1838: William Ransom Rathbone to Benjamin Treadwell Kissam

I can’t be absolutely certain of this author’s identity but believe it to have been written by William Ransom Rathbone (1810-1872), the son of N. Y. militia General Ransom Rathbone (1780-1861) and his wife Catherine (1791-1857) who lived in Elmira, Chemung county, New York. In this May 1838 letter, William announces his intention to go to Washington, D. C. to see the President Martin Van Buren and to request a commission in the U. S. Army, despite being only a civilian with little or no military training (apparently). If he was successful in this endeavor, I can find no military record to confirm it.

In the 1850 US Census, Rathbone was married but still residing in his parents home in Addison, Steuben county, New York, working as a lumberman. During the Civil War, Rathbone managed to get a commission as captain in the US Volunteers Commissary Department from November 1862 to August 1864 when he resigned.

I believe also that Rathbone wrote the letter to Benjamin Tredwell Kissam (1819-1907), the son of Joseph Kissam (1790-1863) and Anne Magdalene Embury (1788-1829) of New York City.


May 19th 1838

My Dear Sir,

I this moment received yours of the 16th enclosing $ for which I thank you & your Father at thousand times. you need not send any more according to the request in my other letter. This will answer my present wants. I can hardly find words to express my gratitude for this kind favor which I had no right to expect. I can only say that I hope it may be in my power to return in some degree the many kindnesses you have shown me.

I shall now go on to Washington to ask of the President a commission in the army. It will be a very hard matter for me to procure it but notwithstanding I don’t believe that he will dare to excuse me. [Lt. Gov.] John Tracy has written him on the subject telling him of my many wonderful virtues and of my strong political friendship. I have also two other friends in Washington who are making all the interest for me possible. If with all this influence he excuses me, I will make him rue it. Such a thing scarcely ever happens that a commission is granted to a citizen which makes it doubtful whether I shall be able to succeed.

I have said nothing to my family in relation to the matter nor to anyone else excepting [Lt.] Gov. Tracy & my friends in Congress. I thought that my father and mother would object, particularly as long as the Seminole War continued. Therefore, please say nothing about the matter.

I remain as ever forever, — Wm. R. Rathbone

B. T. Kissam

P. S. Give my love to all. — Wm. R. R.

Please write Henry what you have done for me & that I request that he will forward the money immediately on to you. Upon the whole, I will write him. You need not.

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