Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 3 December [1865]

Date: December 3, 1865

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00468

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, "1865," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

Contributors to digital file: Cathy Tisch, Felicia Wetzig, Wesley Raabe, and Elizabeth Lorang

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Decem 31

Dear Walt

it is sunday and i thought i would write A few lines to you again i received your letter yesterday and the one on monday or tuesday the first with 2 dolr the one yesterday with one dollar2 i write this because you said when you was home i never wrote when you sent me any money whether i received it) i have not written to han3 but once since you went away4 but i will write to her as soon as i can get A chance i seem to have very much work to doo and get very tired when night comes george5 comes home to dinner mostly every day he is very busily engaged buying lumber and material[l?] for finishing their building in new york i beleive they have hired one or two carpenters there is plenty to be got i suppose since the great discharge in the navy yard they say there was three thousand discharged quite A number of bosses i hope jake striker is among the number6 well Walt i suppose there is stirring times in washington just now as congress so soon meets it seems such A short time since last winter but time wont wait for us

well Walt i dident get my shoes i had made for me they dident fit me they were to tight i dont know when i shall get any more i dont have much money to spend now adays to think i was such A fool as to use all the money i had in the bank and save the other now i want it and wish i had saved my own7 George is good enoughf and gives mone[y?] when i ask him but Walt you know how i dislike to ask and there is so many little things to take money that young men that never had A family dont think off but i might be very much worse off but i get kind of down hearted sometimes living always in the basement and working so hard but i gess i wont say any more about it at present Walt dont send this letter to han the last one8 you can send if you like only it is wrote on such bad paper Jeff9 has been away up back of fishkills10 but has got back they are all well and sis is as fat as butter11 did you get the union12 i give it to Jeffy to send nancy13 has been here as usual and Jimmy comes occational[ly?] it is very warm here to day Edds eyes and face has got better so he has gone to church14 to day no mor

your mother
L W15


1. This letter dates to December 3, 1865. "December 3" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to 1865, and Edwin Haviland Miller also dated the letter to December 3, 1865 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:377). December 3 fell on a Sunday in 1865—Louisa wrote "it is sunday"—and the date is consistent both with the recent dismissal of workers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and with similar family topics in Louisa's November 25, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

2. Neither letter from Walt Whitman is extant. Edwin Haviland Miller dated the letter from "yesterday," December 1, 1865 (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:365). The Monday or Tuesday letter, not noted by Miller, would date November 26?, 1865 (cf. The Correspondence, 1:365). [back]

3. Hannah Louisa (Whitman) Heyde (1823–1908), the youngest daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walter Whitman, Sr., resided in Burlington, Vermont, with husband Charles L. Heyde (1822–1892), a landscape painter. Charles Heyde was infamous among the Whitmans for his offensive letters and treatment of Hannah. Louisa in her September 11, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman had labeled Heyde a "little conceited fool." According to Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's July 16, 1865 letter to Walt, Louisa visited Hannah in September 1865 because of a quarrel about "some women that Heyde had in his room." [back]

4. After a month-long furlough, Walt Whitman returned to Washington on November 7, 1865. See Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:267, n. 57. [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. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's account was based on the reports in the Democratic-leaningBrooklyn Daily Eagle. The Navy Yard workers were organized by profession: carpenters, plumbers, caulkers, etc. The dismissal of workers was in part connected to post-war demobilization. Though sympathetic to striking workers, the newspaper was generally hostile to the "bosses" in the large federal labor force, which it considered beholden to the Republican administration. For articles that address recent layoffs, anxiety about the political power of the yard bosses, and a caulker's strike, see "The Political Guillotine at Work, Excitement in the Navy Yard" and "The Navy Yard" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 5, 1865, 2). Jake Striker, if an individual boss in the Navy Yard, has not been identified. The name may also have been a derogatory term for striking workers. The reason for Louisa's animus against a particular man is unknown—and is contrary to her usual sympathy for discharged workers—but her son George Washington Whitman may have crossed a politically powerful yard boss in his housebuilding business. [back]

7. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman was thrifty during the war because she hoped to preserve her own funds for the future (see her September 5–23, 1863 letter to Walt Whitman). Walt had encouraged her to use George Washington Whitman's substantial military pay to buy better food for herself and for his brother Andrew Jackson Whitman during his illness, and Walt had enlisted George to pressure their mother to spend more freely from George's pay (see Walt's October 6, 1863 letter to Louisa and George's December 9, 1863 letter to Louisa). Louisa's careful husbanding helped George to finance his speculative housebuilding business after the war, but in this letter Louisa regrets having exhausted the bank book in her own name. As no particular one-time expense is noted in her letters, her savings probably diminished gradually for living expenses. [back]

8. The "last one" is Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 25, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman. Her mention of "bad paper" in the present letter is consistent with the earlier letter, in which she lamented that her paper was "soiled and rather scanty." [back]

9. 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]

10. Fishkill is approximately 70 miles north of Brooklyn. [back]

11. Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957) was the younger daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Jessie and her sister Manahatta "Hattie" were both favorites of their uncle Walt. The nickname "Sis" was given first to Manahatta but was passed to her younger sister Jessie Louisa when Manahatta became "Hattie." The letter dates to 1865, so "Sis" is Jessie Louisa. [back]

12. See Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's November 25, 1865 letter to Walt Whitman for her assessment of the review of Drum-Taps ("Literary. 'Drum-Taps,'" Brooklyn Daily Union, November 23, 1865, 2). [back]

13. Nancy McClure Whitman was the widowed wife of Andrew Jackson Whitman. For the identification of McClure as Nancy's maiden name and information on Andrew's wife and children, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 12, n. 32; 13–14. [back]

14. 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]

15. 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]


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