1848: Margaret A. Davis to Joseph B. Davis

This letter was written by Margaret A. Davis (b. @ 1821) to her brother Joseph B. Davis (b. @ 1825). Their father is most certainly Thomas S. Davis (1789-1860). Their mother (unidentified) is known to have died on 1 June 1844 at the age of 30. Town records indicate that Thomas re-married on 23 August 1845 to Miss Jane Bennett, daughter of James Bennett, formerly of Northumberland County.

At the time Margaret wrote this letter, she appears to be single and living with her parents in Clinton Township, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. Living in the household with them (in 1850) is their Uncle Joseph and possibly three Aunts —  Mary, Ann, and Margaret Davis.

The letter suggests that her brother has recently experienced a loss that makes living in Elmira, Chemung Co., New York, less attractive. Though probably only in his early 20’s in 1848, it’s possible that he may have lost a wife. Assuming that Joseph was still residing in Elmira two years after this letter was written, the only Joseph Davis enumerated in the 1850 Census of sufficient age to be the recipient of this letter is shown as a “butcher” boarding at Erastus Goodrich’s hotel.

A Joseph Badger Davis (born December 1822) is known to have married Cordelia Griswold in 1861 in Elmira. Family genealogy records for this couple fail to identify Joseph’s parents — only indicating that he was from Lewisburg, Northampton, Pennsylvania. There is a possibility this is the same Joseph Davis.

From the letter we learn that something dreadful happened on the same day that Margaret and Joseph’s Aunt was buried which negatively impacted the reputation of some unnamed male member of the family. One is left with the impression that more details were provided by Margaret at the end of the letter but Joseph has cut it off as suggested by Margaret.

To see another letter written by Margaret A. Davis to her brother Joseph in 1846, click here.

Stampless Cover

Page 1

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Page 3 (with bottom portion cut off)


August 4th 1848

Dear & affectionate Brother

Yours of the 23rd came safely to hand on the 28th and how was I alarmed when I gazed upon your hand writing, and traced each line cauciously, as I fear it was writen when you were suffering from severe pain or nervousness of bodily strength, for your letter from premise to conclusion bore strong indications of both, and if so, why not give me the true particulars, and not leave us in severe suspense, for I think you are more dangerous than you have writen or express’d in your letter. But I sincerely hope and trust that this will find you enjoying far better health than my expectations realizes. We all enjoy tolerable good health at present. Father’s [health] is all well. There has nothing noteworthy of record occurred since John has writen, which was some 4 or 5 weeks ago. Only there has been several deaths in the vicinity around, among which is Jno. Montgomery, Old Mrs. Fleming & Old Mrs. Bennett (J.E.) – little Letty Ann’s Grandmother. She went to bed well and hearty and was foun[d] a corpse in the morning. [It is] supposed she died in a fitt as she was very subject to them. And poor Letty Ann by the last account will soon follow her. She has had chills and fever all summer – all sure indications of consumption, and now she has taken to swell very much which is the last stage of the disease.

O, Dear Brother, when we pause and reflect one moment, when we see out relation, our friends, our neighbors, and our acquaintances, all borne to their final resting place, what a scene for our most serious contemplations, what a breadth for our humble and most sincere thanks to our Heavenly Father that He still retains us on the shores of time, that we through his Divine assistance may contemplate our Salvation, and be received into His everlasting Kingdom beyond the skies. O, Dear Brother, may you and I ask ourselves, am I prepared to die. O! what a serious thought to dwell upon. And yet how much more serious to know and not act upon, but let each and ever day varry us in the broad way of destruction, and far far from the love of our God. But Dear Brother, you must forgive me for putting this most serious question to you. I trust ‘ere this you are, and have been, and are still walking in the path of virtue and in the narrow way of life, and may God in his mercy bless your undertaking and bring you to the desired Haven in view, the arms of Jesus, our Savior, to dwell with for ever & ever in his Glorious presence.

Circumstances of late is sufficient to bring a change in our midst. We might almost say the hand of affliction falls heavily on us. But why do I murmer. Death which has bereft us of a member of our family is no respecter of sex, or age – all, all must go in their appointed time to meet their God in judgements. But the circumstance which has occurred since, or on the very day of [our] Aunt[‘s] funeral will never be effaced from my memory. The wound is as fresh and as incurable as the day it was inflicted, althoughI have a heart that scorns hatred or malice, and can feel naught but love and kind affections for him in his miserable condition for this is no time to heap or lavish on him words of contempt when perhaps one word idly spoken might plunge him in all the extremes of vice and dissipations. And, therefore, I have bridles my tounge against the like with him, but has entreated him to be more careful in time to come. But what weight or what affect my words will have, I know not. Time alone can tell. I hope they are not all lost. I have told him that this ought to serve as a warning to him, and the rest of us. His reply was, “yes, it has been one to me, and ever will be.” But deeds once done never can be recalled. If I had of had the riches of Peru, I would of given it in exchange for his reputation, but as it is written, what shal a man give in exchange for his soul? What shall a person give in exchange for a lost reputation? I answer, “nothing.” In conclusion, may you and I profit by his folly, which at present is heart rending to him.

Dear Brother, I could tell you a great many particulars relative to the circumstance but I had better omit them for a time at least. Perhaps you will come home sooner than you expect and then, if I am spared, I will tell you.

Jos[eph], I think if you are no better than when you wrote, you had better quit work a few weeks and come home. It is tolerable healthy around at present – only a few cases of fever & ague, & Cholera Morbus seems to be the high sickness this summer. If you would come home, you might get quite well again althoug I will not advise you against your own will. But if you come and are taken sick, you are at home and I could there administer to your wants. I want to see you very much, and if you make up your mind to quit work, do come home. I should think Elmira has but few pleasures for you now. It does not – I know it has not – since all that is near and dear is no more. I would think any place would afford you more pleasure than there, would it not?

Jos[eph], you desired me to tell you all about the Valley folks. They are getting along tolerable well. Jacob Lilly has been to the West this summer. He went to see Sheet’s. He says they are doing very well. He brought a letter from Mr. Sheets to T. & Jos. Rebecca sends her best respects to all her old school play mates and you are one of them. You ought to write to Mahlon. He is in Freeport working at the Saddler trade. If you will direct to Stephenson Co., Freeport, P.O. Illi[nois].

George R[oberts] is still living with us. He has not seen his wife since early in the Spring. I think he never will live with her. There is something that will show bad on her part. She will soon be caught in the meshes of her own net – you may judge what human nature is weak. He sends his respects to you & says for you to write soon. Do not put any thing I have said to him.

I must bring this letter to a close soon. It has rained all morning ad if it clears off, I want to go a visiting this afternoon. I wish you were here to go along. Jos[eph], if you make up your mind to come home, write and let me know. Uncle Jos[eph] is very sorry that you cannot get a dog for him. I think I have answered the particulars of your letter with the exception of one, which I will put in [the] bottom of the page. You can cut it out for fear of some one getting it. Geo[rge] P. never writes to Uncle T. & J. what they are doing or any thing. When you write, tell me whether his wife has any children or not, and what kind of a woman she is. If she is a woman like him self a man, they will live a very happy life. He was a kind husband. Jos[eph], Mr. Hunn & his wife is in from N.Y. If you were here, you might get in business with him. He has set different ones up. He is a hide merchant.

I must now close. Uncle & Aunt send their respects to you and would like to see you. Mary Ann is almost frantic to see you. Give our respects to all enquiring friends and except a large share from your affectionate Sister.

If you come home, remember what Uncle told you when on your way home. Write soon and let me know how you are getting [along].

[Bottom of letter removed]

  • This 1850 Census enumerates Margaret A. Davis (age 29) as a resident of the Thomas Davis household in Clinton Township, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. Her father, Thomas Davis, is recorded as 61 years old (b. 1789), and her “Uncle Joseph” Davis is recorded as 59 (b. 1791). Two older women, Mary Davis (b. 1780) and Ann Davis (b. 1783) also appear in the household; these may be older sisters of Thomas and Joseph. A Margaret Davis, age 57 (b. 1793) also appears and is presumed to be Thomas’s wife. Finally, a 28 year-old farm hand, George Roberts (b. 1822) is shown in the household. George’s presence is also consistent with Margaret’s letter.

1850 Census for Clinton, Lycoming, Pennsylvania

  • The George Roberts appearing in the Thomas Davis household in the 1850 Census was apparently married but separated from his wife. Whether he divorced and remarried or reunited with his wife isn’t clear but subsequent census records show him living with a woman named Catherine (b. 1823) and with two children, Francis E. (b. 1853) and Anna (b. 1858). In 1880, he kept at boarding house on Main Street in Muncy, Lycoming Co., Pennsylvania.
  • The death of John Montgomery(1792-1848) is announced in this letter. His death occurred on 8 April 1848 in Muncy, Lycoming Co., Pennsylvania. Another source says: “15 April 1848: John Montgomery, died at his residence in this Borough on 8th inst., after a lingering illness, aged 55 years.
  • 30 Mar. 1850:  “William Fitzsimmons, died at the residence of his nephews, Joseph and Thomas Davis in Clinton Twp., on Tuesday last, at the advanced age of 96 years and 16 days. He was born March 1754. He served in the Rev. War under Capt. Long and Col. James Murray for three months, and at the request of George WASHINGTON continued one month longer. He then served two months in the militia and was employed in the scout service under Col. John Kelly, until he enlisted in 1779 under Gen. Sullivan, serving in Capt. Geo. Morrison’s Co. for 5 months and 10 days. He received a pension. His remains were committed to the ground at the Episcopal Church.” Fitzsimmon family records indicate that William Fitzsimmons (1754-1850) had a sister named Margaret Fitzsimmons (1770-1797). She married, in 1748, with Neil (or Neal) Davis who was almost certainly the father of Thomas and Joseph Davis (making them William’s nephews). William’s parents are given as John Fitzsimmons (1726-1798) and Mary Bateman (1730-1791).
  • 13 Feb. 1847: J. Fleming, son of John Montgomery, Esq., was murdered in his tent in the camp of the 2nd regiment of PA Vol., near New Orleans on the night of the 20th ult. A letter received from Dr. C. H. Frick, of the Danville Guards, dated 21 Jan.,: “We had a post mortem examination yesterday, on the body of J. F. Montgomery, formerly from the neighborhood of Muncy, who was, I believe, murdered in his tent on Monday night. He was shot with a musket ball and three buckshot, on the superior part of the shoulder, passing down, fracturing the clavicle and ribs and entering the lungs. He was a member of the Irish Greens from Pittsburg.” The person who was suspected of perpetrating this foul murder, we learn, was arrested and tried, but there not being sufficient evidence to convict him, he was acquitted. Mr. Montgomery leaves a large circle of relatives and friends to mourn his untimely end.
  • 23 Sept. 1848: The remains of Fleming, eldest son of John Montgomery, Esq., of Muncy Creek Twp., who was a member of the 2nd Reg. Of PA Vol., who was most inhumanly assassinated in his bed at New Orleans, when on his way to Mexico, in the winter of 1847, were brought to this place during this week, and interred in the Warrior Run Burying Ground, Northumberland Co. on Thursday last.
  • 26 July 1845: Jacob A. Lilly to Miss Hannah Montague, both of Columbia Co., on 24th inst., at Muncy by Simon Schuyler, Esq.
  • 1 April 1848: “Miss Catharine Davis, died in Clinton Twp., on 20th ult, at an advanced age.” This may have been the Aunt who’s death and burial is alluded to in her letter to Joseph. She was apparently a spinster who died on 20 March 1848.
  • 27 May 1848: William Lochery, a boy about 12 years old, whose parents reside in Brown Twp., was mortally stabbed on the 13th inst., near the residence of his parents by a boy only 8 years old, by the name of Isaac Haney, in a scuffle between them. Young Lochery received two wounds, one of which severed an artery near the junction of the arm with the shoulder, which caused his death in a short time afterwards. Isaac Haney, the lad who inflicted the wound, was immediately arrested and committed to jail in this county, where he will remain until his trial in September. He appears to be an apt boy in most respects, but seems to care but little about his critical situation (Lycoming Gazette).

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