Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 4 March [1869]

Date: March 4, 1869

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00575

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, "1869," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke.

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

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march 4th1

Dear walter

i waited thinking i should have some word from jeff or mat2 but we have not so i thought if you dident hear from me you would think perhaps i hadent got the money order but i have i got it on tuesday all safe and very acceptable) we are having a snow storm here for the inaugeration day maybee it dont storm in washington though) i am pretty well except a pain in my side i am subject to it when i get the least cold i sent edd to the drug store and got some good strong mustard and have put a plaister on)3 george4 asked me the other day why Walt never said any thing about the house if he was offended at any thing i said5 no i dident suppose he was that you was probably in a hurry when you wrote and dident think the houses is pretty well along but george hasent got any loan on smiths house6 yet he expected to get three thousand dollars on it but hasent got any yet the agents for loaning money say they never knew such a time every one that has mony to loan gets govermt bonds georgey has been in lots of trouble about his paymen7 he has had i beleive about 2000 doller of Jeff but he is in hopes of getting a loan on smiths house if he dont get disappointed again you see he has paid all along for both as they went on dident think he would have any difficulty in getting the loan on such good security) i told him i wouldent worry so much about it but you know george is so prompt about paying the bills as they come due i have looked some for mary8 but i hope she wont come now till we move we will have a roome for you walt maybee you can come if nothing happens about the 4th of July and stay a week and then come again when your vacation is) i suppose there is stirring times to day at washington it seems that the old codger has done all the good or harm he could in the way of pardons some is good perhaps)9 but many i should think ought not to have been well walter dear i hope this will find you well and love to the Oconors10 it is so nice you can go there to tea not a word from han)11 mr Lane12 has had a letter from Jeff it seems their concern has overflowed once on account of the great rise of the river but it was so far advanced that it dident doo much harm only stopped the progress of the work for awhile

no more at present

L Whitman13


1. This letter dates to March 4, 1869. The date "March 4" is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the year 1869. Edwin Haviland Miller agreed with Bucke's date (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:367). The year corresponds with a series of late-term pardons by the outgoing President Andrew Johnson, and it corresponds also to George Washington Whitman's difficulty in obtaining financing for his housing business, which led him to request a loan from Walt Whitman (see Louisa's March 15, 1869 letter to Walt). This letter, which precedes the letter with the loan request by eleven days, explains the financing difficulties that George had encountered from loan agents. [back]

2. 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)."

Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) was the wife of Jeff Whitman. 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. [back]

3. Mustard plasters were a mustard paste that was applied to a cloth or paper, which was then applied to skin, generally with an intervening layer of cloth or paper. The paste, sometimes diluted, was typically applied to the abdomen and was held to relieve pain by increasing bloodflow or by drawing excess blood from the inflamed or painful area. Mustard, a strong irritant, would produce blisters if allowed to remain in contact with skin. See Health at Home, or Hall's Family Doctor (Hartford: J. A. S. Betts, 1873), 297. [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. 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]

5. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman in her March 17, 1869 letter to Walt Whitman wrote that George Washington Whitman would follow Walt's advice and have a mortgage made out to Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman: "i will get george to doo what you say) he is having the morgage [sic] made out to Jeffy there will be no other claim on it and i think it has been a good thing for Jeff as well as george." According to the understanding at this time, Jeff agreed to lend George $3,000. Jeff sent George installments of $200 per month (see Dennis Berthold and Kenneth M. Price, ed., Dear Brother Walt: The Letters of Thomas Jefferson Whitman [Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984], 136, n. 1; Walt Whitman, Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:79–80, n. 11). However, according to Louisa's June 23, 1869 letter to Walt, Jeff initially agreed to lend George $1,000 and had agreed to lend an additional $3,000 in exchange for a mortgage. But Jeff, who had only sent George $2400 toward the mortgage, wanted to be repaid the initial $1,000 immediately—even though Jeff had ceased making $200 monthly payments on the promised $3,000 while $600 short of $3,000. In mid-March 1869 Louisa asked Walt to lend George $600, and Walt apparently agreed (see Louisa's March 15, 1869 letter and Jeff's March 25, 1869 letter to Walt). The reason that Walt could be "offended at any thing i said" is uncertain, but George may have hinted already that he would ask Walt for a loan and so had become anxious about Walt's silence on the matter. [back]

6. George Washington Whitman started a building business with a partner named Smith in 1865, and they were joined by a mason named French the following year. See Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 27–29. [back]

7. The "t" was omitted in "payment" to shorten the word so that it would fit in space before the fold. [back]

8. 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]

9. President Andrew Johnson's late-term pardons, according to contemporary issues of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, included John C. Brain, convicted of piracy ("The Pardon of Brain," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 1, 1869, 3); Charles O. Brockway and Nathaniel Oakley, both convicted of counterfeiting ("U.S. Marshal's Office. Pardons Ad Libitum," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 3, 1869, 3; "U.S. Marshal's Office. Still Another Pardon," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 1, 1869, 5), and John R. Wigham, convicted of embezzling letters ("U.S. Marshal's Office. Still Another Pardon," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1869, 2). [back]

10. For a time Walt Whitman lived with William D. and Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor, who, with Charles Eldridge and later John Burroughs, were to be his close associates during the Washington years. William Douglas O'Connor (1832–1889) was the author of the pro-Whitman pamphlet "The Good Gray Poet" in 1866. Nelly O'Connor had a close personal relationship with Whitman, and the correspondence between Walt and Nelly is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see "O'Connor, William Douglas (1832–1889)." [back]

11. 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. Late in 1868 Hannah suffered a thumb infection that led Doctor Samuel W. Thayer to lance her wrist in November and to amputate her thumb the following month. For Louisa's report on the initial surgery from a non-extant letter by Charles Heyde, see her November 28 to December 12, 1868 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]

12. Moses Lane (1823–1882) was Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Water Works from 1862 to 1869 and later became City Engineer of Milwaukee. He was the supervisor of Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman at the Brooklyn Water Works and found George Washington Whitman an offer of employment, according to Jeff's September 11, 1865 letter. For more information on Walt Whitman's dealings with Lane, see Whitman's January 16, 1863 letter to Jeff. [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]


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