Skip to main content

Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 5 April [1870]

 duk.00591.001.jpg 5 April 1870 Brooklyn My dear Walt

i have just received your letter and the order all safe2 am glad to hear you are better of your cold am glad walter dear its in your power to deal so generously to your mother)

i am rather better of my lameness now i was very lame for a week or so we have so much easterly winds that makes me worse helen price3 has been here to day she comes from the office has just gone)

George4 has been home he went away yesterday monday he wont come  duk.00591.002.jpg come again if nothing happens till the 1 of may i had a letter from matty5 too she says Jeffy6 is coming to pittsburgh this week she dident know but he would come to brooklyn7

i thought probably he would after hearing of poor jesse death8 i doo wish the doctor would write something about the poor unfortunates death9 it would be some consolation to hear

good bie walter dear

i have also written to hanna10 i found some envelopes directed to you walter11

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)."


  • 1. This letter dates to April 5, 1870. The calendar date April 5 is in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's hand, and the letter dates to the year of Jesse Whitman's death. Richard Maurice Bucke's month is obscured by a water stain, but his calendar date "5" and year "70" are near certain because he could rely on Louisa's date and Jesse Whitman's death. Edwin Haviland Miller cited Bucke's year (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:368). [back]
  • 2. Walt Whitman's April 4, 1870 letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant (Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, ed. Edwin Haviland Miller [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:362). [back]
  • 3. Helen Price was the daughter of Abby and Edmund Price. Abby Price and her family, especially her daughter Helen, were friends with Walt Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Abby H. Price (1814–1878) was active in various social-reform movements. Price's husband, Edmund, operated a pickle factory in Brooklyn, and the couple had four children—Arthur, Helen, Emily, and Henry (who died in 1852, at 2 years of age). In 1860, the Price family began to save Walt's letters. Helen's reminiscences of Whitman were included in Richard Maurice Bucke's biography, Walt Whitman (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1883), and she printed for the first time some of Whitman's letters to her mother ("Letters of Walt Whitman to his Mother and an Old Friend," Putnam's Monthly 5 [1908], 163–169). [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. The late-March or early-April letter from Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman (1836–1873) to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman is not extant. Mattie, in her March 30, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman, had indicated her intent to "write to Mother." In that letter, Mattie reported that Louisa had "promised" to visit her and the children in St. Louis (see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 70–71). But Mattie did not report her husband Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman's plan to visit his mother during his trip to Pittsburgh (see below). Mattie 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 Waldron, 1–26. [back]
  • 6. 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]
  • 7. Jeff Whitman visited his mother in Brooklyn the following week (see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's April 13, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]
  • 8. Jesse Whitman (1818–1870), Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's eldest son, died at Kings County Lunatic Asylum on March 21, 1870. Jesse had suffered from mental illness that included threats of violence for several years before he was committed to the asylum. Walt Whitman was notified of his brother's death (see E. Warner's March 22, 1870 letter to Walt). For a short biography of Jesse Whitman, see Robert Roper, "Jesse Whitman, Seafarer," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 26:1 (Summer 2008), 35–41. [back]
  • 9. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had expressed the same hope, that she could learn more detail, immediately after she was notified of Jesse Whitman's death (see her March 24, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman). [back]
  • 10. 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]
  • 11. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman had blamed daughter-in-law Mattie Whitman for using up the pre-addressed envelopes in her March 28, 1870 letter to Walt Whitman. [back]
Back to top