This letter was written by 73 year-old physician Ephraim Otis III (1773-1850) of DeRuyter, Madison County, New York, a few days following the death of his second wife, Rebecca [Underhill] Otis (1780-1847). Ephraim was a son of Dr. Ephraim Otis II (1725-1816) and Sarah Harris (1725-????). Rebecca was a daughter of Caleb Underhill (1726-1808) and Hannah Carpenter (1750-1808). The author and his second wife Rebecca had at least two sons: Stephen (1819-1846) and William (1820-1896). Both sons are mentioned and we know from this letter that Stephen died at De Ruyter, New York during the summer of 1846, leaving a grieving fiancee named Sarah Reed. We also learn that Ephraim and Rebecca took in a girl named Matilda Arnold and raised her as their own. It’s not clear whether this is the same Matilda Arnold, born in 1834, who married Devillo Burlingame in 1854.
The recipient of the letter was Samuel Allen (1794-1880), a farmer in New Castle, Westchester County, New York, who was married to Rebecca’s sister, Meriam Underhill (1792-1860). Near the end of the letter, Ephraim invites a relative named Anna to visit. It is presumed he was referring to Anna Underhill (1788-1850), another sister of Rebecca’s who lived in New Castle and was not married.
[Addressed to Samuel Allen, New Castle, Sing Sing P.O., Westchester County, New York]
DeRuyter [New York]
January 28, 1847
Beloved Brother & Sisters — all five. My dear Rebecca is no more in mutability. She left us on the 24th inst. a little passed 11 o’clock A.M., rather sudden at last and she said several times that she expected it would be 10 after. Her dear Brother & Sisters were at DeRuyter. Her bodily weakness seemed to invelope & she often expressed that the very warm weather was very trying to her but kept about a little until our son Stephen visited in the 8 mo. & seemed much gratified with his company for the few days that he called himself well. But when he sicked & died, though she often expressed great satisfaction that he was at home & not among strangers, and though she could not do for him, she could see & know that all was done that could be done. Yet the shock I thought perhaps was never recovered from tho. She would sometimes say that when the weather became cooler, she might gain a little strength, but it did not prove so. The cough increased & often expectorated considerable with great prostration of strength, especially in her feet & lower limbs so that she was not able to walk much & with difficulty the last eight weeks of her life. I took her in my time from bed to bed or chair and watched with her to the very last as no one appeared to move her so easy, her flesh being very tender and much of the time would rest quiet & not want a great deal done for her until 2 or 3 weeks of her decrease for which space of time I do not remember one night that I had my clothes all off. Her greatest digress seemed to be laying in one position & not being able to move without help & her pillows not laying to suit her. Frequently she would have 5 or 6 at a time under & around. The last 48 hours her expectoration ceased almost entirely and her appetite also so that it was almost impossible to persuade her to take the least nourishment. [She] appeared very restless & uneasy tho in no sharp pain for most of the time [and with] very little disposition for conversation. She appeared to sleep yet when her friends came in to see her appeared pleased, and if they did not come, did not make herself unhappy. Often she wanted to be quiet.
Sarah Reed (Stephen’s intended Bride) having made us a visit since the death of Stephen & appearing to be very much attached to us. Rebecca to her was sent for the day before by William’s & Rebecca’s request (as it was also the particular request of Sarah Reed that it might be so if there was any particular change in the disorder) & the dear young woman arrived the evening before to mingle her tears with ours & to behold the exit of one we all loved.
On the 26th, we followed the remains of my beloved Rebecca to the grave (after a solemn meeting at the M[eeting] House) and placed the corpse aside of our son Stephen’s remains. As to farther particulars I should be willing to give them if I knew of anything that would be interesting tho I suppose you all know that after so much exertion of body & mind, rest seems desirable & the lonely solitude is pleasant to my mind. As I look back & then forward musing of things passed, present, & to come & have this to acknowledge that as I have been watchful & attentive to the best of friends that is never removed into a corner, I have been helped hitherto and my faith is that the same hand that has been throughout for my support will still support, if the fault is not my own.
Delia Smith who was with me when K. & sisters were at DeRuyter left us some ten weeks since with our full consent as she was so deaf that it was too much for Rebecca to make her understand in her weak state & for other reasons not necessary to mention, since which with a few days exception, we have been favored to procure very agreeable help that Rebecca was much pleased with (kind & attentive) and as our dear sisters will remember our little adopted daughter Matilda Arnold. I can do no less than to say that she has been one of the most attentive & affectionate little nurses to dear Rebecca that almost I ever knew & would often fix the pillows to her satisfaction after many of us had tried in vain and never appeared to do anything for her with reluctance. Oh how often do I think that the dear child will miss a friend & almost a mother. She wishes to be remembered to all that were at DeRuyter. Oh how pleasant to see you all and if dear Ann felt as tho she could be happy to spend some time with us, how acceptable yet. I must leave all this to your own feelings.
30th. Dear relatives. I take my pen to finish & say that I want to hear from you soon & should be glad to have Rebecca’s age if you are in possession of a family record as there was some apprehension that she had made some mistake when she entered it in our Family Record when the time of her nativity stands there [7 months, 27, 1780], which would make her to be about 66 ½ years of age. And now, in near affection, will conclude for this time hoping that if I have omitted anything that would be interesting to be informed of it. My son William & myself tender much love & regard to you all, and thus dear Brothers & Sisters, I bid you farewell.
From your affectionate, — Ephraim Otis