1837: Charles Smith Hempstead to William Hempstead

Charles Smith Hempstead

This letter was written by Charles Smith Hempstead (1794-1874), the son of Stephen Hempstead (1754-1831) and Mary Lewis (1757-1820) of St. Louis, Missouri. Charles was married in 1838 to Eliza Barnes (1799-1880). He wrote the letter to his younger brother, William Hempstead (1800-1854) who lived in St. Louis with his wife Sarah Augusta Bouton (1815-1844). Charles & William had a sister named Sarah Hempstead (1789-1858) who was married to Elijah Stuart Beebe (1785-1822)—a saddler & harness maker in St. Louis. An older brother, Edward Hempstead (1780-1817) was a delegate to the US Congress as a representative from Missouri Territory from 1812 to 1814. The Hempstead family were close friends with the Thomas Hart Benton family of St. Louis.

Charles was an early resident of Galena, Jo Daviess county, Illinois, where he had a law practice with U. S. Congressman Elihu Benjamin Washburne. He came to Galena in 1829. He was elected the city’s first mayor in 1841. He partnered with Washburne from 1845 until 1852. Described as “a quiet, dignified, urbane man, and an able lawyer,” Charles practiced his profession until past middle life, when “he devoted his entire attention to his private affairs. He was a promoter of the Galena and Chicago railroad, the first road to be constructed west of Lake Michigan, and was one of its board of directors for many years. He served in the civil war as a paymaster and was one of Galena’s early mayors. His two sons, Edward and Charles, became prominent citizens of Galena, and both moved to Chicago and engaged, the first named in the lumber business, and the second in the practice of his profession as a physician, in which he became distinguished.”

In his letter, Charles speaks of his slave Tom and of his desire to see him placed in a free black community in the country somewhere. That Charles was a slave holder is certain. Cornell University Library houses a Certificate of Manumission for a mulatto woman named Mary and her ten year-old son Augustus who came into his possession in 1836 and were manumitted in 1845.

Charles S. Hempstead’s Brick Home at 611 South Bench Street in Galena, Illinois


Galena [Illinois]
February 23rd 1837

Dear William,

Charles S. Hempstead served as one of the commissioners appointed by the Illinois General Assembly selling shares for the Mississippi & Rock River Canal Company in 1838

I received your favor 13th inst. by due course of mail. Respecting your interest in Milan, I will write to [John] McNeil to try and sell one or two shares of interest at the rate he sold & to clear myself of H. S. B. & one or two other liabilities. I would sell a part of my interest also although now is not the time to sell for Mr. [Charles] Oakly & partner in that place are waiting for some other [ ] before they will offer lots in the place for sale—such as a canal to unite Rock river with the Mississippi to terminate in [ ] below the town. Those men have been all winter at Vandalia to effect a law for that purpose.

I will attend to the estate matter you have set up and I am pushing my town lots & other business to be [ ] to leave by 15th or 20th next month for St. Louis. Edw. Beebe has not arrived here yet. Our rivers are yet firmly frozen & in probability of a breakup to await boat before 4 or 5 weeks.

We have nothing new here. Times [are] dull. Nothing stirring. No speculation this winter. All of our speculating citizens are East, operating there. The Iowa Copper Mines 1 of Aubry & Mills have been sold to a C. in Philadelphia 3/4th for $75,000, Dr. Miller, one of the purchasers, but we hear poor Mills will not live to enjoy any of it.

You ask what is to be done with my Tom. I wish you would send him to the country somewhere. Are there no free black men with whom he could live? If you cannot do anything with him till I come down, let him be and I will attend to him. As to family matters on this side of the river, we all are well—and also on the other, and the fear of her husband & others have been happily relieved. Dr. McKnight’s wife—who has a fine daughter, & mother & child doing well—at my home. We are all as usual, and among yous and your wife’s friend in town. I believe we are all well.

Please remember us affectionately to all the family & believe me ever & affectionately yours, — Chas. S. Hempstead

1 The Iowa Copper Mines were located about one mile from Mineral Point in Wisconsin Territory, and about 35 miles from Galena.

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