Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [28 May–1 June 1868]

Date: May 28–June 1, 1868

Editorial note: The annotation, "brooklyn 186 (?)," 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 Walt Whitman Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00179

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Wesley Raabe, Felicia Wetzig, Heather Kaley, and Natalie Raabe



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My dear Walter1

i2 have received your good letter to day was glad to hear you had A holiday wish you could have come to Brooklyn an let us look at you and see your new suit i suppose you wear them every day or doo you keep them for sunday) i thought i would write a few lines as i had a chance to day georgey3 dident come home to dinner to day as he had to go to the hall and get his money i have had two letters from jeff4 since i wrote to you walt the first was written 26th saying matty was quite sick had been very sick5 by his statement had a very bad could6 and was taken with cramps in her stomach but the second letter announced her very much better he said he thought i would be worried and so he sent the second one Jeff is easiy7 excited when any thing is the matter with any of them but i think very probably Matty was quite bad the last letter she wrote to me she said she should never care to see Brooklyn again if it wasent for me being here so she seems to like it there very much i am glad she does jeff spoke of you in his letter i was glad you had written to him he seemes to have a good deal of difficulty in his business affairs the city s ingeneer dying has appeard to turn things very much against him) i went down to the post office8 to get the order cashed george would have got it for me but i wanted to see the post master i went inside and saw him simonson his name is he is a very pleasant man rather elderly he said the 10 nor the 5 never came to the brooklyn post office i told him i lost 5 some time ago perhaps he wasent there at the time he said he had been there this many years i [thought?] he came when roberts was removed but he said he had been there9 long time he said it made them all feel bad to have money missing that the carrier was very good had been ther a long time)10 Jeff wrote to me in this letter that he thinks it was taken out before it started as they arrested some of the post office officials about that time) that is about all i have ventured to go out in a long time i cant seem to get over my lameness my [wrist?] is very little lame but my knees is so weak) i expected mrs maguire11 here to see something about [the?] children but she hasent been george wright12 is in the insane assilum very bad

the 2 dollar was all right i look for Ansel here this week as the grand masonic lodge meets in new york mary said he had to come as he is one of the heads of the meeting13


Notes:

1. This letter dates to between May 28 and June 1, 1868. Richard Maurice Bucke dated this letter only to the decade of the 1860s. Edwin Haviland Miller did not assign a date in his calendar of letters (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:366).

Due to its continuation of the discussion on the replacement of the Brooklyn postmaster, which occurred on May 12, 1868, this letter must follow Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's May 13–18, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. Other items in the letter narrow the range of possible dates but are difficult to reconcile exactly. Louisa refers to a letter from Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman that she received, which dated the "26th." She also wrote that Ansel Van Nostrand was "here this week as the grand masonic lodge meets." According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, an Odd Fellows lodge held a ceremony on May 26. Though the Odd Fellows were not affiliated with the Freemasons, Louisa probably referred to Ansel's lodge. Because she "look[s] for Ansel here this week," she most likely wrote on May 29 (Sunday) or the following day.

Walt forwarded this letter to Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman in St. Louis because Mattie responded to Louisa's "account of poor Wright" from this letter (see Mattie's June 8, 1868 letter to Louisa, in Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1971], 55). To allow for the receipt of Jeff's letter (May 26) and Ansel's visit to the Odd Fellows lodge, for the letter from Louisa in Brooklyn to reach Walt in Washington, D.C., for him to forward it to Mattie, and for Mattie to have received it "last week" (Sunday, May 30–Saturday, June 6), Louisa must have sent this letter to Walt no later than June 1, 1868. [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. 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]

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. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman inserted the letter "u" above the word "cold." She used both spellings "cold" and "could." [back]

7. The spelling may be "easiy" or "easey." Louisa Van Velsor Whitman may have intended "easy" or "easily." [back]

8. The last letter of the word "office" is not visible in the image. The letter is pasted into a manuscript book, and the tipping into the binding often obscures the final letters on the edge closest to the binding in the page image. Most Louisa Van Velsor Whitman manuscript letters in the bound volume entitled Walt Whitman: A Series of Thirteen Letters from His Mother to Her Son, held at the Harry Ransom Center, have missing text on at least one surface. Text on this letter surface is recorded based on an examination of the physical volume, which allows more text to be recovered.  [back]

9. Both here and later in the letter Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's intended word is probably "there," but she somewhat uncharacteristically omitted the final "e." As Louisa's spelling varies, "ther" may be a shortened form. It is also possible that she emphasized the temporal dimension of her doubts about the postmaster's claim of a "long time," which she was convinced contradicted the newspaper report that Simonson replaced Roberts on May 12: in that case, the word is possibly "then."

Postmaster Samuel H. Roberts was removed from office and replaced by Joseph M. Simonson because the former "has been unpleasantly short, and for some reason has been unable to send forward the balances due the government" ("Removal of the Postmaster," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 12, 1868, 3). The cause for the misunderstanding between Louisa and Postmaster Simonson is unclear. Simonson may have misled her, or he may have affirmed that he had been at the Brooklyn post office even if not in the position of postmaster. [back]

10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had been annoyed for some time with missing letters: "it seems hard to get honest people in the post offices" (see her May 13–18, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]

11. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman also referred to Jane McClure in her letters as "janey maquire." Jane McClure was the sister-in-law of Nancy McClure, the widow of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's son Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863). Jane was married to Nancy's brother Edward McClure, a janitor in the Brooklyn courthouse. Jane McClure often addressed Louisa about improving the condition of Andrew and Nancy's children. See Louisa's May 1868 and June 25, 1868 letters to Walt Whitman. [back]

12. A Major (later Colonel) John Gibson Wright was taken prisoner with George Washington Whitman at Petersburg (September 1864). This George Wright, perhaps John's brother, is mentioned also in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's March 7, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

13. A new Odd Fellows Lodge at Myrtle and Kent Avenue was dedicated on May 26, 1868, and Ansel Van Nostrand was presumably one of the attending "members of the Order from New York" ("Institution of a New Lodge of Odd Fellows," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 27, 1868, 3). The Odd Fellows, though independent of the Freemasons, were likewise a fraternal organization devoted to beneficence and self-improvement. The following year Ansel was demoted from his position because of his serious alcoholism (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's October 19, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman).

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. [back]


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