1836: Augustus Dana to Henrietta Dana

These two letters were written in November 1836 by Augustus Dana (1798-1873), son of William Dana (1745-1809) and Mary Bancroft (1752-1831) of Belpre, Washington County, Ohio. Also adding a note at the bottom of the second letter was Augustus’ wife, Polly (Burch) Dana (1802-1874).

Augustus addressed both letters to his niece, Henrietta Turnbull Dana (1816-1842). She married George Benedict (b. 1815) in June 1839 but died less than three years later. Henrietta’s parents were John Dana (1781-1827) and Catherine (“Katie”) Walton (1787-1871) of Shawneetown, Gallatin County, Ohio.

From these letters we learn that Augustus and Polly Dana intended a trip up the Ohio River to Pittsburg and hoped that their niece might join them. Their journey was delayed, however, when the steamboat Monroe on which their were traveling, was grounded on a sandbar short of reaching Marietta, resulting in the breaking of her “main shaft and center.” Leaving the boat and taking the stage, Polly Dana finishes the second letter from the home of Samson (or Sampson) Cole (1784-1881) in Marietta.

Stampless Cover of Letter One

Letter 1

Stampless Cover of Letter Two

Letter 2


Steam Boat Monroe
November 8, 1836

Dear Niece,

We shall by today bound for Pittsburgh and will be gone 7 or 7 days. If you are a going down with us, have all your things ready. You had better take them down to Mr. Henderson’s and when we come down, I will commence ringing the bell at Parkersburg and then you must come as quick as possible for we will likely be full of passengers and will have no time [to] loose. I saw Mr. Vaught of Shawneetown when I was in Louisville. He said that the folks were all well [and] that Jane was going to school there yet. Tell Emily that the doctor that sat so close to her on the steam boat in Cincinnati is on board a going up to see his friends at Waterford and likewise that he had some slight acquaintance in Belpre that he intended to call and see them before he returned.

I have not heard much about the election. Heard that William Henry Harrison got 911 majority in the city of Cincinnati. The Vans got to fighting among themselves.

Yours in haste, — Augustus Dana

N.B. I want Polly to go with you down if I can send her word.


Samson Cole’s [House], Marietta [Ohio]
Morning of the 14th [November] 1836


I suppose you are tired waiting for the steamboat Monroe but Hetta we are broke above Carpenter’s Bar. We broke our main shaft and center on the 12th so we won’t be down before Thursday. Our breaking will be all the better for you as we couldn’t get to Pittsburgh in consequence of low water. I could not get your cloak, but Mr. Tefft from Parkersburg was with us and he was going on to Pittsburgh to be back in 3 or 4 days. I gave directions where he could find the cloak. You had better send over on Wednesday and see if he has got back. It may come round right for you to on down with us yet.

When we broke, we had as good a trip as we had before. — Augustus

A word from Aunt Polly. I am here in town. I came down Saturday night in the stage. We shall go up to rainbow again, and maybe I shall give it out for good. I was near sending for you up hear today, but your Uncle thinks it will be too short a time for us to see it. Do watch for your cloak — it’s paid for. You have nothing to do — only send for it in season so not to detain the boat. Get the red house boys to get it for you. We shall go up to rainbow tonight if my brother comes down. Be at Mr. Benedict’s on Wednesday night, and if there is any disappointment, we can’t help it for we are liable to misfortunes in many ways. Study this out, if you can, for our pen is poor. — Polly C. Dunn

  • Harrison was the Northern Whig candidate for president in 1836, the only time in American history when a major political party intentionally ran more than one presidential candidate. Vice President Martin Van Buren, the Democratic Candidate, was popular and deemed likely to win the election against an individual Whig candidate. The Whig plan was to elect popular Whigs regionally, deny Van Buren the 148 electoral votes needed for election, and force the House of Representatives to decide the election. They hoped the Whigs would control the House after the general elections. (This strategy would have failed as the Democrats retained a majority in the House following the election.) Harrison ran in all the free states except Massachusetts, and the slave states of Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky. Hugh L. White ran in the remaining slave states except for South Carolina. Daniel Webster ran in Massachusetts, and Willie P. Mangum in South Carolina.[55] The plan narrowly failed as Van Buren won the election with 170 electoral votes. A swing of just over 4,000 votes in Pennsylvania would have given that state’s 30 electoral votes to Harrison, and the election would have been decided in the House of Representatives.

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