Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [2 May 1867]

Date: May 2, 1867

Editorial notes: The annotations, "Brooklyn," and "3 May '67," are 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.00501

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



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thursday evening1

Dear Walt

i2 received your letter yesterday with the 5 dl and it was very acceptable well walt there is so much to write about really i dont know how to begin well to commence george3 is getting along pretty well but very little upsets him he has the headach and is not very strong but he goes down town almost every day but gets tired toward night but i think he will get along very well)4 now i must tell you walt how we are getting along with our troubles matty5 has sold nearly all her things except her carpets and beds and spent the money as fast as it came in for clothes to go in the country6 for many things she got more than she gave for her chickins she got 18 dls and all she sold yery well mr bullard7 owes her 100) hundred which mrs Beecher8 is responcible for and the house is all in confusion and a dresmaker here till saturday and they are here cleaning and to morrow mat and the children and dresmakere moves up with me george says i must try to

have patience but I dont know how i can stand it very long never was any thing managed so before her going off to masons9 to stay is so absurd and we must move O walt if they was away i should get a place and move but i dont know how to get a place for them all she sold all her things and boxed up all her beds and matt has had so much money to spend but then i wont say any more the b[ullards?] is coming next tuesday davis10 has got back from worster11 mat says he wants me to get out and not be hanging on) they want to hire the piano he is having the house all put in thourough order at the park expence)12

well Walt i am done with that part now i must tell you the other side George is not going to put a house on the putman aven lot13 but will sell it for what it will fetch back of the blacksmiths shop they have put a carpenters shop so he and smi[th?]14 went to look at it the other day and decided not to build on it at all he and smith went to look at some lots yesterday15 they liked very much on the corner of tomkins avenu and lafaette st16 george says it is very fine but it is a plot and the price is 3000 dollar cash the turners17 has the selling of it he has gone again to day to see what they can doo george says he knows you would like it it is within one block of the decalb ave18 cars if they could get it they would build a number of smalish houses he says the neigberhood is very good but he is afraid they cant manage to get it so when i next write i dont know what the progress will be but Walt you must not be alarmed if you hear we have bough the lickfield property or maybee some of the shantys on the park i often think if i had a shanty i could be contented where i could be at peace and not have to move

good bie Walter dear

i will try to take things coolly as you advise19

i will write when we get a place i thought we would get a second story there seems to be quite a number to rent


Notes:

1. Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter to letter May 3, 1867, and Edwin Haviland Miller dated it to letter May 2, 1867 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:328, n. 73; 1:378). The postscript echoes Walt Whitman's April 30, 1867 letter, so the letter dates to early May 1867. Because the day of the week, Thursday, is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, Miller is correct. The letter dates to May 2, 1867. [back]

2. 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]

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. Walt Whitman arrived in Brooklyn on May 4, 1867, and he found his brother George Washington Whitman seriously ill with "malignant erysipelas, with great swelling, sore & for a while complete blindness, now partially relieved" (see Walt Whitman's May 5, 1867 letter to William D. O'Connor). [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 "Jeff" Whitman departed for St. Louis on May 6, 1867. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman sold household belongings in preparation for her mid-June departure to Towanda, Pennsylvania, where she and daughters Manahatta and Jessie Louisa resided temporarily with the Gordon F. Mason family. See Jeff Whitman's August 2, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman (Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 123, n. 5). [back]

7. "Mr Bullard" was a member of the family moving into the 840 Pacific Street house after Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman departed from it. Because the Bullards wanted Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Edward to vacate also, Jeff was annoyed: "It seems to me d—m mean that they manage to want the whole of that big house It looks more like being a little ugly than anything else" (see Jeff's May 23, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

8. Eunice White Beecher was the wife of Henry Ward Beecher, the Congregational clergyman who accepted the pastorate of the Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, in 1847. Debby Applegate provides a profile of the minister's wife (The Most Famous Man in America [New York: Doubleday, 1996], 82, 317). Edward Whitman attended Beecher's Plymouth church regularly (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's October 26, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman). The Bullards were probably relatives of Eunice Beecher, who is said in this letter to be "responcible for" the payment of $100. Eunice Beecher's last name was Bullard before her marriage (Applegate, 82). [back]

9. Julius W. Mason (1835–1882) was a lieutenant colonel in the Fifth Cavalry. Thomas Jefferson Whitman mentioned a J. W. Mason who "used to be in my party on the Water Works" in his February 10, 1863 to Walt Whitman. Mason became a career army officer, and he assisted in getting supplies to George when he was held prisoner. Mason remained in the army until dying of apoplexy in 1882. His father George F. Mason was a prominent Pennsylvania businessman and state senator, with whom Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman stayed after selling her furniture in preparation for departure to St. Louis. See Jeff Whitman's February 10, 1863 and February 7, 1865 letters to Walt, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's May 3, 1867 letter to Walt, and Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 37. [back]

10. 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]

11. Joseph P. Davis's brother W. S. Davis, an attorney, lived in Worcester, Massachusetts (see Thomas Jefferson Whitman's September 24, 1863 letter to Walt). [back]

12. Davis served as the chief engineer for Prospect Park, near the Pacific Street house in Brooklyn (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's May 31, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman).  [back]

13. This lot on Putnam Avenue, which was purchased by George Washington Whitman's partner Smith and housed their carpentry shop, long occupied Louisa Van Velsor Whitman as a potential spot for a home. After George and his partner decided not to build there (see Louisa's May 2, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman), she asked Walt whether he could purchase this lot so that she could have there a small home for herself (see her October 16 or 23, 1867 letter to Walt).  [back]

14. A man known only as Smith was George Washington Whitman's partner in building houses on speculation. Walt Whitman described Smith as "a natural builder and carpenter (practically and in effect) architect," and he advised John Burroughs that Smith was an "honest, conscientious, old-fashioned man, a man of family . . . . youngish middle age" (see Walt's September 2, 1873 letter to John Burroughs). [back]

15. The many houses that are described in this letter, which George Washington Whitman and his partner Smith visited, could expand their speculative housing business and provide immediate housing for Louisa and son Edward. [back]

16. Tompkins and Layette Avenue both have the same names today. The area that George Washington Whitman and his partner Smith visited was in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood near present-day Herbert Von King Park, which was known in 1868 as Tompkins Square. [back]

17. A Frances G. Turner, listed as a builder in the 1867 Brooklyn Directory, was located at 120 Portland Avenue. No person named Turner is listed in the directory as an agent. A Turner family may have been familiar to the Whitman family because Louisa Van Velsor Whitman also noted the death of a Margaret Turner, a long-time Brooklyn resident at 120 Portland Avenue, which is near the former Whitman home on Fort Greene (see Louisa's September 23, 1869 letter to Walt). [back]

18. DeKalb Avenue passed next to Fort Greene, near the previous Whitman home on Portland Avenue. [back]

19. The postscript echoes Walt Whitman's most recent letter. He sympathized with his mother's unsettled housing situation and sought to extend reassurance: "about domestic matters—I hardly know what to say at present"; "But, Mother, you must not worry about it—it will be arranged some way—"; and "try to take things coolly" (see his April 30, 1867 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman). [back]


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