Life & Letters


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Title: Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walter Whitman, Sr., Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, Andrew Jackson Whitman, George Washington Whitman, Hannah Louisa Whitman, and Edward Whitman, 27 March 1848

Date: March 27, 1848

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), 8-10. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library

Whitman Archive ID: nyp.00132

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

New Orleans
March 27, 1848

Dear Mother

To day we received the first letter from you, and glad enough we were to get it too. The passage that gave me, and Walter too, the most pleasure was the one that said you were well, and that all the rest were well also. You say the weather is very cold there, here it is just the other way, that is it is pretty warm. I have now begun to wear the summer clothes sister Hannah made me which I find very comfortble.

It would have made you laugh to see me come home from the post office this morning with your letter. Eddy never was so glad when New Year's came, as I was to get your letter

You must write to us oftener than you have at least twice a month, which we are going to do

You need not be alarmed about the yellow fever1 as that gentleman will (the folks think) not visit this place this summer. The reason they give for that is this. It does not come but once in three or four years, and last season it was very hard and killed a great many persons (I mean it does not come but once in three or four years in such a shape). Besides it is a great humbug, most every one in our office has had (some of them have had it twice) and got well. It is caused mostly (I think all of it) by the habits of the people, they never meet a freind but you have to go drink and such loose habits.

You know that Walter is averse to such habits, so you need not be afraid of our taking it2

Yesterday we were to have a balloon ascension, but just as it was ready to go up the balloon bursted so it did not go up, this is the third time she (it was a lady that was to go up in it) has tried it and each time failed

We are very nicely situated in our new place;—just "around the corner" is a very fine public park, which we take a walk in every night3

I believe I told you in my last letter that I was also at work at the "Crescent" office at five dollars a week, and I have the exchange papers for which I get twenty five cents per hundred, in a few weeks I expect to get two dollars a week for them

If you do not get the paper (the "Crescent") regular you must send Andrew or George down to the Eagle office for it, I always see that two copys go every morning. My work is good and light. I have such a part of the mail (and I can do it most over night) and then I have nothing to do for the rest of the day (I generally get through with it about two o'clock) but stay in the office.

We have (I think) got along very well for such a long journey, not a single accident occurred on the way

Dear Father, I hope you are getting along good with your work &c. Mother says it is cold so you can't work  here it is warm enough. In building houses here they do not do as they do in New York. Here they dig a hole in the ground some two feet deep and about the same width, and in length as far as the wall is to go, (they can not dig cellars here like in the north, you don't dig in the ground more than two feet before it is filled with water.) This trench they cover the bottom with boards (the ground is mostly made of quick-sand) and then build the wall on it. They cannot mak[e] good brick here, so they have to come from a distance. Carpenters wages are very high here, some forty to fifty dollars a month and found

I will write a letter to you pretty soon, but in this one I must not forget George and Andrews

Dear brothers, I should like to see you very much indeed but I suppose I cannot, you must make Mother or Hannah write to us as often as they can. Theres is nothing, I beleive, there is not any thing here you would like to hear from or of

Dear Sister,4 I should like to see you very much indeed but I suppose you would like to hear about the ladies in N. O. They are something like the "critters" in N. Y. except they were one or two more "flonces" and live more in the open air &c &c &c &c &c &c

to Eddy  you must got to school and learn to read and write and then you must send letters to me, besides you must be a good boy &c

And now Dear Mother I must bid you good bye for a little while but will write to you again shortly

We are both very well and the warm air argrees with Walter very much

I have had a little attack of the disentery but I am very very well now, in fact I have not been sick much at all

Dear Mother good bye

your son Jefferson Whitman

My best respects to the rest of the family5


1. In 1847, 2,700 people died of yellow fever in New Orleans, by far the highest number recorded to that date. While Jeff is correct about the tendency of the disease to subside after severe outbreaks, it still killed nearly 900 people in 1848 and the same number in 1849. The family's fears may have been compounded by the popular view that strangers to the city were far more susceptible than natives. [back]

2. The excessive drinking of juleps and iced ale disturbed Walt Whitman: "Now you know I am not ultra in these matters, but it isn't good to drink spiritous compounds at this rate in hot climates" (quoted in Joseph Jay Rubin, The Historic Whitman [University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1973], p. 186). [back]

3. Walt Whitman and Jeff must have regularly taken long walks together in Brooklyn also. On September 22, 1852, Hannah commented: "I wish Walter and Jeffy was here [in Vermont]  they could take long walks enough" (letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman [Trent Collection, William R. Perkins Library, Duke University]). [back]

4. Hannah. [back]

5. Walt Whitman added a paragraph-long note to his mother at the end of Jeff's letter (Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961-77], 1:33). [back]


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