1829: Elizabeth (Cromwell) Armour to Richard Cromwell, Jr.

This letter was written by Elizabeth (Cromwell) Armour (1802-1845) to her brother, Richard Cromwell. They were both the children of Richard Cromwell (b. 1751) but I believe they had different mothers. Richard was born about 1777 while his father was married to Elizabeth Waters (1759-1794). Elizabeth was born in 1802 after her father had married Mary Owings (in 1800). In her letter, Elizabeth mentions several siblings, including Samuel, Urath, and Frances.

Elizabeth married William Armour (1801-1860) in 1825. After marriage, they came to Jackson, Tennessee where Armour became a merchant (see bio below). Their son, John T. Armour (1826-1870) is mentioned in the letter. Also a daughter, Mary Armour, who was still young — probably born in 1827.

In the letter, Elizabeth scolds her brother for sending a letter to their father critical of Mary Owings. She calls him ungrateful, self-centered, insensitive and hard-hearted. Eventually she gets around to asking him about his prospects in the auction house where he works in St. Louis and hopes he’ll consider relocating to Tennessee to work in one of her husband’s stores.

[Note: For another letter written in 1826 from Elizabeth to her brother Richard, click here. And for one written in 1828, click here.]

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[Addressed to Mr. Richard Cromwell, Jr., St. Louis, Missouri]

Jackson [Tennessee]
February 10th 1829

My dear Richard,

I acknowledge the receipt of your letter some time ago but I have been so much occupied in one way or other that I have not had time to give my mind to answering it as I wished before this. I assure you, you are seldom out of my mind. My little children necessarily occupy my time but they do as yet do not call for that anxiety which is calculated to call off my attention from by brothers and sisters who are at a much more interesting and critical age. When I reflect that you are in a strange place without one friend that would have interest enough in you or courage enough to tell you of one fault or warn you of any danger, my heart aches for you. It is a situation calculated to spoil one whose habits are fixed, but much more dangerous to one who has formed no character at all. I know you think you are out of danger of being spoiled, but there are so many ways of being spoiled by unprofitable company that I am by no means so easy about you for I know that let you think what you will of yourself, your future character and prospects depend on the company of young men you now keep. When I reflect how probable it is that they may not be just what they ought to be, my heart dies within me and I long just to take a glimpse of them that I might point out to you your danger in such a way that you might comprehend it. Your letters breathe such an air of confidence in yourself that I cannot help fearing you are not sensible of the delicate and precarious situation in which you stand. Do you ever reflect that you are now standing on your own foundation and on your own responsibility entirely, have nobody but yourself to steer the ship, to look out for breakers, to draw in the sails, and keep al straight within? Are you not sensible how much more cautious and watchful you ought to be than those who have friends to warn, help and advise them. Instead of being anxious, deliberate, and fearful of danger, you appear to be rejoicing in your strength and proud of your powers. You’re even proud of being left to your own guidance, not thoughtful and anxious how you will guide yourself. Reflect on the difference. It is no honour to be pleased in difficult and responsible situations. The honour lies in acquitting yourself well in them. Then is the time to exult and congratulate herself.

I received a letter from Francis a few weeks ago. She seemed much hurt at what you said in your letter to Pope about her. Indeed, I think myself that you might have written to her and said something to palliate the harshness with which you wrote of her. My dear Richard, I cannot imagine how you could ever have brought yourself to speak of Mama in the way you did in your letter to Papa, and also in your letter to me. I declare, I never was so shocked in my life as when I read your letter. What could have possessed you to have spoken to Papa in such a way of Mama. Does he not treat her ill enough already that you need stir him up anymore against her? How little discernment you must have not to have seen into things better. Just imagine what effect that letter must have had on Mama when she read it from her oldest son on whom mothers generally dote if they are at all affectionate and respectful. From one so distant, it would have killed me. But she has been so accustomed to insults that she has learnt better how to bear them and is it possible you do not care for her at all as you said in your letter to me? What has she done to merit such harshness from her child? To be sure, she has never given you anything because she has never had anything to give. When did Papa ever give her anything to pay for out or distribute among her children. She was always put on a level with us, and when we wanted anything, we did not go to her fr it, for we knew she had nothing to give us. Did you expect her to set down and make your shirts herself? You know she has her house to keep, her little children to see for, and all the black people, and nobody to help her but Liddy who has three children to hinder her. And where could you expect her to get money to pay Annie Rollins for making them. Go and ask Papa for it! Only in her last letter she mentioned that Sam had been from school a month waiting for his clothes which she could not get the money to buy for him. What little money she sweated for in the strawberry bed I know she always laid out to the very best advantage to keep up appearances. If she had laid it out in necessaries, Papa would have always required it of her and we should have been no better off than before. And I know that if it had not been for her exertions, you would have been at this time selling cabbages in the Baltimore Market and many a volley of abuse have I heard het get for persisting in opposing it. Poor John and yellow Dave would have been worming and manureing peach trees now if it had not been for her, and he would have thought he was fit for nothing else, if she had not excited his ambition. If it had not been for her, would not I, Ann, and Urath have been brought up entirely over the river and been satisfied to have kept company with Hessy Thomas and the Sweetsers and married some of the Thomas or Hammonds. Did she not go through enough to accomplish her objects in bringing up her children respectably? I know what she went through when you were at Mr. Parkers with that mean coat Papa had made for you. I remember well how often I heard her beg Papa to give you a more decent one and how many insulting answers she received. I remember with gratitude how she perserverd in getting me put to good school and I also know how she strove to get you boys educated, but had at last to give it up in despair. She is now old, has given birth to thirteen children and raised them all to be respectable members of society, and now do you begrudge her the pleasure of riding in her little one-horse carriage and taking a little ease? Do you want her after all her toil and difficulties, to set down to pouring over shirt-making which is acknowledged to be the most tedious and laborious work that a woman can do? She rejoices that her children are at last able to help themselves. I do not wonder at it when I consider how she has had to beg and beg, and made Papa to give you all decent clothes, and how many times she has been mortified and insulted by reprisals. She rejoices that you are able at last to help yourself, and you sneer at her for it. She gives you good advice and you ridicule it.

Oh! Richard, I pray God you may never receive the punishment he denounces against such ingratitude. Poor Mama – she has had many trials, but your letter is the first she has ever had from one of her children. Frances says she had just come from town, had bought a new ink stand, some nice paper and quills to write you a long letter. This does not say she made any observation about it or that she wrote to you. From what Frances said, it had a different effect on Papa from what you might suppose, for although he is disrespectful to Mama himself, I know it would wound him to see his example influenced his children to do the same. Richard, I fear you have a hard heart. You certainly express yourself with more bitterness than I ever noticed in a young person before. You are too overbearing and think too much of yourself. How could you write such an authoritative letter to Papa saying Mama was incapable of taking care of her children, that Frances ought to be well watched, giving up Urath entirely and beseeching Papa to take care of the children he had left at home and telling him he need not give himself any more concern about you. You even puffed up with pride and I don’t know what great things you have done to be so proud of. You staid a few years in an auction store and worked right hard while you were there, but you did not make yourself of so much consequence that you could not be done without, and now you are just making a shift to live. Modesty would become you and you would make more friends by it. I always though you one of the cleverest boys I ever saw and always thought you would make a clever man. So did people generally think and you knew the opinion that was generally entertained of you, and I fear you have forgotten that promising to be clever and being clever are two different things and are giving yourself up to pride and exultation before you have actually done anything worthy of notice. And perhaps if you are not warned in time, you may forget that you have anything of the kind to do.

My dear Richard, ever since I received your letter I have been considering and pondering in my mind whether I should answer it in a carely and indifferent way just to keep up the correspondence, or whether I should seriously and honestly take up the subject and tell you candidly what I thought of your sentiments. I dreaded to offend you because I looked on myself as the only friend you have who would venture to tell you your faults and who was familiar enough with you to find them out and from whom you would be disposed to take advice even now. I have not made up my mind to send this letter. I wish you always to think me one of your best friends and I would not on any account throw away the affection you have always shown to me by too severely censuring your faults. I do not know that it is my duty to tell you your faults, but I do it from motives of the purest affection for you. You know how much I love you, you cannot but know it. I have never felt more love for my own children than I have felt for you and Urath. My love for you is the only apology I offer for being so sincere and plain with you. Still I dread that you may be offended and not be so much disposed to open your heart to me as you have done. Then it would be out of my power to reprove because I should be ignorant of your faults. I have been trying a long time to communicate my concerns to you in such a way as not to hurt your feelings too much, and in such a way as you would be able to bear them without taking offence. After various efforts to be cautious and precise, I at last concluded just to come out openly with what I had to say because I cannot write or talk at unless I feel perfect ease and freedom.

I am anxious to hear how you come on with your business. You seem to say as little as possible about it. I fear it does not answer your expectations. Mr. Armour very confidentially asserts that it will not do. He says you will find it so. He does not tell me to tell you so, but it is what he says when we are conversing of you. He is always saying you ought to be here. He is doing an excellent business in this country and I am certain he and Mr. Lake would like to have you with them. They are now just establishing another store in another little town, the neighborhood of which is improving very fast. He has given the charge of it to Mr. Morton – a cousin of Dr. Snyder’s who has come here for employment. He remarked that if Richard was here, he might take charge of it. He gives him one third of the profits and he puts in nothing.

Mr. Oakley sent in a statement of his business last year since he went into partnership with Armour and Lake and he has cleared upwards of six thousand dollars – the third of which he has himself, and the bad debts he has made ever since he has been in the business are hardly worth speaking of. Mr. Armour says he could at any time give you business. Only the other day I heard him say there was an opening in some town about here to which he would send George Smith with a small stock of goods if you were here to fill his place. I asked Mr. Lake some time ago if they could not manage to employ you to your and their advantage. He said they could. They are determined to extend their business and will want trusty young men to attend to it, to whom you know they are very liberal. If I had my choice in the world for my brothers, I could not wish them with cleverer or more generous men. They take the kindest interest in every body that is concerned with them. None of their young men have ever become dissatisfied or showed an inclination to leave them and I think if you were in the same business and near your brothers, you would get along better. You could mutually assist each other. I have always heard it remarked that where a good many brothers were associated in the same business, they generally prospered. By the end of your engagement, you will be able to judge whether it will be worthwhile to continue there and whether your employers are disposed to be generous to you. There are very few that I have liberality enough to let their young men make any thing. They employ first one and then another until they get tired of working without prospects, and leave them. Not one young man the Hoffman’s raised ever did anything for themselves, and at one time it was thought to be the best place in the world for young men and everybody was anxious to get their ____ with them. I expect Sam Hoffman is at the bottom of sending you out to St. Louis. Did you ever suspect that he was interested in sending you there? I shall be very glad to hear from you how you come on with your business and what you think your prospects are. Hitherto you have been silent on that subject.

Mr. Armour or Mr. Lake will go to Baltimore to buy goods this spring. At first it was determined that Mr. Lake should go but within a week past, Mr. Armour talks of going himself. If he does, I shall not accompany him. It is too troublesome to travel with so young a child as Mary. I am so much afraid she will get sick on the road. He will probably take John on with him. He is well now and looks better than I ever saw him. He is very wild and mischievous and more restless than ever. Mary is a perfect beauty – everybody says so. I am very anxious to show her to my friends in Baltimore. I got ready to go to Paris last week, had my truck packed, but the morning was cloudy and I gave it up. The baby was quite sick before night and I was so glad I had not set off with her in the cold, that I gave it up entirely for the winter, but hope to get to see Ann in the Spring.

Mr. Lake is in New Orleans. Sr. Young accompanied him. He has some idea of going there to live, but we all think he will not determine on it. He will return with Mr. Lake in two or three weeks. He gets all the business of any consequence here but it has been so healthy for the last two years that there has been but little to do.

I had a letter from Mary Birkhead lately. She said Eliza Ridgely had a daughter. You know if they had a son it would have heired Hampton. Frances mentioned that Sam Jones was very attentive to dun Cromwell. She said she would tell me more of it in her next. That would be a fortunate match for her. I hope it is true.

It is now bedtime. I have been the live-long day writing this letter but I have thought a great deal more than I have written. I shall look for an answer soon and wish t you to say whether you have any idea of trying your fortune in this country and tell me how you spend your time. If you have any time to read, I advise you to get The Rambles and read it with attention. It is one of the most beautiful and instructive works that has ever been written. I have read it frequently but am now going over it again with increased pleasure and instruction. George is going to Paris to see John in a week or so. I suppose he mentioned to you Papa’s proposal to him. He has received no answer to his answer yet. I am quite fatigued and must bid you farewell. I remain as ever, your affectionate sister, — Elizabeth Armour


Elizabeth Cromwell was christened 24 Jan 1802 in St. James Prot., Episcopal Ch., Baltimore, Maryland. She was the daughter of Richard Cromwell and Mary Owings. She married William Armour 18 May 1825 in Anne Arundel Co., Assoc. Ref. Ch., Baltimore, Maryland.

Wm. Armour was one of the most prominent merchants of Jackson in her early history. He was senior member of the firm of Armour, Lake & Co. This firm did an extensive business till it went down in the financial crash of 1838-39. The business house of Armour, Lake & Co. stood where the extensive establishment of Robinson & Botts now stands.

Nearly all business houses from 1820 to 1850 were general stores. Dry goods, groceries, hardware, etc., were all kept by each merchant. The leading business men from 1820 to 1840 were Armor & Lake, Armor, Lake & Co…

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