1842: John Browne Sherrerd to Miss Sarah Dutton Sherrerd

This letter was written by John Browne Sherrerd (1820-1852) to his sister, Sarah Dutton Sherrerd (1823-1896). Their parents were John Maxwell Sherrerd (1794-1871) and Sarah Browne (17xx-1844). John Maxwell Sherrerd studied law with his uncle George Clifford Maxwell, became a lawyer, and resided in Belvidere, Warren County, New Jersey.

Dr. Phillip Fine Brakeley, upon his graduation from Medical School

John Browne Sherrerd married Lucinda Mary Walter; born circa 1825. In 1850, John and Lucinda and their daughter Hannah were living with John’s father, John M. Sherrerd, in Belvidere Township, Warren County, New Jersey, where John B. was enumerated as a physician. Sarah Dutton Sherrerd married Dr. Phillip Fine Brakeley (1818-1889) sometime prior to 1850.

John B. Sherrerd graduated from Princeton in 1839 and the Harvard Law School in 1841. In this letter, written in 1842, it appears that Sherrerd has traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to read law in the office of some practicing lawyer. We find, however, that the law profession of his father and older brother Samuel did not suit his tastes and he entered the medical department at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1845. By 1850, he was practicing medicine in his hometown.

This letter partially chronicles the journey of 21 year-old John Browne Sherrerd and his 23 year-old brother, Samuel Sherrerd (1819-1884) as they make they way from New Jersey to Charleston, South Carolina. The letter begins with their departure from Baltimore, Maryland on Friday morning, March 4, 1842, and describes their visit to Washington D.C. from that day until Monday, March 7 when they boarded a steamer for passage down the Potomac.

In Washington, they found their cousin, John Patterson Bryan Maxwell (1804-1845) — a New Jersey Whig in the U.S. House of Representatives — to be an accommodating host. He took them on a tour of the Capitol Building in the afternoon of Friday, March 4; the U. S. Patent Office and the White House on Saturday, March 5; and back to the U.S. Capitol for religious services on Sunday, March 6. When at the White House, they tried to call on President John Tyler but he was unavailable, we learn, because of a meeting with his cabinet on that day (March 5, 1842).

When the Sherrerd brothers arrived in Washington D. C. in March 1842, President Tyler faced a financial crisis of dynamic proportions. It had become obvious to the chief executive that higher tariffs were needed and the federal government needed to change its policy regarding the distribution of revenue from the sale of public lands to the individual states. Perhaps this was the reason for his meeting with the cabinet, most of whom were relatively new to their posts as their predecessors had resigned in protest of Tyler’s veto of the Bank Bill.

While in the White House, the East Room caught the notice of young Sherrerd. During the 1830’s it had been furnished extravagantly and had recently received National attention as the location of President William Henry Harrison’s funeral ceremony.

The remainder of the letter describes the journey from Washington D.C. to Charleston, South Carolina, part of the time in company with James Gordon Bennett (1795-1872), the editor and publisher of the New York Herald who was traveling to Richmond with his wife Henrietta. Sherrerd’s observations of Charleston’s streets, people, and landscapes are particularly interesting.

Stampless Cover

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Addressed to Miss S. D. Sherrerd, Belvidere, Warren Co., New jersey

Washington D. C.
5th March 1842

My Dearest Sister,

I have just been dining with cousin John and as you will perceive by the edge &c of this sheet, am making use of his writing tools in his room.  I commence my epistle here not because it’s time I should write again, but for the sake of having something whereby to pass my time — the company of 8 or 10 congressmen not being so very particularly agreeable to me. I could contrive another excuse wherewith to withdraw myself from their company. Cousin John seems to be very glad to see us and is exceedingly attentive. Sam is off somewhere with some ladies for the sake of whom he left the Hon. & myself some time before the House adjourned.

U.S. Capitol as it appeared in 1846

To begin our travels where I left off in my last [letter], for I suppose before seeing this you have one from me from Baltimore, Md., we left Baltimore the morning after I wrote only yesterday (Charleston, South Carolina, Wed., 9th March 1842) and reached Washington [D.C.] about 11 that day. Went to the Capitol, found Cousin John [P. B. Maxwell] who then showed us thro’ that building & pointed out the big bugs of the Nation. Next day he went with us to the Patent Office &c., called on the Captain, but he happened to be engaged with his cabinet and could not see us. However, we saw the renowned White House & lately so famous East Room. Sunday we went to church in the House of Representatives. [We] were pretty well pleased with Washington & much with the Capitol & public buildings.

Monday morning we left Washington & have been on the go ever since. Steamboat 50 miles down the Potomac, stages to Fredericksburg, Railroad to Wilmington, N.C. through Richmond, Petersburg, & unbounded Wilderness. Boat again about 2 o’clock yesterday & after a pretty rough seas ride reached here at 7 this morning & feel somewhat fatigued haviing been constantly on the go since leaving Washington.

James Gordon Bennett, Sr.

The incidents on our ride were not very remarkable. As far as Richmond, Va., had [James Gordon] Bennett of the New York Herald & Lady with us, & last night had considerable sport with some of our unfortunate fellow travelers whose stomachs were more easily affected than our own.

The country as we expected was new & uncultivated, being covered with pitch pine forests through North Carolina & most of Virginia. The peach trees were in blossom in Virginia & all along south. We had a fine view of Charleston Harbour this morning. We entered just as the sun was rising & it remained clear until we landed.

We are at a Hotel recommended by Joe Hibblen which we like very much. After breakfast, called on Dr. Johnson at his store & found him quite an agreeable, elderly gentleman. Enquired after all the Brown family &c. While there, a nigro came in wanting to sell an alligator. The Dr. walked down to the wharf with us to see the serpent, walked back, & we left him. We were invited to dine with him at 3 & if the mail don’t close before evening, you shall hear more of him & family.

Charleston, South Carolina in the 1850s

We have just been driven in by rain from seeing the city. Some parts of it look very well, but most of the streets are narrow & houses have an oldish appearance partly owing to bad colored brick, but mostly I reckon to age & abuse. The palmetto trees Aunty tells about do look strangely entering the harbour. I looked about for Charleston’s noted street cleaners — turkey buzzards. We came to the conclusion that their fame is like that of the Pho____ — all fabulous.

The Nigros here beat the very mischief. They are thicker than flies with us in summer. The streets literally swarm with them — of all sizes, sexes, & hews “from snowy white to sooty” — a lazier, thriftier, sassier, haughtier, or more independent looking set of beings you ever saw nor any one else. Every vehicle from a sulky up to a carriage has 2 or 3 hanging about it somewhere. Wenches carry great loads on their heads like the Hollanders which looks very strange to one used to seeing the head employed in carrying more valuable commodities & the hands used as nature intended they should be. But the nigros have others to do the thinking for them so I suppose it is all right.

As to my health, I have been about the same during my journey as when I left home. Cough a little occasionally & expectorate some little, Feel a trifle more this morning if anything from slight cold taken on board the boat. Its hardly worth mentioning, but my propensity to blab everything brought it out. I have felt all alone as if I would rather be at home. [But] since it is thought best that it should be as it is, I am resigned. However, if I get no worse, I shall not stay many weeks, I assure you.

I have just enquired & find the Northern mail closes at 3 & therefore you must wait a few days when I am able to write, to know more about the Johnson family. I would like to hear from you soon. How do you get along without us? I was a given a kind of encumbrance that you cannot half _____ considerably. Tell Judge I will fulfill my promise to him before long. I promised to write to Aunt Hannah and partly to Mack & hope to fulfill all particulars if I remain here any time, for I suppose I should be somewhat slack of employment while I am pouring over his law books. Hope Aunt don’t let her New York project weigh her down. Give her my best love & tell her its I that’s going to be at the moving. Of course you will tell me about everything, dogs included. So with kindest love to Mother, Father, cousin Anna, Pop & all the rest, I close. Your truly affectionate brother, — J. B. S.


Captain John Tyler, Citizen Soldier

Like his father, John Tyler strongly supported America’s role in the war of 1812. As a young legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates, Tyler voted for every anti-British measure proposed during the 1812 session. In the summer of 1813, word reached Tyler that a British raiding party had plundered Hampton, Virginia, and appeared ready to march up the James River to Richmond. He immediately joined the Charles City Rifles, a local militia company formed to defend Richmond. A large part of the force consisted of farmers who were new to military discipline. Tyler, commissioned as a captain, organized the men through a simple drill system. The company was attached to the Fifty-second Regiment of the Virginia Militia and ordered to Williamsburg to resist the advancing British. Tyler’s company was later attached to the Second Elite Corps of Virginia under the command of General Moses Green. When the British withdrew from Hampton, Tyler and his men returned home triumphant. John Tyler became the 10th president of the United States in 1841.

President John Tyler, sometimes called “The Captain”

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