1833: Samuel Williams to Hugh Simmons

Samuel Williams

This letter was transcribed directly from the internet where it was offered for sale on e-bay in September 2011. It was written by Samuel Williams (1786-1859), an early pioneer in the Buckeye State and the founder of the Methodist Historical Society in Ohio. Samuel was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania — the son of William Williams (1754-1815) and Margaret Widney (1758-1813) who came to America from County Monaghan, Ireland in September 1784. Samuel came with his parents to Chillicothe, Ross County, Ohio in 1807 and relocated to Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio in 1829, taking the position of chief clerk in the Surveyor General’s Office. Being a devout Methodist and a “gentleman of literary tendencies,” he organized the Western Methodist Historical Society in 1839 and was credited for initiating the Methodist-sponsored “Ladies’ Repository” in which he contributed many articles under the name of “Plebius.”

Samuel Williams was married twice. He and his first wife, Elizabeth Armstrong (1785-1820) had four children: Mary Armstrong (1810-1865), Edward Tiffin (1815-1886), Margaret Widney (1817-?), and Elizabeth Jane (1820-1874). At the time Samuel wrote this letter in 1833, he was married to his second wife, Margaret Troutner (1787-1879), who bore him four more children: William George (1822-1902), Helen Marion (1824-1824), Samuel Wesley (1827-1880), and John Fletcher (1834-1895). These last two sons would graduate from Ohio Wesleyan where Samuel served on the Board of Trustees from the time the college opened in 1842 until his death in 1859.

The recipient of this 1833 letter was Hugh Simmons (1790-????), a hatter living in Belfast with his wife Ann Browne (1796-1851), and three children. Ann Browne was the daughter of Woodney Browne (17??-1816) and Sally Williams (1775-1850) of County Monaghan, Ireland. It is believed the Hugh Simmons family emigrated to the United States from Belfast, Ireland, about 1835. They can be found in the 1840 U.S. Census in Cincinnati, Ohio.

1850 U.S. Census Record for Cincinnati showing Hugh Simmons Family (click to enlarge image)

Another letter written by Samuel Williams in 1818 to Sarah Browne (mentioned as a former correspondent in this letter) was offered for sale on e-bay in July 2011. For a transcription of that letter, click here.


[Addressed to Mr. Hugh Simmons, 24 Bridge Street, Belfast, Ireland]

Cincinnati (Ohio) 30 October 1833
Mr. Hugh Simmons

Dear Sir,

I received several weeks ago your letter of the 1st of June last, and have delayed answering until now that I might satisfy myself concerning the prospect of your doing business in your line in this country. The hatting business is perhaps not so profitable now as it was some twenty years ago, unless carried on upon a tolerably large scale. Nevertheless, all who are good tradesmen and industrious and prudent in the management of their affairs, have nothing to fear here. In this highly favored country, all men who are able and willing to work may live comfortably and have plenty about them. Even the day labourers, who work out by the day, may support their families well by their own earnings. And mechanics, who manage well, generally advance in the world, and many of them in this city, of different trades, have become independent. I suppose you are acquainted with the various kinds of hats that are made by the trade; so that you would be at no loss in making such as are usually worn in this country. These are generally fur, or fur and wool mixed, and napped with beaver, muskrat, otter, and other fine furs. There are great quantities of wool bodies made and napped also. I conclude that you could do well in the business here or almost any part of this country. You can judge yourself what amount it would take to set up business with. To begin in a small way, it would require but little to get a set of tools and a small dock of material – say from three to five hundred dollars – or in your currency, say one hundred pounds. There are many of our small towns in this state that I should think would find you plenty of employment – say fifty to eighty miles back from this city. Or you might perhaps do well in this city by manufacturing for the wholesale trade. From my view of the condition and prospects of the two locations, I should think you must better your conditions to make a genteel and comfortable living; and if they are industrious, economical and have a turn for it, they may perhaps acquire wealth and distinction in the world.

Among us in this country, “the way to wealth is as plain as the way to market,” as our Dr. Franklin used to say. And the road to honour and distinction is equally plain. Every man here is the builder of his own fortune. We have none of those animals that in your country are nick-named “nobility and gentry.” We have no oppressive taxes, nor heavy rents nor iniquitous tithes. Every man is respected and advanced according to his merit, his character and talents. As as instance of this, the man who is likely to be our next President of the United States (Judge McLean) was the son of an Irish weaver.

Matthew Browne lives in the State of Tennessee in the same town with my brother William and my sister Mary Ann Bailey. Matthew carries on the hatting business with my brother-in-law Mr. Bailey, who is also a hatter. They do very good business. Matthew was here a few months ago buying materials, and told me that he expected to quit the business and go to farming, and was about purchasing a fine farm of four hundred acres near where he lives. He is doing well, and I expect will make his fortune in a few years. He has not married yet. If you or his Aunt should write to him, direct to “Dover, Stewart County, Tennessee, United States.”

You enquire about my own family. I have been married 24 years. Am 47 years old, my wife 46. We have 6 children – 3 girls & 3 boys. The girls are 23, 16, & 13 years old. The boys 19, 11, & 6. My oldest daughter is married. The oldest boy learning a trade (carpenter & joiner). The remainder at home, who with my wife, constitute my family.

I am really glad to hear from my old friend and correspondent, your mother-in-law, as I had not heard of or from her for several years and heard she was dead. The last letter I received from her was written before her sister left there for this country. Give my love to her. Assure her of my high regard and that it would give me great pleasure to receive a letter from her. I corresponded with her many years. I sometimes trouble her with very long letters and I think gave some account of this country in some of them. Since that time, however, this country has much advanced. The population of the State of Ohio is now treble what it was then. The city of Cincinnati, where I now live, was then a town of some four thousand inhabitants. Now it is a flourishing city of more than thirty thousand. It is beautifully situated on the north side of the Ohio River, and is in fact a great commercial and manufacturing city, although 800 miles from the ocean. It would astonish you to see the enterprize and industry of these western regions, as well as the fertility of the soil, and the prosperity generally of the people.

A son of my Uncle Matthew Williams of Monaghan came over last summer. He has settled 75 miles north of this city, and has already bought him a farm. He is delighted with the country, and highly pleased with his change. He is very anxious for all the family to come over also.

I shall be pleased to hear from you again and say what your purposes are about coming. If you come, you would do well to come right to the State of Ohio. From this city, you can soon find out where it would be best for you to locate yourself.

My best respects to your wife as well as to my friend Mrs. Browne, whom I should be greatly delighted to have a personal acquaintance with, as I have valued so highly her epistolary acquaintance.

Yours respectfully,  — Sam’l Williams

P.S. I removed to this city four years ago. Your letter was forwarded here from Chillicothe which is 100 miles East of this city. Address to me at “Cincinnati, Ohio, United States.”

One response to “1833: Samuel Williams to Hugh Simmons

  • Pamela

    1831 Burial records Clifton Street Graveyard, Belfast

    March 15
    Sarah Simmons
    Aged 17
    Daughter of Hugh Simmons
    Bridge Street
    A Native of Belfast

    May 19
    Charlotte Caroline Simmons
    Aged 11
    Daughter of Hugh Simmons
    Bridge Street
    A Native of Belfast

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