1850: Thomas Larmuth to William Hunter

This letter was written by 23 year-old English native Thomas Larmuth (1826-1866) who seems to have been paying for his sight-seeing excursion of the United States by performing various jobs in which he could apply his skill as an engineer. In this particular letter he wrote to his former acquaintance, William Hunter (b. 1818), an English-born millhand at the Hamilton Corporation, a cotton textile mill in Lowell, Massachusetts.

How Thomas might have looked in 1850

Gleaning any kind of information about Thomas from US census records proved impossible due to his mobility but I fortunately stumbled on his identity from an article published on the internet pertaining to Leopold Larmuth (b. 1855), an ear surgeon who grew up in Manchester, England. It seems Leopold’s grandfather was named Thomas Larmuth (1797-1873) and he lived in Salford, Manchester, where he was the proprietor of his own machine manufacturing firm (eventually the Tobleben Iron Works). This Thomas Larmuth had three sons who acquired the skills of their father—James Williams (1821-1902), Thomas (1826-1866), and Matthew Henry (1831-1908). James and Matthew continued to work for their father producing boilers, steam cranes, rock drills, and many kinds of machines using in manufacturing.

Thomas Larmuth, however, decided to see America before settling down in Cheetham, Lancashire, England, to work at the family trade designing and manufacturing machinery. In the 1851 UK census, he was still living with his parents but in 1853 he married Rachel Adelaide Taylor (1831-1911) and by 1861 had moved his growing family to Frodsham in Cheshire. After the 1861 UK Census, Thomas disappears from public records and his family speculates that he returned to America where he worked in the Confederacy as an engineer. A member of the family claims to have found a death notice stating that he drowned in the Mississippi river on 17 January 1866. His wife, who made a living as a pianist, was left to raise their five children back in England.

From the Manchester Courier, Saturday, 5 May 1866. Courtesy of the The British Library Board and supplied by Gwyneth Wilkie, author of the article about Leopold Larmuth.


Addressed to Mr. William Hunter, Hamilton Corporation, Lowell, Mass.
Postmarked Mobile, Alabama, January 2, 1850

Mobile, State of Alabama
January 1st 1850

Mr. William Hunter, dear friend,

It is now so long since writing to you that where to begin or how to pen this is rather more than I can tell. Since leaving your happy roof, I have traveled over the greater portion of the United States and am now wending my way back into Massachusetts through the states of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and from thence to Washington and on to New York.

Since leaving you I have been all through the southern and western states. I was engineering on the Ohio river, also running a locomotive on to the Mexican Gulf from New Orleans, at the present time am working repairing steamboats in Mobile. I have lived amongst Indians, Spaniards, French, Creoles, Dutch, and every other nation that is represented in this country.

There has been only one letter sent to me from my friends since leaving you and I feel very anxious to receive some. I have written two letters to you and also one to Mr. Stott but have never heard whether they reached their destination. One I wrote in Michigan; the other two were written in Kentucky.

We have everything here very comfortable at this present time. We have all the doors and windows open, the ladies all go out in the evening without any bonnet, the gentlemen wear nothing but a light dress coat. Last evening being New Year’s eve, the ladies and gentlemen all turned out in fancy costume and made such a display that I never saw equal before. 1 This morning a party of us took a walk in the country out to see the orange trees and flowers of all descriptions growing at this season of the year. Makes one feel very comfortable after feeling one of your cold winters.

You must excuse me for being so abrupt as it is my intention to write home so wishing you and Mrs. Hunter a happy and prosperous New Year, I remain yours truly, — Thomas Larmuth

P.S. Give my kind regards to Mr & Mrs Stott. Also to all enquiring friends. If you have anything to communicate, be kind enough to write to me. Post Office Mobile, Alabama

1 Thomas was probably referring to the callithumpians who caused a large commotion in the streets. Often they were masked or costumed revelers making noise for an official occasion.

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