Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [16–17 December 1863]

Date: December 16–17, 1863

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00432

Contributors to digital file: Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Elizabeth Lorang



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My dear Walt1

you think strange of my not writing befor[e?] and it is strange i have not but i have wrote to hannah2 an[d?] George3 both and should have written to you but was out of ink and neglected to get any till late in the evening so the time went Jeffy4 is not at home he went last week to springfeeld Mas5 to doo some leveling and went again on monday morning will get done this week we have been real lonesome so soon after poor Andrew s death6 but he had to go and matty goes to bed half past eight oclock so we are quite lonely)7 i have got A letter from George to day come with yours8 i was very glad to hear from him very indeed they have moved from Crab Orchard to Camp Pittman 38 miles from Crab Orchard in the direction of cumberlund gap9 i will send the letter Walt as soon as Jeffy comes home as i think he will want to read it he sent me 150 dollars last week but i dident get the letter till to day i was very glad he sent it as i had much to pay i dont think it was one hour after i received it that the undertaker came for his mony i was rather surprised at his presenting the bill so soon Jeffy told him we wanted A little time but i paid it) it was 52 dollars every thing about it was conducted with the utmost quietness and respect with no bussell nor confusion if i could have had it any different i would have preferd it just as it was i had three carriages but there were ten altogether Cornell10 had two one for nancy11 and one for himself and Andrews friends procured the rest cornell and a leiutenant behaved with great respect altogether it was as far as respectability is) well conducted poor fellow it done him no good i know but it was the last office we could perform he was laid out in A black frock coat of Georges and vest and shirt looked as if he was asleep i never in all my life saw any person look so beautifull with his high forehead mary12 said he looked too pretty to be put in the ground after he died Jefy went down to the undertaker Oaks13 and he said he would come up in an hour it was late in the afternoon when he came and i gave him the directions he said it was so near night that he would wait till evening and bring the coffin and all up and bring him around here all [illegible]14 i said well perhaps it would be best) but in the mean time some of nances acquaintences came there and made a great time said they would go and get frank stryker15 and have him laid out he was laid on the bed after he died the bed was out in the room and covered over so she came round with a great adue so i got Jeffy to go down again and he came up and was brought round and put in mrs brown s16 room and the doors locked only when some one came to see him nancy dident behave as i could have wished her too the next morning she went up to J Cornells and made a great adieu said we had taken him away from her and so that evening cornell came down here but in the mean time i had the children here 2 days and her too after he died) i happened to be upstairs when cornell came i told him we had no idea of taking him away from her and i said it was his wish to be buried from here Jeffy says she has been here all or nearly all the time) he was buried as near your father17 as could be got not far from it she said if she could have buried him she would have him buried in greenwood18 i paid little attention to her fault finding but done what i thought was my duty little Jim19 is quite sick i went to see him yesterday the first time since poor Andrew died i have to give her money i gave her a dollar yesterday she has been in the street almo[st?] ever since Andrew died going some where or other she says she cant make any thing by sewing Jeff or matty gave her 2 dollars she got a notion of mooving and keeping a candy store i told her she better stay where she was for the present if she could better herself to move) so there let her go Jeffie has got a letter from hanna i sent the letter to georg it was short but very good she has received your letter and Jeffys it made her feel very sad about her brother but she was in hopes she should come home) i cant put much of Georg[es?] mony in the bank this time i had a very larg grocery bill to pay20

good bie Walt
your mother LW21


Notes:

1. This letter dates to December 16 or December 17, 1863. Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter to mid-December on an accompanying slip of paper held in the Trent Collection (not reproduced here). Edwin Haviland Miller estimated December 15?, 1863, a Tuesday (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:189, n. 75).Based on inferences from contextual clues in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letters from sons George Washington Whitman, Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, and Walt during the same week, this letter should be assigned to Wednesday or Thursday, not the Tuesday proposed by Miller.

This letter is the second that Louisa wrote to Walt following Andrew Jackson Whitman's death on December 3. In it, she reports receiving two letters on the day she is writing, one from Walt and one from his brother George. Because she quotes almost verbatim from George's letter in her own letter, she had received his December 9, 1863 letter from Camp Pittman in Kentucky. Given typical mail times, Walt's December 15, 1863 letter to Louisa (from Washington, D.C.) arrived in Brooklyn on the same day as George's December 9 letter.

Jeff's letter on Jesse Whitman's disturbing outburst after Andrew Whitman's death provides further corroborating detail. According to Louisa, Jeff departed for Springfield, Massachusetts on Monday "this week," and he was expected back before the end of the week. Jeff informed Walt that he arrived back at Springfield "on Monday—yesterday" (see Jeff's December 15, 1863 letter to Walt). Jeff's date and Louisa's date for Jeff's departure for Springfield are identical. Jeff in his letter described Jesse's outburst toward his wife and daughter Manahatta just after Andrew's death. Because Louisa does not mention Jesse's outburst at all, she was responding to Walt's December 15, 1863 letter, in which he sought more details about Andrew's funeral. Louisa did not know that Walt would soon receive the harrowing account of Jesse's outburst in Jeff's letter: Louisa had downplayed the seriousness of Jesse's threats toward Jeff's wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman and daughter Manahatta in her December 4–5, 1863 letter to Walt. That this letter dates within a week or two of Andrew's December 1863 death is indisputable. Since Louisa has received Walt's December 15 letter on the day she wrote this letter, since George's letter probably arrived on the same day, and since her date for Jeff's departure is consistent with Jeff's December 15 letter from Springfield, this letter dates either to December 16 (Wednesday) or December 17, 1863. [back]

2. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [back]

3. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the sixth child of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and ten years Walt Whitman's junior. George enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 and remained on active duty until the end of the Civil War. He was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). After the war, George returned to Brooklyn and began building houses on speculation, with a partner named Smith and later a mason named French. George eventually took up a position as inspector of pipes in Brooklyn and Camden. For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

4. Thomas Jefferson Whitman (1833–1890), known as "Jeff," was the son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's favorite brother. In early adulthood he worked as a surveyor and topographical engineer. In the 1850s he began working for the Brooklyn Water Works, at which he remained employed through the Civil War. In 1867 Jeff became Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis and became a nationally recognized name in civil engineering. For more on Jeff, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

5. Springfield, Massachusetts is located on the Connecticut River, north of Hartford, Connecticut, approximately one hundred miles west of Boston. During the Civil War, it was the site of the United States Arsenal, the largest manufacturer of military firearms. According to Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's December 15, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman, Jeff was in Springfield to prepare surveys for William Ezra Worthen. [back]

6. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's eldest son Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) died December 3, 1863 (see her December 4–5, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman). During Andrew's lifetime, he and his wife Nancy McClure Whitman had two sons James "Jimmy" and George "Georgy," and Nancy was pregnant with a son, Andrew, Jr., when Andrew died. In the early 1860s, Andrew had worked as a carpenter, and he enlisted briefly in the Union Army during the Civil War (see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10 [Winter 1993], 142–148). [back]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's suggestion that Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873), Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's wife, went to bed early because she was burdened by loneliness at her husband's absence and also by grief for Andrew Jackson Whitman's death is notable for an omission. Mattie locked herself and her children in a section of the house away from Jesse Whitman. After Jeff described Jesse's outburst toward his wife Mattie and daughter Manahatta, Jeff wrote that he and Mattie "dont allow Jess to come in our rooms" (see Jeff's December 15, 1863 letter to Walt). Also see Mattie's December 21, 1863 letter to Walt for another account of Jesse's behavior (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman[New York: New York University Press, 1971], 32–36). [back]

8. See George Washington Whitman's December 9, 1863 letter from Camp Pittman in Kentucky. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman quotes almost verbatim from George's letter. The account of Andrew Whitman's funeral that follows the news from George was in response to Walt's request for "the particulars of Andrew's funeral" (see Walt's December 15, 1863 letter to Louisa). [back]

9. Camp Pittman was located near London, Kentucky, which is seventy miles south of Lexington. [back]

10. Cornell is James H. Cornwell, a friend of Andrew Whitman, who got him a job in North Carolina in 1863 building fortifications. Cornwell served as a judge in the Brooklyn City Hall and is listed as a lawyer in the 1870 census, which also identifies his wife as Mary (b. 1822?) (United States Census, 1870, Brooklyn, Kings, New York). He is mentioned in Whitman's "Scenes in a Police Justices' Court Room" (Brooklyn Daily Times, September 9, 1857). For more on the relationship between Andrew Jackson Whitman and Cornwell, see Martin G. Murray, "Bunkum Did Go Sogering," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 10 (Winter 1993), 142–148. [back]

11. Nancy McClure Whitman was the widowed wife of Andrew Jackson Whitman. For the identification of McClure as Nancy's maiden name and information on Andrew's wife and children, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 12, n. 32; 13–14. [back]

12. Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the oldest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they subsequently moved to Greenport, Long Island. They raised five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Mary Isadore "Minnie." See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 10–11. [back]

13. Burdett S. Oakes, listed as an undertaker in the Brooklyn Directory (1863), was located at 268 Washington Street. [back]

14. This mark is probably a closing parenthesis mark, which Louisa Van Velsor Whitman used to close phrases, that has been canceled by a strikethrough mark. However, the mark used to strike through the parenthesis faintly resembles a word, possibly "[a]nd[?]." The marks (and the possible word) are omitted from the text transcribed here, since the canceled parenthesis mark is the more likely reading. [back]

15. The Brooklyn Directory (1863) lists a Francis B. Stryker (b. 1846) at 188 Adams Street with the profession inspector. His occupation in the 1880 census is listed as Officer in City Court, which would be consistent with an acquaintance with Andrew Whitman's friend James H. Cornwell, though the Stryker listed in the directory and the census would be almost two decades younger than Andrew (see United States Census, 1880. Brooklyn, Kings, New York). Another Francis Stryker (b. 1811) is also listed as a superintendent (United States Census, 1870, Brooklyn Ward 4, Kings, New York). [back]

16. The Brown family began boarding in the same house as the Whitmans on Portland Avenue, Brooklyn in April 1860. The relationship between the Browns and Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's family was often strained, but the Browns remained in the Portland Avenue house for five years. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman maintained a cordial relationship with the Browns after Jeff and his wife Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman departed for St. Louis. Years later Louisa called on Mrs. Brown and remarked to Walt Whitman, "if Jeff and matt knew i had been to see mrs Brown they would cross me off their books" (see her April 14, 1869 letter). [back]

17. Walter Whitman, Sr., (1789–1855) married Louisa Van Velsor in 1816. Walter, Sr., was a free-thinker and rationalist who rejected organized religion. He and Louisa had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. For more information on Walter, see "Whitman, Walter, Sr. (1789–1855)." [back]

18. Green-Wood is a Brooklyn cemetery located southwest of Prospect Park. [back]

19. James "Jimmy" Whitman was the son of Walt Whitman's brother Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) and Andrew's wife Nancy McClure Whitman. For more on Andrew's family, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]

20. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's bill was probably with Nicholas Amerman, who had a grocery store on Myrtle Avenue. See also Thomas Jefferson Whitman's September 5, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

21. The salutation and signature are inverted in the top margin of the first page.

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt Whitman was the second. For more information on Louisa and her letters, see Wesley Raabe, "'walter dear': The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt" and Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor (1795–1873)."  [back]


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