1839: Mary Thompson Pendleton to Eliza Cross (Pendleton) Chapman

"they experienced a dreadful gale..."

This long and detailed letter was written by 32 year-old spinster Miss Mary Thompson Pendleton (1807-1843) to her younger sisters, Mrs. Elizabeth Cross (Pendleton) Chapman (1816-1891) — wife of William P. Chapman (1806-1893) — and Hannah Stanton Pendleton (1818-1852), who was living with her sister’s family in Sandusky, Ohio in 1839. It does not appear that the author of this letter ever married before her death four years later though she hints there is a mariner at sea to whom her heart belongs.

The letter briefly describes the safe arrival of the ship “Boston” into the harbor at New London after barely escaping a storm that wrecked her badly. The ship was owned by Lawrence & Company but it was commanded by the author’s brother, Capt. Christopher C. Pendleton (1805-1870). Another brother, Gilbert Pendleton (1812-1852) sailed on the Boston as well; Mary would later mention that Gilbert married Miss Elizabeth Frances Champlin on 3 March 1839. The Boston was most likely a whaling ship and put into Newport, Rhode Island, to unload her cargo of whale oil before sailing back to New London. It was while in New London that the Pendleton brothers first heard of the death of their father, Capt. Christopher Seger Pendleton, who died on 18 September 1838.

Most of the letter is devoted to graphically describing the treatment of an injury to their mother, Mrs. Bridget (Thompson) Pendleton (1777-1860), who somehow broke one of her legs just above the ankle. Surprisingly, the cause of the injury was never stated. The author tells of the difficulty in setting the broken bones but of their ultimate success through the skill of Dr. Charles Sweet (see bio in footnotes).

[Editor’s Note: The size of the sheet upon which this letter was written is so large that I cannot get it entirely on my scanner. Thus, the bottom inch or so of each page is missing.]

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New London, [Connecticut]
March the 6 [1839]

No doubt you will be surprised at my answering your kind letter so soon, but my reason you will soon see is obvious. My letter will consist of pleasure and pain. Doubtless you have heard of the arrival of the Ship Boston. She came in the 5 of Feb all well and full. They experienced a dreadful gale a few days before they got in, and had it continued one hour longer they would all been lost. They came in wrect. The Capt [Charles C. Pendleton] looks very poor in flesh, and your brother G[ilbert] likewise. They have had a hard voyage indeed. G[ilbert] had been very sick on their passage home. The death of their Father was a heavy blow to them. For several days they ate nothing. They heard of his death in Newport where they stopt. Capt. [Charles] Pendleton was treated with the utmost politeness while at Newport by the First Lieutenant Commander of the Cutter. They went out and accompanied them in to Newport, took your brother on board to dine, and went about the city, and if he could of ate gold, it would [of] been at his command. The Newport Cutter has since been in to New London and the Lieutenant came home with brother to tea. He looked splendid. He is a whole soul man, and if he was not married, I should set my Victoria café for him. Mrs. [Amy] Billin[g]s, Judge [Coddington] Billings’ Lady, was here the same afternoon.

Your brothers enquire after you all. I expect they will go to sea in the course of 3 months. I hope they will not go at all. It’s hard times you know for everyone.

I must now come to another part of my story. I observed that the Boston arrived on the 5 of Feb. Well, on the 9 of the same, in a [obliterated text…] after they came, we were all invited to spend the evening at Capt. Lawrence’s. Everyone went but Mother and Capt. Pendleton and his Lady. I went to meeting that evening, and Ann and her husband [Capt. Rogers] kept house. I staid untill 10 O’clock, and then returned. “Have they returned?” said I as I came in. “No,” said my sister. “Well,” said I, “[I] expect they are having a good time to Capt. L’s for it’s a pleasant place to visit.” I set down and waited about 15 minutes when the door was thrown open and Sister Harriet and anther Lady entered. I look[ed] and gave the compliments of the evening when the Lady spoke and said, “Your Mother is hurt, but don’t be alarmed.” I looked towards the door and three men were bringing her in. I placed a chair and she was put in it. “What is the matter,” we enquired. “O,” said she, “I expect I have broke my bones.” She was in awful distress indeed. I examined it. It was shockingly swelled, but I knew in a moment it was broken badly, and she was faint unto death almost.

O Sister, had you been here and looked upon the faces of your Mother, brothers and sisters, and assisted in the sad scene, your hearts would died within you, but I am glad you was spared. “Send for the Doc,” said the family, and 2 Doc[tors] came. They saw it was badly broken. It was so sudden to us that we did not hardly think of Doc Sweet at the time. She said she could not live through the night in such awful pain and wanted the first help at hand. She was laid upon the bed in the same bed room your father breathed his last. I prepared the bandages and all that was needed, and seated myself upon the side of the bed to assist the Doc that set it. With my own hands, I help[ed] wind the bandages that bound her broken limb [and] flinched not when the Doc pretended to set it. O, it was a shocking operation, I tell you. “O,” said I to the Doc, “do set it right” for I remember my own suffering by mismanagement. The Doc that set it is the best surgeon in town. It was broken a little above the ancle – two bones, the large bone and a small one.

The next morning the Doc came and brought a box to put the limb in. It was placed in it, and we hope it was right. This was Sunday morning. On Monday the Doc came again and when he went away, I went with him to the door to make enquires. I asked if he thought it was right. “Yes,” said he, “I’ll risk that. You wait upon your Mother and I will see to the bone.” I had my misgivings about it, but Mother thought it was right and did not wish to send for [Doctor Charles] Sweet.

As soon as the news of the accident reached up town, they was in an uproar if I may be aloud the expresion. “Send for Sweet!” was the cry from everyone. It seemed to excite universal commiseration and wonder from all. I would rather pay the expence if it’s a thousand dollars said one. It was not the expence we thought of, but Mother thought it right. “Go,” said my brother to a man and bring Sweet. Off he went and Mother and me did not know that the Doc was coming untill an hour before he came. I was very glad, but Mother dreaded another operation. The Doc came of Monday eve about 9. I started the affair, “now,” said I, “if it’s right, you will know, and if it’s wrong, it must be righted and the case shall be transferred into your hands, for I want her to get up as soon as possible for the whole care of Mother devolves upon me.” He warmed himself and approached the bed. I laid aside the clothes while poor Mother trembled with agitation. It was a painful time for her. He unbandaged it with care and examined the limb. I held the light and watched him closely. “Doc,” said I, “Is it right?” “O,” said he archly, “You must not talk now.” Said he, “Put your finger upon this bone.” I kneeld down that I might have a fairer chance, and run my finger along the broken bone. He wanted I should be convinced. “Don’t you feel a ridge,” said he, “on the bone.” “I do,” said I. He then carefully set the bone in it proper place. “Now,” said he, “run your finger along again.” I did and it was smoothe. It was Capd a half an inch by the Doc that first set it. Doc Sweet then examined the other side of the limb to look at the other bone, and when he set the small bone, Mother screamed. “O,” said she,”that bone was never touched by our Doc. So my sisters, you see that one bone was Capd an half an inch and the other bone was not set at all. So you see how much our Doc knows about bones. I forbeare to mention the name of the Doc that pretended to set it. He is a dear friend of our family and I am sorry he does not understand the art. Doc Sweet cares once a week to dress it.

When Doc Sweet set it over and bandaged it, we came out of the room and set down by the fire, and if ever I felt a want of gratitude, it was then. “O,” said I and seated myself by his side and took his hand in mine, “I do feel to praise God and thank you for such mercies.” He seems, and indeed is, a ministering angel. “O,” said I, “I hope your posterity will remain on earth, untill the end of time. His knowledge in the line of bones is to[o] high to attain unto. Doc Sweet is our near relation. He told us of it one evening. He is a cousin of Mothers. “Well,” said I after he told us of it, “you always seemed very near to me, but you will seem more so now since I find you are my cousin.” He is one of the best men I ever knew.

You will probably ask how I felt while passing through these sad scenes for Mother has suffered almost unto death with spasms and pain. She has been extremely low, and required the utmost care. And the responsibility fell upon me – and a great one it was, I assure you. Doc Sweet gives me orders how to manage for none knows how to wait upon her but me, for I dare not trust none to touch it but myself and Sweet. And I watch beside her every night, bend over her sick bed and administer to her wants constantly, for I have not had a god night’s rest since the 9 of Feb. My health has not been good this winter, and at the time of the accident, our family was extremely large for it must happen in 4 days aft[er] the ship got in when we needed Mother’s help. And Ann’s health is not so good as it used to be. She has a weeping sinew upon her hand and makes it lame, and likewise, a lame jaw. All these things passed in review before me at once when Mother was brought into the house that eve. Yes, one eye rested upon a distressed Mother wrect with shocking pain and I do not know but it might terminate her existence; the other upon the grave of a departed Father, while before me stood my family overwhelmed with grief with faces of deathly whiteness for they were overcome very much at the scene.

I can say for one while passing through the scenes, I stood calm and answered [illegible] .. not so much as the trembling of … or the quick beating of a heart, or confusion of mind or tormenting fear, or distrusting the goodness of God, disturbed by the fragile form. No, no. Blessed be God, [that] He gave me strength according to my day, and dayly my Saviour presents himself to view, and I feel to bless God in the midst of affliction. I saw the many sacrifices I must make, but the spirit said bind the sacrifices with cords, even unto the horns of the alter, so I am enabled to bow to the dispensation and kiss the rod that afflicts. I find that great thing don’t affect me so much as little things.

There has been hundreds of people here to see mother – the high and low, noble and ignoble – has been here. I laugh and say, had she been Queen Victoria, there could not [have] been as much attention and respect paid. Mother is doing quite well and we hope she will be about in a few weeks. Doc Sweet comes tomorrow.

Our family have made another purchase — Capt. [Charles C.] Pendleton and Capt. [Richard J.] Roger have bought together. The house is called the Christopher mantion. Hannah, you remember that romantic house with cedar trees around it, entwined with woodbines next to Judge Perkins, owned by Mr. Jones that used to make vinegar. He sold his property and removed to the West, and your brothers bought it at private bargain. Many were disapointed on the day of the sail when they found it was sold. Very many wanted it. It’s very valuable property. It’s called by strangers and citizens the pleasantest real [estate] in town, I can’t write the particulars about it. We shall move to it in the course of 2 or 3 weeks, just as soon as it will do to move Mother. We shall have to make a litter to move her. Doc S. will tell us how. The house goes by that name because Mrs. Christopher used to own it, Mother to Mrs. Jones. We have let this house. Girls, you must come home and we will prominad[e] amongst the woodbines when they rear their green head. Sister, I shall expect you home when navigation will permit.

I have often thought of Mayor Camp since Mother broke her limb. I spoke to Doc Sweet about him. I should like to see the Mayor very much, for I consider him a man of honor. I thank the Mayor for that fine compliment he paid me. But you know, Hannah, I am very glad for the good will and esteem of my friend, but never raised – compliments are light things. I could write a string of them that’s often paid me as long as from here to yonder — and some right to my face – but o dear, I think such things nim and doll, don’t you Hannah? Some people think that Ann is much the oldest but I feel old this evening and broke and tired and sick. But God will give me strength, I believe, and wisdom that’s profitable to direct. O bless God’s religion is good.

Sister, you spoke of the Cob’s and the Eaton’s. They are one and the same – all near relations of Mothers. I know there were grand people. Hannah, you gave me a description of that gentleman in your letter. I should imagine he was your pramour already, and the first I shall here you will be married. But God grant you may not be deceived in him. You have been acquainted with him but a short time. I warn you to beware. I remember you once gave me a description of a certain person of your city – one you have known for 3 years – but alas, what did he prove to be? Nought but a trifler of the female heart in the liest sense of the word, no mind, and – if the truth was known – of still legs ability. But I do not reflect, my dear sister. I only caution you to beware. That’s my opinion of that trifler and ever will remain so untill he becomes changed by divine grace.

I was in conversation the other evening with Doc Sweet. He understands human nature. He was telling some circumstance and speaking of the deception of human nature, and how light people made of those things that affect the heart. We entered deeply upon the subject. Beware such of those smoothe tounge fellows. I would much rather, said he, trust one that is rough in the exterior for beshure he has an honest heart, and scorns to deceive. Amen, thought I, believe it.

Now for a little more news, but I don’t believe you can read this awful writing. Your Brother Gilbert was married last Sunday evening to Miss E[lizabeth Frances] Champlin. They have gone to Canterbury on a visit. He was dressed splendid. I did not go. I cannot leave Mother. Probably Allen will marry next. Hannah, make haste, and get married. I want they should all get married. It will leave more room for me. I suppose there’s one person far off to sea in in hopes I shall wait his return, but don’t never write to know the name for it will never take place. You never knew him. But hush, not a word. I don’t mean to be difficult, but I cannot fancy many, so I ask you to let it drop.

Send me paper if you get this. There has been a great – and still continues – reformation here in this city. I have seen fifty go forward to the Methodest alter at once. I hope it progress’s in your city. Pray sister, for the prosperity of Zion. Your brother, sister Chapman has brought you a box of whale bone very pretty. You must give Hannah the box I brought you.

Present my respects to Mr. Chapman, and Mr. Wlliams, and Mary. — Mary T. P.

  • The G.W. White Library at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut has Capt. Charles C. Pendleton’s Ship Log for the Boston kept during 1839-1840. It would be interesting to see what he logged about the storm that nearly took down the ship about the first of February 1839.
  • The doctor who “pretended” to set Mrs. Bridget Pendleton’s broken leg was intentionally not identified by the author. To further conceal his identity, she says that two doctors responded quickly to their house on the night her mother broke the limb. We do know, however, that the “Doc Sweet” who was called upon to properly set Mrs. Pendleton’s broken bones was none other than New London’s famous bone-setter, Dr. Charles Sweet. From a modern history of New London, edited by Benjamin T. Marshall, we learn that, “Dr. Charles Sweet was born December 3, 1810, and died in Lebanon, December 22, 1896. According to the “History of New London County,” published in 1882, “he commenced bone-setting at the early age of sixteen years and for nearly forty years maintained offices in Hartford and New London, Connecticut, and at Springfield, Massachusetts, each of which he visited one day of each month, successfully treating all kinds of bone dislocation, fractures, and diseases. The greater part of his time was devoted to these things, in which he manifested an intuitive perception truly surprising. In the intervals he carried on farming to some extent, more for a pastime than for pecuniary profit.” He married (first) Eliza W. Throop, daughter of Joseph and Polly (Clark) Throop, of Lebanon, and they became the parents of six children, among whom was Charles, Jr., father of Herbert Warren, mentioned below. Dr. Charles Sweet married (second) Sarah Elizabeth Williams, of Mystic, Connecticut, and by this marriage had three children. He married (third) Laura A. Anderson, who died on Thanksgiving Day, 1897.”
  • The guests to tea mentioned by Mary included the Judge’s wife, Mrs. Billings. This is probably Amy Ann Wilcox (b. 1775), who married Judge Coddington Wilcox in 1819. By 1839, they were residents of New London. Judge Billings died in 1845.

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