Life & Letters

Correspondence

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Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 7 April [1868]

Date: April 7, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "See End letter —Brooklyn—1868 (?) impeachment of Johnson '68," 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.00542

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



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april 71

My dear walt

we are having an awful rain storm and georgey2 is laying on his oars to day i3 tell him i should pray for rainey days if i was him he is the inspector of the cementing part there has been much trouble about that part of the work the pipes have leaked and made much trouble georges work is not hard but dirty as he has to get down in the dich to see to it he sent one man away on his own responcibiltely as he dident doo the work good bergen4 is on that department too)

well walter i got your letter to day with the money and i got the one on the third with the money order5 i went down to the post office and got the money all very good i had owed amerman6 for a barrell of flour for some time so i gave george 10 doll and he paid the balance 16 do was the amount so i feel releived of that debt ammerman is advertised to sell out and i wanted to pay him before he left and sent the accoun we remain all about the same as when i last wrote to you walter i think i feel better to day than i have for some time i have been troubled with the dissiness in my head but to day i feel intirely free from it have you been troubled with your old complaint walter in your head you say you have had a bad could i was in hopes you wouldent be troubled with it again mary7 used to be troubled very much with that complaint she says she dont have it at all now i asked her what helped her she said hops steemed and put on her face was all that cured her i have not heard from mary since she went away nor hann8 either for all she promised to write often to me i wish she would it would make her feel better i make no doubt i dont know what i would doo if i dident get any letters) i have read the impeachment articles every day i was in hopes it would be carried through without any postponement i never had any idea butler9 was so smart i suppose the others is smart but he seems to fetch them up so quick) i have not had any letter from jeff or matty since i wrote to you10

good bie walt dear


Notes:

1. This letter dates to April 7, 1868. The date "april 7" appears in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to 1868; Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:365). The year is correct, as the letter refers to a speech by Benjamin F. Butler during negotiations on the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, which was printed in newspapers on March 30, 1868. [back]

2. 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]

3. 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]

4. Van Brunt Bergen (1841–1917) was an employee of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1864 to 1895. The son of Congressman Tunis G. Bergen, Van Brunt Bergen (1841–1917) graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1863 with a degree in civil engineering. He wrote a short history of the department, which was printed in Henry R. Stiles, ed., The Civil, Political, Professional, and Ecclesiastical History . . . of the County of Kings and the City of Brooklyn, New York from 1683 to 1884 (New York: W. W. Munsell, 1884), 584–594. See also Thomas Jefferson Whitman's December 21, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

5. Edwin Haviland Miller dated the two missing Walt Whitman letters April 2 and April 6, 1868 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:360). [back]

6. Nicholas Amerman had a grocery store on Myrtle Avenue. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had requested 10 dollars to settle a similar debt in her March 28, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

7. 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. For Mary's recent visit to her mother, see Louisa's March 24, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

8. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Walter Whitman, Sr., and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. She resided in Burlington, Vermont, with her husband Charles Louis Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. The relationship between Hannah and Charles was difficult and marred with quarrels and disease. Charles was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. Louisa reported a letter from Charles, but not Hannah, in her March 24, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

9. Benjamin F. Butler (1818–1893) was a Union general in the Civil War and a leader among Radical Republicans who pushed for the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. During the war, Butler was credited with labeling escaped fugitive slaves as "contraband of war," and his soldiers occupied New Orleans. As a member of the House of Representatives, he served as a prosecutor during the impeachment proceeding in the Senate. For the request by Johnson's counsel that the trial be postponed for 30 days (or 10 days), a request that was rejected, see "News of the Day: Congress," New York Times, March 24, 1868, 1. Also see "Gen. Butler's Opening Speech for the Prosecution," New York Times, March 31, 1868, 1. On Butler's cleverness, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman may refer to a letter from Butler to the Salem (Massachusetts) Gazette, which was reprinted as "Gen. Butler on Impeachment—The Financial Policy and His Own Sagacity," New York Times, March 26, 1868, 1. [back]

10. 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)."

Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Jeff Whitman. She and Jeff had two daughters, Manahatta "Hattie" (1860–1886) and Jessie Louisa "Sis" (b. 1863). In 1868, Mattie and her daughters moved to join Jeff after he had assumed the position of Superintendent of Water Works in St. Louis in 1867. For more on Mattie, see the introduction to Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]


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