1838 Mary Allen to Mary H. Dunbar

This letter was written by Mary Allen (1817-18xx), daughter of James Seymour Allen (1791-18xx) and Mary Mitchell. This letter was written to Mary H. Dunbar (1819-18xx), the daughter of Lemuel Dunbar (1781-1855) and Cordania Fobes (1783-1869). Mentioned in the letter is Alice A. Dunbar (b. 1819), Mary’s sister.

This 1838 stampless cover has a blue Bridgewater Ms. cds and a manuscript rate of 18¾. The content is a descriptive letter from friend Mary Allen detailing various balls, deaths and other events. Allen says she attended a temperance meeting in the morning and an anti-slavery meeting in the afternoon. But she has a “more important celebration” to relate. She then goes into detail about various balls she has attended. Numerous friends are mentioned. Toward the end she describes the death and funeral of Mrs. Mitchell Keith.

Stampless Cover

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[Addressed to Miss Mary H. Dunbar, Waterville, Maine]


Bridgewater [Massachusetts]
July 20th 1838

Dearest Mary,

What have you thought of me for neglecting so long to answer your last kind letter? I am not going to write half a page of excuses, but will endeavour to repair my fault as well as I can. I had recently the pleasure (quite undeserved, I confess) of reading your letter to your Aunt Eunice, and I resolved then not to delay writing any longer. I suppose you would like to know what we have been doing and what has happened since I wrote last which, I believe, was a year ago last January; and I will try to tell you some of the prominent events which have occurred.

Last summer passed very quietly and pleasantly without anything particular to distinguish it. We had a very pleasant though crowded ball on Cattle Show evening and on Thanksgiving eve. I attended the wedding of your cousin Silas Dunbar. I suppose you have heard all about it. There were a large number of people present and we had a glorious time. Alice Fobes was married the 14th of January. I had a great slice of her wedding cake. It was very nice, I assure you. We had four balls last winter, two of which only are worth mentioning – particularly the military ball on Thursday the 18th of January, was a splendid affair. The ball was elegantly ornamented with scarlet and black trimmings procured at Boston and which I believe cost about 30 dollars; the ladies were dressed in white with scarlet trimmings; and the gentlemen in military uniform. We had the best of music – the Boston Brass Band – and an elegant supper was provided by Mr. Sampson. If you could have looked in upon us, you would have thought that –

“Music and mirth and joy had dwelt
Within our fairy bowers.”

The next Monday evening the older people had a ball. Not a single unmarried gentleman was invited, but nearly all the girls were there. We were very crowded but everybody appeared to enjoy themselves.

Pray, what did you do 4th of July? As you are not here to answer my question, I will tell you what we did. The county Temperance Society met in our meeting house in the forenoon and the county Antislavery Society in the afternoon, but that is nothing to the purpose. I am going to tell you about a more important celebration. The young ladies had a very delightful party in the woods between Uncle Daniel’s and Deacon Copeland’s. Margaret Hyde, Mrs. Edgar Sprague (formerly Betsey Gilbert) and myself, were the managers. We invited nearly everybody in the parish. We had a very long table of a semicircular form, which gave it a graceful appearance, and those who are judges of such things pronounced the arrangements of it to be elegant and tasteful. It was loaded with every kind of cake you can think of; vases of beautiful flowers were placed at short intervals over the table, and we had plenty of nice cherries. We were content to drink lemonade and water instead of tea. There were over 200 persons present of all ages, and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves – at least I know I did, though I felt somewhat tired for I staid there except going home to dinner from half past six in the morning till sunset and worked pretty hard all the time. By the way, we had two of the best swings I ever saw. The day was closed by a pleasant ball which I attended.

But scenes of mirth and pleasure are not all I have to record. Tuesday afternoon I stood by the death couch of one whose loss will be deeply and widely felt, whose death has caused a blank which in her family can never, and in society not easily, be filled. I mean Mrs. Mitchell Keith. She was sick but a week. The physicians said but one or two symptoms were wanting to make her case a decided one of malignant cholera. The funeral was attended yesterday afternoon in the meeting house. The services were most solemn and impressive, and the funeral dirge played on organ when the coffin was carried out – so deep-toned and thrilling, yet exquisitely soft and sweet so that it seemed almost unearthly.

I have nearly reached the bottom of my page without having written nearly all I want to; I should have written a few lines to Alice here had there been room. Give my best to her. Tell her that her sweet little cousin T.P.D. was at our party 4th of July, that he grows more beautiful every year, and is now considered one of the handsomest gentlemen in Bridgewater. And tell her she must write to me very soon for she has owed me a letter for a long while. Oh how I want to see you and Alice. Do you not think of making us a visit before long? I wish you would. Do excuse my bad writing for I have been in a great hurry and my pen is horrid. Please write as soon as you can, and believe me your ever affectionate friend,  — Mary M. H. Allen


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