1838: Lucy Palmer to Stephen Palmer

This letter was written by Lucy Palmer (1802-1872) to her brother Stephen Palmer (1798-1856). Their parents were Barnabas Palmer (1765-1822) and Mary Place (1763-1820). Also mentioned in the letter are siblings Barnabas Palmer, Jr. (1791-Aft1860) and Roxana Palmer (1804-1880), the wife of Ebenezer Gilmore (1797-18xx), who she married in 1831. It appears that both Stephen and Barnabas served as Post Master’s in their respective cities of Barnard and Kennebunk, Maine. Barnabas also served as a Collector for Kennebunk — a post that did not always earn him friends. In an 1834 article appearing in the Portland Advertiser, Barnabas was accused of writing a “scurrilous handbill — personally selecting and abusing many of the citizens of his own town.”

Stephen Palmer was married to Susan Twombly Wingate (1802-1870) and they had many children; the young boys referred to in this letter were probably Caleb (b. 1825), Ira (b. 1827), and Samuel (b. 1829).

We learn from this letter that Lucy (or Lucinda) Palmer earned a living making harnesses for the local Harness Factory in Kennebunk, Maine. I have yet find any evidence that she married though a diary that she wrote in 1838 in housed in the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk.

The dateline of the letter does not provide a year but my best guess, based on its content, would be 1838.

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Addressed to Stephen Palmer, Post Master, Barnard, Maine

Kennebunk, [Maine]
August 27th [1838]

My Dear Brother,

I have indeed been negligent in not answering yours respecting Mary’s coming to Kennebunk to attend school. My brother Barnabas told me he had replied to you on the subject is the reason I have not been in a hurry to write you respecting it. I hope his propositions are agreeable to you and that we shall soon have Mary here with us. It will give us all pleasure to see her and I hope we shall find means to make her happy and contented while she remains with us.

Our [Union] Academy has not been in operation long, nor has it been very successful thus far in its operation. A want of popularity has diminished its numbers both of teachers and scholars. It commenced with a preceptor, preceptress, and an assistant pupil — it is now managed by a preceptor only. It is, notwithstanding, a school where much may be learned and I doubt not but Mary will make it a place of profitable instruction.

I regret the accident which befell you on Independence Day. Your wife (ere this), I hope has recovered from her fall. Let us know as convenient how she does.

We should like to hear from sister Roxanna and family. I have heard today that Mr. [Ebenezer] Gilman has been dangerously sick with a fever – also that he is slowly recovering from it. Roxanna must have a difficult task. The care of her sick husband, her family, and their little ones is a great change. I fear it will overcome her. Could I afford the expense of the journey, I would gladly be with her in her affliction. But times have been hard with me this year.

I have been unfortunate in all my pursuits. I have indeed been as industrious as I could be but my industry turns to no account. My employment has been (as I have before told you), making harnesses for the Factory. I had before performed the work and considered it good business — one that would justify me in paying board and have a pretty compensation beside. I have lately finished my summer job and presented my bill for payment when I was informed that through the mistake of my employer. I had received double payment for all I had hitherto done. I had a right to expect the same and honorable to correct the mistake. I offered to do so and it took all my summer’s work to meet the demand and more. I was five dollars in debt besides having my board to pay and also a boy for carrying the work from day to day to the factory. Thus, you see that in this world, we are all liable to afflictions and disappointments. They attend every condition in life, and we must all submit to what befalls us with a cheerful heart.

I have been depressed. I must own I hardly know what to do next to keep — as the saying is — my head above water. I have nearly exhausted all my faculties in search of independence and yet I find it difficult to take care of ones self. It is hard to bear, but it seems to be the will of Providence toward me and I pray God that I may cheerfully submit to all His dispensations whether they be joyful or sorrowful. The past year had been a prosperous one. In my father Porter’s family, I was prosperous and happy. I was highly compensated for my services, received my board and many presents, found time to do my own work beside time to make fifty sets of harnesses for which I was receiving double payment. I saw God’s goodness towards me. I acknowledged His blessing and felt grateful for it. And now that He has seen fit to change the scene, let me behold Him still. Let me see Him in adversity as well as prosperity and feel that what He does is just and right — that all His ways are perfect. I will try to acknowledge Him in all ways and hope He will again prosper me when He sees it will be for my best good.

I often think of you and your family — more especially since your number has become so increased. I feel anxious for the welfare of the little boys on your account. I know they are a great care and at present no profit. But I hope the time will come when they will not only pay their living but will be useful to you. When they are so, I think your claims will be acknowledged and you will have a right to do with them just as you please without any one to interfere. If you find they are very burdensome, I will try in behalf of one to get him a place here — perhaps amongst some of my acquaintance here. I might find him a kind home. If you say it is your particular desire to give one of them up, I will try my best though I should rather they should remain as they are. I feel assured that they are kindly treated. If they were to be given to strangers, it is not probable they would be used with so much interest and affection.

How is Mother this summer? I am sorry she feels so disappointed in not seeing me. I may yet see her this fall though I do not expect to now. Every thing is so uncertain. I dare not anticipate any thing in future. Should I happen to visit you, it would most probably be a sudden start. Brother Barnabas has had another fit for going East. I began to think it would really take place, but I believe the fever has abated and the visit is given up again. All is uncertain with him. He may go very soon or he may never go. It is just as he may happen to feel about it.

Friends here are very well. All desire to be remembered to you, your wife, and all friends. Hope to hear from you soon. Affectionately, — Lucy Palmer

  • The American Antiquarian Society has: A catalogue of the officers and students of Union Academy, Kennebunk, Me. for the academical year 1834-5. They also cite a history of Kennebunk: Remick, D. Hist. of Kennebunk, 1911, in which they discuss Union Academy being incorporated in 1834 under the auspices of Calvinist Baptist Associations of York and Cumberland counties. That book says it went out of existence ca. 1856.

Barnard, Maine

All the knowledge we can obtain in regard to this town is that it lies in the county of Piscataquis, 108 miles from Augusta;—that in 1837, there were 132 people in the town, and that they raised 444 bushels of wheat, the same year;—that this town received $264 of the surplus revenue;—that in 1837, Augustus W. Walker and others, obtained an act of the legislature for quarrying slate, and that Stephen Palmer is, or was, Postmaster.

Now, the good people of Barnard are hereby respectfully requested to give the editor their latitude and longitude, and other necessary information for future editions. Citizens of other towns, similarly situated, and of all towns who may wish more full descriptions of their resources, &c, than we are able, at present, to give, are also requested to forward their communications.

From Hayward’s New England Gazetteer of 1839

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