Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 24 September 1863

Date: September 24, 1863

Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Thomas Jefferson Whitman, Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman, ed. Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984), 74-76. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Whitman Archive ID: loc.00423

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Tim Jackson, Kathryn Kruger, and April Lambert

24th Sept 1863

Dear brother Walt,

The enclosed $25 is from Joseph P. Davis1 making with the $25 sent you last Tuesday $50 from Jo. Now I will give you a statement of the whole affair  Last Monday I received a letter from W. S. Davis,2 Jo's brother [at?] Worcester, Mass. saying that he had received a letter from Joe directing him to send me $70. $50 to be sent to you and $20 to be expended in buying a present for young "Joe Probasco."3 The $25 I sent you on Tuesday I borrowed of Mr Lane4 so that I might send it immediately and to day I received a check for the $70. I have paid Mr Lane the $25 and according to Jo's direction send you the remaind[er] of the $50.

Jo's brother, W. S. Davis, is a lawer, in Worcester,5 with a large number of acquaintances and I think liberal. I wrote him a note acknowledging the recipt of the money and telling him that you would write him a long letter,6 detailing the manner, style, &c &c of your dispensing the money (like those you used to write us)  ask him to show it to his friends and get them to give what they can and have him send it to you  He writes me that he wants you to acknowledge the receipt of the money, and also that he would much like to hear from you. I consider it an opportunity for you to make this $50 the father of 100's without in the least seeming like one asking for it

I certainly think Mother is following a mistaken notion of ecomony.7 I think the only decent meals that any of them have had for three months is what they have eaten with Mat and I. As regards Mother I am perfectly willing she should live with us all [the time?] (that is to eat, I mean) but Ed and Jess I cant stand entirely. Dont understand me that they do eat with us, for they dont as much perhaps as they used to. Mother certainly does not, not as much as we wish her to, for we always call her. I notice however that when Jess does eat with us that he does not throw up his victuals. And Andrew too, his trouble comes as much from his mode of living and sleeping  His room for sleeping is without ventilation. the window is coverd with posiness tress. He has no nice little things, [or] all nourishment fixed for him to eat, such as I intended Mat should fix for him. I dont think myself that we have any thing to do with Nancy, she is able enough to make a good living both for herself and the children, if she wasnt so dam'd lazy.

Walt I wish you was home for awhile. I think you would see and think as I do. I have scribbled this to you just as I have thought for a day or two. Ruggles8 says that Andrew cannot be a well man in this town, to be sure even going away may not help him, but he thinks and is almost certain that it will. I wish if you dont come on you would write me also write Andrew. Oh you dont know how down spirited he is



1. 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. A lifelong friend of Jeff Whitman's, he became city engineer of Boston (1871–80) and completed his distinguished career as chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (1880–1908). For his work with Jeff in St. Louis, see Thomas Jefferson Whitman's letters to Walt Whitman from May 23, 1867, January 21, 1869, and March 25, 1869[back]

2. The lawyer William S. Davis and his brother Joseph were descendants of a distinguished Massachusetts family (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:152–53). [back]

3. He was probably a young son of Samuel R. Probasco, an engineer at the waterworks. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman's letter to Walt Whitman from January 13, 1863[back]

4. Moses Lane (1823–1882) served as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869. He later designed and constructed the Milwaukee Water Works and served there as city engineer. Like Jeff Whitman, he collected money from his employees and friends for Walt's hospital work. Lane sent Whitman $15.20 in his letter of January 26, 1863, and later various sums which Whitman acknowledged in letters from February 6, 1863, May 11, 1863, May 26, 1863, and September 9, 1863. In his letter of May 27, 1863, Lane pledged $5 each month. In an unpublished manuscript in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library, Whitman wrote, obviously for publication: "I have distributed quite a large sum of money, contributed for that purpose by noble persons in Brooklyn, New York, (chiefly through Moses Lane, Chief Engineer, Water Works there.)" Lane assisted Whitman in other ways as well (see Whitman's letters from December 29, 1862, and February 13, 1863). He was so solicitous of Whitman's personal welfare that on April 3, 1863, he sent through Jeff $5 "for your own especial benefit." [back]

5. Someone, probably Walt Whitman, set off the first half of this sentence with virgules and underscored "W. S. Davis" and "Worcester." [back]

6. Walt Whitman wrote to William S. Davis on October 1, 1863. [back]

7. There was much ill will in the Whitman household at this time. Jeff thought that his mother's frugality was endangering the health of his brothers; the mother felt that Jeff and Mattie had themselves been stingy regarding Andrew. On September 15 (?), 1863, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman complained in a letter to Walt that Andrew and his wife Nancy expected her to pay their rent: "i suppose martha has told nancy i have got 2 or 3 hundred dollars in the bank  they never gave him one cents worth when he went away not even a shirt....i said to mat the other day in a joke if they had another young one they would be so stingey we wouldent know what to doo but i got the same old retort that it was me that was stingey with my bank book....i told her the other day becaus i had 2 or 3 hu dolla if i used it all i might go to the poor house" (Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library). [back]

8. The Brooklyn physician Edward Ruggles (1817?–1867) befriended the Whitman family and became especially close to Jeff and Mattie. Late in life, Ruggles lost interest in his practice and devoted himself to painting cabinet pictures called "Ruggles Gems" (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:90, n. 85; 330). [back]


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