Life & Letters

Correspondence

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Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [27 September 1865]

Date: September 27, 1865

Editorial note: The annotation, "From Burlington 27 Sept. 1865," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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.00463

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



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271

My dear Walt

i received your letter Yesterday all right the 26th2 i dident expect to get one so early in the week but i was very glad hanna3 and i went out yesterday for the first she walked better than i could i got some flannel and a pair of woolen stockings the weather gets cold quicker here than in the city but it is [v?]ery4 pleasa[nt?] to day i have had one letter from Matty5 and one from Jeffy6 none from mr george7 i suppose he is very busy they appear to want me to come home i feel a little worried sometime for fear matty has more to doo [in?] edds8 being there she says he is a very good boy minds every thing she says i hope it will doo him good my being away she said davis9 had been there and stayed all night slept in georges bed i suppose george has to pay pretty high for his board he has the back parler to mrs hagemans10 i suppose i shall get away some time or other i dont think i can stay a very great while long[er?] han says you must come while i am here and bring all your shirts and [she s?] fix them cant you come without going to new york Walt cant you come to albany and thence to burlington11 i should like for you to see that place across the lake about the ground mr wells12 the man that his family lives there says there was ground enoughf to raise all any one would want too and very good the house is low ceiling and consists of hall and parlor dining room kichen and bedroom and woodshed on the lower floor with 2 rooms up above it is without blinds he said provitions is very cheap milk 4ct quart there is i beleive a summer boarding house there cheifly i beleive for invalids it is a mile and half from keesville13 which is all kinds of stores and things i suppose i shouldent mind staying there summers it is 3 miles by stage after you land to port kent14 this boat from in sight of here goes the sherman15 and the new york line stops at the same point just below here all along the [s?]ide16 of the lake is what they call pioneers shops17 i should think there was 500 they make every thing and they are packed and sent away off to pheladelphia and i dont know where in barges i beleive they call them with a steamer to tow them there is very many men i see going down to work with souldier cloths on blue trousers) you must write walt if you think you can come before i go home han sends her best love to you i feel midling well sometimes i am very lame

good bie
LW18

han says if you cant come while i am here to come afterwar[d?]


Notes:

1. The day of the month, "27," is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the letter to the month September and the year 1865, and Edwin Haviland Miller cited Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:377). "27" is somewhat obscured by the postscript, but the number is certain because Louisa also wrote to Walt that she "received your letter yesterday all right the 26th." The letter concerns Burlington, Vermont, and Louisa arrived for her only extended visit to daughter Hannah Heyde on September 5, 1865. She returned in mid-October of that year. Therefore, September 27, 1865 is certain as the date of this letter. [back]

2. Walt Whitman's September 26, 1865 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:369). [back]

3. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and treatment of Hannah. Louisa in her September 11, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman had labeled Heyde a "little conceited fool." According to Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's July 16, 1865 letter to Walt, Louisa visited Hannah in September 1865 because of a quarrel about "some women that Heyde had in his room." According to that letter, Louisa informed Jeff that she intended to "bring Han home." [back]

4. The intended word is "very," but Louisa Van Velsor Whitman added an unneeded descender so that the first letter resembles a "p."  [back]

5. Martha Mitchell Whitman (1836–1873), known as "Mattie," was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta and Jessie Louisa. In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to St. Louis to join Jeff, who had moved there in 1867 to assume the position of Superintendent of Water Works. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]

6. 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]

7. 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]

8. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. Eddy remained in Brooklyn during Louisa's visit to Burlington under the care of Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Jeff's wife, with whom Louisa and Eddy lived in the Portland Avenue home. George and his wife Louisa Orr Haslam cared for Eddy after Louisa's death, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]

9. Joseph Phineas Davis (1837–1917) took a degree in civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1856 and then helped build the Brooklyn Water Works until 1861. He was a topographical engineer in Peru from 1861 to 1865, after which he returned to Brooklyn. Davis, a lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, son Edward, and Jeff Whitman's family before Jeff departed for St. Louis, and he visited Louisa while serving as an engineer in Lowell, Massachusetts. Davis also served briefly as the chief engineer for Prospect Park, near the Pacific Street house in Brooklyn (see Louisa's May 31, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman). For Davis's work with Jeff Whitman in St. Louis, see Jeff's May 23, 1867, January 21, 1869, and March 25, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. Davis eventually became city engineer of Boston (1871–1880) and later served as chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (1880–1908). For Davis's career, see Francis P. Stearns and Edward W. Howe, "Joseph Phineas Davis," Journal of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers 4 (December 1917), 437–442. [back]

10. When George Washington Whitman returned to Brooklyn after the Civil War, he rented a room from a Mrs. Hegeman (also see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's August 29, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman). Elizabeth Hegeman (1795?–1868) is listed in the Brooklyn Directory (1868) as a resident of "83 Car[ro]ll" Street, some three miles east of the Portland Avenue home where Louisa lived. [back]

11. Walt Whitman eventually traveled to Brooklyn and from there to Burlington, Vermont, to visit Hannah and assist his mother's return on October 17. He wrote from Brooklyn to Ellen M. O'Connor on October 12, 1865 that he would "probably go for her very shortly" and on October 20, 1865 (also to Ellen M. O'Connor) that "mother arrived home last Tuesday." [back]

12. Mr. Wells and family in Burlington, Vermont, have not been identified. [back]

13. Keesville, New York, is located on the St. Lawrence River opposite from Burlington, Vermont, inland from Port Kent (mentioned below). [back]

14. Port Kent, New York, is located on the opposite side of the St. Lawrence River from Burlington, Vermont. An 1861 travel guide described the view from Port Kent as "exceeding striking and beautiful" (Addison T. Richards, Appletons' Illustrated Hand-book of American Travel [New York: Appleton, 1861], 155). [back]

15. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman probably refers to the route run by the R. W. Sherman, a steamboat lauded as the "fastest steamboat on the lake." Launched in 1851, it was piloted by Captain T. D. Chapman. See Walter Hill Crockett, A History of Lake Champlain: The Record of Three Centuries, 1609–1909 (Burlington: H. J. Shanley & Co., 1909), 308–309. [back]

16. The letter "s" is unclear. The letter "s" is probably written over the letter "l" in the canceled start of the word "lake." [back]

17. In 1853 Burlington constructed a large building to house mechanic shops (for skilled laborers) that was called the Pioneer Mechanics' Shop. A "capacious building four hundred feet long, fifty feet wide, and four stories high," the shop "accommodated a great number of mechanics." The original structure was destroyed by fire in 1858 but rebuilt on a smaller scale (see Austin Jacobs Coolidge and John Brainard Mansfield,History and Description of New England [Burlington: A. J. Coolidge, 1860], 776). [back]

18. 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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