1843: Ernestine (Strong) Alberti to Lydia (Strong) Clapp

An 1864 Map of Nassau Co., Florida, showing the precise location of Woodstock Mills and the village of Woodstock on the St. Mary's River.

This letter was transcribed directly from the internet where I found it offered for sale in October 2011. It was written by Ernestine (Strong) Alberti (1811-????) to her older sister Lydia (Strong) Clapp (1807-????).

At the time the letter was written in 1843, Ernestine and her husband Edwin R. Alberti (1798-1862) lived on a tract of land known as the “Cabbage Swamp” fronting the St. Mary’s River in a heavily pine-forested area called Woodstock in Nassau County, Florida — just across the state line from Georgia. Alberti was the owner of Woodstock Mills, a steam sawmill operation that he started around 1837. Alberti was also the owner of as many as 52 slaves in 1850, one of whom was named Ned Taylor and is quite possibly the same “Ned” who is mentioned as a former coachman of the Alberti’s in this letter. Ernestine also mentions taking “Maria” along with her as a “body guard” on her trip to Marianna, Georgia. This may have been their slave, Maria Lucy Mitchell, identified by Alberti in his 1850 property records, though she would have only been about age 14 at the time. Maria later became the wife of Thomas Armstrong, another of Alberti’s slaves.

Alberti died in 1861, leaving Ernestine as sole owner of Woodstock Mills, located on the St. Marys River approximately four miles downriver from Kings Ferry. The “little village” included the Alberti mansion, a post office, schoolhouse, church, retail store and a two-room jail.

Lydia and her husband, a prominent and successful attorney named John Clapp (1805-????), lived in Binghamton, New York. Their children were Cyrus Strong Clapp (1830-1900) and Rosalinda Clapp (1834-1852).

TRANSCRIPTION

[Addressed to Mrs. John Clapp, Binghamton, Broome Co., New York; Postmarked St. Mary’s, Georgia]

Woodstock [Nassau County, Florida]
October 29, 1843

I suppose, my dear sister, you have already heard through a line or two of a letter to Cyrus that yours of October 5th was duly received. It had been long expected & was very interesting & acceptable to me. I was, of course, sorry to hear so bad an account of [our sister] Eliza’s headaches & on noting your fears that her lungs were becoming affected. I was on the point of writing at once to propose that Mama & her would join [our brother] Cyrus & pass the winter with us. But on thinking more, I concluded it was most probable that she was not able to make the journey to N. York at this season. And moreover, that if it was thought advisable, they would come without thinking a special invitation at all necessary. At any rate, I should hope they would. I know that formerly the warm weather did not agree with her, but it may be different now. I hope to get better accounts when I hear again.

Poor Mr. [Edward] Andrews! I feel very sorry indeed for him. I think he must be suffering considerably from disease of body, which acts insensibly upon his mind, or he would not so sink under his affliction. I am sure his Christian principles & faith must be strong enough to keep him from despondency were it not so, tho his afflictions might seem for the present not joyous but grievous. I know it is a hard thing to say, or rather to feel “thy will O God be done” even when afflictive bereavements are only in the imagination, much more so must it be when one is actually suffering under a recent one, and poor human nature unless assisted by Divine power, I am sure would never be able so far to rise above the things of time & senses. I am sorry you have got to give up hearing Mr. Andrews’ good sermons. But do hope you will get a good minister in his place – one who will fill it in reality. I doubt if one can hardly be found who will equal him in point of talents. But if he is a truly pious & zealous man that ought to cover a multitude of deficiencies, tho it would, of course, be very desirable to have all good things combined.

I am glad to hear you remain so orthodox in the midst of Puseyism. I am at a loss to conjecture what is to be the conclusion of the matter. Things certainly wear a very turbulent, ugly aspect in our former times harmonious Church — the convention at N. York, for a sample. I have seen some extracts from Dr. Pusey’s sermon, but do not care to read it entire. I am much obliged for the “Protestant Churchman” you send me. I see our former pastor, Mr. [R. C.] Shimeall, is the editor. At least I suppose it is him from the name.

I do not know what to conclude about [our brother] Cyrus & Miss Doubleday. I should have preferred your opinion on the subject. But I suppose he will be here before long & I can ask him, or if the lady should appear with him I shall have no reason to.

My husband has gone to town today for the first time in some months, his duties here would not allow of his leaving. He has recently got a man to be a kind of sub superintendent of the sawing. He (Mr. Alberti) rises in the morning before light, & I do so as soon as I can begin to see light, & we have breakfast soon after sunrise. Don’t you think we are getting to be very smart people? I don’t know how “The Major” will like our smartness. I expect not so very well.

I went to town alone, or without my husband, about two weeks since. Took Maria as a kind of “body guard.” Grandison (Mama will know who he is if you do not) for my coachman, as Ned is still an exile from his former associations & I had quite a pleasant time. I left here on Friday afternoon & went to Marianna [Georgia] & staid that night & the next day went into town on Saturday evening, taking Mrs. Hellen Sen who had been at Marianna several days, passed part of my time with Mrs. Sadler & part with Mrs. Woolley & returned on Thursday without any more serious accident tho losing a bucket we had to water the horses in. It was thought by my friends here quite an exploit. They all said where is Mr. Alberti? And when I answered “at home,” they looked inquiringly & surprised, as tho it was some strange thing. Mr. A. did not like it much, but he could not possibly go with me… I feel quite independent in consequence. The precedent is established.

I wish I could go to Binghamton as easy & then you would see me in the course of the week. But it will be the next thing to seeing you all having [our brother] Cyrus come so directly from you, or it would be if he was not quite so close mouthed. But I can assure him he’ll have to suffer a most dreadful pumping.

Tell Mama I get along with my house keeping affairs much easier than when she was here. I find my little servants, Fred & Jessie [possibly Jessie Acker; see footnote below] much more useful than was Ned & Lydia, & I think my health is better so that I do not tire as soon, find no more to do than I wish, & have time & inclination to look after my poultry which she took so much interest in. That is, I go to see them fish of an evening sometimes & ask Hannah divers questions about them. “Old Blue” is now nursing her fourth brood, and some of the grandchildren have been large enough to be eaten, or nearly full size, for more than a month. I expect Hannah will be able for years to come, to trace the genealogy of divers speckled pullets or brown roosters up on a straight line to “yer Ma’s hen.” She sometimes even now almost bewilders me in pointing out the different broods to which this & that one belongs, or from which they are descended.

I have been very busy for some time past getting my great family clothed up for the winter. They generally have their cloth given them & then they maked up themselves, but they do it so badly that they are soon in tatters. So this year I thought I would superintend the making of them. It is only what many of the ladies do, but I have not before. You would be surprised to see with what dexterity I handle the shears in cutting pantaloons, jackets, or short coats, & frocks. Tho I do not do it all, some of the women are quite handy & I put them in organization.

I will mention for Mamma’s benefit that Miss Kate Chappel was married about a week since to Dr. Dickson. They went to Savannah in the Steam Boat for their bridal tour & have returned a day or two since. I do not hear any thing from the children. Why do they not write to me? Rosalinda must have learned by this time to write a very neat hand & Cyrus did some time ago…Let me hear from some of you often. Love to all my friends, & believe me ever your affectionate, — Ernestine

FOOTNOTES
  • Edwin R. Alberti was a cadet at Philadelphia Military Academy 1814-1817. In 1820 he was a 1st Lieutenant in the United Stated Army Light Artillery, later transferring to the 4th Artillery in Savannah, Georgia. He resigned in 1827. On January 23, 1823 he married Mary Sadler, daughter of Henry Sadler (d. 1828) of Camden County, Georgia. Alberti owned Woodstock Mills, a steam sawmill, in Nassau County, Florida ca. 1840-1860. In 1853 he purchased the sloop B.S. Newcomb.
  • This story about Alberti is from an essay entitled, A Class of people neither freemen or slaves:  “Floridians, however, wanted rigid lines with racial differences emphasized rather than blurred, as a wealthy sawmill owner from Nassau County learned when his neighbors condemned him for an “outrage of disrespect to the South.” What had Edwin Alberti done to earn the sobriquet “abolitionist and total nuisance to the feelings of the South”? He had freed Jessie Acker, a sixteen year old mulatto slave, traveled with her to New York where she married a white man, and then sent a Jacksonville newspaper an announcement of the wedding which referred to the bride as “Miss” Jessie Acker and omitted reference to her race. Defending himself against attacks printed in the Florida Republican, Alberti explained that after a six year trial period he and his wife had freed Jessie in 1849, testifying to her “moral worth, purity of conduct, strict integrity, and unwavering veracity. She stayed with them to work for wages, and they made “very sufficient provisions” for her in their wills. Intent on missionary work in Liberia, Jessie had become ill and sailed to New York for treatment. Upon arrival, however, Alberti’s former overseer, a white man from Maine, claimed Jessie as his secret lover during his years in Florida. Alberti said his inability to stop them from marrying caused him “a deep and abiding mortification.” For referring to Jessie as “Miss” in a previous newspaper article, Alberti apologized “exceedingly” for having introduced “a word which caused so much sensation.”Apologies would not suffice. On August 5, 1855, residents of the area met and denounced Alberti as “an enemy to the South,” and advised him “to rest beside his protegee.” Wealth and status were insufficient insurance against enraged white men intent on enforcing the general will of their society.”
  • The Florida Republican, July 19, 1855. The first attack came in a June 14th letter to the editor from “Veritas,” denouncing “such dark proceedings that our negro girls be classed upon a footing with young ladies of the South, who are generally termed Miss or Misses.” In 1847 Alberti deeded a young slave woman to a preacher, and provided for her two daughters to be freed when they reached age eighteen. But first they had to prove they had “maintained their chastity, for prospective freedom to them and theirs is offered as an incentive to virtue.” Nassau County Public Records, Book A, pages 197-198 (April 14, 1847).” [From “A Class…”]
  • “Alberti was born in Pennsylvania, his wife Ernestine in New York. Their ages were 52 and 39 in 1850; they owned 40 slaves. Thomas W. Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment (New York, 1962), 95-98, has interesting detail on the Alberti estate during Civil War.” [From “A Class…”]
  • In a history of the Moravian Church in Florida, I found the following reference to Alberti: “Yet another mission opportunity arose in 1847 when missionaries were sent to northeastern Florida to minister to the slaves at Woodstock Mills, a plantation owned by a Mr. E. R. Alberti. “Various difficulties” arose, though, when Mr. Alberti insisted the missionaries tend only to the slaves’ spiritual condition and not their material plight. The mission was abandoned in 1853.”
  • ” The life of John Clapp, extending, as it does, over a period of more than than three-score years and ten, although strikingly devoid of strongly marked incidents, is, nevertheless, one of no ordinary interest from its harmonious development and exhibition of character and culture. Left, by the death of both his parents, at a period of life so early as to leave no glimmering recollection of either; transferred to the guardianship of his elder brother James, and accompanying him and his law partner, William M. Price, at an early period of the century, to the primitive little settlement of Oxford, on the Chenango river, and in the newly organized county of that name, where, under their auspices, and especially those of his brother, he completed a course of elementary, higher and professional instruction; passing his novitiate experience as a lawyer in one of the rudest frontier settlements of the county; emerging, speedily, from this rough but, doubtless, healthful and invigorating process of practical communion with the rudiments of civilization into a prosperous and successful partnership with one of the leading and most influential advocates and counselors of the county at Norwich, the county seat; succeeding, after a brief interval, to the business of the firm; fulfilling for more than ten years, gracefully and acceptably, the irksome and responsible duties of public prosecutor in criminal cases; forming, during this period, a most fortunate and happy matrimonial connection with an amiable and gifted lady—Lydia, daughter of Cyrus Strong, Esq.; defeated in a vigorous and animated political contest with a formidable and practised opponent for the representation of the district in the lower house of Congress; transferred to a permanent home on the banks of the Susquehannah, where he again set up his household gods—destined all too soon to be mournfully shattered, by the removal from its earthly tabernacle of a dearly loved daughter—Rosalind, of rare beauty and accomplishments, the delight of his eyes and the treasure of his heart; these comprise, in substance, the outward and prominent features of this long life. Let us briefly analyze its interior results; by far the most important.”In all these various relations of a long life—as a man, a brother, a husband and father, an honored member of a noble profession, an ever welcome accession to the social circle, and an active citizen of a large and flourishing community —Mr. Clapp was uniformly truthful, sincere, single-hearted and upright. In his intercourse with the world around him—in all his business transactions, his social and domestic enjoyments, his literary culture and tastes, his fixed principles of moral obligations and ethical requirements, his fine appreciation of the beauty and grandeur of nature, and his utter abnegation of self where the rights and claims, the distresses and calamities of others were concerned—he seems to have borne himself bravely, honestly and victoriously in the great battle of life. Well versed in all the elements, principles and practice of his profession, he attained a high standing among his legal associates; and was distinguished for fidelity, promptness, and scrupulous integrity in the management of the important pecuniary interests from time to time committed by his clients to his care. As a scholar, his mind was a treasure house of the beautiful thoughts and conceptions of genius. He was passionately fond of books, and familiar with Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Byron, and their great contemporaries and successors, and with the various works of the ancient and modern historians.” His success in life was, unquestionably, chiefly due to his energy, perseverance, and strict adherence to the great fundamental principles of honesty, uprightness, and unswerving integrity. Substantially aloof from the distraction and turbulence of the world, its political commotions and personal animosities, his happiest years have been spent in the domestic and social circles, in the reciprocation of kind and loving acts, in the cultivation of all the faculties of his mind and heart, and in the conscientious discharge of duty to God and man. “Mr. and Mrs. Clapp are in the enjoyment of a moderate degree of good health, in part preserved to them by occasional pleasant, and sometimes distant, excursions abroad.
  • “The Rev. Edward Andrews, D. D., died at Binghamton, N. Y., March 5, 1867. He became Rector of Christ Church, Binghamton, in August, 1836, and continued such for seven years; when he resigned the office, but resumed it after an interval of eighteen months, and retained it for a further period of seven years. He was a man of education, of talent, and a forcible writer. He had resided at Binghamton for thirty years.”  Dr. Andrews performed the marriage ceremony of Ernestine Strong to Edward Alberti at Christ Church in Binghamton, New York on 5 October 1841.
  • The “Convention held in New York” to which Ernestine refers in her letter was probably the “Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church” held in September 1843.
  • “A sermon which Edward Bouverie Pusey preached before the [Oxford] university in May 1843, The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent, so startled the authorities by the re-statement of doctrines which, though well known to ecclesiastical antiquaries, had faded from the common view, that by the exercise of an authority which, however legitimate, was almost obsolete, he was suspended for two years from preaching. The immediate effect of his suspension was the sale of 18,000 copies of the condemned sermon; its permanent effect was to make Pusey for the next quarter of a century the most influential person in the Anglican Church.”  It was a copy this sermon, no doubt, to which Ernestine refers in her letter.
  • The Protestant Churchman began publication in 1843 and continued until 1861. It was published weekly in New York City. The following quote is from The History of the Parish of Trinity Church in New York City by Charles T. Bridgeman & Cliford P. Morehouse: “Soon after The Protestant Churchman was established by Dr. [Henry] Anthon and others who wished a vehicle of communication with those upholding the Protestant heritage and true evangelical doctrines of the Church. From its commencement Dr. Anthon was a vigorous and frequent writer of editorials and other contributions, although its first editor was the Rev. R. C. Shimeall of St. Jude’s Church, New York City. Dr. Anthon soon became the managing editor and made the paper a powerful agent in disseminating the principles upheld by his school of thought. It was able, satirical, and strong in its likes and dislikes.”
  • Edwin R. Alberti was the son of Dr. George F. Alberti of Philadelphia, PA. Edwin’s bother, George F. Alberti, Jr. was held in contempt by most of the citizenry of Philadelphia for his role in enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act. Click on the following image for an 1869 obituary of Edwin’s infamous brother.

1869 Obituary of George Alberti


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