Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 13 April [1867]

Date: April 13, 1867

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00479

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 annotation, "13 April 1867," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke. An image of the verso of the second leaf is not currently available. The verso is presumably blank.

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

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April 13th1

My dear Walt

it is saturday afternoon and martha2 is gone away and hattie and julia [levy?]3 has gone to take a walk and california and Eddy4 is the only company i have at present and there seemes to be A lull in the confusion so I thought I would take the chance to write A few lines5 to say I received your letter on wensday and the money all safe so on the strenght of the 5 dollars I went down town for the first time sinc I have been up here I felt quite strange george6 gave me A great charge to be carefull I thought I should go and see aunt becca7 but it got so late I dident go while I was waiting for the car who should I see but georgee he had been to court he was suppeaned— something about some work that the parties couldent agree so he put me in the car and i was glad to get out of the bustle I have lived in the country so long8 it seemed quite strange i suppose Walt you have got my letter Jeff9 was gone away and i sent it by davis10 if you have not got it the 10 dollar came all safe and the envelo[pes?] you will be home wont you Walt in July you must try too come as soon as that if you can)11 george talks about our house quite strong and you may depend i dont loose an opportunaty to put in a few words in favor of it carpenters gets 4 do per day and plasterers 6 dos wonderfull wages aint it i must stop writing as Edd is waiting to take the letter i am about the same some days i dont feel very well then again i feel quite [spry?] my wrist keeps lame yet

good bie Walter dear


1. "April 13" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the year 1867. Edwin Haviland Miller accepted Bucke's year (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378), and the date is correct. Because this letter describes Louisa as living in the country and away from the bustle, she was living at Pacific Street and caring for the daughters of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. The only date consistent with all of these matters is April 13, 1867. [back]

2. 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]

3. Manahatta Whitman (1860–1886), known as "Hattie," was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Walt Whitman's brother and sister-in-law. Hattie, who lived most of the first seven years of her life in the same home with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, was especially close to her grandmother. Hattie and her younger sister Jessie Louisa (1863–1957) were both favorites of their uncle Walt. [back]

4. "California" was a nickname for Jessie Louisa Whitman (1863–1957), the younger daughter of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman. Though Louisa Van Velsor Whitman referred most often to her granddaughter as "Sis"—a nickname that Jessie Louisa inherited when her older sister Manahatta became "Hattie"—Walt Whitman apparently bestowed the private nickname "California" on Jessie Louisa shortly after her birth (see his December 15, 1863 letter to Louisa). According to Louisa's March 21, 1867 letter to Walt, Jessie Louisa recognized the name's association with Walt: "she calafor when uncle comes home."

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]

5. 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]

6. 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]

7. A memorial stone for a Rebecca Denton Van Velsor (1791?–1871) is present in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, and the woman identified by Louisa Van Velsor Whitman as "Aunt Becca" may be a great aunt or other distant relative of Walt Whitman. Aunt Becca is mentioned also Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letters of November 16, 1868 and December 7, 1869[back]

8. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman at the beginning of May 1886 had moved to Pacific Street, which was adjacent to Prospect Park (see Walt Whitman's April 28, 1866 letter to Louisa). Prospect Park extended to the eastern edge of Brooklyn in 1866, and it was far less developed than the more urban setting of the Portland Avenue home from which she had departed. [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. Joseph Phineas Davis (1837–1917) took a degree in civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1856 and then helped build the Brooklyn Water Works until 1861. He was a topographical engineer in Peru from 1861 to 1865, after which he returned to Brooklyn. Davis, a lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman, shared the Pacific Street house with Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, son Edward, and Jeff Whitman's family before Jeff departed for St. Louis, and he visited Louisa while serving as an engineer in Lowell, Massachusetts. Davis also served briefly as the chief engineer for Prospect Park, near the Pacific Street house in Brooklyn (see Louisa's May 31, 1866 letter to Walt Whitman). For Davis's work with Jeff Whitman in St. Louis, see Jeff's May 23, 1867, January 21, 1869, and March 25, 1869 letters to Walt Whitman. Davis eventually became city engineer of Boston (1871–1880) and later served as chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (1880–1908). For Davis's career, see Francis P. Stearns and Edward W. Howe, "Joseph Phineas Davis," Journal of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers 4 (December 1917), 437–442. [back]

11. In letters that followed Walt Whitman consistently promised to visit Brooklyn soon. He arrived on May 4, 1867 (see his May 5, 1867 letter to William D. O'Connor). [back]


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