1866: Frederick Wead Drury to Luther Keyes Drury

These two letters were written by 32 year-old Frederick Wead Drury (1834-1897), the son of Luther Keyes Drury (1800-1872) and Grace E. Wead (1805-1858) of Franklin county, Vermont. Frederick was married to Frances (“Frankie”) Amelia Atwell (1835-1912) in the 1850s and the couple resided in Pompey, Onondaga county, New York where Frederick was enumerated as a merchant at the time of the 1860 US Census.

From these letters we learn that by 1866, Drury had formed a partnership with a man named Caine and was engaged in the sale of agricultural implements under the name of Drury, Caine & Co. in Alton, Illinois. In both letters, Frederick shares information about his thriving business and the health and well being of his family, but of a more interesting nature are his comments on politics and the demise of Andrew Johnson’s presidency.

In both letters, Frederick refers to Andrew Johnson’s “Swing Around the Circle” which was a speaking campaign undertaken by the president between August 27 and September 15, 1866. The tour was an attempt to gain support for his mild Reconstruction policies and for his preferred candidates (mostly Democrats) in the forthcoming midterm Congressional elections. The tour received its nickname due to the route that the campaign took: Washington, D.C., to New York, west to Chicago, south to St. Louis, and east through the Ohio River valley back to the nation’s capital.

“Johnson undertook the speaking tour in the face of increasing opposition in the northern states and in Washington to his lenient form of reconstruction in the south, which had led the southern states largely to revert to the social system that had predominated before the Civil War. Although he believed he could regain the trust of moderate northern Republicans by exploiting tensions between them and their Radical counterparts on the tour, Johnson only alienated them more.” [Wikipedia]

All-in-all, the tour was a disaster for the President by most accounts. In the second letter, Frederick summed up his opinion of it as follows: “That journey cost him millions of honest votes. His speech, his drunken driveling, slobbery haranguer at the Southern Hotel at St. Louis was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the most disgusting tirade that ever emanated from any man.”

A photograph taken during the “Swing Around the Circle Tour.” Johnson sits at center with Grant at his side.

Letter 1

Alton [Illinois]
September 17, 1866

Dear Father,

I have been so busy that I have not had time to write to you for some time. Frankie has had a pretty serious time this summer. Has had 3 severe attacks of fever. Is just now recovering from the last and I am in hopes this will be the last. I think she will be ok in a few days. Nellie is gaining ground, is getting quite rugged again, and I guess that she will entirely outgrow her chronic diarrhea. Willie, Etta, Albert, Jennie, Flor., John, Bob, George Wise, Messick, Mr. Nelson, and your humble servant are fully up to the standard and make out to eat three straight meals per diem, and “swing around the circle” as easy as to “roll off a log.”

Business is good—have all we can do and more too. Have sold 240 drills and could have sold one hundred and fifty more if we could have got them but it was impossible. You don’t know anything about what a raise there has been and still is. Men have come 40 miles with the money in their pockets to get the McSherry Drill 1 and just begged and plead for them, but it was no use. We could not get them. I went to St. Louis and bought all I could find there (6) and they were all gone next day before night. Sold 15 a day for two or three days and since we got our [ ] received as many as 15 or 20 orders in a day. Oh! it is too confounded bad to think what we might have done if we had only had a little more pluck but John and I both thought that 240 would be all that we could sell; but we both “shot our granny.” We might just as well have made $2,000 more as to have turned our hand over, but it’s too late now.

We are selling Uncle Sam Fans 2 too—faster than we can make them. Had orders for 7 today and could not serve them till tomorrow because they are not dry. Our leather and saddlery hardware trade is constantly on the increase. We are selling cords of leather and cords of horse collars. We got in 30 dozen of those Ohio collars in the last 3 days and one day I sold 7 dozen at $31. Received an invoice of whips today of $5600 and Al[bert] has been marking and putting them up.

We are still anxious to see you back here this fall. John has much fun as ever with Bob. We got up a bet the other night on the majorities in the northern states in this fall’s elections, and the one that was the farthest off was, or is, to pay an oyster supper. My guess was 240 thousand Union majority. John’s was 239 thousand. George Wise 215 thousand, and Bob 75 thousand Union majority. So you see who will have to pay. Vermont and Maine have already rolled up more than half of bob’s estimate.

[President] A[ndrew] Johnson passed through here last week and “swung around the circle” a couple of times. Left the flag and the constitution with us and passed on to St. Louis where he had another “big drunk.” Farewell Andrew Johnson.

Yours truly, — Drury, Caine & Co.

1 The McSherry Grain Drill and Seed Drill was all the rage in 1866. With it, eight to ten acres a day could be planted.

2 The “Uncle Sam Fan” was a grain and seed separator constructed like an ordinary fan mill. It separated oats, cockle, wild buckwheat, and all other impurities from spring wheat, etc.

Letter 2

Alton, [Illinois]
October 8, 1866

Dear Father,

Having to wait for an Illinois river boat to take me up to Griggsville, I thought I’d take the opportunity to drop you a line. I am going up there to attend the Pike county fair. Last week I attended the State Fair of Missouri held at St. Louis. We sent an “Uncle Sam” [fan] down and I went down and run it, and had the satisfaction of bearing off the honors in the shape of 1st Premium $5.00 diploma and blue ribbon.

Well, I suppose before I write any more you would like to know how we all do. Well, we are all alive yet. The cholera has passed us by and we “still live.” Frank hs had a pretty hard time this summer with billious intermittent fever, which has taken some of her superfluous flesh.. She is now around again, however, and I hope she will entirely recover. Nellie has got pretty nearly “shet” of her bowel trouble but has chills which hang on to her very persistently. However, on the whole, she is much better and is gaining flesh and growing finely. She is as smart as ever and I think a little smarter. I think her the smartest child of her age west of the Alleghany Mountains. She can use more big words (and put them where they belong too) than any 14 year-old child that I ever saw.

Mrs. Mitchell has a young French lady there teaching Belle french and Nellie is getting so that she can talk parley vous as well as any of them.

Etta and Albert and Jennie & John and Florence and Bob and George and Messick and Charlie and Toney and the dog are all healthy. Uncle Hezekiah and Eva came down and made us a visit. The Judge said nothing about politics.

Andy Johnson is played out in this country and you can rely upon the great Prairie State rolling up such a majority for John A. Logan and against copperheads and rebels as will make A. Johnson tremble in his boots. The Philadelphia Convention 1 opened my eyes and those of thousands of others who still cherished the hope that Andrew Johnson was what he claimed to be and what we all hoped he was—an honest man. And his tour from Washington to St. Louis enabled us all to see him and hear him, and it sickened us all. That journey cost him millions of honest votes. His speech, his drunken driveling, slobbery haranguer at the Southern Hotel at St. Louis was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the most disgusting tirade that ever emanated from any man. It would have disgraced Ben Parke or General Pomeroy. He was drunk—drunk!! He openly and boldly endorsed Mayor Monroe and the New Orleans Massacre.

Well, I think the proceedings today in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa will put quietus on him and all his friends (of which latter he has but few left). I see the Times, Herald, and Post have all left him.

Trade keeps up a busy front. Sales up to October 1st 103 thousand and upwards. Last week our cash receipts were over 8 thousand dollars. Hope to see you here soon. Love to all. Good bye.

Yours affectionately. The boat has whistled. — F. W. Drury

Weather delightful.

1 The Philadelphia Convention was held on August 14-17, 1866.

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