This letter was written in 1841 by Henry Woodhull Green (1802-1876) to his older brother, John Cleve Green (1800-1875). They were two sons of at least nine children born to Caleb Smith Green (1770-1850) and Elizabeth Vancleve (1772-1836) of Mercer County, New Jersey.
Henry Woodhull Green graduated from Princeton University when he was 16 and was admitted to the bar in 1825. He became active in city government, serving first as the Recorder for the city of Trenton in 1832, and then later as the Reporter of the Court of Chancery of the State of New Jersey from 1837 to 1844. It was while serving in this capacity that Henry penned the letter to his brother. Though he states in this letter that he was “well nigh resolved to eschew politics henceforth forever,” only a year later he was elected for one term to the New Jersey State House of Representatives. In 1844, he served as a delegate to the New Jersey State constitutional convention. In 1846, he was appointed Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court by Governor Stratton, serving two terms. President Abraham Lincoln offered him a seat on the Supreme Court in 1864 but he declined to poor health.
Unlike his brother, John Cleve Green did not attend college. Rather, he entered the import business and became a wealthy New York merchant selling opium and tea shipped from the orient. By the 1840’s, he had amassed a very large fortune and he subsequently bequeathed large sums to Princeton University and New York University. He had a town house in Washington Square in NYC and a large country house on Staten Island.
Reference is made to New Jersey Senator Samuel Lewis Southard in this letter. In 1841, while serving as President pro tempore of the U. S. Senate, Southard became acting Vice President for several weeks after the death in office of President William Henry Harrison.
Trenton [New Jersey]
18 June 1841
Mr. John C. Green
My dear Brother,
The walls of the house are up to the attic & would have been finished tomorrow if the weather had continued fair. By the contract, the roof was to have been complete by the 14 of July. It will not be done. I have determined on having a flat roof and covering it with tin. I hope the building will be enclosed by the 10th prox. and do not despair of getting into by the 14 of November. The delays & vexations in the progress of the work are annoying enough but I have been too busy for the last four weeks in other matters to suffer as much as I should otherwise have done. The iron castings for the frieze windows have arrived safely & they are, the architect assured me, “the thing.” The work so far as it has been done has been done to my entire satisfaction. The materials are of the best quality and the work, so far as I can judge, done in the best manner. I hope to have the “best house in town.”
Pray how does your house come on? Are you still building castles in the air? You have never even told me where you live, much less how you are pleased with your new abode & new mode of living. It must be gloriously independent, & that is a great deal in this world of dependence. But I fear it must be rather dull at times. Do tell me how you live & how you like this life you lead, and how long you mean to keep at it, and what you mean to do next. I have wondered a thousand times what Professor Bush sent you his book to read for? I suppose you have found out before now & I shall marvel if your pocket is nor somewhat lighter for the discovery.
What villainous scenes are enacting in Washington? The Whigs appear to be but little better than their opponents. I have well nigh resolved to eschew politics henceforth forever. And what a ridiculous exhibit Senator Southard made of himself, by setting up as Vice President. The man’s ambition is vastly greater than his capacity.
We are all well. Emily has grown almost noisy & ungovernable enough to be sent to school. And Charley is so wonderfully intelligent that his mama entertains strong hopes that he will talk in the course of time. His most remarkable feats are that he can eat bread without a tooth in his head, stretch out his hands if he wishes to come to you and hallow like a perfect fury on all possible occasions.
Our Mercer Circuit will probably remain in session all next week, after which I hope to have a few weeks of comparative leisure & shall probably occupy myself at home, superintending my building & wearing out my old clothes. Won’t you come & spend a few days with me? We can go to Lawrence and amuse ourselves without restraint.
Your affectionate brother, — Henry Woodhull Green
Henry mentions his two children in this letter. Emily Green (b. 1832) was a daughter from his first marriage to Emily Augusta Ewing, the daughter of Chief Justice Ewing. After her death in 1837, Henry married her sister, Susan Mary Ewing, and together they had four more children between 1840 and 1846. The first of these was named Charles Ewing Green whom Henry described as “wonderfully intelligent.”