This letter was written by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851), best known for establishing a school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. Later in life, in a lesser known role, Gallaudet served as the visiting chaplain in the Retreat for the Insane at Hartford where he held vespers, officiated at Sabbath services, and personally counseled the inmates. The “Retreat”, as it was called for short, prided itself in “Christian stewardship — a mix of medicine and ministry” in treating the patients.
In the letter, Gallaudet refers frequently to Dr. Butler. This was Dr. John S. Butler (1803-?), the superintendent of the Retreat from 1843 to 1873. Dr. Butler was a graduate of Yale College and earned his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.
Gallaudet’s letter was written to a contemporary minister, Rev. Lavius Hyde (1789-1865), who had inquired as to the progress of two women patients at the Retreat with whom he was acquainted. Hyde was an 1813 graduate of Williams College and afterward studied theology at Andover. He became a Congregational minister and was serving in the pulpit at Becket, Berkshire County, Massachusetts at the time this letter was written.
As to the two women patients who are the subject of this letter, we can only conjecture as to their identity as they are simply referred to as Miss Adams and Miss Huntington. However, two years after the letter was written, the 1850 U.S. Census enumerated the patients at the Retreat and it seems likely that the women were Amanda Adams, a 48 year-old female born in New York State, and Mary Huntington, a 52 year-old female born in Connecticut. They are the only two women among the patients with those surnames.
September 5th 1848
My dear Brother Hyde,
I should have answered your letter of August 29th before, but Dr. [John S.] Butler being absent on excursion of relaxation for a few days, I have waited for his return, that I might write more satisfactorily.
Miss Adams, the Dr. thinks is, in the whole improved, mentally, but he has some fears of disease of her lungs. He regards it as a case of moral insanity, affecting principally the disposition & feeling. Just now, she is calm & quiet. She attends our religious exercises quite regularly, & I have frequent conversations with her on religious subjects. She listens to me attentively & seriously. But, while she asserts to the truths of the Gospel, as yet I see no evidence that she feels their power in her heart.
Miss Huntington, the Dr. regards as better than when she came. He thinks her case one of difficulty, though he has much of hope in her final restoration. Sometimes, she has had turns of decided, maniacal excitement of short continuance. At other times, she has been much depressed. She does not seem to have given up, by any means, her trust in the Savior. For the most part, she has been reserved in her conversation with me, though I occasionally hear her say that her strong hope is in the Lord. The truth is, in a case like hers, the religious trains of thought, & the religious feelings are much disturbed & beclouded by the disease. Miss H. has attended our religious exercises pretty regularly, & always conducted with seriousness & propriety. I could not but notice this, a few days ago, at a time when, in the hall where she is located, I had seen her, as once or twice before, a good deal excited. She shouts out, occasionally, as well as Miss Adams.
I feel no small degree of interest in both these individuals, & I ask your prayers that my humble efforts to do them good may be accompanied with the divine blessing. It is now more than ten years since I have been connected with the Retreat & become familiar with its changing & __________. I wish my brother in the ministry, and the churches & followers of Christ would not forget us in their prayers at the throne of grace.
Commanding you in your private & public relations to the guidance & blessings of our common Master & Lord, I with affectionate regards to Mrs. H & your family, I am yours sincerely, T. H. Gallaudet
P.S. Miss Adams wishes me to give you & her friends her kind regards. As Miss Huntington has, within a few days, been rather more excited than usual, though now she is getting calm again, Dr. B. thought it best not to have me, at present, tell her that I had heard from you.