The most prolific writer (or at least letters of which the greatest amount were saved) were the letters of Aunt Nancy Whitmarsh, my husband's 3rd great grand aunt. Nancy Anna Ward was born 22 July 1826 in Philadelphia, PA and died there on 5 April 1905. She married James Whitmarsh in 1847 and bore 8 children, three of whom died in infancy, and that I might never have known existed but for one letter she wrote which I will share later. Her letters are particularly interesting to me as she includes many details of daily living that some might find mundane but that paint a great picture of life in Philadelphia in the 1800's. Unfortunately, there is no photograph of Nancy in the family collection. I hope to find one someday.
526 N. 53rd St.
West Phila. Oct. 18th 1891
My dear nephew,
Your of Sep. 14th (wish I had a decent pen) came in due time and I have been wanting to write and put your curiosity at rest though not in the way you can expect for I really cannot recall anything I was going to communicate in the way of news that was “strange, startling and peculiar”. Did I really write that? I think those adjectives in a dream or some other unaccountable way. Indeed my curiosity is aroused now to find out what I had in mind. I am inclined to think I only referred to our improvements, new piazza, new fence, etc.
It is Sabbath evening and as I belong to the “shut outs” as well as the “shut ins” I thought perhaps an hour might be profitably spent in writing to you as your letter expressed comfort in hearing from home. I have been contending with the “blues” today and trying to reason with myself that I have much for which to be thankful. Mother is well as usual, wheels about, sits at the east bay window all day and looks out. Howard is better, is taking “Hoods Sasparilla” and does not have that tired feeling. It contains dandelion that I know to be useful in a discordant condition of the system. He took a ride last evening by moonlight in a tandem tricycle, that is two in one vehicle. Their “steed”, their own legs and feet. There were two others of the same kind of vehicle and they all rode to the Park several mile. Howards’ became somewhat unmanageable as they went down grade and ran into a band of earth throwing them out but hunting no one. Howard says they have three wheels and are safe, do not topple over like a bi-cycle. I suppose last night they were cautious. The part was composed of young men (no ladies). Your father came out with Mollie about two weeks ago to color his measures. They did the work in the empty house next door and attended to the drying in the parlors and shed. Albert was on to take the balance of his family home to Pittsburg. It was a big disappointment all around. We have named it a “fizzle”. You see he reckoned without his host the landlord would not release him as he fully expected and after much suspense and anxiety especially on the part of Caddie and the oldest child they had to give the project up. Caddie wrote me after the return “I am homesick for 53rd St.” and “this suspense is fast whitening my hair”.
Yesterday week (Saturday) your father came out to fold or roll some of the measures. He did not come as early as he expected so was delayed in returning, indeed it was nearer eleven o’clock than ten when he left and then he carried two bundles of rolls in each as they weighed seventeen - made a heavy load for him to carry so far to reach the car and then to walk to his lodgings. The reason he did not come earlier he said orders were coming in and he could not get away from the office. Yesterday he came again before noon and worked steadily rolling and tying until after ten and carried away 2 bundles. Howard has taken some in but only one bundle at a time. I think the last move of the office was a good thing. I have never been there to see it but from the description it is much more cheerful, he has gas light and heat without any extra charge and less rent to pay. The day light is more plentiful and surroundings much better. Your father appears much better than last winter and sometimes he speaks of his condition then he says he was not sick bodily but his mind was sick on account of breaking up his home and George’s treatment. Did you know that George called at the office and told him he was not going to pay anything for that mantel mirror as his father owed him for his services on partnership in the business until the papers were destroyed and he offered to come and go over the books to see how much his father was indebted to him? Do you know what George called his father last winter when the first papers were destroyed? A thief and a coward. Only think after all his kindness and attention whenever he visited him. I told your father one day that it was well to be ones own executor as Wills are often broken and then added he had not a child who regarded him as you did. In a few days he sent you $50. I think much of that talk and surmisings last winter was without foundation as there was a little of it this summer by Mollie which turned out to be entirely without the least foundation as I soon learned. Some weeks ago when he came out I saw a lack of his usual cheerfulness and felt something was depressing him. Before he left he told me about Adamson curring pieces and he said he could not sleep one night worrying about his business but since that he has returned to his normal condition and business is pretty good. I told him he had enough already to live on, which of course he knows. How we do cling to the present life although it may soon be over with us. We forget ‘Tis not the whole of life to live.”
This morning I followed a train of thought suggested by the dim gas light burning. When I retired last night the dim light seemed very necessary in the darkness and looked important. This morning when daylight appeared how insignificant the burner appeared, of no use whatever so I thought how we value the things of the present - life, our joys, how they absorb our thoughts! Our sorrows, how great they seem! And yet in the bright light of eternity how insignificant these things appear. “For I reckon the offerings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed.
I enclosed the funeral services read at the grave of Mr. Peterson and then ask you to read Corinthians Fifth Chapter.
Tell Lusetta that I hope she will have better success than many do in Phila. The newspaper says there is much complaint of fruit spoiling and cans popping. You have not guessed why a woman loves to put up fruit and it is not for herself but she enjoys serving her family, eat it.
I rec’d a letter from David in Sept. he says his bank acct. is now good for $5.00 (five hundred)
Kenton and his son Louis have left the hotel and board at his sisters, Mrs. Hudson. It cost $16 a week for both at hotel.
Love to wife and children from your loving Aunt Nancy