Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [29 August 1865]

Date: August 29, 1865

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00439

Source: The Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. 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.

Editorial notes: The annotations, "29 Aug," and "1865," are in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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

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tuesday evening1

Dear Walt

i have not gone to burlington yet but if nothing occurs i shall go next monday i have not felt able to go through the hot weather but as it is cooler now i think i can stand it i wish Walter you would write to hanna and tell her i will come on monday next if nothing prevents2 George thinks he will go as far as troy3 and then come for me when i return)4 which will be before very long george will go to mrs hegamens5 to board and edd6 will stay here martha has very much to doo she has been foolish enoughf to take 2 or 300 dozens of shirt fronts and she cant get them stiched every girl is full of work so she and jeff 7 has set up every night till midnight to work i think she will be perfectly satisfied when she gets this lot done to not take any more sis almost lives down here, she thinks very much of orgee as she calls her unkle george i suppose you got Jeffs letter saying about George wanting to get in the custom house he would like to get in i suppose very much he and A man by the name of smith8 has been talking of buying some lots and building A shop and 2 houses but he says that would not prevent him from going in the custom house if he could get the appointement [he see?]ms9 to feel as if he ought to be earning something i dont ask for but very little but he would give me if i asked for it i know. but i thing he wants to doo something with what money there is) of course you know Walt i wouldent make any fuss about it he has earned it hard and it rightly belongs to him and if he can doo better with taking i would rather he would if i only had some place to live i am very tired of living here it is very disagreable in many ways Georg thinks maybee we can get some small house but rents is so very high well i gess i wont worry i dont believe i shall ever want i hope you will keep well walt i was glad to hear you boarded with mrs gra[c?]on10 i should think it would be much better) i have fixed up georges room and put a carpet in so he can take his friends up when he has them come) i want you Walt to send me a little change this week as you have done heretofore and when i get to hans i wish you would send me five or six dollars at different times about two dollars at a time i may want to get some little things for her i believe i have said all i want too i have heard nothing from poor Jess11 and as to Andrews children Jimmy brings them up here sometimes12 poor little objects of misery they live i give them things when they come

no more your mother

those criticisms on the press are all [right?]14


1. This letter dates to August 29, 1865. In this letter, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman anticipates traveling to Burlington, Vermont, to visit her daughter Hannah (Whitman) Heyde "next Monday," a journey that she undertook on September 4, 1865. Her September 5, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman reports her arrival in Burlington on September 4. This "tuesday evening" letter, which preceded her trip, thus dates to August 29, 1865, the date assigned by Richard Maurice Bucke. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (The Correspondence, 1842–67 [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:377). [back]

2. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman did not explain to Walt Whitman the reasons that could delay her trip to Burlington, but her phrases "if nothing occurs" and "if nothing prevents" may reflect considerable tension with her son Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman. In his July 16, 1865 letter, Jeff reported to Walt that Hannah Heyde and her husband Charles L. Heyde had quarreled about "some women that Heyde had in his room" and that Louisa had told Jeff that she intended to "bring Han home," a suggestion that Jeff ridiculed. He insisted that his mother's visit to Hannah be delayed until George could accompany her, but Jeff eventually reconciled himself to the visit (see his September 11, 1865 letter to Walt). The relationship between Hannah and Charles Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter, was difficult. Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and poor treatment of Hannah. [back]

3. Troy is located just north of Albany, New York, on the Hudson River, and the journey took Louisa Van Velsor Whitman twelve hours. Her son George Washington Whitman accompanied her by boat to Albany and then saw her to a car in Troy, in which she continued her journey to Burlington (see her September 5, 1865 letter to Walt). [back]

4. 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. George was available to accompany Louisa on her trip because he had just begun his post-war housebuilding business. According to Louisa's August 8, 1865 letter, after being mustered out of the army George considered journey work (day labor) and starting his own business. Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman recommended the latter but may have encouraged his own supervisor Moses Lane to offer George a position with the Brooklyn Water Works (see Jeff's September 11, 1865 letter to Walt). George in July 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. During the war, he was wounded in the First Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Poplar Grove (September 1864). For more information on George, see "Whitman, George Washington." [back]

5. When George Washington Whitman returned to Brooklyn after the Civil War, he rented a room from Elizabeth Hegeman (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's September 27, 1865 letter to Walt). The Brooklyn Directory (1868) lists an Elizabeth Hegeman at 83 Car[ro]ll Street, some three miles east of the Portland Avenue home where Louisa lived. [back]

6. Edward Whitman (1835–1892), called "Eddy" or "Edd," was the youngest son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He required lifelong assistance for significant physical and mental disabilities, and he remained in the care of his mother until her death. Eddy remained in Brooklyn during Louisa's visit to Burlington under the care of Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Jeff's wife, with whom Louisa and Eddy lived in the Portland Avenue home. George and his wife Louisa Orr Haslam cared for Eddy after Louisa's death, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]

7. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman (1833–1890), Walt Whitman's brother. 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. For more on Thomas Jefferson Whitman, see "Whitman, Thomas Jefferson (1833–1890)." [back]

8. 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]

9. The phrase in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, almost certainly "he seems," is cut away. The bottom quarter of the first four letters are visible, and the letters "ms" are clear. Richard Maurice Bucke supplied the reading "he seems" in his hand, and that is the most probable reading. [back]

10. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman appears to have written the letter "c" over an "s" in her spelling "Gracon." Juliet Grayson operated a boarding house at 468 M Street South, where Walt Whitman lived between late January 1865 and at least June 1866. The following year Walt wrote to his mother about Grayson's death after an illness (see his January 15, 1867 letter to Louisa). [back]

11. Jesse Whitman (1818–1870) was the first-born son of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. He suffered from mental illness that included threats of violence for several years before he was committed to an asylum, where he was placed in December 1864. Shortly after an outburst that followed his brother Andrew Jackson Whitman's death in December 1863—he threatened Martha Mitchell and Thomas Jefferson Whitman's daughter Manahatta—Jeff sought to "put him in some hospital or place where he would be doctored" (see Jeff's December 15, 1863 to Walt Whitman). Louisa resisted institutionalizing Jesse because, according to her December 25, 1863 letter, she "could not find it in my heart to put him there." On December 5, 1864, Walt committed Jesse to Kings County Lunatic Asylum on Flatbush Avenue, where he remained until his death on March 21, 1870 (see E. Warner's March 22, 1870 letter to Walt). For a short biography of Jesse, see Robert Roper, "Jesse Whitman, Seafarer," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 26:1 (Summer 2008), 35–41. [back]

12. James "Jimmy" and George "Georgy" Whitman were the sons of Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) and Nancy McClure Whitman. Nancy was pregnant with Andrew, Jr., when her husband Andrew died in 1863. For Nancy and her children, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]

13. 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]

14. This postscript is inverted in the top margin of the page. The "criticism on the press" to which Louisa Van Velsor Whitman refers cannot be determined. No August 1865 letter from Walt Whitman to his mother is extant. Both the presswork in Peter Eckler's printing of Whitman's Drum-Taps (1865) and the press coverage of James Harlan's late-June 1865 dismissal of Whitman from the Department of the Interior are likely too distant to elicit this comment. [back]


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