This letter was written by Dr. Hosea Edwards (1801-1865), to his brother, Dr. Daniel Shelton Edwards (1794-1974). Both were graduates of the Yale School of Medicine, Class of 1825, and 1814, respectively. They were the sons of Hezekiah Edwards (1761-1854) and Martha Summers (1765-1852) of Trumbull, Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Not much is known about Hosea Edwards. He appears to have practiced medicine in New Orleans from sometime in the 1830’s until his death in 1865. He was a property owner in New Orleans and is listed a slaveholder in 1860. Though late in life at the time of the War Between the States, he served as a hospital steward. Census records suggest that he was a widower in 1860 with two young sons, Solomon D. Edwards (b. 1854) and George Edwards (b. 1858).
The recipient of the letter, Daniel S. Edwards, served as a Surgeon at the hospital in the Pensacola Navy Yard, Florida; Fleet Surgeon to the West Indies Squadron between 1835 and 1848; and Surgeon aboard many vessels engaged in the Mexican-American War. His naval career spanned from 1818 to 1861 and his last sea cruise ended in October of 1859 after which he retired to his family home in Connecticut except for a brief time spent at New Bedford, Massachusetts recruiting for the Union Navy during the Civil War. He died in Trumbull, Connecticut on March 18, 1874. Daniel was married to Harriet Eliza Henry and had two children, William (“Billy”) and Harriet.
Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864), formerly a science professor at Yale College and the School of Medicine, is mentioned frequently in this letter. In March 1845, Professor Silliman was in the midst of a lecture tour in the South. In mid-February, he began a series of lectures in New Orleans on the subject of geology, fossils, and the origin of the earth which was somewhat controversial though he acquiesced to the creation theory. His last two lectures in New Orleans were given on March 11 & 12, 1845 (see footnotes below).
Louisiana Senator Alexander Barrow (1801-1846) is also mentioned in this letter. Sen. Barrow served in the U.S. Senate from 1841 until his death in December 1846. He was, as described by Edwards, the owner of a large plantation called Afton Villa near Bayou Sara, Louisiana. The suggestion by Edwards that Barrow voted against the annexation of Texas solely for personal financial reasons may not be true, however. Barrow, like many of his fellow Whigs in the North and the South, questioned the constitutionality of annexing territory through a joint resolution of Congress.
Dr. Hosea Edward’s remarks to his brother with respect to the pace of progress in drafting a new constitution for the state of Louisiana is consistent with the public record (see footnotes below).
[Letter addressed to D. S. Edwards, M.D., Surgeon, U.S. Navy, New York, N.Y.]
March 9, 1845
My dear brother,
It is sometime since I have written you & can give no other excuse for my neglect than that my mind has been too much engaged here. Scarcely a day passes however without my being with you & my parents though my body is still here in New Orleans. I have been to church today and heard a good sermon. Perhaps that has stimulated me to write you as I have frequently before had the disposition but not the resolution.
I received your & Billy’s letter some time since and am much gratified to see that he is making so good progress in his education. I hope it will be such as to fit him for usefulness, make him an honor to his family & country, and elevate him to the highest station he may be qualified to fill. It has been observed that of all the blessings it has please providence to permit us to cultivate, none presents a more Heavenly aspect than education. It is that which no calamity can depress, no clime destroy, no enemy alienate; at home a friend, abroad an introduction, in solitude a solace, & in society an ornament. It guides virtue and gives a government to genius.
Prof. Silliman will complete his course of lectures here on geology on Tuesday next & will then go over to Mobile to give them some lectures there. I have attended most of the lectures he has given here & have found them very interesting. He has a class of I should judge 400 or more. I called on him at his lodgings. He looks the same except the difference of age as when I attended his lectures at Yale College. He appears, however, more inclined to joke & be convivial than formerly. Perhaps it is owing to change of climate. He told me that if I did not get married soon, the ladies would find out that I was getting old. He appears much gratified with his visit in this city.
March 11th. I send you a draft for fifty dollars from which amount take the interest of what I now owe you of the $100 which I borrowed of you when I was last in New York & give the balance to father & mother.
The house which I built here last fall was not complete until the 1st of January. It brings $65 per month rent. It would have brought me $75 or 80 per month had it been completed in November at which time buildings are usually engaged for the year. I have not as yet been able to sell my property in St. James and it gives me no rent.
March 13th. We have had one of the most delightful & agreeable winters here that I have ever experienced. The weather has been warm, dry & pleasant nearly all the past winter up to a few days since when it commenced raining. On Tuesday evening last it rained so as to prevent Prof. Silliman from completing his course of lectures on geology. He, however, gave his concluding lecture last evening. His lecture was interesting but it was all conjecture. He attempted somewhat to give the time when the fossils were deposited in the different strata in which they are found but concluded by saying that God & the Angels knew. He said God made all things in the beginning but no mortal being knew when that beginning was. He thinks much more dry land will be emerged from the ocean as so much water is not necessary. Appeared rather to regret that God had made monkeys particularly as they preceded man but a short period, but does not believe than man is a monkey with his tail cut off!
We received President Polk’s inaugural address by yesterday’s mail, which was read by all classes & parties with much attention. It appears to give general satisfaction. Nearly all the people here are highly gratified that the joint resolution consenting to annex Texas has passed Congress. Our Senator, Mr. Barrow, who voted against the resolution to annex Texas, is a large landholder in this state. He has many thousand acres of uncultivated lands & I suppose would dislike to sell them at the price of Texas lands, to pay the $30,000 which he lost (as I am credibly informed) in betting on Clay’s election.
Our legislature here completed their session & adjourned on Saturday last. The convention for forming a new constitution for this state is in session at the State House & will probably sit until May or June unless they do business faster than they have as yet. There are several members of the first order of talents who seem to like to amuse themselves & others by making speeches. The majority of the members are democratic.
Very truly your affectionate brother, — H. Edwards
P.S. Give my love to sister Harriet and the children and kiss them for me.
From the 19 February 1845 Picayune newspaper:
Professor Silliman’s introductory lecture was attended by one of the largest and most intelligent audiences ever convened in this city, and they were thoroughly enchained by words of wisdom and truth. The Professor’s manner is dignified and commanding in an eminent degree. His style is simple and impressive, and, without any affectation of oratory, he is truly eloquent. He insisted upon the development of the means of knowledge of the superficial and internal structure of the globe, and upon some of the more important uses of geological science, — upon the influences of physical conformation, in connection with moral and social causes, in producing national character and the distinctive qualities and pursuits of a people. He glanced at the coincidence of geology with Holy Writ and with the various phenomena of creation in the earth; and he promised more fully to illustrate the harmony of science with the statements of the inspired writers. We predict that these lectures will prove in a high degree instructive and interesting, and one of the most gratifying sources of popular entertainment
From The Life of Benjamin Silliman, M.D., LLD., Vol. 2:
March 12, Wednesday. — The last lecture was given this evening to a good audience, considering the weather, which was rainy all day, as yesterday, and the clouds did not hold up until towards evening. I spoke one hour and three quarters to a most attentive audience, allowing a short pause at the end of an hour. At the close, my constant friend, Lucius C. Duncan, Esq., rose and moved a series of approbatory resolutions, prefaced and sustained by an extempore address, and I made a brief extempore reply. The resolutions were of course adopted. The concluding lecture had been carefully considered ; and, being in good physical power, I made, I believe, a happy finishing impression.
With respect to the New Constitution for Louisiana:
“By 1845, the public mind of Louisiana had decided that the state’s current constitution, constructed in 1812, was too outmoded and contained too prominent elements of an aristocratic mindset. The Jacksonian idea of “equal ability of all’ and the Democratic Party’s characterization of the “common man’ was pervasive, while the wealthy landowners and aristocrats still in existence became entrenched in the opposition Whig party. In January of 1845, a new Constitutional Convention for Louisiana met in New Orleans; progress was slow while citizens expressed their thoughts and hopes for the new Constitution: “If tardiness of progress be a characteristic of great bodies, it is an attribute of greatness to which the Convention may justly lay claim. Thus far their motion has been particularly slow , a snail-pace gait; but it is to be hoped that when rules for the government of their proceedings are adopted, and when, having erected their scaffolding, they set about in good sooth, to build up the new Constitution, the work will proceed more rapidly, and when executed be worthy of the architects who undertook the enterprise, and of the State, the monument of whose wisdom and the temple of whose liberty it is at once designed to be.’
This new Louisiana Constitution of 1845 embodied the Jacksonian ideals and feel. It sharply restricted the power of the state to lend money and forbade the state from becoming a stockholder; it also prohibited lotteries, dueling, legislative divorces, the official granting of monopolies, and restricted the state’s power to issue charters. The new Louisiana Constitution of 1845 eliminated property holding requirements for holding public office, and established total population (including free whites, voteless free blacks and slaves) for the use of apportionment in the state senate, while the state house of representatives was still apportioned by voter population. The new constitution also made strides in the state sector of education by creating the office of superintendent of public education and by pushing the legislature to establish public schools. In the sector of justice, the courts were improved significantly and for the first time, felons under sentences of death or life in prison could appeal to the state Supreme Court.”