Sometimes, it's what's inside that counts!
An 1843 letter from Memphis - what an adventure!
by Roy Lingen
Setember 26, 2003
Sometimes a non-descript cover can hold vast historical treasure inside, just waiting
for whoever takes the time to read it. This cover was found for C$10 (US$7.50) in
a dealer's box at a recent stamp show.
The cover is addressed to "Cornelia M. Huston" and postmarked "MEMPHIS / Te. / MAR 6" (Memphis Tennessee, March 6 ).
The year is not included in most datestamps of this period, but is readily apparent from the dateline
inside the cover. The blue manuscript "20" (cents) is the postage rate paid in advance
for delivery to Niles Michigan, an old established community on the banks of the St. Joseph
River in Michigan, just east of Lake Michigan.
So much for the "postal" history. From here, I will let the letter speak its history for itself:
(The term [sic] means that the spelling or grammatical error is in the original document)
March 5, 1843
I received your letter of June 26, 1842
at Galveston Texas Oct. 17th 1842 with more pleasure than
I can describe and was rejoiced to learn you were
all well. I have but little news to write
but a great deal to tell you. In the first place
I will give you a short history of my travel.
I left New Orleans in the Steam Ship New York
for Galveston on the 14th June and on the 16th
landed on Galveston Island. The first man I met
was Mr. Seligson from Bertrand. He invited me to
his house, but did not except [sic] at the time
for I was in company with eleven young men
from the City of N. York who I had got acquainted
with at N. Orleans. Next day herd [sic] a gun fire
and was told a man was shot in the street.
I walked round the corner of the street and
saw a man struggling with death. I went up
to him, he was gasping for the last time -
if you had seen me then you would have
been frightened at my appearance for my whiskers
and mustachars [sic] were full length
and pail [sic] as death my self for I never saw
the like before and I was armed to the teeth as
the saying is. I had round my waist a belt
which contained two first rate Pistols and
an enormous large Bowe [sic] knife ready to shoot or cut
down the first man that gave me an insult for
that was the fashion there. Every body went armed.
June 19th went to church. Next day bought a mewl [sic]
and left my trunk at the ware house of
McKenny & Williams paid $50 for the
mewl - and started for the seat of war -
this was on 20th June. I saw President Houston
where the man was shot in the street. He is a
fine looking man, but now I am on my
way to the western part of Texas under going
everything even hunger & thirst for water -
went on until we arrived at Ceder lake in Brazora Co.
there we campt [sic] for a while to hear from Congress
which was sitting at that time at Austin then the
seat of Government to know whether they would
invade Mexico or not. But at this time they were
fighting on the frontier of Texas. We remained at Ceder
lake for a short time and we all taken sick
and one of our company died on the 15th August.
I was taken with the chill and fevers. Mrs. Bennet sent
us a pound of Imperial Tea and at the same time
sent for me to come to her house where I could be
more comfortable and have better care there. I had
a long fit of sickness and was well taken care of.
When I got well I started with Mr. Bennett to
the seet [sic] of war. A great many things transpired
on our way, after we had crossed the Colorado
we rec'd [received] orders to return and I went [to] Galveston
and there & then received your letter. I then intended to
go to the Isle of Cuba, but changed my notion and
started for N. Orleans in the Steam Ship Neptune Oct 27th.
Had a rough time crossing the Gulf of Mexico -
never expected to see land. From N. Orleans I got aboard
the Steam Boat West Wind. She blew out one of the
head of her boilers. I thought we was gone
but fortunately but few was scalt [sic]. I escaped
by falling down and found I was safe from
the steam lay [still?]. At Vixburgh [sic] I got on board
of the (illfated) Boat General Pratt which took
fire in the night and burnt to the water's edge
and sunk in 10 moments from the time she took fire.
She had on board 400 passengers who lost all
their baggage & escaped barely with their lives -
(and now you ask your selves where is my baggage)
it lay in the hull of the Gen'l Pratt smoking
like a cale pit. There was 400 passengers
now on the bank, principly German Emigrants without
food, money or clothing. The boat burnt at
2 o'clock in the morning of 24 Nov /42 -
12 miles above Memphis. I went back to
Memphis in the first boat and put up
at the Exchange Hotel. Next day went in to
the Bar, for the head barkeeper left that morning
I remained in the bar until Jan'y 10th 1843. Jan'y 4th
at 9 1/2pm we felt a severe shock of an earthquake
which frightened the people half to death at the first -
found I was in the middle of the street where the
men & women were screaming and praying - it shook down
several chimneys. I thought I was gone that time for
certain but I was spared and on the 15th Feb'y we had
another earthquake though not so severe as the first.
Jan'y 10th I went to Dr. [Islenz?] to live here, I have first
rate times & doing well he is very wealthy & has about
100 Negroes. I have not heard from S.A. Brownell since
you rote [sic]. Pray write me all the news & send me
papers often. I have not room to write. [Really?] kiss little
Miss for me. Tell her to be good to Granmar [sic]. Please send
her to school & I will pay you when I come home.
I must bid you farewell for the present but
will answer your letter when you write.
Yours, D. Wilson
(Back Flap) My compliments to you all tell all my friends
to write & send me papers. Tell B.Y. Collins
to write me a long letter & tell the news of
the day - no more room D. Wilson
(inside edge) I did not find A. Huston.
Tell Israel to write
I am getting 30 dollars per month
Sam Houston of Texas and the "Bowie Knife" (an invention of Jim Bowie of Alamo fame) are
legendary in US history. The Tennessee earthquake of 1843 is described on the
US Geological Survey's page
Earthquake History of Tennessee
A full size scan of the first page of the letter may be seen here