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Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, 10 October [1871]

 duk.00604.001.jpg 10 Oct '71 My dear walt

i2 had company yesterday so i dident write to you we had aunt freelove s daughter elizabeth3 with an other lady here yesterday i got your letter this morning and i got three last week i dont know what i would doo walt if it wasent for you to think of me it seems as if all the other sons and daughters has their own to attend to which is perfectly natural) george4 and loo5 and Jeff6 insists on my breaking up houskeeping7 they dident only insist but almost commanded me i told them i should remain here this winter if i lived) they none of them want edd8 walter and they would soon get tired of paying his board)9 and we aint much expence to any but but you walter dear for any thing but houseroom at any rate i shant break up as long as i can get around if i lose the use of my limbs altogether then i wont object i suppose they do it for the best they think i live so lonesome) but walt dont worry about me breaking up i have had my way as edd says to long)


i had a letter from loo since they went home jimmy10 behaved very well while they was away but after they got home he stayed out late and on wensday night he was out all night he went to a political meeting and the band of music atracted him he said he slept in the alley but loo seems to have great patience with him she said he took on and cried and promised to not do so any more [illegible] he would only be a good boy)

walt i have a poem by Jean Bruce Washburn of the yo semite valley california11 mrs stantons aunt i think its beautiful its a small pamphlet i will send it to you if you wish walter write walter if you would like it

the old indian tradition i think is so beautiful

the fire in the woods on the prairie is awfull to read


  • 1. This letter dates to October 10, 1871. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman dated the letter October 10, a Tuesday. Richard Maurice Bucke dated the letter to letter 1871, and October 10 fell on Tuesday in 1871. Clarence Gohdes and Ronald G. Silver assigned the same date, and Edwin Haviland Miller cited Gohdes and Silver's date (see Walt Whitman, The Correspondence [New York: New York University Press, 1961–77], 2:369; Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family [Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1949], 203–204). Louisa's month is not clearly written, but the pressure from sons Thomas Jefferson Whitman and George Washington Whitman for Louisa to leave Brooklyn for Camden and the publication of Jean Bruce Washburn's Yo Semite: A Poem dates the letter to the year assigned by Bucke and subsequent editors. [back]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. The persons designated "aunt freelove" and "daughter elizabeth" have not been identified. However, the United States Census, 1880 lists an Elizabeth Freelove (1820?–) from Queens, New York, and Freelove Day (1855?–) as a daughter (see United States Census, 1880, Queens, New York). [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. George Washington Whitman married Louisa Orr Haslam (1842–1892), called "Loo" or "Lou" in Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's letters, in spring 1871, and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward moved from Brooklyn to reside with them in Camden at 322 Stevens Street in August 1872. [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. The letter from Thomas Jefferson "Jeff" Whitman that insisted on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's "breaking up houskeeping" is not extant. Martha Mitchell "Mattie" Whitman, Jeff's wife, did not mention the matter in her October 22, 1871 letter to Louisa (see Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], 72–76). Louisa delayed her departure from Brooklyn to Camden until August 1872. [back]
  • 8. 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]
  • 9. After Louisa Van Velsor Whitman and son Edward moved in with George Washington Whitman and wife Louisa Orr Haslam in August 1872, Walt Whitman sent monthly payments for Edward's board. [back]
  • 10. James "Jimmy" Whitman was the oldest son of Walt Whitman's brother Andrew Jackson Whitman (1827–1863) and Andrew's widow Nancy McClure. Jimmy was in the care of George Washington Whitman and wife Louisa Orr in late 1871. For a more extended description of Jimmy, see Louisa Van Velsor Whitman's July 31 or August 7, 1872 letter to Walt Whitman. For Andrew's wife and children, see Jerome M. Loving, ed., "Introduction," Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 13–14. [back]
  • 11. Jean Bruce Washburn (1838–1904), of Mariposa, California, published Yo Semite: A Poem (San Francisco: A. Roman, 1871). [back]
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