1847/48: Eugene Bitely to Nathan Henry Bitely

Upon seeing a couple of letters on this website from his ancestors, Andy Bitely offered to contribute three more letters written by Eugene Bitely (1824-1873) in 1847-1848. He is a direct descendant of Eugene Bitely and grew up in the Paw Paw, Lawton area of Michigan.

Shortly after these letters were written Eugene enrolled in the Cleveland Homeopathic College of medicine. He practiced medicine in Paw Paw until his death in 1873 and owned a stake in his brother’s (Nathan Henry Bitely) farm and nursery in Lawton. Later Eugene’s son Frank would take over the farm in Lawton which stayed in the family until the 1960’s. Nathan H. and Eugene’s father, Joseph Loadman Bitely (1785-1858) is buried in the Pioneer Cemetary in Paw Paw. He was a War of 1812 veteran and his father before him — John Bitely Jr. — a veteran of the Revolution serving in a Saratoga Co. militia and spent nearly a year in captivity by the British. The Bitely ancestral Homestead was burned by a raiding party during Burgoyne’s invasion around 1779. The structure still stands today and is owned by the Lebowitz family in NY.

The first letter is dated 12 October 1847. Within, Eugene describes to his brother and business partner, Nathan Henry Bitely, his journey from New York City to Pawpaw, Michigan and some business related to the new general store they started there. Prior to becoming a merchant, Eugene worked as a traveling dentist. Andy considers 1847 as the year Eugene Bitely arrived in Michigan and he adds the following interesting note: “There is a mention of getting labels struck for their merchandise; an acquaintance of mine bought an antique breadbox at a local antique store with a ‘Bitely Bros’ label still attached that I was invited to inspect recently.”

The second letter is dated 8 December 1847. It describes a struggling state of business at the general store due to an influx of competition and mentions the possibly of selling out.

The third letter is dated 16 June 1848. From it, we learn that Eugene is back home at Sandy Hill near Ft. Edward. He mentions that he has sold out their stock of medicine in Michigan, ending their business there. We learn from the letter that Eugene’s brother, Nathan Henry, expects to buy photographic supplies (chemicals, plates), and enter the daguerreian trade somewhere in the West. The next year will find Eugene in Cleveland studying medicine, however. In 1850-53 Nathan Henry will have begun in agriculture and moved most of his extended family (father and sisters) to Michigan. Andy adds the following interesting note: “Eugene describes a high profile burglary in Ft. Edward committed by Ansil [or Ansel] Durkee who seems to have left his fiancée Parnelia Fitch standing at the altar and absconded with her precious jewels. Eugene’s mother was Lorilla Durkee (1801-1882), likely making him a cousin to the ‘rascal.’ There is a small cemetery plot in Lawton owned by Nathan H. Bitely where I discovered only two stones — one belonging to Nathan’s infant daughter, and one broken in half and leaning against an oak tree inscribed, “Ansil Durkee.” Looks like he eluded justice in Michigan for the rest of his life.”


Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to N. H. Bitely, Esqr., Ft. Edward Centre, Washington Co., N.Y.

Pawpaw [Michigan]
October 12, 1847

Dear Brother,

Yours, if written, is not received. In looking over our stock I find many articles are wanting & are necessary to do business. I enclose a list of them & the amount of each; also $10 in money to expend in such a manner as you think best. Our candies are quite saleable — our vanilla & birch are about gone. I could sell 100# if I had it here.

After writing in NY, nothing of note occurred until I left Buffalo. Our progress was very slow from Troy [New York]. It was between nine & ten days before we arrived in Buffalo. While there, I found Dr. Martin; he accompanied me to Detroit. We left Buffalo in the evening, had a very pleasant time until we came to Cleveland (Ohio). We put in that port about eleven A.M. & remained until about one. During that time the wind began to blow quite a gale. Dinner was announced as we left the wharf but for some reason or other did not sit down until we got out some half mile. Then down we sat but many were obliged to get up as quick, some eat nothing, some a little. I with a few others made out a good meal but it was all to no purpose. In about two hours, I cast my dinner upon the water & went to my berth [and] lay there until tea time quite comfortable & then got up & eat as hearty as if I had been on land. The sea ran about ten feet high keeping the boat in a continue rolling motion & as the girl said, sicker devils you never see.

I was obliged to lay two days in Detroit. The cars left before I could get the freight moved to the depot from the boat. This was Saturday and no cars left until Monday. I arrived here on Monday night after passing over the great Michigan Railroad — the meanest apology for steam improvements that the world affords.

I am now here in the pleasant village of Pawpaw — the [land] of milk & honey. The garden of Eden is not to be compared to it. Had it been, Adam would rather done without apples all the days of his life than banished from this pleasant spot. The prospect for business here is good. I have received about $12 in one week. There is considerable feeling here. Many have been humbuged by our adversary & are sending customers here with a rush. I have not had any handbills nor labels struck, nor shall I as they have no type suitable & their price is enormous. You must either get the labels struck in New York, or send me some suitable for our use & get wold by our firm struck on small scraps to be pasted on the various articles. The handbills — get them up in very good style & if you think proper, name soe of the principal articles. The expense of bringing freight is more than we anticipated — about $1.50 per hundred. I paid Water & Von Schaic $245 instead of $250.

Bottle of Liquid Opodeldoc (for bruises, sprains, chilblains, &c.)

Bottle of Liquid Opodeldoc (for bruises, sprains, chilblains, &c.)

I purchased a few dollars worth of other articles after you left. I was obliged to borrow a few dollars of Uncle Crone after I got here but that I will pay in a short time. If you can make any arrangements so as to send any more of Fowler’s publications, do so as I think that they will [be] saleable. I saw Mr. __lford yesterday. They are well. Eliza is quite homesick but has gave up going back this fall. Write soon & let me know how matters in general stand, how you get along with the house. What you have done towards getting a daguerreotype, where Watson is & what he is doing, &c. &c. You had better have these articles sent as soon as possible as many are wanted. Also navigation will soon close. When you see Mr. Walters, get a recipe for making liquid Opodeldoc. Also send Thompson’s reporter ______ monthly. It will cost us but one half as a neighbor will pay the remainder. If it will not cost too much, get a few hundred labels for paste blacking & I will manufacture it.

You probably would like a description of our store but for want of room, all I can say is it is ten per cent.

Yours with affection, — Eugene Bitely



Paw Paw [Michigan]
December 8th 1847

Dear Brother,

Yours of the 25th was received yesterday by mail & I hasten to reply. Your call for money is rather loud. Consequently must be obeyed. I enclose $20 which is all that I can spare. As our freight has not been received & I must pay that, which will be today or on the morrow. It amounts to 13.63 weighing 900 lbs. Our trade has averaged about $1 per day & this is as good as we can expect for the present.

Since I came here there has been another establishment opened for the sale of Drugs & Groceries which will lessen our trade to some extent. There is one thing quite certain & that is this, if we anticipate making anything in the line of barter we must get drugs, medicines, paints, oils, dyestuffs, books & groceries & to the amount of fronts &c. to three thousand dollars. This does not exactly correspond with trade I recommend but it is a fact. Goodrich has got a very good assortment of medicines both apothecary and patent. This new firm has got a better location than ours & most of the staple articles. There is another store where quite a variety of Patent medicines are sold aside from ours, all of which will get a share. Up to the present time, we have not made enough to pay our expense & the prospect is no better for the next three months. Then we shall have rather better times if the Lord is willing. I.E., if the ague and fever prevails. There is eight stores and three groceries in the place all of which sell groceries & three or four which sell paints, oils and dyestuffs. There is also one who has got quite a quantity of books & several others who have a small supply.

You doubtless infer from this that I am getting homesick, but to the contrary I am perfectly composed. The reverse is the case. I merely state this that you may look for a better location. The country around here is as I before said is good, well adapted to all agricultural purposes but there is most too many stores for the place. I am confident that I can take my Dental instruments, travel & make more than I can here with dentistry & all. I wish you would write as soon as you receive this & let me know how you progress with your daguerreotype & what you have combined with it.

I had an offer for our stock of goods this morning by two physicians — one was a Physician in this place the other live a few miles form the village. They proposed to take our stock & assume all our obligations, pay a part down & the rest in a short time. The object they have in view is to combine it with their practice, get a student & then all they make is clear gain. I have but one thing to say about selling & that is this, we had better dispose of our present stock if we can sell and not boost by it than attempt to do business on so small a capital in this place. Your opinion & Watson’s in all these matters will govern me. If you think advisable to sell, why I will do so if I can make anything by it. This, like all other matters, is submitted for your consideration & advice. I wish you not to think me fickle-minded because I write so much in that mood but, I do it to get your opinion. Uncle C presented a contract for me to sign soon after I opened which would oblige us to keep his damned old building one year. However, I did not sign it & more than that, if our goods were in the boxes that they once were in, I never would open them in Paw Paw if I could not get a better building. If you have sent another package, let me know in your next as some articles are wanted immediately but will wait if we have them coming.

I deeply regret that our friend P. McEachron—is dead; another of the brightest literary characters of Washington Co (NY) is gone. You did not write what was the matter of D.W. Wright or anything other than his death. My health is excellent, uncle and aunt & watson are well, my respects to R. Watson, should like to hear from him. When you write, let me know whether Elizabeth is going to school & where & who fills the place of our friend & teacher D. W. Wright.

Affectionately yours, — E. Bitely



Sandy Hill [New York]
June 16th 1848

Dear Brother,

Yours directed to Troy [and] also to Ft. Edward Center have been received. I arrived home on Saturday having been but six days from Michigan. I found our friends all well — at least all that I have seen. I came here on Monday & have been here since that date.

The trial of Shepard has not yet been called & I fear that it will not be this court. Today will determine the matter.

In my last from Michigan I stated that I had sold out our stock of medicines which letter you have doubtless received. Previous to that, I wrote requesting you to make a muster among your rusty dollars & send me such an amount as you could spare. This, as I have sold, will not be necessary. Keep it and get you as good a stock of plates, chemicals, &c. that you may be ready to go west when I get through with this matter. I shall probably be ready to return in about three weeks. I then will join you at some point west & we then will go to the west (devil) together.

When you receive this, answer as soon as you can & state what would be the encouragements for a dentist in those places where you have stopped during the winter & all other matters which would be of interest to me in that business.

Fort Edward Blockhouse (1897)

Fort Edward Blockhouse (1897)

We have no news of any amount at present save a sad accident or rather a tremendous burglary & robbery committed at Ft. Edward on Tuesday morning. The rascal has fled to Canada taking with him the prize & as yet has not been arrested. The person (I regret to say) was Ansil Durkee. He, under the guise of a friend, gained the confidence of Miss Cornelia Fitch of that place & after leading her up to Hymen’s altar, he had the audacity to enter her sanctum sanctorum & there despoil all those choice jewels & then — like the children of Israel — fled across the lake to Montreal. Aside from the above, we have no news of interest. We however had an Irish Rebellion on Sunday last. They went down to (hell) the Block House, got drunk, returned, fought, quarreled, &c. till at last I tied one of them to keep him quiet. This matter, however, I can rehearse when I see you.

Yours in haste and affection, — E. Bitely


Craig’s Daguerreian Registry — an on-line extensive list of early-day daguerrians in the United States lists a “Brightly” but notes that this may be an error and the name was most likely “Bitely.” Here is the registry entry:

Noted as Professor Brightly, daguerreian, c. 1847. One of the instructors of J.F. Ryder, later a Cleveland daguerreian. In 1847, Ryder and Professor Brightly opened a gallery in Ithaca, N.Y. Ryder left after a year. Undoubtedly the same as “Bitely,” noted by one source in Ithaca in 1848. He advertised in partnership as Bitely and Watson at 37 Owego Street, in rooms formerly occupied by Milton and Lathrop. Information corrected to November, 1997; © 1996, 1997 John S. Craig

3 responses to “1847/48: Eugene Bitely to Nathan Henry Bitely

  • Nancy R. Barnett

    In the 1850 Federal and 1855 NY census, Ansel C. Durkee is found in Fort Edward – married to a woman named Cornelia. If you compare the first letter of her name in the letter to the “C” in Canada, you can see that the name is Miss Cornelia Fitch. Apparently he returned (or was dragged back) and they were married!

    • Griff

      Nancy: Thank you for catching this transcriptional error. You are most definitely correct and I have edited the posted transcript. — Griff

  • Andy

    Thanks Nancy for finding those census records, very cool. -Andy

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