1855: Clarissa Dwight Marsh to Sarah (Whitney) Marsh

How Clara might have looked in 1855

These letters were written by Clarissa (“Clara”) Dwight Marsh (1834-1899), the daughter of Henry Marsh, Jr. (1797-1852) and Sarah Whitney (1796-1883). Clara’s father was an 1815 graduate of Williams College and lived in Dalton, Massachusetts from 1821 to 1840 where he was a lawyer, a merchant, a farmer and wool grower, and a wool dealer and manufacturer. In 1840 he moved with his family to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he lost his savings with the failure of the Ashuelot Manufacturing Company. In 1843 he went to Racine, Wisconsin, in 1846 to Sandusky City, Ohio, and in 1850 to St. Louis, Missouri, engaging in the mercantile and produce business. He died of cholera in June 1852 but had managed to put three sons through Williams College and afforded his daughters, Clara, and Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Willard Marsh (1829-1882), some outstanding educational advantages as well. 

Lizzie “was educated at Maplewood, Pittsfield, Mt. Holyoke and Bradford Seminaries, and spent her life in teaching. She had a school in St. Louis and at Batavia, Illinois, and afterwards taught in private families in Pittsfield, Mass., Batavia, N. Y., and Hudson, Wisconsin. At the latter place on Lake St. Croix she made her home with her life-long friend, Susan (“Sue”) Ellen Lockwood (1830-1915), the wife Charles Wendell Porter and the daughter of Judge [Samuel Drake] Lockwood of Batavia, Illinois. She died at Hudson, Wisconsin, on 23 April 1882.”

Clara attended the Cooper Female Academy in Dayton, Ohio, in the early 1850s. She married Samuel Watkins Eager, Jr. of St. Louis, Missouri, in May 1857.

From these letters we learn that Clara and her older sister Lizzie were teachers at the newly opened Batavia Institute—a private academy that was chartered on 12 February 1853 by 13 men, including Rev. Stephen Peet, the Congregational minister, Elijah Shumway Town, Joel McKee, John Van Nortwick, Dennison K. Town, and Isaac G. Wilson of Batavia, Illinois The building’s central part, which still stands in Batavia at 333 South Jefferson Street, at Union Avenue, was constructed in 1853–1854 of locally quarried limestone at a cost of $20,000. The architect Elijah Shumway Town designed the building in a Greek Revival style.

The Batavia Institute as it looked in 1864.

Letter 1

Batavia, [Illinois]
September 11th 1855

My dearest Mother,

It is just two o’clock & therefore I imagine you are now seated at the dinner table. Do the vacant places remind you of your wandering children? I told “Sue” [Lockwood] a few minutes ago that I would like very much to see my dear mother.

I have no doubt that Henry gave you our “few lines” written in the cars so that you know of our journey so far. We soon after reached Sandoval where Mr. Spooner rechecked our baggage and introduced us to Mr. DeWolf, the conductor of the train coming north. There was very little to see except boundless prairie and the road was straight and level and not particularly smooth. At Decatur we saw Mr. Hawley a moment. Lizzie had the sick headache all the afternoon but read all the time.

We got to Wapella about seven o’clock and got a very good supper, and I was hungry enough to do it justice. Lizzie’s tea did her good and she felt much better. We changed cars there and Mr. DeWolf put us in the care of Mr. Johns (a Decatur man) who was very polite to us. And now what a road we had, jolting and bouncing till I thought there would be not one breath left me, and really I never was so well shapen. I got quite out of patience and was glad enough to reach Mendota and change to a smooth, delightful track.

Presumably the same “forlorn…little old depot” at Batavia where the Marsh sisters arrived and waited for wagon transportation to the Lockwood residence on the west side of the Fox River. This Depot was built in 1854 and was moved to its current location in the 20th Century.

We got here about four o’clock and it was not light, and it seemed rather forlorn in the little old depot but we sat down and laughed and made the best of it for a half an hour when the man got a buggy-wagon and a driver from the “tavern” and we rode up here and roused them up a little before five. I had slept “more or less” in the night but have been sleepy ever since (Lizzie is sleeping now). We left all but two trunks at the depot and they will be sent tomorrow, I suppose, to where we are to board.

About nine this morn, we went with “Sue” to see about board and also went into the school building [Batavia Institute] which seems very pleasant. We expect to go to Mr. Town’s to board and hope to like it. The room is upstairs & has two windows and a good sized closet and bed, washstand, table and chairs, and an ugly carpet compose the furniture. But it looked clean and comfortable. We shall pay each $3 a week and have lights & towels furnished and have to get our washing done somewhere else. It will be cheap I imagine, however. The room is heated by a furnace. We could have had the parlor and a bedrom off it by paying $4 (each) but we cannot afford it.

The walk to school will be short (about as much as one square in the city—perhaps two) and we shall come to our dinner, I suppose. I imagine we shall have plenty of time to sew and read, and I do mean to improve it. With the prospect of seeing you in Chicago, I do not mean to be homesick. The family here are as cordial and pleasant as ever and it is worth everything to have nice people to visit. “Sue” is a real good friend.

Yesterday was very warm indeed and today would be were there not so much air stirring. Lizzie will write tonight or tomorrow, I guess. One of the teachers—Mr. Horton [Norton?] has just come to see us. Goodbye dearest mother. Love to all. From Clara

Letter 2

[Batavia, Illinois]
Wednesday morning [10 October 1855]

Mr. Norton was here in the afternoon so that Lizzie could not write & she was too sleepy in the evening. She is just ready to start for school & I do not have to go this morning.

Lizzie will write so it will go tomorrow and you must wait for her letter that is to go in the box she says. She forgot all about the steel clasp to be put on the work box for Julia, and will you get one or get Mrs. Topping to do it, and while you are about it, please get one for me.

Lizzie thinks it would be a good plan for you to let us have your bureau as it is so inconvenient to get along without one; if Waldo thinks it is worthwhile to send it up. I suppose the freight on it would not be very much.

It is rainy this morning and seems dull enough. They are waiting for this letter and so I must stop. We feel much better for a good nights sleep. Goodbye with love from us both. Your affectionate Clara

Letter 3

Batavia, [Illinois]
October 12th 1855

My own dear Mother,

I got up this morning before Lizzie went to school and dressed myself & after she had gone, I combed my hair through (sitting in the rocking chair) and fixed it up so it would do.

The Doctor has just been here and says unless I get worse, I shall not need him anymore. He says I must be very careful. Lizzie has come home from school & is writing too.

I read some this morning & since sinner, Alice [Mason] has been sitting here with her sewing.

I was disappointed that you did not tell us you were settled in your letter. I hope all will “end well.”

Dear Mother, I have been very thankful that I have had patience given me to bear my sickness as well as I could. It has been very trying to be out of school so long. But I think I can submit cheerfully to the will of my Heavenly Father and I trust He will give me strength to endure all.

I must stop for I am getting tired & the doctor told me not to write today.

My best love to dear Waldo. I hope he will enjoy “Rackensack.” 1 Yesterday was Charlie’s birthday. I wish I could have written him. Goodbye dear, dear Mother. With love now and ever, from your affectionate, — Clara

1 Waldo Marsh apparently was a member of the Rackensack Club in St. Louis. “Rackensack” was an old Indian name for the Arkansas River. I’m not sure what the club’s purpose was.

Letter 4

Batavia, [Illinois]
October 15, 1855

My own dear Mother,

You will rejoice with me that I am so much better. I came down stairs yesterday afternoon and stayed to prayers, having my tea in Miss Mason’s room while the rest had theirs. I have taken a little walk in the yard this morning and it seemed delightful to breath the fresh air once more. How grateful I am to be gaining my strength though it comes rather slowly. I am going to have a ride after dinner if Lizzie does not change her mind at noon. The wind blows much more than it did yesterday, but it is very pleasant & sunny.

I am writing down in Miss Mason’s parlor and Alice has been here with her sewing till now she has gone to dress. I dressed myself entirely this morning though I had to sit down between times & to comb my hair. If I am as well, I shall try to go to school tomorrow. I shall be so happy when I am strong and feel bright again. My head aches a little but I think it will pass off. I do hope we shall have pleasant weather yet for some time. I am glad to have Lizzie relieved from the weight of care she has had. She has been a very kind & excellent nurse, but I have often thought how nice it would be to have Mother here. I shall be greatly disappointed if we do not hear from you early this week. It seems so long to have to wait till friday. Can you not possibly find or take time to write twice a week at least occasionally to do so?

I hope you are settled by this time and pleasantly situated. Have you heard from Racine at all. We wrote to Clara long ago and got no answer.

Dear Mother, I am very anxious to hear about my class in Sabbath School. Will you find out for me who has taught them & whether Fannie Post has then now? I would like to know too if the school is filling up. How very much I should like to hear dear Mr. Post preach again. 1 Give much love to them all.

I was exceedingly sorry to hear of the death of. Mrs. Wheelock Allen of Sheboygan. What a severe affliction it must be to the Rice’s. Mr. Blackford told Sue Lockwood in Chicago. I suppose you will hear particulars from Mrs. Studley. She did not hear much & I did not remember exactly what she did hear.

Lue and Anna [Lockwood] called here Saturday and Lizzie went with them to see Miss Stowe. They enjoyed their trip to Chicago very much.

I am anticipating a great deal of pleasure in going with Lizzie to visit Miss Mason. She says she is coming out after us so as to make sure of having the visit. If I am well enough, we shall probably go. I shall hope to see Aunt & Maggie & Uncle Robert.

Miss Mason and Alice have been exceedingly kind to me & have materially helped Lizzie in her watchful care. Indeed, Hattie and Rossy have done their share of kindnesses and I am sure I shall never forget them. I hope you will meet them this winter.

Mrs. Town too has been very kind and all have been willing to do. Warner Town 2 went five miles to get me some ice last Wednesday and it has not all melted yet. You cannot think how much ice has been to me; meat and drink and comfirt. The few days I could not get any were enough to make me prize it doubly when I did have it.

I had a little cold chicken (or rather a little piece of one) & a very nice baked potato with thick cream on it and a little toasted bread for my dinner yesterday; and it tasted very good. I have not much appetite & am to be kept on rather low diet for awhile, I suppose.

Warner [Town] has just brought me a letter from Cousin Robert which being unexpected was most truly welcome. Do thank him very much and tell him it shall be remembered among the ten I now have on hand which have accumulated in my illness. I got Mary Peck’s daguerreotype on Saturday and as it is a very good one, it is a very great pleasure. I did not expect to write so long a letter but I guess it won’t tire me.

Lizzie has just come from school. I have been watching for her this half hour & find she stayed to “correct compositions.” Goodbye dear, dear Mother. Do write to us often. Your letters are so much comfort. Love, love ever from your own affectionate, — Clara

After dinner, my dear brother Waldo,

I thought I must write a few words to you so that you will be sure I have prized your parts of the letters. I had some codfish fixed with cream and potato for my dinner like all the rest & went out to the table to get it. You can imagine how glad I am to be up and about though if I am not careful, I stagger when I walk alone. I feel quite encouraged & if I do not have a relapse, think I shall do bravely.

I am glad you are fixed at “the rooms” and hope you will find it very agreeable all winter. Where do you eat now? I wish you and Mother could have meals together. I am very glad that Charlie is looking better & hope he will learn a great deal. Are you any more busy now?

I think Hattie Naylor had quite a narrow escape. Give my love to her and Sophy. I hope you will call there frequently & will you go occasionally to see my friend Ginnie Stephenson? Have you been to see Fannie Post? You will I hope.

Please tell Henry my next letter shall be addressed to his lordship. Remember me to each member of the “Rackensack Club” and dear Waldo, accept ever the warm love of your affectionate sister, — Clara

Lizzie sent a quantity of love to all as she hurried off to school.

1 Rev. Truman Marcellus Post (1810-1886) was invited to take charge of the Third Presbyterian Church in St, Louis in 1847. He was “unwilling to live in a community in which slavery existed. He finally accepted the invitation on the express condition that his letter of acceptance should be read publicly, and then the question of renewing the call be submitted to the people. In this letter he stated that he regarded holding human beings as property as a violation of the first principles of the Christian religion, and that while he did not require the church to adopt his views, he thought every Christian should be alive to the question of slavery; and as for himself, he must be guaranteed perfect liberty of opinion and speech on the subject, otherwise he did not think God called him to add to the number of slaves already in Missouri. The church heard the letter and unanimously renewed the invitation, where upon Professor Post, in the fall of 1847, became the pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church of St. Louis, limiting the engagement to four years, in the hope he might be able to return to the college at the expiration of that period. But at the close of the alloted term, the church with great unanimity voted to become a Congregational Church, and chose Rev. Mr. Post as its pastor, a position which under the circumstances he was constrained to accept, and which he held uninterruptedly until his resignation, which took effect January 1, 1882. Under his pastorate the church prospered, and became the rallying-point for opinions that later became potential in the great Civil War. During that period Mr. Post did not forbear to assert the supremacy of those principles of personal liberty and responsibility which he had brought with him from New England, but did so with so much courtesy as well as courage, the he commanded the entire respect of a congregation and community of widely differing opinions.” Rev. Posts’s daughter was Frances (“Fanny”) Henshaw Post (1836-1916). She married Jacob Van Norstand (1830-1895).

2 Ebenezer Warner Towne, Jr. (1839-1907), was the son of Bible Society Agent Ebenezer Warner Towne (1802-1892) and Sophia A. Hawkes (1813-1874) of Batavia, Kane county, Illinois.

Letter 5

[This letter was written by Clara Marsh to Samuel Watkins Eager, Jr. (her future husband)]

Batavia [Illinois]
November 22, 1855

My very dear Sam,

It is late but I cannot help writing a short time. I received the paper you sent since tea, & was struck with one idea in the notice of Bishop Hopkin’s lecture, for it is one of which you have often spoken—viz: “mutual confidence.” I have no fear that you, dearest, will fail in that respect, or indeed in any other; and I shall strive not to be found wanting. I often feel what I cannot express, but it seems to me now that I never shall again find it impossible to speak to you my various thoughts. Help me to become worthy of your love and I cannot but be happy. Are you sure I can add to your happiness after all my errors?

I have been writing to Henry & probably you ill see the letter. Would you rather I had not said what I did? Tell me truly now. I had a letter from Sarah Hunter on Monday and she urges me to visit them soon and I may go in next week. You will love her a little for my sake, won’t you? You pity us in our disappointment that Mother is not here this evening.

It was some time before I could really feel submissive and I almost cried, but that would not do in the cars; still I feel that infinite love and wisdom cannot err and I can “trust a Father’s love.” God is good. My dear Sam, will you not use your influence with Henry that the solemn warning conveyed by the awful scenes of November 1st may be heeded. I am sure he must feel deeply. Still I fear he may seem to treat the matter with indifference. Oh! it is my earnest prayer that dear Waldo and Henry may by this mysterious Providence be brought back into the fold of the Good Shepherds; that they may be once more the professed followers of the Savior.

And for cousin John, must we give up all hope? Can he not be saved? To you I speak thus. When we can do nothing to rescue (apparently) we can pray. Blessed privilege. Let us improve it. I have enjoyed so much the last two Sabbaths in reading the “course of Faith” that I hope to read it again with you some of these days that may come.

Lizzie has fallen asleep over her book and we must retire. Good night love.

Friday eve. Ten o’clock. Dear Mother is here safely and I am very thankful. A few moments since I finished reading the long, long precious letter which she brought. I cannot sleep without thanking you for it. I cannot possibly “burn it.” You did not mean that, did you? And more than that, Lizzie is now reading it with my permission. I could not refuse, and if at first you think I might, you will in the end say I did right to show it to so good a sister (I hope so at least). I shall not say anything I wish tonight for I may disturb dear Mother if I sit up late. I have been quite excited and my thoughts jostle one another too often to be recorded.

I have asked our Heavenly Father to bless us and help us to love one another, adding an earnest petition for entire submission to the divine will. God bless you this night, dearest. The moon is most beautiful and truly “the Heavens declare the glory of God.” He watcheth over all, however distant from those they love. He will keep you and me and us all I trust in His care. Dear, dear Sam, I am yours when He permits. Good night love!

Letter 6

[This partially transcribed letter was written by Clara Marsh to Samuel Watkins Eager, Jr. (her future husband)]

Saturday eve., 7:30 o’clock
November 24, 1855

All the day, dearest Sam, my thoughts have been with you and many of them would have been penned could I have done so consistently.

Now it is eight o’clock and I have been downstairs singing the last half hour as I had promised Mr. French at tea to that effect. Charles Town played the melodeon and we all sang a few set pieces. Mr. French is very fond of it and is a good bass singer. We often sing after prayers on Sabbath evening. And as I am upon the subject, I may as well say that I often wish we had a piano in our room & especially now that Mother is here. I can only practice by going up to the Institute on Saturday, so my poor books are unopened from week to week. Yes indeed, I do like “Katy darling” and I would sing it for you tonight, dearest, with a great deal of pleasure were I permitted though I am quite hoarse having a very sore throat which I hope to cure with a cold water bandage.

I am so glad that you have thought you would like to hear me play once more. we will hope to sing together many a song of praise.

Mother and Lizzie are in the other room and I have come in here by myself to have a talk with you; and if I jump from one subject to another, you will excuse for I really cannot arrange my ideas they come in such crowds.

Mother has just left me and as she kissed me at my request, the tears came welling up, but I cannot permit them to fall anymore—to hinder me. I have been reading some parts of your dear little letter (do send me word I may keep it) and have been talking with her. She says we have her entire approval and sees no reason why we cannot make each other happy if we make up our minds to strive to do so. She says we need to exercise great forbearance each toward the other for neither of us are perfect. Let us pray each day for a gentle forgiving spirit, for lowliness of mind, for the “charity that thinketh no evil.”

Mother sends a particular remembrance to you and be assured, dearest, she thinks very highly of you as she always has.

I feel that after a stormy and weary tossing on the billows, I have reached a peaceful haven. I am calm and trustful and happy and we will remember that often. The bitter draught has healing power. Shall not the bitter experience teach us a useful lesson and will not the memory of the bright hour cast more joy over present happiness. Let us have no fear of the days to come for now to distrust the love and kindness of our Heavenly Father would be sin, as indeed in any event, for the promises are sure and God cannot err. It is my desire to love Him supremely but you must not tell me I have attainedm for I too often wander far away and oh! how many times I tremble lest I should be but a child of God in name.

Oh for faith! Faith to believe that our names will be written in “The Lamb’s book of life.”

Dearest, will you get your Testament now (before you finish this letter( and read the 4th Chapter of Hebrews, marking the 1st, 11th, & 16th verses. The first verse came so vividly to mind that I have just found and read the whole chapter….

I hope for a letter from you tomorrow. Shall I really see you in the Holidays? I can hardly believe they are coming so soon. May we have the pleasure of meeting one another then. I must go to school. God bless thee dearest, now and ever, prays your loving, — Clara

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