Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [26? March 1866]

Date: March 26?, 1866

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00467

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 note: The annotation, "about end March 1866," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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

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My dear Walt1

i2 thought i would write a line as i wanted to send hans letter i was very glad indeed to hear from han3 i was afraid she was ill or something the matter well Walt i succeded in getting the 5 dollars without any trouble whatever but i dident know nor Jeff4 but george5 said that it was all right well Walt here we all are without so much as a shanty to cover us and all the houses or the most of them for sale the most of people say that rents will come down but i gess they will be high enoughf for the most of us george is building his shop and he gets very tired he had never ought to have commenced to work at his trade he says he had aught to have staid in the army) and if his money was not invested he would go south Jeff says he ought to have patience and wait there will be work bye and bye george says i wanted him so much to buy that lot in putman aven6 so i did for i thought all his money would be gone and he would have nothing to show for it i sometimes wish i was to birmingham7 or some other out of the way place but here i must stay on the account of edd8 as he must live i suppose for somebody to support mrs brown9 goes out house hunting but i dont nor cant if i never get one i have as much as i can doo to go up and down stairs no more

i got all the letters you have sent10


1. March 26, 1866 is the most likely date for this letter. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to late March 1866. Edwin Haviland Miller assigned the approximate date of March 27, 1866 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:272, n. 5). It is possible that the letter dates as early as March 25, 1866, but that is probably too early because Louisa Van Velsor Whitman forwarded to Walt Whitman a letter she had received from daughter Hannah Heyde, which dates to March 24, 1866. It is also possible, but unlikely, that this letter dates to as late as March 27, 1866, but this late date is unlikely because Walt acknowledged receipt of Louisa's letter "this morning" with Hannah's letter enclosed on March 28, 1866 (see Walt's March 28,1866 letter to Louisa). [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. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908) was the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr. She lived in Burlington, Vermont with her husband Charles Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. [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. 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]

6. This lot on Putnam Avenue, which was purchased by George Washington Whitman's partner Smith and housed their carpentry shop, long occupied Louisa Van Velsor Whitman as a potential spot for a home. After George and his partner decided not to build there (see Louisa's May 2, 1867 letter to Walt Whitman), she asked Walt whether he could purchase this lot so that she could have there a small home for herself (see her October 16 or 23, 1867 letter to Walt). [back]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman wrote "birmingham" but meant Burlington, Vermont, where her daughter Hannah Heyde and son-in-law Charles L. Heyde lived. Louisa had visited them in September 1865. While on her visit she referred twice to Burlington as "birmingham" (see her September 11, 1865 and September 21, 1865 letters). Burlington is on Lake Champlain, across from Port Kent, New York. Vermont has no city or town named Birmingham. [back]

8. 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. During Louisa's final illness, Eddy was taken under the care of George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman, with financial support from Walt Whitman. [back]

9. The Brown family boarded in the same house as the Whitmans on Portland Avenue in Brooklyn. In 1860, the lower part of the house was rented to John Brown, a tailor. The relationship between the Browns and the Whitmans was often strained, but the Browns remained in the Portland Avenue house for five years. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman's April 16, 1860 and March 3, 1863 letters to Walt Whitman. [back]

10. Walt Whitman did not find this assurance sufficiently specific. He sought to confirm Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's receipt of all three of his letters from the previous week: "Mother, I wrote you three letters last week, the second one was in a big envelope, & the last was a small one you ought to have got Saturday" (see his March 28, 1866 letter to Louisa). [back]


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