1849: Joseph Kidder to Sarah Elizabeth Smith

Joseph Kidder, ca 1880

This letter was written by Joseph Kidder (1819-1898), a son of Samuel Philips Kidder (1768-1822) and Betsy Stark (1788-1864) of Derryfield, New Hampshire. Joseph Kidder became a whole dealer of corn and flour in Manchester, New Hampshire. He also served as editor, in partnership with W.H. Kimball, of the Manchester Democrat — a weekly newspaper. The recipient of the letter was Sarah Elizabeth Smith (b. 1821) whom he would marry on 20 June 1850. Sarah was the daughter of Joseph Smith (b. 1784) and Sarah Brown (b. 1787) who lived on a farm on what is now Strawberry Hill Road in Concord, Massachusetts.

The letter is particular interesting in that Joseph mentions the large number of men from his vicinity who are leaving their families and homes to try their luck in the California gold fields. His views on the wisdom of this decision didn’t change much with the passage of time (see footnotes).

Stampless Cover, Care of J.A.S. (Joseph Allen Smith)

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[Addressed to Miss Sarah Elizabeth Smith, Concord, Mass.]

Sabbath evening Manchester, N.H.
Sept 2, 1849

A Sabbath-evening stillness surrounds me. There is not a breath of wind stirring among the trees, grass, or flowers. I do not hear the sound of human voice, nor notes of music, nor song of birds. Every thing seems hushed in quietude and peace. The round full moon, unobscured by clouds, is just now climbing up the eastern horizon, and pouring upon the world a flood of silver light. The scene is indeed beautiful and captivating without. It reminds me in a a most striking manner of similar scenes in years agone when you and I used to walk forth and enjoy the pure moonlight and glittering stars together, and contemplate the glories of the “upper deep.” I would that I were with you now, that we might look upon the same objects with mutual feelings of pleasure and delight!

But where are you tonight? I am fancying to myself that you are at the old homestead enjoying the society of brother, sister and mother, where I have spent so many pleasant days. I hope most earnestly, and sincerely, that yourself and friends are well, so that both you and they can derive pleasure from your home-visit. How necessary is health to enjoyment! Without it there are few things that can give us real pleasure.

I hope Maria has recovered from her recent indisposition. The “good news from a far country” which she received should “do her good like a medicine.” I trust her dear little boy is well, and that guardian spirits may watch over him and her for long years to come. May heaven protect his father and return him once more to his kind and cherished friends, laden with the riches of the golden land! By the way, adventurers to that land of promise are leaving us every few days to try their luck there. There are several going from our midst in the course of two weeks. They seem sanguine of great success. I fear some of the hopes will be sadly blasted. They leave behind them excellent homes, warm-hearted and cherished friends, and flattering prospects. Tis strange how flattering and delusive is the hope of gain. To acquire sudden wealth, men risk every thing in this world and often, in consequence, drag out lives of poverty and suffering. I think a small certainty is far preferable to a large uncertainty.

And you are at home! How pleasanter it is to address you there than at the “city of spindles.” Some way or other I love Concord and always delight to visit there. It may be because I have seen you there so many times. And Providence permitting, I shall see you there again while at home this time. I desire to go down on Saturday next and shall do so if I can reach Concord by leaving here in the last train of cars which is some what doubtful. If I find that I can come on Saturday evening, I will send you a paper about the middle of the week. If I do not come on Saturday, you may expect me the first of the week following. I would come before were it possible for me to do so. But it will not be, for my brother goes to Boston tomorrow to spend most of the week. My mother is now at Goffstown Mountains on a visit at Uncle Roby’s. She went there last week and will return tomorrow or next day.

When I sent you the “medicines,” tumblers, &c., I did not forget the “spoon” but not having any at hand save some very poor “iron” ones, I did not think it best to send any. I hope you will consider the reason a good one. But I must pause. I desire much to see you, and to know that you and your friends are well. Please remember me to them all without distinction — I mean such of them as care to hear from me. With unchanging sentiments of regard, I am yours as ever, — Joseph.

  • As an old man, Joseph Kidder would share the following thoughts on the California Gold Rush in an address to the citizens of Manchester:

“It was past the middle of the nineteenth century. Gold in large quantities had been found in California. Extravagant stories were told of the fortunes made in a day at various points on the Pacific slope. People by the thousands left their business and their homes in the East, South, and West, and joined in the mad rush for riches in the Eldorado of the far West. Every known method of transportation was utilized and many full of hope, with scanty means, went overland, on foot, so great was the desire to gather in the golden harvest of the new country….”

  • Joseph mentions a “Maria” in his letter, recently relieved to hear from her husband in California. I presume this is Maria Turner Smith (b. 1828), Sarah’s sister, who married Charles A. Holbrook of Concord, Massachusetts.

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