1851: Dr. Joseph Wright Robbins to Julius Fitts

This letter was offered for sale on E-bay in April 2011 and I transcribed it directly from the internet. It was written by Dr. Joseph Wright Robbins. He was born 12 November 1809 in Massachusetts and died 18 April 1885 in Iowa. On 29 October 1848, he married Hepsibah Mehitable Reeves (1828-1919), and the couple had at least five children: Charles L., born in 1846 (he served in the 12th Iowa Infantry, Company F., and died at Vicksburg, MS on 20 February 1865); Ralph, born in 1850; Frances, born in 1854; Horace, born in 1857; and Lottie, born in 1862. In 1850, they lived in Dresserville (near Sempronius), Cayuga County, New York. In May 1855, Dr. Robbins relocated to Manchester, Delaware County, Iowa. Dr. Robbins was the son of Joseph L. Robbins (1779-1861) and Catherine Wright (1779-1857). He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Manchester, Iowa.

The recipient of this letter was Julius Fitts, who was born 20 July 1827 in Sempronius, Cayuga County, New York — the son of Martin Fitts (1791-1866) and Miriam Dresser (1793-1866). He married Mary Jane Brown (1834-1886) on 30 December 1852 and the couple had at least two children: Charles, born in 1854; and Alta, born in 1861. It appears that Julius, at the age of 24, tried his luck at farming in Decatur, Wisconsin in 1851 but returned to Cayuga County, New York to marry and raise his family. Subsequent census and civil records indicate that he stayed in Cayuga County until his death, sometime after 1900.

The majority of this letter is devoted to describing the Temperance activities in Cayuga County, New York.


Mr. Julius Fitts
Decatur, Green County, Wisconsin

Dresserville [Cayuga County, New York]
December 14, 1851

Brother Fitts – Dear Sir –

I received your letter last Tuesday and hasten to reply agreeably to your request. We were glad to hear from both yourself and Leander. We are all well. Your Father’s family is well for all I know. When I got my letter from the office I saw one also for Mary Anne.

Our Division, we think, is getting along very well. No new members since you left. Br. Southwick has returned, paid his dues + $10 of the Division money. Br. Canfield and Br. Bush have come on and paid up. Our whole amount of funds at the end of November was about 64 dollars. We have resolved to have a celebration on the 22 of January and T[hurlow] W[eed] Brown has promised to address the crowd on the occasion. New Hope Division will have a bible presentation on the 25 inst. and they will also dedicate their hall on the same day if they can get it ready. They have a strong Division there and the Kelloggsville Daughters are going ahead. They initiated 8 a week ago yesterday. We passed a vote last evening to procure a banner for our Division – the cost not to exceed $6. The Sons of Temperance and the Old Temperance Societies, The Daughters, and some other orders are industriously circulating a petition to the State Legislature to make a law similar to the Maine Law – to prohibit the sale or gift of intoxicating drinks as a beverage; also to seize and destroy all such liquors as are kept to sell or given away in violation of such law. The Order of the Sons will have a grand Demonstration at Albany early in January and will then present the petitions circulating by the Sons.

We have obtained about 50 names to such a petition and expect to get some more. Brother Mather has just left here and he has been to Kelloggsville to borrow their Banner but could not find it. He will go again tomorrow morning. We want it to look at in order to ascertain what kind of a banner we want. Let the final result be what it may, I cannot but feel as though the cause is rather looking up in the State of New York just at this time.

I wish I could step in and see you and buy a few loads of wheat and oats. Oats have been sold by some here for 2/ pr. bushel but they are worth here now about 28 cts. Buckwheat 2/6 wheat (winter) $1. Corn, it is thought, will be worth 5/ –.  I bought potatoes in the fall for 3/ but I don’t know what they are worth now.

We received a letter from M. & G. Reeves last week saying that Lucinda was married and also that Ozias Perry’s Esther was married. There are several very good reasons why I cannot conveniently go West at present but I think I should much rather be on a farm of my own than to be situated as I am here. I should want both wood and water. I think I should like Missouri very well.

L[ajos] Kossuth it appears has arrived at New York and it seems created a greater sensation than any other man ever did in New York – Lafayette not excepted. He seems to talk in his public address as though he wished and expected that the United States would espouse at once the cause of Hungary and assist with both men and army although he does bit say it right out.

A singing school is in operation alternately at Vansville and the liberty pole. Rus. Tayor has left Me burg – took away his tools in the night – let him go. Eli Rhodes is married to Norman Smith’s daughter, [Julia] – age 15 (a sweet bridegroom). Norman Reeves meets with the Division.

It is pretty good sleighing here now or rather there is snow enough for good sleighing. It is cold weather and to day has been very strong. I trust we shall see you and Brother Howell back here in the Spring and again hear your “sweet” voices in the Division room.

Give my best respects to Leander. Duroc will have a ball so report says on Christmas day (The same day of the Kelloggsville demonstration). I hope no son or daughter will trouble him with their presence. It is quite healthy in this region.

A letter from you will be acceptable at any time if you should write. I was at Summerhill yesterday. Beeman is down with delirium tremens and Baker is drunk. They must be prosperous merchants. The Summerhill Division have got proposition from Owen – and Justus Whaley. I hope they will get them in. I am tired and do not think of anything more to write just now. Mrs. Robbins sends her best respects to you and Leander and wishes you both prosperity.

Yours sincerely, — J. W. Robbins

P.S. Arnold Swift says he has done drinking liquor and using profane language. Hope he has. Is there another such place as Dresserville on the footstool? Very likely there are places very much like it but they ought to be scarce.

Elder Broughton will have a dondian next Wednesday. Adna Griffin signed our petition and next day came home to Mr. Atwater’s to have his name taken off. Have you any Division near you? Do your neighbors love the critter? How do you like living there? Do you have any apples and potatoes? Are deer plenty? &c &c. Do you have any redskins?

  • Thurlow Weed Brown

    There were a number of males named Southwick living in Cayuga County so it is difficult to determine whom Dr. Robbins is referring to.

  • Thurlow Weed Brown (1819-1866) of Auburn, New York, was the Editor of the “Cayuga Chief” and author of “Temperance Tales.”
  • Probably Jehial Mather, born about 1808 in New York — a resident of Sempronius in 1850.
  • Esther Perry was born in 1799, the daughter of Ozias Perry and Esther Marvin. She married in 1851, the second wife of Manassah Reeves. In 1860, she and her husband lived in Washington, Bremer County, Iowa. She died in 1863.
  • Eli W. Rhodes was born 9 September 1829 in Sempronius, New York, and died 2 June 1890 in Dresserville. He was the son of Col. Zadoc Lewis Rhodes and Ann Eliza Perry. He married Julia Ann Smith (1836-1901), daughter of Norman Smith (1812-?) and Sally Ferguson (1818-1899).
  • Arnold Swift of Dresserville, New York was a merchant and postmaster.
  • Adnah H. Griffin, circa 1860

    Adnah H. Griffin, born 1808 in Sullivan County, New York was a farmer in Cayuga County in 1851. He signed the petition in 1851 calling for the New York State Legislature to pass a law banning the sale of liquor in New York State but later removed his name.

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