruments and supplies. He postponed his visit as long as possible, trying to wait out a yellow fever raging through the Crescent City, but finally booked passage on the schooner Columbia at Liberty and headed that way. We will turn again to Mrs. Trammell’s well-chosen words: “The day he arrived, as he walked through the German section of New Orleans, some ruffians beset him and stole his purse [what we might call a wallet]. Bruised and disheveled, he was still able to buy most of his supplies on credit, and he returned to the dock. A captain told him that his schooner, the Alexander of Macedon, wa about to sail, and he booked passage.” While waiting a couple of days for the schooner to depart, Dr. Farley wrote his wife Catherine on November 19, 1839: “I am tired, dirty, ragged, lonely and low-spirited but not sick. Kiss our sweet treasures a thousand times each for me. You will see me shortly after you receive this.”

“He never made it home again. Dr. Farley fell ill with the yellow fever the second day out of New Orleans. He died on the schooner named for Alexander of Macedon. The crew quickly buried him in the Gulf waters. So ends the story of Dr. Henry Wise Farley…”

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Signature & Date

TRANSCRIPTION

Dutch Settlement [Patterson], Louisiana
2nd November 1823

Miss Lucy Mary Farley
Ipswich, Massachusetts

…more strongly on me than the superstitious anticipation of futurity is the conciousness of having misspent or wasted these. I don’t know how many years since I left home. Tho I know that this objection would be obviated by friendly kindness yet it at present presents to me an almost insurmountable obstacle.

The company I have of late years been conversant in has been of a grade lower than that I was formerly acquainted with & my own manners have (if it be possible) been in a constant state of deterioration, so that I would now be an unfit companion in societies where I might formerly have passed indifferently well.

As to the matrimonial establishment, I assure you, there is nothing more distant from my thoughts & my poor cousin Burley must for all me remain a virgin till the day of judgment; tho I think there is not so great a dearth of husbands in Yankeetown that a lady of her thousands need remain long unmated. Indeed, thanks to my fate, among all the other foibles by which I have been beset by unlucky stars, that of getting a wife has never yet entered. The difficulty of keeping my self above board is sufficient; what could I do if another unfortunate witch was attached to my destinies!

Of all the countries I have ever been in, this suits me as well as any. The bare necessaries of subsistence are easily enough obtained, the climate is mild and agreeable, my manners are assimilated to those of the inhabitants, & my constitution to the climate. I have not yet determined to adopt it, but from my naturally indolent aversion to seek a better, it is most likely to be the spot of my future seclusion. Enough of myself.

This poor country, tho I have just been praising it, has been the sport of the elements. The last winter we suffered the most intense cold ever experienced in the country by the oldest settler. This was proved by its effects. Every orange tree in Louisiana was killed to the ground. The grass was so frosted as that one third part of the immense troupeaux of cattle in the extensive prairies of Attachaes & Apelousas perished for want. The sugar planters sustained great losses of cane then standing in the field by early frosts & afterwards that which was laid up for seed & that which was already planted was very much injured by still severer ones. The succeeding spring & summer, a great deal of cultivated land, with a vast deal of wild was flowed by the redundancy of the waters of the Mississippi. It is a remarkable fact that from the mouth of the Ohio down, the banks of this stream are highest immediately on the margin; but from Pointe Coupee on, the right bank descending & from Baton Rouge on the left to the Balize, this slope is more perceptible & regular. From these points to seventy-five miles below New Orleans, the river is kept within its banks by a levee or embankment from seven to twenty feet in height, except the Bayous Atchaffalaya, Manchre, Plaquemine, & La Fourche which are small mouths of the Mississippi above New Orleans, bearing no proportion to the mighty stream itself. This levee, or stupendous instance of human industry, answers in common freshes to retain the river within bounds, but is an insufficient barrier in the simultaneous confluence of the freshes of all the great tributaries, an instance which happened the last spring.

Point Coupie being the highest point where the whole river, except the Bayou Atchaffalaya, is constrained within its banks. The levee here is built to the greatest height (above twenty feet) and is here in the greatest danger. When the levee breaks here, the stream which issues by the crevasse has the same fall in about 30 or 40 miles as the river has from there to the Balize (near 300). Of course the rapidity of the current is almost inconceivable; houses, fences, cattle, whatever is opposed to its course, is swept away. This happened the last spring. The water which was poured out by the Atchaffalaya, the crevasse & Plaquemine all tended to inundate this country. This was the easier done as the outlets to the sea were not sufficient to take it off as fast as it came in. Incalculable damage was thus done to the crops both in the country and on the river by the last fresh. Some rich planters will have their bread to beg.

Yet it seemed the measure of misfortune was not yet full. On the night of the 14th September, those whose crops were not destroyed by the water apprehended a total loss by a storm which happened that night. Many houses, cabins, chimneys, fences, &c. were thrown down. But above all, the crop of sugar cane was prostrated to the earth and was then supposed to be almost ruined. The prospect is now a little better; there will be some sugar made but not near so much as if the storm had not happened.

Too much paper wasted for nonsense. You mention Brother Jabez’s castles. Let me tell you they are usually built on something more substantial than air, Nor do I think his notion of moving to another country a wild vagary. True, it may be attended with expense, trouble, & perhaps great danger to health, but it might result in great benefit to his future. I must soon write to him on that and other affairs. Meantime, my love to him, to you all, & to my friends & acquaintances.

I rest your affectionate brother, — H. W. Farley

FOOTNOTES
  • Flood of 1823.—This waa a great flood, which was highest at Napoleon on June 1, and at Natchez on May 23. It was caused by a flood in the Arkansas, which occurred when the Mississippi was high. Between the Arkansas and Red rivers, this flood rose generally a little higher than that of 1828, but probably not quite so high as that of 1815. Mr. Samuel Davis’s notes place it 0.2 of a foot below high water of 1815, or 0.7 of a foot below high water of 1859. A great number of crevasses occurred below Red river on both banks of the river.

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