“Lincoln’s proclamation, or advice or message or whatever the thing is that he has [just] sent to Congress…”

On this day 150 years ago, Martha LeBaron Goddard (1829-1888) wrote the letter transcribed below to her friend Mary Ware Allen Johnson. Her letters, composed over the years of the Civil War (of which the AAS has about 30), describe one woman’s response and ways of intersecting with the world (and war) around her.

This letter is only part of a rich, textured epistolary. Goddard, a native of Plymouth, moved to Worcester about 1850 and beginning with her arrival was active in the area community and relief societies. She also was an enthusiastic lecture-attendee, a writer of “Home Letters” for the Worcester Evening Transcript, and later Spy, a noted acquaintance of Henry David Thoreau, an unsurpassable admirer of Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) and an avid reader and reviewer. On the whole, Goddard’s correspondence represents an example of a letter-writer able to cull countless subjects on two sides of a sheet of paper. In short, she could describe her thoughts, the weather, war, politics, friends, health, reading and social events – all in about 500 words. She probably would have made a really good blogger (and I suppose, in a way she now is).

Letter from Allen-Johnson Family Papers, Box 4, Folder 19

Worcester, March 10th 1862

My dear Mrs. Johnson,

Last Wednesday afternoon I saw Nelly Livingstone, on her way to Framingham, & she told me that you were not well: I have thought of you a great many times a day since them, but have not been able to write you until to-night. I hope you are already well again, & that your illness was not serious.   We were all very glad to see your husband, & were grateful for his little bit of a visit, having learned, by experience, that we need never hope for a longer one.

Last Friday I went to Clinton to the reception of Capt. Henry Bowman, one of the returned prisoners, of the Mass. 15th & I had a very nice time.  The talk was good, witty, & short: the Capt. Himself is one of the handsomest men I ever saw, & his young wife is a little beauty.  We did not get home till one o’clock at night — the night was delicious & I enjoyed its peacefulness.  My companions were very kind neighbors of ours, but I do not know them much, so my midnight ride was a little lonely to me: & I thought gravely, & went deeper down into my own heart than I often like to go. Such still hours are very good for us, I believe, tho’ the light & care of the next day seems to efface all the impression left by the night.

To-day we have unmistakable announcement of Spring’s coming: the snow is still heaped up in the streets, but thaws everywhere: & the day makes one languid & miserable, taking away all elasticity of body & spirit.  I was glad to come early to my room & take off my warm heavy clothes, & now I sit, thought a fire, with a light sack on, as if it were a summer night.

I have read nothing so splendid for a long while, as Carl Schurz’s New York speech, published in last Friday’s Tribune.  Before this I have thought that Schurz’s reputation was beyond his deserts: but now I think he has surpassed his reputation.  The enthusiasm with which his words were received must have been fine.  My hope is emerging from its long eclipse & growing bright again in the light of Lincoln’s proclamation, or advice or message or whatever the thing is that he has <just> sent to Congress.  I wonder if it has been written for some time, & Mrs. Lincoln’s influence has kept it back!  Now I suppose she is really grieved about her boy, & private sorry will kept her from interfering in public matters for awhile at least — so we may look for more good things.

Some evening this week there is to be a dance in honor of Capt. Studley — a returned prisoner.  I have promised to go, but it seems to me a queer way to show respect for a man: I dare say we shall all have a funny time — but as I enjoy novelties, I am ready for the experiment.  With love to Mrs. Johnson, your husband, & Harriet,

I am affectionately yours


Note: Capt. Studley is Captain John M. Studley – a notice appeared in the March 12th Worcester Spy describing the upcoming event.

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Jackie Penny

Imaging Rights Coordinator, American Antiquarian Society

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