1838: Mary Pendleton to William Pendleton Chapman

This captivating letter was penned by Mary Thompson Pendleton (1807-1843) while traveling from her sister’s frontier home in Sandusky, Ohio, to her parent’s home in New London, Connecticut. From the letter, we learn that Mary had just completed a year’s visit with her sister Eliza Cross Pendleton (1816-1891), the wife of William Pendleton Chapman (1806-1893). Also residing in Sandusky at the time and like Mary, still unwed, was a younger sister, Hannah Stanton Pendleton (1818-1852). Hannah would later become the wife of Joseph Hartman but died less than a year after her marriage.

The Pendleton sisters, as well as James Allen Pendleton (1822-1843) — mentioned near the end of the letter, were all the children of Capt. Joseph Segar Pendleton (1776-1838) and Bridget Thompson (1777-1860). Capt. Pendleton died only three months after this letter was written.

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Addressed to Mr. William P. Chapman, Sandusky City, Ohio

June the 20th [1838]
New London [Connecticut]

When I left you, it was not my intention to keep any account of my journey, but when the day dawned and I found but one Lady on board, I felt that I had nothing to take up my time, so I thought would commence writing a few particulars of my journey. I am sensible it will neither be edifying nor amusing, but judging you by yourself, I know it will be agreeable to hear from your Mary.

June the 4, Monday morning, on board of the D. Webster. I am alone in the Ladies Cabin seated at the centre table, endeavoring to compose my mind and call my wandering thoughts. But alas, the task is no easy one. But I have in some measure succeeded, and will now and then behold a communion with my absent sister by writing. It will help to dissipate the gloom that occasionally comes over my mind. But the scenes of the past, the recollections of bygone days, and the objects of my affections, continually stand before me — a melancholy soothing yet and pervades my heart. O why are friends doomed to part? Why not always live near those we love? But hush, my rebellious heart. It is the will of God and submit to His providence with cheerfulness. Dead must be the heart to those soft emotion that can take the parting hand with cold indifference. Yes, when we bid farewell with no certainty of ever meeting on this side of eternity, the past, the present, and the future present to your view and overwhelm the heart with sorrow. But I have learned to master my feeling and appear calm and composed while my bosom is wrung with unutterable anguish. But when alone, and none but the all seeing God rests upon me, I give myself up to that weakness — if it may be called, shedding those tears that had long been restrained. I don’t know, my dear sister, but you thought I parted with you with a great deal of indifference after partaking of your hospitality for a year, but judge not — you know not my heart. There is but one thing that effects me more than the parting of friends, and that is false, ungrateful friends. O that woulds me in the tenderest part. O my sister, trifle not with friendship. Don’t profess what you do not profess. Be cautious in your selection of friends. Be candid, honest, and ingenious. And do as you would like to be done by.

In reviewing the year I have spent with you and recalling to mind those I have become acquainted with, and the many times we have met together, and then to leave them, it seemed like going home, and acquaintances of many years. I have much reason to love and respect the people of Sandusky for their polite attention to me and indeed, I do believe I do respect them all. All, did I say? Yes, all but one, and that one has forfeited my esteem and is undeserving of my friendship. But I feel nought in my heart but pity prayer and love for a fallen, deceitful world. Few, very few, have I met in this unfriendly world whose heart beats in unison with my own. But I am returning to my home to meet new friends and scenes, and my visit to Sandusky will soon appear like a melancholy dream. But think not I shall forget you and those I have left behind. No, I will remember you all, and love you all until my last sun shall set.

It is not probable that I shall ever meet with all that I have left behind. The angel of death may ere long cut down some of the lovely flowers and consign them to an early tomb. O whoever they are, my prayer is that they may be prepared to pass through the deep waters of Jordon. It may be my lot to be called first to try its depth — to pass through its cold stream. If it is His will to call me first to leave this world of sorrow, I trust I am prepared. I believe my Savior will be with me and present me a spotless spirit to the throne of grave. Only Jesus will, I know, and Jesus crucified.

I feel quite dull today. I arose early this morning and walk[ed] on deck as we were going into Cleveland [harbor]. The day is uncommon fine — a light breeze plays upon the bosom of the treacherous waters, and the majestic boat glides sweetly along carrying me far from those I love. I wish my sister were with me, but my wish is vain and I might [have] spared myself the trouble of writing it. The day is far spent and I am somewhat fatigued, so goodbye for the present.

[Wednesday] June the 6. I had a delightful time in Buffalo. Went the next day to Mandervilles, and from there to Mr. Darrow. Had a fine visit there. Mrs. Darrow is a fine woman and received me cordially. It seemed like home. She introduced me to a Mr. Hitchcock, a gentleman attending court — one of the grand jury. He stopt at Mr. Darrow’s during court. He is a rich bachelor and if I had stayed, I should set my cap for him. I did not fall in love with him, but perhaps I should if I had staid. Mrs. Darrow wanted me to stop a week with her, but I felt anxious to go on. If Mrs. Darrow ever visits your city, welcome her for my sake.

I am now on board the canal boat. There is a number of passengers on board going the same way I am. I don’t anticipate much pleasure traveling. O that I had the wings of a dove. But I must bring my mind to my condition and make the best of a bad bargain. No more at present.

[Friday] June the 8th. Pleasant day and pleasant company. Stopt one hour at Brockport and am [now] sailing on slowly. I am somewhat impatient. There is much sameness. I am at Montezuma. The glorious sun is fast sinking in the west. All nature looks gay and cheerful. [Traveling on board are] an Episcopal Minister and [his] wife and daughter bound to Connecticut, but will go to Boston first. [His name is] Mr. [John] Hall ¹ from Ashtabula [whose] wife is niece to the widow Horton (she was the widow Chester from Norwich — a lovely woman). We [also] have on board a gentleman, Capt. Hoadley, and his wife. They have been on a visit to Ohio and are returning to Connecticut. They reside in New Haven [and are] very fine people. I am frequently asked if I am Mrs. Hall’s daughter [as] we resemble each other. We have the most sport when evening arrives and we retire. We don’t mind Mr. Hall, the minister. I have laughed more in two evenings than I have in a year. It is certainly very amusing as well as tiresome on board of a line boat, but we are getting tired of a seafaring life in the wood.

I miss the company of Capt. Fitch now more than I have for a year. I presume if he had thought I should return alone, he would fly on the wings of the wind to have accompanied me home. But never mind. I can get along without him don’t you think I can, Hannah? Where are you all this pleasant evening? Methinks I am transported by fancy to the habitation of my sisters. But alas, the time is passed never to return and I don’t never anticipate visiting that western city again. Good evening sister, and the Lord bless you and yours.

Passengers on an Erie Canal boat in the 1830s

[Saturday] June the 9. Pleasant day, the heat [is] oppressive [and we] make very slow progress. Growing weary of delay. Had a delightful walk last evening on the tow path. Got off at Montezuma and walked a mile. Anticipate taking another this evening. Wish Mr. Williams was here to go [line issuing from bottom of page]. It [is] but little consequence to me where we stop or who I see. All I ask is to go as fast as possible. I don’t feel very well today. They tell me I look sick and I am half inclined to think so, I feel quite depressed in spirits. We read by the sadness of the countenance, the heart is made better. But I doubt very much whether the heart is made better traveling on the [Erie] Canal. All sorts of wickedness is practiced on the canal. I tell them it’s full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

June the 10, Sunday afternoon. Arrived at Utica at 12 o’clock. Left the boat and am now sitting on a low ottoman in one of the principal hotel[s] writing. The heat is very oppressive but we are quite cheerful considering. I am in company with Capt. Hoadley and Lady and several other of the passengers. [We] start this evening in the cars for Albany. I hope I shall not go that Hotel I told you about. I don’t like traveling on the [Erie] Canal. I passed the place last evening on the canal where Barber was murdered by Wilbur.² A gentleman on board pointed out the very spot where the murder was committed — the place is Chittenango. The place where he was decoyed was a gloomy woods. I was informed of the particulars.

[Monday] June the 11. Started last evening at half past 9 from Utica in the cars. The thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, the rain descended, but we heeded it not. In company with 6 others, we resumed our journey. The pensive moon soon dissipated the clouds and the night passed off pleasantly. [We] arrived at Albany between the hours of 5 and 6, took breakfast, repaired on board of the steamboat Albany at 7. I shall part with my friends at New York [City] — Capt. Hoadley and Lady. I feel very much fatigued today.

[Tuesday] June the 12. New York [City]. [We] arrived last evening here [and] took a coach in company with my friends and headed to Holt’s Hotel.³ My friends went on to Brooklyn except a young lady who had traveled with me from Buffalo — a Miss Kendall — bound to Granby [Connecticut]. She stopt with me, a very diffident young lady to travel alone, but a good girl. We arrived at 5 in the afternoon at New York. I am now sitting in a high apartment of Holt’s Hotel most confused by the noise [while] endeavoring to write a word to you. We feel like strangers in a strange land. My friend (Miss Kendall), felt quite cast down at the thought of living alone in so great a city. I threw myself upon the sofa and, as miserable as I felt, endeavored to rally her spirits. She smiled to see me as undaunted in the midst of strangers. We retired to our lodging room at an early hour, locked our door, and threw ourselves upon the bed. I told her we was now thrown upon our own boat and oars, and we must make the best of it. For my part, I did not care, and we must make the best to it.

We had lain about an hour when I heard someone attempt to open the door. My friend was quite startled. I sprung from the bed when a voice broke upon my ears. I unlocked the door when a person enquired if two young ladies slept there. Yes, said I. Well, said the same voice — which was a servant woman, there is a gentleman wishes to speak to you. I opened the door and a gentleman stepped up and spoke. It was an elderly man who had come down in the boat from Albany whom I had spoken to on board. He knew we were alone and come to proffer his assistance. He informed us a boat started [bottom of page missing].

…and repaired on board of the steamboat to New Haven. Arrived there at N. Haven about one., took the steamboat Thorn, Capt. March, and arrived at New London at half past 6. Parted with my friend at N. Haven. I repaired to Capt. Lawrence’s store and the first one that met me on the steps was brother Allen. He has grown very much. He is clerk to that store. I left my things there and came down home. Father was leaning over the fence as I went up and knew me. I entered the house; all was order and silence. Mother was out up town, but returned in an hour. I sat in my accustomed place, divested of my traveling dress. When she returned, in conversation with a neighboring Lady, she passed the window and looked up [at me]. I thought she knew me when she came in. I arose, extended my hand, [and] I said,”How are you mother?”  She looked me full in the face but did not know me.

“Who is it? said she. I stepped back to my seat and laughed. “Why it’s Mary” said I. “Don’t you know me?”

“It is not,” said she. I thought all the time she was joking or I should’ve carried it farther, but my laugh betrayed me. All are exclaiming how poor I am.

I presume you have seen _. Ann’s marriage in the Norwich paper by this time. She was married of a Sunday and I arrived Tuesday. She was gone to Canter to the second day wedding when I arrived, but returned the next day. The next morning after I arrived, Miss Ann Smith came from Middletown [and] will stay till after the 4th of July. [Bottom of letter missing]

We have had plenty of company since I returned. F. Chapman, Mr. Adams, Uncle Tom Birch and wife have been here from Hudson, and too many to mention. Glad to see them all. Everybody is married in one year. Capt. Hoadley says he guesses I gave all my beaus walking tickets. Hannah, less you and me wait as long as [obliterated by wax stain] has better rights, I want to see you all. Give my love to Mr. Mills & Mr. & Mrs. Hurd.


¹ Among the fellow passengers that Mary Pendleton befriended while traveling on the Erie Canal in June 1838, were Rev. John Hall (1788-1869) of the Ashtabula (Ohio) Episcopal Church and his wife, Prudee. She was the daughter of Major Eleazer Tracy and had previously been married to a Norwich grocer named Joseph Chester. When he died in 1832, she remarried Rev. Hall. Rev. Hall’s first wife was Sarah Badger, the daughter of Rev. Joseph Badger, an early-day Presbyterian minister in Ohio.

² In her letter, Mary Pendleton briefly alludes to the August 1837 murder 53 year-old Robert Barber on the Erie Canal. A fellow passenger named Lewis Wilbur, a former slavedriver from Kentucky, later confessed to having murdered Barber with the intent to rob him but fled from the crime scene when he imagined he would be discovered leaving $102 in Barber’s pocket. It seems that Barber and Wilbur had gotten off of the canal boat to walk the tow path as they approached Syracuse where Barber was soon to be married. After Barber’s body was found in a secluded area of woods near the canal the following spring, Wilbur was immediately suspected and tracked down living in Ohio under an alias name. He was extradited to New York, placed on trial, found guilty, and executed by hanging on 3 May 1839.

³ Stephen Holt, the proprietor of Holt’s Hotel (or Holt’s Folly, as it later became known) commenced the construction of the hotel at the corner of Fulton and Water Streets in New York City in 1831 and opened for business in 1832. The hotel was constructed on eight small lots for a cost estimated to be $300,000 — a tidy sum in those days. It did well for a time but eventually failed, changed owners and names (the “United States Hotel” being one), and eventually was torn down. The following description of Holt’s Hotel in New York City appeared in the 4 December 1833 issue of the American Advocate when the hotel was relatively new:

Holt’s Hotel. The hotels are no bad indices of the state of New York trade, and they are crowded in the business seasons even to overflowing. Many of these hotels are conducted on a magnificent scale, — but as Holt’s has made the most noise in the newspapers, I sought it with my companions. The Hotel is a prodigious structure, presenting to the eye a form on its basis nearly square. From the summit of the dome the whole city is visible, with its numerous streets, its many and distant steeples — its rich warehouses, and busy wharves. Here or near here, far as it is toward the sky, a bar is kept, the keeper of which tells me he does a good business. A York shilling opens the door to the dome, and furnishes you with a spy glass, — and there you may tarry as long as you please, and if you are disposed, blazon your name for immortality as thousands do in their lofty ambition, that hope to reach the stars in this way, if they can in no other.  — Brook’s Letters.

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