1828: Orson Squire Fowler to Lucy (Taylor) Hamilton

Orson Squire Fowler in later life.

This letter was written by Orson Squire Fowler (1809-1887), the son of Horace Fowler (1781-1859) and Martha Howe (1787-1819). Orson married Martha Eliza Brevoort (1815-1864) in 1835.

Determined to be a minister, Fowler left his small village of Cohocton in western New York at age seventeen with four dollars in his pocket and all of his possessions on his back. He walked the four hundred miles to Massachusetts to be tutored by two Congregational ministers before entering Amherst College in 1829, from which he graduated in 1834 after working at odd jobs to pay his way through college.

Together with a fellow classmate, the soon-to-be famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, the two became attracted to the new science of phrenology after hearing a lecture on the subject in Boston by Dr. Spurtzheim of Austria. The truth of the new science could hardly be doubted after Fowler examined his friend Henry’s head and found evidence of Beecher’s “strong social brain” combined with “very large benevolence.” Thus they brought phrenology back to Amherst, popularizing it through a college debate in which Beecher ostensibly took the negative side where phrenology was concerned while Fowler stood as its ardent defender, a position which in time would make him a leader in this new movement. Fowler’s brother Lorenzo (1811-1896) followed in his older brother’s footsteps to Amherst and into a lifetime association with phrenology with his brother and later with their sister Charlotte. After graduation the two young men gave up their goal of becoming ministers and instead stumped the country as proselytizers of this new more secular faith of phrenology.

Orson’s Publication

He edited and published the American Phrenological Journal, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1838 to 1842. He was a partner with Fowler & Wells, publishers, New York, from 1846 to 1854, residing in Fishkill, New York and Elizabeth, New Jersey. He moved his office to Boston in 1863, residing in Manchester from 1863 to 1880, and resided in Sharon, New York from 1883 until August 18, 1887, when he died.

Fowler wrote the letter to his aunt, by marriage, Mrs. Lucy (Taylor) Hamilton (1801-18xx), the wife of Samuel “James” Hamilton (1764-1855). Lucy and James were married in 1822 when she was 21 years old and he was 58. She was the daughter of Jonathan Taylor (1759-1835) and Nancy Phelps (1767-1849). The Hamilton’s were living in Bridgeport, Addison County, Vermont when this letter was written in 1828 but they resided in Belle Prairie, Morrison County, Minnesota when they both died in 1855.

Stampless Cover

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Addressed to Mrs. Lucy Hamilton, Bridgeport, Addison County, Vermont

Healh, [Massachusetts]
June 5th 1828

Respected Sister in the Lord,

In compliance to the request you made me three years ago tomorrow morn, and also in gratification to my own feelings, I have commenced writing to you. Since I saw you past at Cohocton, my health has been very good, till within 2 months. Since that time I have been weak though able to pursue my studies, & I am now getting better. Perhaps you may be surprised to find me in your native town, acquainted with your neighbors, & studying with your minister. But you nay be more so when you ascertain that it is that I may prepare myself for usefulness in Christ’s cause.

I commenced studying a year & a half ago, & a little more than a year ago, left my father’s house and all my friends to pursue my study. I resided at Buckland nearly a year, & have lived here two months. I am well pleased to live here, & like the people better than any other I ever became acquainted with. I like the country much better than when I first came here, & on the whole, I think I prefer living here to my native home, though I feel generally attached to it yet.

I have never been conscious of passing so interesting a time in life as within six months. I beheld a powerful work of the Lord in Buckland in which perhaps a hundred indulged hopes, but it has now nearly subsided. I attended a school in which more than twenty were anxious to know Christ. The teacher, & Mr. Hooker Leavitte are among the rest. He has now come out boldly on the Lord’s side, & Hart L. is also indulging some hope. The Lord is also among his people, by a recent influence, stirring up his children to prayer & duty. Several have recently indulged hopes, among whom are your brothers, Jonathan & Thomas, & Samuel is some thoughtful. I have attended & expect to attend six prayer meetings this week, the Lord willing, but I will not enter into particulars as I expect to send this letter by your father.

It is just three years this day & hour since I took upon myself the obligations of a Christian, which time, I presume, you will recollect. Three years have since passed & when I look back, I am truly astonished that I have made no more progress in the divine life. Few have been my conflicts over the world, the flesh, & the devil, but many have been my digressions from the path of Christian duty. It seems to me that I have grow wicked daily; a poor encouragement to live as I have done. But even now I hope I feel more desirous than ever to know more of Christ & myself. Within six months I have lived through one revival, & the Lord is here & I have learned a greater lesson in the divine life than ever before. Pray for me.

I heard from Mrs. N. Weld last week, who was so much better that she did her work & has been out of doors.

Dear Sister, the Lord bless you & raise you to health. Comfort you in trouble. Prepare you for His will & receive you to Himself. From your brother in the Lord, — Orson S. Fowler

Being disappointed in sending this letter by your father as he has given up going to see you, you must excuse me for sending it by the mail. Your relations are well here except your sister Huldah who has a young child. Your mother has been confined to her bed by the rheumatics, but is entirely recovered.

Mr. Abel Floy, son of Silas Floy, drowned on the Sabbath of J. while bathing — a solemn warning to all violators of Go’d Holy Sabbath. Mr. Parley Hunt has been on the borders of the grave but is recovering. Seven have just been added to our church & 11 to the Baptist. My health is yet improving. The Lord is merciful to me in all things, & blessed be His name. Please to remember in prayers your unworthy friend & brother, — Orson S. Fowler

One response to “1828: Orson Squire Fowler to Lucy (Taylor) Hamilton

  • Linda Bryan

    Lucy Taylor Hamilton was Orson Fowler’s aunt by marriage. Lucy grew up in Heath, Mass. where Fowler had later gone to study under Rev. Moses Miller. Fowler was from Cohocton, NY.

    Please change an error in your text above…Lucy Hamilton died in Belle Prairie, not Belle Plain. She did not die in 1855; she lived to be a very old woman.

    “Levitte” is “Leavitt”, a common name in Heath. There is probably a reference in this letter to Roger Hooker Leavitt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Hooker_Leavitt

    The sister with a new child is “H” for Huldah. The word before Parley Hunt is “Mr.” not “My.”

    How exciting to read this early letter by Fowler before he went to college. Ah, the certainty of the young. Gotta remember not to violate the Sabbath–otherwise, drowning beckons me!

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