1839: Dr. David Ramsey Allison to Robert T. Allison

What the Dr. David R. Allison Family might have looked like about 1850.

This letter was written by Dr. David R. Allison (1801-1852), son of Robert Allison (1768-1833) and his first wife Ann Ramsey (1778-1804). A native of Indiana, Pennsylvania, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania medical school in 1831. He married Matilda Lydia Roney (1818-1853) in 1836.

We learn from this letter that Dr. Allison resided for a time in Wabash County, Illinois, before returning to Indiana County, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Allison wrote the letter to his brother, Robert Tate Allison (1798-1876). In his letter, Dr. Allison mentions the death of their half-brother, Andrew B. Allison (1806-1839), who was a son of their father’s second wife. Andrew, it seems, died of Typhoid fever in Wabash County, Illinois and was buried in the Mount Carmel Burying Ground.

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Addressed to Mr. Robert T. Allison, Mahoning Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania

Wabash County, Illinois
January 25th 1839

Brother Robert,

Either John or you have received my letter written a few days ago bearing the melancholy news of the death of our Brother Andrew. It might seem that one letter  for the present would be enough. Perhaps I have told you all about his sickness & death that is of any interest, but still I feel like writing. Under my present depressed feelings I may say some things which I may hereafter retract, but it will do no harm to tell you what I am thinking about, make some inquiry, & get your views on the subject.

In your last letter you kindly advised me to return to Pennsylvania. When I ready it, I passed it over without any serious thoughts about the matter. Although I often looked back to Pennsylvania with a kind of longing desire, I had fully made up my mind never to return to live there. I, however, at present feel a little different. I feel like saying as I hinted in my last letter if I can buy a small piece of land such as I shall partly describe hereafter, I will return & spend the balance of my days in peace & quietness among my friends & old neighbors. It is true I believe I can make a good living here with half the labor — or in other words, I can get my bread much more easily here than there, but there are other considerations. Matilda has had comparatively poor health ever since she came to this country. She has often tried to persuade me to go back. My own health is quite good at present — perhaps better than it has been for seven years & I think it is so materially changed for the better I may safely return to a high, hilly country.

I must still say there are many inducements for me to stay here. I have eighty acres of good land, a comfortable & very convenient brick house (tho’ not finished) 16 by 34 — a story and a half. I have about one thousand dollars worth of property and about the same in my books. But whether I can sell my property for what it is worth & whether I can collect my money or not is another question. Money is truly scarce & the spirit of buying land is at a low ebb. And beside all this, you know I am considerably in debt. I owe Samuel Royce in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. I think it was $380 at first. It has now been on interest 7 or 8 years. I have been paying a little on it occasionally, perhaps not more than the interest & owe perhaps 200 in this place. Now you will see that much depends on my success in selling & collecting.

Now with regard to my settling in Pennsylvania, I would say I prefer living in the country & in a good civil, respectable neighborhood, & you know I should like to own a few acres of land — 50 would be enough, 5 or 10 might do, but I should rather have 80 or 100. Even if the quality is not so good, I must have a good spring of water. Nothing less will do. I want good or tolerably good timber. I want a dry building spot, well sheltered from the North & West wind by hills & woods & you know there are many other conveniences such as mills &c. which we would like to have not far off. Now, if I could find some such place close by where John & you live, I would be pretty well suited. I would try to fix up a small comfortable house, pay all my debts, & thus situated, it would not require much practice to support me & my small family comfortably.

Well this is all a very pretty little picture but will it ever be realized? Whatever I do, I suppose I had better do soon. If I knew that I could be suited, I would probably leave this in March or April. If I don’t go then, I think I won’t go before September. Another word about buying land. Perhaps you can find some old improved place with an orchard, good water & timber. Perhaps an account of being rough broken & hilly & out of order, it might be bought cheap.

Well write to me soon & tell me all you know about these matters & all you think & when I hear from you, I will try to make up my mind. I may ask some other questions might not I find a place somewhere in the old neighborhood of Cherry-run or the lower meeting house or in Armstrong County near Redbank, or near Uncle Brown’s &c. &c. or where? Perhaps I ought to have said I want a piece of land that will afford a comfortable building spot, a good spring, an orchard, or a place for one, 3 or 4 acres of meadow land & a good garden spot & plenty of firewood convenient — all of these or as many of these conveniences as can be got together. Thus you see I am not for farming but only for living in the country & enjoying as many of the conveniences of a farmer as possible & at the same time practice medicine among clever people who will be able to pay me for my services.

I may as well quit writing for the present. I might go on & tell you of a great many fine things I want but you know we cannot get all we want in this world. Now when I have read what I have written, it seems like giving a certainty for an uncertainty. Here I have as much practice as I can attend to, am frequently called to ride 20 & sometimes 30 miles & if I were to stay here, I could collect nearly all I can & should have my health & meet with no misfortune. I would probably in three or four years be out of debt & worth several thousand dollars, but after all on the other side, I must say Matilda’s health & the society of my friends is much more desirable than money.

Lest the letter alluded to in the commencement of this one should not come to hand, I would briefly state that Andrew was attacked with what is called winter or more properly inflammatory Typhoid disease. He was about 9 days sick & about 6 of that in bed. We did all we could for him but to no purpose. A week ago yesterday morning he died. We had him buried in the Mt. Carmel burying ground on Friday, but as you have no doubt received my first letter, I shall add no more on this melancholy subject. Write soon. We are all well. Remember us to your family & the friends generally & believe me ever yours affectionately, — D. R. Allison


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