1836-9: William Bedell Jr. to William Bedell

These two letters were written by William Bedell, Jr. (b. 1813) to his father, William Bedell (1771-1854) and his mother, Hannah Bradbury (1773-1851).  The Bedell’s were Quakers and this letter describes the journey taken by William Bedell Jr. from Hudson, New York to Philadelphia in the Spring of 1836 to attend Quarterly Meetings of the “Society of Friends” in Philadelphia. William also captures the substance of the meetings held in Philadelphia and mentions where he stayed and took his meals each day. Many prominent Quakers in the Philadelphia area are mentioned. I was unable to figure out who William’s traveling companion was (referred to as “St”) in the 1836 letter.

The 1839 letter contains a fresh description of the flood on the Schulykill River that occurred following a 2-day rain event in January which caused massive destruction on the eastern shore of the river near Philadelphia.

Addressed to William Bedell, Athens, Green County, New York]

Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
4th Day of 4th Month 1836

My Dear Parents,

When leaving home I spoke of writing at New York, but our stop at that place would not admit of it. After reaching here, I concluded that it would be better to wait until near the close of the journeying that I might give you a short sketch thereof. In the first place, you will like to hear how we got here. We waited in Hudson all day – and a tedious day it was. The accounts we received of the danger of traveling almost paralyzed us as we were on the point of giving up to wait until the boats might get up. After waiting untill near dark and no stage came – beside 20 or 60 passengers waiting – St. said he never was more tired in his life. At length, there were several coaches fitted out, but [our driver did not] want to go untill the very last. [We had] aboard 12 passengers, 2 of whom were women, of which I was glad thinking perhaps the driver would be more careful on this account. It was 7 in the evening when we set out. St. & I set upon the box with the driver both from choice & necessity. Such a ride we never had before and hope never to have again. We rode all night & did not reach Poughkeepsie till near noon next day. The night was cold – part of the time cloudy and dark. If we could have seen the roads that we passed, I think we should have concluded that it would be impossible to get on. We were turned over 2ce [twice] & St. with the driver were pitched off several times. Once the driver fell upon his face. It was somewhat cut or bruised. Once the stage came very near running over him. St. was not injured. I kept the seat alone every time except when it went over.

The first time was after we had got almost 2 miles on our way. It was on a side hill place so that the coach came very near going bottom side up. Had it not been for the snow, it might have rolled completely over. St. was walking. I was so wrap’d in my cloak that I could not jump. In falling, I had no other fear than that the stage would come on to me, but was thrown out of the way struck upon my head in the snow – received no other injury than a small gash on my hand which I did not perceive untill the blood made my hands sticky. Those inside were not much hurt except one of the women who made a great ado but afterwards found she was not so much hurt as she first imagined. It took almost an hour to get riged again – the coach being thrown off the forward weels. We had to put it back by main strength & in the wind & dark made it not pleasant.

The next time no one received any material injuries. I was again on the upper hill side wrapped in my cloak, therefore tumbled over the driver, struck my side on a hard lump of ice or snow, but soon forgot it. The mail stage that set out an hour before us we overtook in the night, set fast in the mud where they had been more than an hour. Yet that was not the only time.

However, we got safe thro, which we could not but consider as a favor for we were not only in danger of having our limbs broken but, many times really in danger of our lives being taken. We took dinner in Poughkeepsie at Solomon Frost’s where I was under the necessity of asking a little favor of the women which was to sew up a little rent in my overcoat. We took the steam boat Baltimore at 3 o’clock & got to New York about mid-night. Went to bed & slept until after day-light notwithstanding the bustle, noise & confusion — the boat being much crowded. We walked up street to a friends house to leave the things we wished not to take with us, but no house or store was open and the boat going to leave in a few minutes, therefore, we were under the necessity of hurrying to get down. I was almost tired out when we reached the boat.

We found many friends of New York & from Long Island that were going on, among whom were Isaac G. Hopper, Benjamin Corlius, & Whitehead & Hix of Jerusalem. I.G. Hopper’s son took our coats. He said there was a letter there for me. I expect it was from Lot. C. on the subject of getting a school in Athens. I directed him to send it up.

We left N. York ½ past 6 and arrived in Philadelphia about ½ past 2. A number of friends immediately came on board. George Truman came up saying we were going to his house (where we have found a very good home). He had his carriage in waiting. I went to his house & St. went with him to the meeting, which was about sitting. On the first day there were 3 meetings of friends at Cherry, Spring, & Spruce Streets. They were all large & full. We were at Cherry Street (the largest house) in the morning – many stood up for want of seats. A young woman – Susan Cox – communicated at some length, but was requested to take her seat (being one of those considered rather busy), which she immediately did. St. soon arose I I should think stood an hour & half. He spoke well & I think gave general satisfaction. In the afternoon, we were at Spring Street meeting, which was also very large. St. took up most of the time & was favoured. John Houk communicated a little.

In the evening there were a very large company of friends at Geo. Trumans with the rest (to my great surprise) in ______________ with Joseph Turnpenny. He was as much surprised to see me as I him and both equally glad. We had a remarkable favoured sitting. I think there were no less than 6 or 8 preachers.

Second day [Monday] morning, the first sitting convened which was consider’d not quite as large as usual. I could not perceive that it was much larger than N.Y. The meeting was open’d and the reports from the quarterly meetings – certificated were read, being but 2 of ministers produced 1 by John Livingston from Baltimore & St’s. Then a committee appointed to settle with the treasurer. Adjourned to 4 P.M. I dined at Br. Turnpenny’s with Samuel. There are 2 brothers, Frederick & Joseph, and their mother who were exceedingly kind. We walked out before meeting and called at the store of Thomas Mellor. At the afternoon sitting, Joseph (Dr.) Parrish was nominated clerk & Benjamin Price assistant. The certificates of women friends were read – one from Jemmima Weed & one from a friend of Verginia, being the least that has attended with minutes for a number of years.

Minutes from 2 of the Quarterly’s on the subject of slavery, which gave rise to much discussion on the subject, and was left to be acted upon at the next sitting. Adjourned to 9 o’clock A.M. We took tea at William Jackson’s – very fine young friends – then to our home where we found a large circle of friends.

3rd day [Tuesday] morning. The subject of slavery again engaged the attention of the meeting. After 3 hours weighty deliberation & discussion, a committee of 6 from each Quarterly (making 66) was separated to take the subject in all its bearings under consideration 7 report the result to a future sitting. It was also concluded to spread it before the womens meeting & inform them of the course it has taken. A committee reported in the case of an appellant, then adjourned to 4 P.M. we dine’d at Dr. Parish’s. The 3 sittings of 3d day afternoon, 4th day [Wednesday] morning & afternoon were taken up [missing] and answering the Queries. Much council & advice was given [missing] friends on account of the deficiencies in the answers on one or two [missing] committees were appointed.

(5th day eve) Near Woodbury in New Jersey about 10 miles S.E. of Philadelphia. I will now finish my letter not being able to finish it before leaving Philadelphia. On the 5th day [Thursday] morning last, we went to the Cherry Street meeting where I think was the largest gathering of people that I ever saw. St. was the principal speaker. I think he stood and hour and ½. He was much favoured on many important subjects. The meeting was very quiet & attentive and I think generally satisfied. We dined at Sam Spackman’s, brother-in-law of Geo. Trumans. After dinner made a short visit at a William Wharton’s. The afternoon sitting was very large. We had a feeling address upon the subjects that were before the meeting yesterday (answers to the Queries) by John Livingston. After this sitting, we took tea at the Longstreets & made a short stop at a Thomas McClintock’s.

6th day [Friday] morning sitting, the subject of education was deliberately consider’d. The committee reported but the report was return’d to the committee. The committee on the subject of slavery produced an essay of a memorial to congress. Adjourned to 4 o’clock P.M. and din’d Amos Peasley’s, after which I spent a little time at Hannok Johnsons. Jane desired me to remember her love to all & particularly to you & Uncle J&E Lawton. This afternoon several committees reported and the minutes of the Representative committees were read. St. paid the women’s meeting a visit. This eve, a large collection of friends were at Geo. Trumans where was a favourable sitting.

7th day [Saturday] morning, I walked down town 2 miles & took breakfast at Thomas Mellors where I saw John Bancroft & Margaret. They were very kind & treated me with every respect. They said they were all well & wished me to remember them to you. At the sitting this morning, 4 friends, viz., Dr. [Joseph] Parrish, William Wharton, Joseph Houk, & James Mott, were named to accompany and have the memorial presented to Congress. Essays of Epistles addressed to Baltimore, Ohio, Indiana, New York, & Genesee yearly meetings were read and approved with great unanimity. Edward Hicks in a short, but very feeling communication, held forth for the language of invitation to all – particularly those whose walks were those of the youth. His tender spirit was so soften’d that he could utter no more for several minutes after rising upon his feet…all was silenced as one, while the tears that rolled over his cheeks expressed solemnity which was about 1 o’clock this afternoon. The women’s meeting also met.

At some of the sittings, it was that the meeting was larger than before since the separation – and was considered a very good one. Elisha Bates has gone to England but had no minute. The orthodox friends in New York withdrew their suit against ___ a week ago yesterday. It was tho’t a preparatory measure for settlement. Cousin Snt told me after the last sitting that he had received another application. It was from ____ doing extensive ____. He thought it looked more like doing than any other, therefore should not leave the city yet. He attended every sitting but one.

The weather has been most of the time pleasant. We have had one or 2 frosts nights & some snow. First day [Monday] morning last was wet. On 4th day [Thursday] morning it snowed, but soon turn to raining which it did like a shower all day.

St. has next week’s work laid out in Jersey. 2 Quarterly’s tomorrow. They are here plowing & sowing oats. The roads mostly dry but rough. We have been well. Of John Mott, we have heard nothing. I have become acquainted with Thomas McClintock. He is a very nice friend indeed. When you write, direct to his care, Callowhill St or Thomas M.C., Drugist, Callowhill St., Philadelphia. If there are any that would wish to subscribe for his paper, I might attend to it if you will send the names. I think it will be a useful & good paper.

We may be in Philadelphia at their Quarterly Meeting, which will be a little more than a week, but it is not fully settled. I want some of you to write soon. I am anxious to hear from you and that particularly (if the letter be as full as this it will do). My spirits have not been very high since coming to Jersey, which was yesterday afternoon (being now first day morning & a little wet). We are not capable of writing much more. Are Aunts with you & how does their business go on? In a word, I may ask how does every department get along? Remember me with love to all, our dear relations and enquiring friends. My love to brothers and sisters & to you and my affectionate parents is what the heart can feel but more than words can convey. I think of you oftener than the morning. Forget me not.

Your affectionate – William Bedell, Jr.


HENRY BEDELL, deceased, formerly occupied a prominent position among the extensive landowners and successful stockraisers of Padua Township. He was born in Greene County, N. Y., May 9, 1806, and departed this life at his home in Padua Township, this county, March 21, 1884.

He was the son of William Bedell, also a native of the Empire State, who spent his entire life in Greene County, where he followed agriculture for many years and then retired from active labor to enjoy the fruits of his early industry. He lived to an advanced age, dying in Athens, N. Y.

The mother died when her son, Henry, was but a youth. He started out early in life to do for himself and after arriving to years of manhood was united in marriage with Miss Deborah Searles, of New Baltimore Township, Greene County, N. Y., their wedding occurring on the 29th of January, 1840. Mrs. B. also was born in Greene County, N. Y., Aug. 29, 1814. After marriage the young people settled in their native county and there their seven children were born: Hannah J. became the wife of George W. Bingham, a farmer of Blue Mound Township, this county; William S. married Miss Cornelia A. Rowley, and is carrying on a farm in Padua Township; Caleb S., who married Miss Delia Brown, of Padua Township, owns and operates an eighty acre farm but lives upon the old homestead with his mother, cultivating also a part of this; Palmer, unmarried, is farming in Nebraska; Lawrence L. is located on a farm of fifty-three acres in Padua Township, having been married to Miss Estelle C. Fuller; Henry, Jr., married Miss Anna Horine, and is carrying on agriculture on his own homestead of fifty-five acres in Padua Township; Philena C. married Andrew T. Dorland, and lives in Nebraska.

Mr. Bedell came with his family to Padua Township in 1801, and established a permanent homestead upon which he remained until his death. The homestead consists of 320 acres of finely cultivated land, a handsome and commodious residence and all the buildings necessary to the completion of a first-class, modern farm estate. Mr. B. was an active member of the Society of Friends and in politics a stanch Republican. He in all respects fulfilled the duties of a good citizen and assisted materially in building up the business and agricultural interests of this section.

Baltimore Yearly Meeting: In 1672, a General Meeting of Friends was held at West River. The Separation of 1828 split the “Yearly Meeting held at Baltimore for the Western Shore of Maryland and the adjacent parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia” in two. The Hicksite branch retained the name, while the Orthodox branch renamed itself The Yearly Meeting of Friends for the Western Shore of Maryland and Adjacent Areas of Pennsylvania and Virginia, in unity with the Ancient Yearly Meeting of Friends.

Orthodox Friends: Members of a branch of Quakers resulting from the Separation of 1827 who were evangelical and stressed the Jesus Christ of history and reliance on the Bible as the authoritative source of religious truth. See also Hicksite Friends; Separation of 1827/28.Queries: A set of questions, revised periodically, which were to be answered in writing by preparative, monthly, and quarterly meetings and reported to the Yearly Meeting. The queries concerned conduct of individuals and practices of the meetings, and provided one means of assuring uniformity in discipline. Meetings of ministers and elders also responded to queries.

Susan Cox later married Dr. Joseph Parrish; both mentioned within.

Addressed to William Bedell, Athens, Green County, New York

Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
27th of 1st Month 1839

My Endeared Mother,

It is now first day evening an I am sitting in the parlor quite alone. Thos. went this morning with his sister-in-law Rebecca Bancroft home and M is with the children in the nursery, and as I am quite alone it seems a most favorable opportunity to pen for thee a few of the innumerable thoughts that pass my mind.

If sufficient time & opportunity had been afforded, I should have done it before this or immediately after the reception of my sister Phebe’s letter which was a week since yesterday. It met a hearty welcome as the post man threw it from his ____ and opened and perused with intense interest with a mixture of pleasure & pain. It was thyself that was the object of pain to my feelings. I could hardly fault with sister for not saying more particularly how thee was. From what was written, I concluded thee had been very poorly indeed & was some better — but did not say how much. Now, in such like cases I should like to hear particulars, for when it is otherwise it gives me room to think the worst. I sincerely hope thee is better & will be able to write me thyself upon the reception of this. I have been much concerned on account. I fear thee is not careful enough to guard sufficiently against taking cold — the effect of which upon thee too well knowest. Bodily pain & suffering is the consequence and in the midst of these, is it possible to enjoy the good things of this life — even tho we had them all at our command. I have no doubt that thee sometimes feels in the midst of the abundance of thy trials & afflictions (a portion of which I have often wished I could bear for thee) as if there was nothing worth living to enjoy & as if the last messenger might be a welcome guest or visitor. But pause for a moment, my dearest mother, and reflect whether it may not be required of some to not only live, but to suffer for others even in this, the fulfillment of their days work may consist: and I believe there may be a possibility of our overlooking or at least not understanding the means whereby our Heavenly Father would be best served or most honored through us. Therefore, it seems a duty that we bear with Christian fortitude the trials and difficulties tat we have been (by breaking any ____) their procuring cause. I sometimes think it matters but little whether our race is long or short, whether we suffer little or much, if we may be favored to come out right in the end. That is, to receive the reward of the righteous which I believe every immortal mind at times feels desirous of obtaining. yet we live day after day and have little — some of us do (yet in this I could not presume to speak for any but myself) — that would entitle us to this reward.

But my main object is to encourage thee to bear up under all thy trials and afflictions and faint not. Give not up to discouragement, I entreat thee, but hold on thy way with confidence and faith — both on thy account and on the account of those who still look up to thee as a protector and a friend. I fear thee gets (as they say) down in the cellar — low-spirited. Nothing to cheer, nothing to brighten the prospect before before the oft times a thick cloud resting upon thy mind. But his in due time will be removed and light spring up with renewed lightness and spread over all the perceptive faculties of the immortal mind. I do not know what I can say more. I can not even say what I would — but may add (or rather repeat) I wish thy encouragement. Have whole faith in Him who hath hitherto helped thee & wonderfully brought thee on thus far. Trust in the Lord, O he will not forsake thee. I desire with tears that his blessing may rest upon thee, my dear Mother & my dear Father, the blessing of peace, of a crown immortal that is in reserve at the end of the race. May this be with you now the first & chief consideration is the heartfelt prayer of one who affectionately desires your remembrance & prayers for his preservation in the path of virtue.

Moreover I would say to thee, dear Mother, be not over anxious about the future or those who may come after thee so as to abridge in any way thy own enjoyment & comfort. I apprehend all will get through well if all do right. I want thee (if restored as I hope will be the case to a good degree of health) my father, to without nothing (that is within reach) that will add to your real comfort & enjoyment, & guard against exposing thyself to take cold — going out in the garden &c. I think thee might give that up. I hope there will be others that will become so far interested as to take the charge off these lands. I know this would be a great relief to thee.

Second Day Evening, 28th of 1st Month 1839

Dear Mother,

The latter part of the other page I hope thee will not forget as I have believed for some time that thy exposure in the garden has contributed no small share to thy bodily sufferings. If things get in the right train, I believe thee will be mostly excused from any glorious active part which I want should be the case.

Now for a little information; then the conclusion. The forepart of last week we had the coldest weather we have had this winter. The coldest I have heard was 6 or 7 above zero. Towards the latter part it grew milder & on the 6th day night about 10 or 11 o’clock commenced raining & rained steadily (but not very heavily much of the time until the next day about 2 P.M. when the wind changed to the west & blew a perfect gale until in the evening. In the meantime, in consequence of the warm rain causing a sudden thaw of the snow & the ground being frozen so as not to take in the water, one of the greatest freshets ever known here has been witnessed.

The Bridge Across the Schuylkill

The Bridge Across the Schuylkill built in 1838 described in this 1839 letter

You will probably hear more particulars from the publick papers than I shall find room to write, however, I will give a few facts as we have heard them today from those who have visited the scenes of destruction. It is estimated that property to the amount of more than $1,000,000 has been destroyed on the Schuylkill River which was done in a short time. The water was higher than ever known before. People were taken in boats off of the 2d story windows of some of the factories & houses on the river & some taken off their foundations by the ice & water. A schooner was broken loose at the port of Walnut or Arch Street (on the __) & driven up & left more than two squares up from the wharf. At one place, 50 hogs were washed out of one building & drowned. I might mention a great many things besides but the greatest destruction was at the factories, dams & bridges. As far as we have heard today, almost all the dams & bridges have been swept away. The one leading west from Market Street west over the Schuylkill is left & that was hourly expected to go. The floating bridge was completely swept off which with a great body of ice & rubbish was thrown against the new bridge (being a little below the floating bridge) built by the Philadelphia, Baltimore & Wilmington Railroad Company & nearly or quite finished (cost $70,000) and took the middle piers & the middle of the bridge clean out, forming an opening in the middle of the river, leaving both ends standing. I have crossed it several times & thought it one of the best built bridges I ever saw. Yesterday morning Thomas went to Providence with his sister Rebecca B. He has returned today & by him we hear that the dams at both Bancroft’s Factories were taken away & other damages which will stop all operations at least for a month. They were all well. We also hear through the papers of the violent storms at New York. ¹

I hear you are likely to lose cousin A. L. & family. Their relations here seem much pleased wit the prospect of their coming. I should not like now to give my opinion upon his proposed change but I can say on my own account it would be very pleasant and it may be one of the right things. I think you will miss him, both in a social & religious capacity. How does E. B. get on with you? She speaks through some of her letters of making very agreeable visits at our house & aunts. Give her my nest respects.

Thomas & M says that thee & father talk of coming on to the yearly meeting here in the spring. I am indulging in the hope & pleasing prospect of seeing you here if your health will admit of it. I hope nothing else may prevent. I think you would enjoy a visit here very much. Take good care of thyself so as to be able to come. I think you aught to make one visit at least to this city. Don’t give out for trifles.

[few paragraphs of small talk]

Third day, 29th. A beautiful day. Thomas Mellon & Thomas Bancroft has been out on the Schuylkill this forenoon. They say there is a great destruction of property. The rooms of the 2d story of one or two factories were in good part filled with ice. One house with 9 persons in it was surrounded & the people were taken off in a boat about 5 minutes before the house went. If it had happened in the night, these & many more must have perish. With love to all my dear sisters & brothers, my dear father & thyself, I conclude, thy affectionate son, — William Bedell, Jr.

¹ In a history of Schuylkill County, under the heading of Floods, it was stated:

The navigation of the Schuylkill canal, which had been impeded by the low stage of water in 1838, was seriously damaged by an ice freshet of extraordinary magnitude on the 26th and 27th of January 1839. The ground being frozen hard and impervious to water, the streams were soon overflowing by the heavy rain, the ice broke up, and the torrent with the force of a deluge swept crashing and roaring through the valley of the Schuylkill with fearful impetuosity, carrying along with resistless force ever obstacle or obstruction that it encountered. The water rose in a few hours in many places twenty feet above its usual level, sweeping away bridges, landings, canal boats and dams, and doing great damage to the works of the canal in exposed situations. In Philadelphia the freshet caused the greatest inundation ever known in the Schuylkill. The wharves were entirely submerged, and the entire eastern shore of the Schuylkill, extending from the Market street bridge over a mile toward the Naval Asylum, presened a scene of chaotic confusion, wreck and ruin. Not a single vessel of any kind was left afloat after the water had subsided. Barges, boatsm sloops, and schooners were lying ashore…

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