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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 8 December 1872

Dear Mother

Your various letters were received. I was up to Chicago1 when they arrived and thus Mattie did not get [them] for a few days after they came to the office. Mattie is pretty sick  she has had a great deal of trouble with her right arm and hand—a[nd] is not able to use it to write just now—for the last few days she has suffered the torments of Hell in being blistered—she had four large strong blisters on her at once and this morning I had to thake them off or I feared she would go crazy—she is some easier now—yet suffers much from the terrible places places left by these blisters  It seems to have helped her arm and hand some and perhaps her lungs a little yet she coughs a grat deal  Since the receipt of your letter saying that you would not come out here Mat has about given up her idea of going East—at any rate just now she is altogether too sick to think of such a thing. She has had quite a sleep this (Sunday) morning the first since Wednesday last. As soon as the places heal up a little I hope she will be comfortable—yet my dear Mother it is no use to try and think she is getting better—she is failing all the time—yet by care and attention and all that I hope she will get through the winter and if she does I shall try and get her to go out towards California or into the Rocky Mountains2  As good luck would have it we have been more than fortunate in regard to help—Mat had two girls, sisters, one a good cook and the other [a] house girl  some fellow came out from Jersey City and married the house girl and the cook thought she would leave but as she had another sister also a cook Mat made an arrangement by which the second cook came to us as cook and our old one took the place of the married one  so you see we are in good condition for eating—they do splendidly and Mat has not the least care of either house or house keeping

The children are perfectly well and go to school regularly  Jess has just begun to take lessons in music and they both go to dancing school3—so all this—with the marketing and going to the stores—occupies all their time—indeed they seem to work as hard as anyone

I have just had to stop and go over to the bed and dress these blister sores with sweet oil—Mat is suffering very much—you may know how much when I tell you that for the first time she cannot restrain groaning—I do not know whether the Dr will like my taking off the blisters or not—but I do know that Mat could not have stood it many hours longer

We have just commenced with the horse sickness here4 and it is quite an interesting thing to see how quickly people in a big city will adapt themselves to circumstances—only a few days ago and all the affairs and business that the horse entered into were progressing the same as usual—to-day not one hundretth of the horses are out—oxen quite plenty—last night a fire broke out—the fire engines were on the spot pretty near as soon as usual—but drawn in the old fashioned way by men.

My own horse is sick but not very bad—yet bad enough to make me feel mighty sorry for him—I hav'nt had him out since last Tuesday—I hope he will not be out of use more than a week

I was up to Chicago last week  Mr Lane5 came down from Milwaukee to see me, we had a few hours of good old fashioned talk and I was extremely glad to see him—he looks first rate, certainly coming west was a good move for Lane

We noted what you said about receiving a letter from Jo Barkeloo6—and nothing would give Mat more pleasure than to make them a visit—but she cannot think of such a thing now—I hope she may be able to accept the invitation next season

I am well, have a good deal to do but still manage to get along well enough—the works progress well and we have just worked through a pretty bad season—but we got through without much trouble after all

How do you do, dear Mammy  How goes it with you? What sort of wine did you get and how do you like it?7 How is George and Loo and Ed—how I would like to see you all—does George still have plenty of work—What do you hear from Han—I suppose Walt comes to see you now and then—Has Ed found a church in Camden to his liking—it must be quite a draw back to the Bedford Av affair, Ed's leaving  have they had to shut up the shop on account of Ed's moving away from Brooklyn

Do you ever get over to Philadelphia, and if so how do you like it? and a thousand other things I would like to ask you if I could see you

Do you ever hear from Brooklyn? I suppose George does tell him to drop me a line and tell me how things go there since the new dispensation8

Well dear Mammy I guess I will consider this a dose for this time—you must write whenever you can—all send love—Mat and I and the children too are much very much, disappointed that you do not think well of coming out and staying the winter with us—did you know how easy the travel is you would not mind that part of it

All send love to Loo and George and Ed—I will try and write a little more frequently

affectionately Jeff


  • 1. Jeff may have been consulting, especially since his old boss Moses Lane had recently worked with E. S. Chesbrough, the chief engineer of the Chicago Sewerage Commission. [back]
  • 2. As early as March 1872 Mattie made reference to a proposed trip west for her health (Randall H. Waldron, ed., Mattie: The Letters of Martha Mitchell Whitman [New York: New York University Press, 1977], p. 76). [back]
  • 3. According to Mattie's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman of October 28, 1872, both Hattie and Jessie were taking dancing and music lessons. Their music teacher was a Mr. Bowman (Waldron, p. 59); their dancing teacher was probably either Carl Emilie or Julius Blemner, both of whom had "Dancing Academies" at this time. [back]
  • 4. The nationwide epidemic of horse disease swept over St. Louis in December 1872, disabling nearly all of the horses and mules. Businesses requiring the use of these animals were suspended, and the fire department had to hire 350 additional men to pull equipment to fires. [back]
  • 5. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 13 January 1863. Lane was appointed chief engineer in charge of constructing the Milwaukee waterworks in 1871. [back]
  • 6. Louisa Van Velsor Whitman received letters from Josephine Barkeloo dated October 17, November 3, and December 16, 1872 (Walt Whitman Papers, Library of Congress). Like Helen Price, "Joe" seems to have been deeply attached to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, and she was also fond of the Jefferson Whitmans. The first of her letters closes in an unusually intimate way: "it is my bed hour. Good night, you are in your dreams, and I am kissing you in imagination  you half awaken and say 'Is that you—Walter?' but you are mistaken  it was—Yours truly, Joe." [back]
  • 7. See Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, 5 October 1872. [back]
  • 8. On April 28, 1872, Brooklyn again reorganized the administration of the waterworks by creating a Board of City Works, which in 1873 was renamed the Department of City Works. Jeff's old friend Colonel Julius W. Adams remained chief engineer despite the changes. [back]
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