Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Hannah Whitman Heyde to Walt Whitman, 17 October [1864]

Date: October 17, [1864]

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01001

Source: Hannah Louisa Whitman Heyde Papers, 1853–1892, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 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, "1864," is in the hand of Richard Maurice Bucke. The annotation, "from Sister Hannah," is in the hand of Walt Whitman.

Contributors to digital file: Alex Kinnaman, Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Nicole Gray, Vanessa Steinroetter, Kassie Jo Baron, and Stephanie Blalock

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Monday afternoon Oct 171

Dear brother Walt

Wont you write soon as you get this I want to know how Mother2 is, & what you think about George.3 dont you think he will be exchanged soon.

do they fare hard do you think. you must know more than I do about it. can we hear can he write from there Major Wright4 writes from Petersburg. Oct 2. makes me think perhaps brother George has written or can write

Write to me will you Walt I always feel better to hear from home. I shall be anxious till you write I sent this morning to the P.O. I thought I should hear. — I have been afraid ever since that battle but I had a hope he was safe, because he always had been

What will we do if we cant hear from him.

I was glad the paper spoke of his being well

I hope we will hear from him soon. you must certainly send it to me too if you get a line from him.

I wish Walt I could see dear Mother and you all I hope Mother is well.

I want you to write Walt perhaps you will tell me prisoners of war are not badly used. one cant judge by the papers I see George is the only [Capt?] name mentioned. is [sick, a farmer?] thats wounded, the one that Mother speaks of in her letters. I mean is he a friend of brother George's. — I do hope we will hear from George, I wish Mother would write s its very long since she has written. I hope she is well of rheumatism. Write soon Walt. I try to not be anxious about Georg but I am

Good bye

tell Mother I am better and want to come home and see you all more than ever, give my love to all

I hope Eddy5 is better

Hannah Louisa Whitman Heyde (1823–1908) was the fourth child of Walter and Louisa Whitman and Walt Whitman's youngest sister. Hannah was named for her paternal grandmother, Hannah Brush Whitman (1753–1834), and her mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873). Although Walt Whitman had a close relationship with his younger brother Jeff Whitman, Hannah was his favorite, most beloved sibling. Until she married, Hannah lived at home with her parents and her brothers. Educated at the Hempstead Academy, Hannah taught school in rural Long Island. On March 23, 1852, Hannah married Charles Louis Heyde (ca. 1820–1892), a landscape painter. It is possible that Walt introduced Hannah to Charles. In August 1852 the Heydes departed for Vermont. The first decade of their marriage was marked by constant moving from boarding houses to hotels, mostly in rural Vermont, as Heyde sought out vantage points for his landscape paintings. In 1864 the Heydes settled in Burlington, purchasing a house on Pearl Street. After Hannah's marriage and relocation to Vermont, Mother Whitman became Hannah's faithful correspondent; Walt also kept in touch, sending letters and editions of Leaves of Grass after publication. Hannah faced several health crises during her marriage, partly due to the ongoing trauma of emotional, verbal, and physical intimate partner violence that she experienced. In the 1880s and 1890s Heyde increasingly had difficulty earning enough to cover household expenses; in addition, he may have become an alcoholic. He repeatedly asked Whitman for funds to cover their expenses. Whitman sent both Heyde and Hannah small amounts of money. After Heyde died in 1892, Hannah remained in Burlington, living in their house on Pearl Street until her death in 1908. For more information, see Paula K. Garrett, "Whitman (Heyde), Hannah Louisa (d. 1908)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Richard Maurice Bucke dates this letter to the year "1864." The date of the letter is confirmed by George's letter to his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, of October 2, 1864 in which he writes that he was "perfectly well and unhurt, but a prisoner" following the catpure of his regiment near Petersburg, Virginia. [back]

2. Hannah is referring to Mother Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873), who was living in Brooklyn with her son Jeff and his family, and her son Eddy. Born and raised in Long Island, Louisa married Walter Whitman Sr. in June 1816; together they had nine children, two girls and seven boys. Louisa's fifth child, a son, died at the age of six months; the rest of her children lived to adulthood. In 1823 the Whitmans moved to Brooklyn. See Sherry Ceniza, "Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor [1795–1873]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. George Washington Whitman (1829–1901) was the seventh child of Walter and Louisa Whitman, and ten years younger than Walt. George learned to read and write as a pupil under his older brother Walt (who briefly served as a schoolteacher in Long Island) and worked as a carpenter prior to his military service during the Civil War. When the war ended, he became a pipe inspector for the City of Camden and the New York Metropolitan Water Board. See Martin G. Murray, "Whitman, George Washington (1829–1901)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998, 777–779). [back]

4. John Gibson Wright (1837–1890) served as an officer in the Union Army in the American Civil War. Starting in the New York Militia, Wright was a captain in the 51st New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment and later rose to the rank of major. He was also George W. Whitman's immediate superior in that regiment; see George's letter to his mother on October 23, 1864[back]

5. Eddy (Edward) Whitman (1835–1892), the youngest child of Louisa and Walter Whitman, was mentally and physically disabled. He lived with Mother Whitman until her death in 1873, then with his brother George Washington Whitman and his wife, Louisa Orr Haslam Whitman. Walt Whitman contributed to his support. Eddy was placed in an asylum in Blackwood, New Jersey, in 1888. See Randall Waldron, "Whitman, Edward" in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 776–777. [back]


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