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Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 19 [February 1868]

 duk.00514.001.jpg Feb 1868 My dear Walter

i thought i would just write a few lines and send you marys letter2 it would be so long to wait till next week i dident hardly know how to spare the envelope i have been looking over my stock and i find i have got three more i suppose you have got my letter to day in answer to yours of sunday last) i am feeling pretty well yesterday i dident feel very well but to day i feel as well as usual poor aunt fanny all her savings and money will not avail her anything3 we had a real snow storm here this morning but it is cleared off now i have not heard from George4 since he went away so i suppose he is well and wont come now till the first of the month


we had a visit yesterday from mr Brown5 of portland ave he was very clever looks about the same only better i think he has been out of work for a long time he says he has had some money from england that he had expected for a long time and it come very acceptable and willy and charlee6 works) i have had no more word from matty7 or hanny8 or any body but this of marys i dont know what i should doo if it wasent for letters i read the trial in the stars paper i was glad Johnson was acquitted9 i think it was right i dont seem to have much to write Walter dear this time but if you get any thing from england as you expected i want to see it if you get more than one

your mother L W

i hope you are well walter

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873) married Walter Whitman, Sr., in 1816; together they had nine children, of whom Walt was the second. The close relationship between Louisa and her son Walt contributed to his liberal view of gender representation and his sense of comradeship. For more information on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 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).


  • 1. This letter dates to February 19, 1868. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter "wensday 19," and Richard Maurice Bucke assigned the month February and year 1868. However, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman conveys information about the expected death of Ansel Van Nostrand's mother "Aunt Fanny." Edwin Haviland Miller, appearing to rely on Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver's dating of a letter from Mary Van Nostrand, dated Louisa's letter to February 19, 1867 (see Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 206–207 and Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 1:378). Mary's letter, however, must date to 1868 both because Fanny Van Nostrand died in 1868 and because Mary inquired about Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman after her recent departure for St. Louis. [back]
  • 2. Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) Van Nostrand (1821–1899) was the daughter of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and Walt Whitman's younger sister. She married Ansel Van Nostrand, a shipwright, in 1840, and they lived in Greenport, Long Island. Mary and Ansel had five children: George, Fanny, Louisa, Ansel, Jr., and Mary Isadore ("Minnie"). A brief note on Mary's family, and the letter from Mary that Louisa forwards to Walt, which, based on the death of Aunt Fanny (see below), dates February 16, 1868, is reproduced in Gohdes and Silver, ed., Faint Clews & Indirections, 206–207. For more on the Van Nostrand family, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 10–11. [back]
  • 3. Fanny Van Nostrand "Aunt Fanny" was the mother of Ansel Van Nostrand, who married Walt Whitman's younger sister Mary. Mary's letter, which should be dated February 16, 1868, reported that Ansel's mother Aunt Fanny "cannot live." Louisa also wrote in her February 25, 1868 letter that "i have heard nothing from aunt fanny i suppos she is living yet." She reported Aunt Fanny's recent death in her March 24, 1868 letter. The death of Fanny Van Nostrand is reported on a genealogy site as having occurred on March 9, 1868 (see For Walt Whitman's remark on Aunt Fanny, see his September 29, 1863 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. [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. John Brown, a tailor, and his family boarded in the same house as the Whitmans on Portland Avenue, Brooklyn. The relationship between the Browns and the Whitmans was often strained, but the Browns remained in the Portland Avenue house for five years. For the strained relationship, see Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's April 16, 1860 and March 3, 1863 letters to Walt Whitman. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman seems however to have remained on more cordial terms with the Browns. In her April 14, 1869 letter to Walt, after describing a visit and dinner with the Browns, she reminded him not to share the fact of her visit with Jeff and Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman: "if Jeff and matt knew i had been to see mrs Brown they would cross me off their books." [back]
  • 6. "Willy" and "Charlee" were probably John Brown's sons. [back]
  • 7. 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. Mattie suffered a throat ailment that would lead to her death in 1873. For more on Mattie, see Randall H. Waldron, "Whitman, Martha ("Mattie") Mitchell (1836–1873)," ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). See also Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman (New York: New York University Press, 1977), 1–26. [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. The "stars paper" is probably the Washington Star. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had acknowledged receipt of numerous papers (see her February 17, 1868 letter to Walt). Because the date is February 19, 1868, her use of the term "acquitted" is an error. On February 18, 1868, Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens sought to have the Reconstruction Committee in the House of Representatives take up articles of impeachment, an attempt that was defeated ("Impeachment Again Defeated,"Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 14, 1868, 3). [back]
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