1838: Obadiah Broon Dennis to Job Sherman Dennis

This letter was written by Obadiah Broon Dennis (1806-1840) to his brother, Job S. Dennis (1800-18xx). They were the sons of Moses Dennis (b. 1774) and Abigail Sherman (b. 1775) of Portsmouth, Newport, Rhode Island. This branch of the Dennis family moved at an early date to the Quaker community of Farmington, Ontario, New York.

This letter was postmarked in Bridgeport, Indiana — a village a few miles west of Indianapolis. Note that the early postmark abbreviation for Indiana was IA rather than IN. Iowa wasn’t even declared a U.S. Territory until July 1838. The author’s spelling of ‘Indianapolis’ near the close of the letter is interesting — obviously the Dennis family referred to American Indians as “Injuns”; hence the spelling as it was pronounced.

Nathan Power, ca. 1860

Nathan Power, a former resident of Farmington, is also mentioned in this letter. His father, Arthur Power, is credited with being the first settler in Farmington (initially called Quakertown), Oakland, Michigan. As Quakers, the Power family abhorred slavery and Nathan is rumored to have been a conductor on the underground railroad.

The author of the letter never states the origin of his debt but it clear he owes substantial sums to not only Job Dennis, but several other friends and relatives from the Farmington, New York area. He also does not mention what line of business he is engaged in but it was obviously not associated with anything that would cause him to violate his religious principles. Getting out of debt at that time must have been particularly difficult given the state of the American economy in the throes of a deep recession. A lot of people were out of work at the time; many had lost their speculative investments in land. Perhaps this is what happened to O.B. Dennis.

This letter also demonstrates why it eventually became necessary to establish a uniform currency in the United States. Banks were notorious for not accepting each others currency and/or paying at less than par. Hard specie was difficult to come by; bartering became the norm in the western states and territories.

Stampless Envelope

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Bridgeport, Indiana
March 24th 1838

Dear Brother

I once more, after a lapse of some six months, take my pen in hand to address thee and others of the same family hoping these few lines will find thee and the rest of the same name enjoying good health and other blessings of life.

But stop. Thou may say call me not by the name of brother until thou has made satisfaction to those that thou hast injured. In answer to this, I can say with truth and a clear conscience that I have done everything in my power to raise funds to answer the claims that are against me (I mean in a religious sense and agreeable to truth). There is fifty dollars in reserve for thee and others that can be had as soon as they (meaning O.B.) and they can get such money as will pass there with thee and neighbors.

I wish thee to wright to Nathan Power of Farmington, Oakland Co. Michigan and state in thy letter what money will answer and name the perticular Banks that are at par, if there are any, and if the Ontario Bank will receive a check from either of the Detroit banks.

Eastern money was worth twenty per cent when I left – that was the first of this month – and I did not feel it my duty to pay ten dollars on fifty as it would be but a short time before it could be had with out.

I can acknowledge my faults and that is all that I can do towards making satisfaction to the injuries. If thou gets the name from Power, I should like for thee to take thy twenty interest and trouble then G. Harenden then Clap’s that is for the shoe maker Smith Due bill firm I was shaved and thee must buy the note not pay over four Dollars and then buy Thairs account. Give him three fourths of his account. I have forgotten the sum. It won’t do for thee to act as agent for me or let them know that thou has heard from me for if thee does, they will make thee trouble. I mean to do what is right with every man but Smith and Thair shaved me and I intend to pay only their just due. What is due to others shall be sent as soon as I can raise it without entering into employment that is against my conscience.

Thou can say to those at Palmyra [New York] that thee has a wish to save thy brother credit by buying their demands against – that is, after the money comes to thee. Thee must state in thy letter to Power in what way he must send it.

Please to answer this at Inginapolis in Ingianna St. after thee gets the money.

— O.B. Dennis

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