1861: Polly (Sackett) Giddings to Claudius Joseph Giddings

An unidentified Northern Mother (Rob Morgan Collection)

Though I cannot confirm it, I believe this letter to have been written by Polly (Sackett) Giddings (1822-1864), the daughter of Thomas and Lucy Sackett and the widow of Emery Sidney Giddings (1815-1851). The “Grandmother” mentioned in the letter would have been Polly’s mother-in-law, Philothea (Fish) Giddings (1782-1868)—the widow of Elisha Giddings (1780-1855). “Maple Grove Farm” was the name of the Giddings estate in Cherry Valley that eventually was taken over by Sidney’s brother, Josiah Marvin Giddings (1812-1892). The “Grandpa” mentioned in the last line of the letter would have been Polly’s father, Thomas T. Sackett (1794-1864) who resided in Geauga County, Ohio. Polly Giddings was known to be a member of the First Congregational Church of Wayne in Ashtabula County. According to the History of the church, she became a member in January 1847. Her husband’s parents were charter members in 1832.

If the letter was written by Polly, then it was addressed to her son, Claudius Joseph Giddings (1843-1928) who was apparently in relatively poor health and living with an Uncle’s family, possibly working as a printer while attending school. Polly’s son, who later went by the name “Claude J. Giddings” moved to Vasalia, California, in the 1870s and became a banker. According to his obituary, he attracted attention when at age 64 he married 21 year-old Anna Olsen.

The letter contains a well-crafted statement that captures the sentiment, undoubtedly, of many mothers who resided in both the North and the South who saw the approach of war unfold before them and despaired that they might lose a son in an irrational conflict brought on by extremists with opposing views, drawing the “conservatives into the perils and horrors of civil war.”

[This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent on Spared & Shared.]


Maple Grove Farm
April 22, 1861

My dear Joseph,

Your Grandma is anxious about you and insists I should write although my last is unanswered. There is so much excitement all over the country and especially about you in Pitts. Yesterday while at church, Esq. Abel Krum, 1 our Representative to Columbus, entered the church direct from that City with exciting war news. He went into Mr. [Heman] Geer’s 2 pulpit to announce that when he left [Columbus], Jeff Davis was marching to take Washington and probably now they were engaged with the Federal troops fighting. He then came on to our [Congregational] church requesting that our citizens would call a meeting and see who would volunteer for defense of the Southern part of our state [Ohio] where they had already been skirmishing. He had not yet been to call on his family. Returns to Columbus this Monday morning again.

Tomorrow evening the citizens meet. The cannons have been heard here this morning and again since three o’clock, the wind very strong in the east and the air filled with smoke ever since sunrise. Shouldn’t be surprised if its from the fire of our public buildings. And so the antagonist factions have succeeded in drawing us conservatives into the perils and horrors of civil war. If the fire eaters of the South and ultraist of the North alone could meet and both get whipped, it might cool off their excited blood. But here we are in a family quarrel like naughty children trying to break the Will of a deceased parent. So we of the South and North, trying to break the Constitution, having lost in a manner respect for the opinions of the Fathers who with wisdom framed it and adopted the motto, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

“And so the antagonist factions have succeeded in drawing us conservatives into the perils and horrors of civil war. If the fire eaters of the South and ultraist of the North alone could meet and both get whipped, it might cool off their excited blood. But here we are in a family quarrel like naughty children trying to break the Will of a deceased parent.”

—Polly (Sackett) Giddings, 22 April 1861

Well politicians have their plans, military men theirs, and Jeff Davis his. But above all, God has His and “causes the wrath of man to praise Him” and the remainder “He will restrain.”

Your Grandma fears you may be so enthusiastic that you may be persuaded to volunteer. I trust not. I should not be willing except you have first given your heart to God and then, if prepared to die and it was necessary to thus take your life in your hands and go to defend your country’s honor, I should not object.

George proposes to visit us in July or August and we wish you to accompany him as he will stat but a few days. Grandma thinks it would do you good, improve your health, &c. We think if you would come home and work on the farm a little, it would help your health and divert disease while this night printing will fasten upon your system. George has an engagement to teach in the institution for 10 months—salary 200 dollars. teaches algebra, geometry, philosophy, Latin, &c., and gets time to study. Commenced the 12th of April. I know you must be very busy but I do want you to write.

John Brown is in Canada. 3 Has been all winter drilling the colored people (for active service somewhere—so say the abolition friends here). The professed purpose has been to help and persuade them to emigrate to Haiti. Alfred works for Wolcott. Spends the Sabbaths at home and when you and George come, I will keep house at home and entertain you. I shall not got to Illinois at present.

Have late news from Aunt H. and C. Both are well. Carrie is so happy with that blue-eyed baby. George says Cousin Virginia’s boy weighed 11.5 pounds. How are they all at Uncle Robert’s? Have you joined society again. So write soon. From, — Mother

Grandma is bad. Can scarcely get up or down. Grandpa is doing alone. Shall have 9 cows. Have 5 calves.

1 Abel Krum (1805-1881) was born in Kinderhook, Columbia county, New York. He died in Cherry Valley, Ashtabula county, Ohio.

2 Heman Geer (1819-1892) was a Congregational Clergyman in Ashtabula county, Ohio. He was in the pulpit of the Wayne Congregational Church from October 1857 to January 1867. He died at Tabor, Iowa.

3 A reference to John Brown, Jr. (son of the martyr). The Detroit Free Press on 19 May 1861 had less than kind things to say about Brown’s attempts to relocate escaped slaves from Canada to Haiti: “That notorious character, John Brown, Jr., is now at Windsor, accompanied by an ebony-colored individual who styles himself Captain Tate and hails from Hayti. Does John Brow for one moment entertain the idea that, by bringing his Haytien friend with him to exhibit as a specimen of what Hayti produces, he will prevail upon the Canada niggers to leave a country where they can subsist by stealing, and go where they will be obliged to labor for a livelihood? It cannot be accomplished; it is beyong the power of man.”

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