History | Freeman Family Letters from 1829--1852
Tender and affectionate Mother … What kind friends I have. What I should have done had it not been for friends, I should have been a begging my way to my native land. And now I have a good home, am happy and perfectly contented. I will do my best in whatever land I may be in to get friends, such friends that will not leave me when trouble and sickness overtakes me. If you think of me you must think how much there has been done for me here.
Sister Augusta… I am much pleased to see a few lines in Fathers letter from you, should like to see them oftener. I shall expect to receive a letter in a short time from you and the rest of my sisters.
In a letter written the following July, Pliny Jr. spoke again of his loneliness—and celebrated a joyful family occasion far from home:
I have anticipated a great deal of pleasure in thinking I should see my parents, brothers, and sisters this fall, but now I think probably it will be two years before I shall return to Sturbridge … All that I want to make this place suit me is to have my parents, brothers, and sisters to live nearby so I can once in a few days make them a few hours visit … I will congratulate with you all in Silas’ marriage and with pleasure will receive Maria as a sister. With the greatest pleasure and honour and respect her the same … May it prove to double their joys and divide their sorrows … Give my love to Silas and his wife when you see them or write to them. I should be exceeding glad to have either or both of them write to me. If I could think of anything that would induce him to write to [me] if it was in my power I would bestow it … You see it is time for me to come to a close. Shall visit again as soon as time and opportunity will occur. Write often, write when you think best … My love and best wishes to all—parents, brothers, sisters, and cousins.
In a letter written in May 1835, Pliny Jr., then settled in Cleveland, chided his family for neglecting to write:
I once more set myself to make known my love and esteem I have for my honourable and beloved parents. For months I have waited with the utmost impatience to hear from home … I still wait in the expectation that I shall be satisfied that my parents have good reason for withholding from me for nine months the precious privilege of reading and reflecting upon their good advice, situations, prosperity (or adversity, if it should happen to be), of my brothers and sisters, and the current news of the day which would be very interesting in my solitary room … I remain the same old bachelor without any alteration except muse rational and whimsical which you know is universally the case with us privileged old bachelors.
In July, Pliny Sr. responded with sad and shocking news:
Beloved Son… On Sunday last, 5th instant, there were two deaths by lightening in Sutton and one in Oxford … The one killed in Oxford, painful to relate, was your sister Beulah. She went upstairs to shut the windows, as was supposed, and a flash of lightening struck the chimney and threw the top mostly off … They found her little daughter about three months old in the cradle in the kitchen and her little son about twenty months old on a bed in the bedroom, both covered with soot and dust and screaming. And in searching for Beulah they found her [in the] up chamber dead on the floor, lying on her face and her clothes on fire. The skin on her neck and shoulders was some torn and her clothes behind were very much shattered … It seems the lightening passed from the top of the chimney to the bottom of the cellar. The body of the chimney is so badly shattered that it cannot be used until it is repaired and every room in the house injured. Tore off plastering, chimney pieces, ceiling broke a hole through the chamber floor, shivered one cross-sill in the cellar, and shivered some posts. It shivered a board of the floor directly under the foot of the cradle that the baby was sleeping in … It was a melancholy and heart-rending sight to see three coffins in the meetinghouse at the same time.
Pliny Sr. and Delia’s two youngest children, Augusta and Dwight, journeyed west in the late 1830s to join. In March 1839, a bereft Pliny Sr. sent a poignant message to Ohio. Delia Freeman had suffered with scrofula (a painful inflammation of the cervical lymph nodes, associated with tuberculosis) for a several years:
Bereaved Children… [Your mother] continued to fail very fast until Tuesday the 19th, when at half past five PM death retrieved her from her pains which were severe … I am about to be left alone. The old lady [Mary Pease, who lived in to help nurse Delia during her last illness] which I wrote you will stay about one week longer and who I can get to keep house I know not … I wish Augusta [age 23] would come home and live with me if she thinks she can be contented to live a lonely life … If Dwight [age 20] is not likely to find business there I should like him to work with me on the farm, but wish him to do what is thought best for his interest and happiness … I shall write but few lines more at this time but renew my invitation to Augusta to come if she dare trust herself on so long a journey with strangers … I hardly know what I have written, but will close by subscribing myself “Your father in affliction” Pliny Freeman
Augusta and Dwight dutifully moved back to Massachusetts, but in February of the following year, Pliny Sr. received a teasing note from Mary Pease, who was then living in East Boston:
I have often thought of you these long winter evenings, that you must be lonesome. But leap year is here and widowers and bachelors are choosing their mates and I think if you should make up your mind the time would pass more agreeably away [with] one who would share in your domestic concerns, which I think you are worthy of such a one … If you should have any call to Boston I should be happy to have you call over to East Boston. I have not purchased any spectacles at present for there is rumour that the world is coming to an end in 1843 and I did not think it was worth a while to spend my money useless … My respects to Mrs. [Lucretia] Vinton. Tell her I am the same old sixpence.
Reader, she married him:
You have given me an invitation to your castle for a home and am happy for the invitation as I know you are a man of honour. I shall throw myself upon your care and protection and according to your invitation I will meet you at Brookfield the fifth day of June.
Over the years, Samuel, the philosopher of the family, had also kept in touch with family back in New England. In August 1844 he wrote to a sister and brother-in-law in Southbridge, Massachusetts, and extended an invitation: