The author of this letter is believed to be Miss Augusta Smith — a presumably unmarried daughter of Israel Smith (b. 28 October 1772, d. 10 April 1850) and Hannah Tufts of New Gloucester, Cumberland, Maine. Israel and Hannah were married in the fall of 1798.
Augusta wrote this letter to her sister, Hannah [Smith] Leach (1802- ), the 2nd wife of Amory Thomas Leach (1795-1881) of Portland, Maine. Hannah and Amory were married on 11 December 1839 in her parents village of New Gloucester.
In this letter, Augusta Smith describes a sickness that caused her to miss the opening of a school — possibly the Comatz Female Institute — in which she apparently had previously been teaching in New Orleans, Louisiana. Finding herself unexpectedly unemployed, she ponders striking out on her own to open a select or private boarding school for girls. It is unlikely that she was successful, however, because 1847 marked the advent of public education in Louisiana, causing many private schools to close.
Augusta conjectured that she suffered from Yellow Fever. According to world epidemiology records, the city of New Orleans did, indeed, suffer through a severe Yellow Fever epidemic in 1847. Over 2300 people died in New Orleans in that year alone.
In the post script of Augusta’s letter, she mentions a “Mrs. Giddings.” Although her identity has not been established, it is presumed that she is a relative as her maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Deliverance Giddings, the wife of Joshua Pool.
October 18, 1847
I have just received your letter of the 5th to which I hasten to reply. The other letters to which you allude have at last been received much to my relief. And now, dear sister, I am writing to you after a severe spell of sickness. After sending off my last letter to you – perhaps that very night – I was taken violently sick of fever. My physician (Dr. Cusy) forbid my seeing any one except those in attendance and I was requested if I had any messages to leave for my friends to say them, which I accordingly did, though I did not really think myself in immediate danger. I had no wish to survive unless it was to spare you and my dear father and mother the grief which I feared you would indulge in the word of my death.
I was confined to the house three weeks. Yesterday and today, have been out and feel somewhat like myself again. I often thought while sick that I had done wrong during the summer in representing my health so good as I have. The truth of the case is just this, I have had diarrhea, remittent fever &c. much of the time for the last three months. There have been intervals, to be sure, when I have been mostly relieved, and then I have, as is characteristic of me, been very sanguine and these intervals I have chosen to write to you. But when I was really sick, I felt that I had by so doing (perhaps) conveyed a wrong impression and I resolved on being more candid for the future.
I have had the pleasure of paying five dollars a day for a nurse, who was provided at the doctor’s request without my knowledge and whom I shortly dismissed without his. I did not, however, suffer for want of attention for I have numerous friends here who stood ready to do anything for me as soon as they could be admitted and I am in a boarding house that suits me better than any that I ever had before. I shall, however, I fear soon be compelled to leave it for I must tell you, that by being absent when the schools opened, I lost my appointment, and now have nothing to do. There were six or seven other teachers absent, and all were left unemployed. There were circumstances which ought to have rendered my absence an exception, but more of that hereafter.
My present position is not a very pleasant one. A heavy physician bill on my hands, my board one dollar per day, my health not very firm yet, very little money in my purse, and no means of making more. Now sis, do not be disheartened. The darkest time is always just before day. And don’t say come to New England for I do not intend it at present, not very soon. The fact that I have lost my appointment had produced a great sensation throughout this municipality. It has rendered the Board of Directors very unpopular and has caused quite a news topic here already. The thing could not have happened had not many of the board been absent. Since I have been able to go to the parlor, I have been thronged with visitors. The sympathy of the people is with me. Some advise me to take a house and keep a boarding school, and had I the means of furnishing it, I have no doubt but I should succeed. Others say take rooms and keep a private day school. What I shall determine on, I cannot tell. May I be directed by wisdom from on high.
Say nothing to me of New England. I cannot go there to contend with poverty. I believe there is something for me to do here yet. What it is, I cannot now see. For the last two days, I have felt quite strong and I hope soon to be able to look around me. I had the money laid aside to pay Lynda and some to send father, but they must both wait until I am better able. But say nothing of the contents of this letter until you hear from me again – except that I have been sick and am convalescent – nearly well – though not in my usual strength. Be sure not to mention it in your family. I will write again soon. If I take a boarding school, will you send your piano?
The doctor treated me for Yellow Fever for several days but afterwards expressed some doubt about it. I feel pretty sure, however, that I have had the general Yellow Fever [and now] consider myself as thoroughly acclimated.
Now sister, do not let anything that I have written distress you. He who has watched over me all my days will not leave me suffer. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Pray that I may be directed to use such means for a livelihood as shall be for his glory. Leave my cause at the footstool of ______ _______, but be not unhappy on my account, dear sister, farewell. May God bless you forever, — Augusta
[P.S.] Some members of the board have called on me and have not hesitated to express disapprobation of the proceedings of the Board. What I shall do yet, I cannot tell. My feelings prompt me to a boarding school.
Is Mrs. Giddings at the North? Write me more about them. Write as soon as you receive this, if it is only a few lines.