1844: H. Wilson Beckley to Solomon W. Beckley

This remarkable and lengthy letter was written by H. Wilson Beckley (1817-18xx), the son of Horace Beckley (1792-1877) and Abigail Willington (1794-1841) of Barre, Washington County, Vermont. Wilson wrote the letter to his younger brother, Solomon W. Beckley (1821-1847).

The letter contains an excellent description of the political atmosphere prevailing in Ann Arbor, Michigan, during the 1844 Presidential Campaign — in particular, the Democratic Mass Meeting held in the city on July 4th and the speech by General Lewis Cass at the depot.

1844 Letter

1844 Letter

Addressed to S. W. Beckley, Esq., Barre, Vermont
Postmarked Ann Arbor, Michigan

[Ann Arbor,] Washtenaw [Michigan]
House Room No. 4
July 1st 1844

Dear Brother,

Yours of the 13th was duly received. Was very glad to hear from you. Was astonished that Adeline had not received her letter which I wrote her soon after I received my tools which by the way came in good shape and very acceptable for $2.28 — cheap enough.

My health as yet is first rate. We have had so far a very wet season. It rains today (Sunday) if as some predict, one extreme follows another in this case and we have a long spell of dry hot weather, look out for breakers! There would not be well ones enough to take care of the sick one. What causes the sickness is the pond grows full of grass in July and August, the water gets low, the grass dries, and the miasmic fog which rises from that and the low lands or marshes makes an intolerable stench. If such is the case, if I don’t get it hitched on me, the good people of Michigan will see my back side — 34 dollars per month to the contrary, notwithstanding. But if it continues wet, it will be very healthy. I presume if I leave now, I shall not have the Ague at all and may not as it is but Eastern people have to become initiated to the climate by going through a process of the fever and the Ague which is a mean, mean dog to have. It depends on the attention given about the aggravation of the disease. Some have it very light; others which are careless have it very hard. Some never have it at all so you see it is a matter of chance.

I have not concluded what to do yet — whether to come home in August and then return in the fall, or run the risk of being sick by staying till late in the fall and then spending the winter in Vermont. Time and circumstances must decide that. If you will come back with me, I will return in the fall. In regard to your setting up here in Michigan, I have made no inquiries yet but will before I mail this. This place is pretty well stocked with lawyers. There is a number of judges on Ex Gov. Esqr. &c. and professors, teachers, etc. etc. There is a good deal of talent in Ann Arbor. If you wish to teach music next winter, you can do first rate here, I think.

I am chosen chorister and lead the largest choir in Ann Arbor which for excellence of tone and support of parts I never knew excelled though they need a teacher or need cuttinating [?]. I sing every Saturday eve and we have lots of singers in. I wish you were here to take my place. I feel my insufficiency. If you will come, let me know so I can make my calculations. You can spend the winter here without any danger, see the country, and see how you can do in your profession and leave Old Barre to settle their own quarrels or her divines. Bah!

July 3rd. 9 P.M.

Hon. Francis Granger

Hon. Francis Granger of New York — “6 feet 2 and well proportioned — fine figure” — HWB

I will now give you an imperfect description of matters and things as going the rounds. The Whigs have had a pole raised in the village for 6 weeks with a stuffed coon on its top. Beneath the same pole the American flag unfurled to the breeze — motto “Clay & Frelinghuysen.” In the rear stands a Clay pen (as I term it) where they meet to do business and talk politics. They chartered 3 locomotives with 3 trains of cars (they were trimmed with flags and banners) to go to Marshall — 70 miles west from Ann Arbor.  They go from Detroit and all the intermediate places to celebrate the 4th. It will be a mighty gathering. Hon. Francis Granger of New York, late Post Master General, I had the pleasure of seeing as he made a short call here today. He is 6 feet 2 and well proportioned fine figure, but the Whigs can’t do anything for Michigan is a Banner state.

Last eve the Democrats raised their Hickory pole far above the Whigs in the upper town amidst a mighty gathering and long and loud cheers, cannon, etc. This eve the Democrats raised another [pole] in the lower town in front of where I am writing. Tomorrow morning they raise another in the upper town for there is to be a multitude here tomorrow. So you see the Democrats are on hand. They go it with a perfect rush. They have some very smart men for leaders and as mean as they are smart.

7 A.M. 4th of July. It is indeed a delightful morn — the anniversary of our independence. It seems all life here grows from all quarters. 4 liberty poles with their respective banners. The Abolitionists cannot do much here — “Signal of Liberty ¹ to the con.” The pending contest will be a hard one here. I think Polk & Dallas will be elected. The new nom[inee] seeks to strike enthusiasm in the whole Democratic Party. It [Polk’s nomination] was so unexpected and I believe a southern scheme of John C. Calhoun to defeat M. Van [Buren] who was emphatically the people’s man.

In regard to [the] annex[ation of Texas], there is much to be said on both sides. It is enlarging our territory and that part too which is contaminated with slavery. It gives a greater range to slavery and more effectually giving the power unto the South. But my limits failed discussion for one. I go the Young Hickory and true democracy though the principles of the Liberty Party are the most democratic. There is today from 5 to 10 thousand present. In the forenoon we had a splendid Sabbath School celebration. We met in our respective churches and then all repaired to Presbyterian Church where there were speeches, singing &c. In the afternoon the multitude repaired in procession to the eminence just in front of the Depot to witness one of the most sublime spectacles that ever I beheld. 2 Locomotives from Detroit with a long train of cars with 1500 persons on board, the engines trimmed with hickory bushes, flags, banners, 4 [of] the most splendid military companies that could be, a brass band, and on behind car was a brass cannon pealing in thunder tomes. My pen is too feeble to describe the grandeur of the scene. Strings of waggons a mile long.

One thing more, the boys burst their cannon and most killed William — Mr. Redfield’s youngest son. Also Guy — Josiah’s youngest — was hurt pretty bad. ² He fired it off. It was emphatically a proud day for Washtenaw County. Oh, I forgot to say that Gen. Gov. Cass was present that called the gathering at the cars to escort him in. He is a noble-looking old fellow great man in every sense. He made an address, alluded to old times when he used to fight Indians. He is in favor of annex[ation]. He would make a good President. He is Michigan’s favorite and father — a very good man. ³

July 7th. Again I write and the reason I have not written this before is I have no leisure time. I never was so confined. I work week days, no evenings. Sundays we have 3 sermons so it is hard finding time to write. You will excuse me for being so long writing this. I am still well and enjoy life well. If I had my Miss Emeline here and my property, I should never return for the present, but as it is, I shall be at home some time. The gentle precautions in your last letter in regard to Miss Em may be of some use but I endeavor to keep myself right. I have some pretty strong temptations but they do not move me.

I expect Miss Mary, the oldest Hicks girl [Mary, L. Hicks, 1821-1903] will be married Thursday next 4th July to Mr. Pliny [Sykes] Lyman [1818-1868] of Shiawassee, Michigan some 30-40 miles distant. She is a little confiding innocent lovely girl. I have had many a good time with her for I knew she was engaged and I did not want to give the others encouragement. I have not committed myself at all and they think me engaged. You say you had ought to have let courting alone this 5 years and perhaps you had but you need not be married this five years. You can keep your virgin and improve her by your experienced counsel, literary attainments, &c, but for me I am old enough. But it remains yet to be seen whether I can maintain a woman or not. I feel rather ticklish about this business for I am getting pretty well along into the fixing.

I may take a start and be at home soon, and on my return home visit the falls and go by the way of New York and Boston. I want you to settle my business as soon as may be convenient and have it in a shape that I may have it together on my return. You need not drive but have that Smith concern settled if you can and that Champlain note. Perhaps Mr. Turney is going that way. If so, send by him. If not, perhaps I shall go there when I return. In regard to your setting up in Michigan, you can as well do it here an anywhere and it probably would require as much talent to do business here as there. There is new places opening all the while and why not for you as well as anywhere. You had better come here this fall and so look round, teach music this winter, and see the world some. There is nothing like blaring round, some do a great deal with a little while others with a great deal do comparatively nothing. It wants go-aheadittiveness to make a swathe through this world. There is no use of one’s cursing down for small things. Large oaks from a little acorn grow. I have always done somehow and I believe I can get a living somehow. It looks rather dark but if health is spared and no slip ups, I shall try it by and by. I have enough to make me ____ for I may not have business and to be idle with a woman on my hands for support is no pleasant theme to dwell upon, But I mean to trust to love and to be loved. He will give the necessary ability to acquire if proper application to business be observed. If I could conveniently get away from my work, I would go East soon but I do not presume it to have me leave till fall. Cannot tell what I shall do.

I wish I could see you and tell you verbatim how things are but I must desist for the present. You say you felt streaked when Kinoman wanted to settle. You say also you wish me to send you home some of the needful . I think it will be well for you not to be very flush with cash. You had better make close application to your studies for the present. You never have had to struggle through poverty as some have who have risen to eminence and wealth. I am willing to do all I can for you and the girls. I feel for them. I wish I was in a situation to do something for them and I will do all I can. I have a good many ways to pick off the change so that I do not have much to what I ought to.

I am aware of Slosson’s move by Miss Em. She tells me some things. She does not mind what is said. So you see, she is all confidence in me and shall I betray that confidence — no, never. I would rather suffer the tortures of the inquisition, it seems to me, than do it, Give my best respects also [to] Maria for she (good girls) sends hers to me often.

But I must close my epistle, trusting in ____ for the future it may be pregnant with sorrow. I know there would be such an alteration in Barre that I should not be contented and besides, what could I do. O, if that Smith house could be bought cheap now, would it not be a good time to buy it? If I could get it, it might be some inducement for me to stay in Vermont after all. Write whether you will come here or not next fall so I can make my arrangements accordingly. Give my hottest respects to all.

Monday morning, July 4, 1844

I now submit this incongruous mess to your scrutinery eye. Throw the mantle of charity on it for it comes from the honest hand of a poor mechanic. Please let me know and send me a _____ as soon as you receive this. Mary Hicks’ wedding is expected to go off Thursday. I expect to stand up with the other sis when she is married. Esther [Hicks] is a picture, no mistake.

— H. W. Beckley

¹ The Signal of Liberty was an abolitionist newspaper published in Ann Arbor. Its editors supported the Liberty Party who nominated James G. Birney and Thomas Morris on their ticket.

² Josiah Beckley (1789-1843) “was a person of wealth and property. He made several land purchases and, in the spring of 1836, opened a mercantile shop in Ann Arbor’s Huron Block on the east side of Broadway Street. The Signal of Liberty was published above the store,” one of its editors being Josiah Beckley’s brother, Guy Beckley. One of the young men injured by the accidental explosion of the cannon was Guy Beckley (1829-1893) who would have been 15 years old at the time.

[Source: The Underground Railroad in Michigan by Carol E. Mull]

³ The Ohio Statesman (Columbus, Ohio) ran the following article in it 31 July 1844 issue:

The Editor of “Signal of Liberty” takes the following notice of Gen. Cass and his remarks at the democratic mass meeting at Ann Arbor on the 4th inst. The Signal of Liberty is the organ of the abolition or liberty party in this State, and goes “to the death” against the annexation of Texas.

Lewis Cass

Lewis Cass

“Gen. Cass arrived at a late hour, he having been detained by an accident on the cars. He spoke briefly and comprehensively, with good taste. He referred appropriately to the day, and its celebration in the West at different periods since he had become a western man. Thirty-two years since, he had employed the Fourth of July in constructing a bridge over the Huron River for the passage of the regiment he commanded. He, with his troops, had been lost in the woods of Washtenaw, and were suffering from hunger and destitution in the county that now teems with all the varied products of human industry.

He then spoke of the party principles respecting a bank, tariff, &c., which he dispatched in a few sentences. The democratic nominees [Polk & Dallas] he knew personally, and could assure the democracy of Washtenaw that they were eminently worthy of of their most zealous support. He spoke at greater length on Texas, affirming that we must have  it; for if we did not take it, England would. He went on the grounds enumerated in his letter. Texas was an open country, and the possession of it would enable England to fill it with black troops, and assault the Southern States with her numerous armies, having a paradise before them, and leaving desolation behind. There was a large desert between Texas and Mexico, which with Texas annexed, would make a natural boundary between us and that Republic. He dwelt on the power and ambition of England, and the necessity of resisting her encroachments….

The whole of the General’s discourse was received with unbounded applause. He is a good sized, portly looking man, with quite a large head, evincing much force of character. As an individual, we have respect for the General. His moral character is said to be irreproachable, and he has through life been a strict total abstinence man. We remember that he was quite popular as a Governor of Michigan Territory.”

About Griff

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries. View all posts by Griff

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