1859: Augustus William Cowan to Mary H. P. Christian

This letter was written by Augustus William Cowan (1837-1913), the son of William Cowan (1803-1851) and Emeline Coffeen (1809-1867) of Watertown, Jefferson county, New York. Augustus (or “Gus”) married Mary H. P. Christian (1832-1914) in 1867.

Mary Christian of Watertown, New York—to whom the letter was addressed and who would marry Gus in 1867.

From a county history we learn that Gus “remained in Watertown until eighteen years of age, and was educated at the Jefferson County Institute. He came west in 1854 and the following year took up his residence in Pontiac, where he clerked in a general store for some years. He then formed a partnership with Judge Jonathan Duff in the banking and real-estate business, conducting it with such success that in a few years the firm had a together a considerable fortune, invested mainly in lands in this section. In 1870 the partnership was dissolved. Although the business relations were discontinued there still remained such warm personal feeling as exists between brothers and the closest friends,  until the Judge’s death in 1881. Bound together by ties not only of personal friendship but that of political affinity and the brotherhood of secret societies, the two members of the firm were regarded as almost members of one family, and it was natural that the living member of the firm should be deeply affected at the departure of one he loved so well.  Mr. Cowan continued in the real-estate business until 1882, when  he was elected county treasurer and for four years held that office, discharging its duties in a commendable and satisfactory manner. Since  1889 he has been owner of the Livingston  county title abstracts and has devoted his time and attention to that business, meeting with good success.”


Addressed to Miss Mary P. Christian, Watertown, New York

Pontiac [Illinois]
December 23rd 1859

Dear Mollie,

I wish you a “Merry Christmas” and a Happy New Year. May the mirth and festivities of the former not pass without leaving a happy impression on your usual smiling countenance, and the latter ‘ere it closes from the happiest year of your existence. As for me, I do not expect to be any more than ordinarily happy on those occasions but shall endeavor to pass away the time.

We have fine sleighing just now Mollie but I need not talk to you about sleighing for you are enjoying “sleigh rides” every day with some acquaintances I’ve no doubt. Nevertheless we enjoy it for it has been two years since we have had anything of the kind. Last winter we had very little snow here and that was while I was absent—while I was in that land of sunshine and cotton where I would like to live for several reasons, the principal one of which is its climate. A day or two ago I took a ride to that nice little town of Fairbury and on our return we stopped at a country farm house where they were having a party. We were cordially invited to stay.

January 8, 1860

This is really too bad to day writing so long when I had my mind fully made up on a lively correspondence hereafter but my besetting sin of procrastination has been busy and kept me from my duty. You will pardon me, won’t you Mollie? Remember that this delay has not been as long as they used to be. I remember of ine intervals of six months and I cannot blame you if you still retain a grudge against me for that but for this I must beg your forgiveness.

I received a letter from Ran about the same time I did your own but have not yet answered it. Tell him I will write sometime. He seemed to be having the “blues” when he wrote. I wish I could ret Ran a good situation here. I would like to have him with me.

Only Jany. 17th 1860

Well to be sure, what a fellow I am! I received a little letter yesterday which created not a little remorse of conscience. What a monitor to do right and what a quick detective of wrong. I almost wish sometime that I could banish it but it will reprove me and remain with me like a “Dutch Uncle” however much you may accuse me of not being possessed of anything of the kind. Well this evening I went to my desk for paper to write to Mollie with full faith that i had to commence on a new sheet (supposing that I had destroyed this one) when “Pontiac, Dec. 23rd 1859, Dear Mollie” etc. met my astonished gaze. So thinks I, I’ll go ahead with this and show Mollie how many grand efforts I occasionally make before I accomplished my desire. Your letter of yesterday was an excellent one—so different from what I anticipated before breaking the seal (conscience was at work again). I could think of nothing—was expecting nothing but reproof. But the tenor of your letter soon quieted my fears and I then felt that an early reply would effect that peace of mind so desirable to us both and cause you to grant the prayer of your humble petitioner as expressed in his petition of January 8th, 1860, namely: that of forgiveness.

I don’t half like the idea of your attending country “spelling schools” with “country cousins” and being obliged (from preference) to sit so close together in a sleigh box that your heads must be in a position well calculated to flatten noses and arms reaching the wrong way to meet other arms. I know I wouldn’t allow Gus Cowan to be caught in any such a “position” nor you wouldn’t either if you could help it but you write away, regardless of anybody’s feelings. I wish I had the capacity of the illustrious Mrs. Candle for lecturing. If I wouldn’t display some of it on this occasion, then I’m mistaken. But I desist. You are sick and if I could only be with you to soothe and comfort you, or make such attempts so to do as might be in my power, I would rather than be a famous lecturer. I know it is a comfort when one is sick to have friends to talk with and who feel an interest in your welfare.

I had a little experience in this way about two years ago when I was in St. Louis. I was very sick for a short time and the landlady’s daughter seemed to take quite an interest in me as well as all the others about the house and I can assure you it made my bed much easier than it would otherwise have been. I have known comparatively little of what sickness is, but my little experience has taught me that a friend at your bedside is better by far than all the remedies ever invented by the patent medicine man.

January 20th. I have this day received a letter from my dear Mother in which she tells me of the marriage of M. Louisa Clark and talks on how much I have lost etc., just as you did. I’d like to know how anything is to be lost until first having been obtained. I am satisfied and hope she will be. Did I ever tell you my experience in that matter while at home or by letter since I have been West? If not, I will some time. Louisa is a good girl and I hope she has a husband who will appreciate her. I once thought her the nearest perfect. What’s the use for me to be telling you about my boyish love. I won’t! No Mam, I won’t wont! She is married and gone. She is to me like a dead issue in politics. The party that has been successful is welcome to all the benefits.

In your next you must give me more definite news about the “lady in black,” or did you say, “woman?” That is, if there is anything definite about her. I used to know “a ____ in black,” you know, but whether she could be termed “mysterious” or not, I don’t know. I have not forgotten how she looked and all about her but am in no wise anxious to renew the acquaintance.

Mollie, we had such a good time at the “Sociable” night before last. How I wish you had been there. After the minister and all—no not all, but some—of the old folks had gone home, we started some old-fashioned plays wherein error was followed with penalty and most righteous judgements pronounced. This was the first public exhibition of the kind I have entered into since I’ve been West and I tell you, Mollie, I rather “like it.” Such amusement makes me feel younger. There was one pretty girl there too (our deputy sheriff’s sister, late of Buffalo, N. Y. 1) and when I was obliged to kiss her (I say “obliged” because our Judge was very stern and I had no friends to intercede for me on that occasion, neither money to induce him to change his mind, or rather didn’t offer any money or try to get any of my friends to intercede in my behalf as I thought there would be no use, and then again my early education has always been to be “obedient to the laws that be“). Well, if I digress from my theme, I am certainly excusable when the subject is such a “glorious” one that my mind has no affinity with paper and ink but rather with bright eyes, pretty hair, fair complexion, and pouting lips. Well, I am back very near to kissing. Well, when I was obliged to approach her, obliged to place my unwilling arm (why I nearly had the palsy) around her waist, obliged to let the other arm go where it had a mind to whether around her neck or not, obliged to place my quivering lips to those pouting ones of hers, obliged to make a noise (usually termed “smack”) with my lips loud enough so that there could be no mistake or doubts in the minds of those present about what I had done and whether I had fulfilled the requirements of the law, you can have very little idea of the sensations produced unless perhaps you think of your own experience once upon a time while out on a sleigh ride. Oh you little sinner. I think I’ll write “journals” hereafter.

Give my love to Electa and tell her that the moment I opened your letter, I thought of her. Goodbye. Write soon. My love to Hattie and a good portion for yourself. — Gus

1 The Deputy Sheriff in Pontiac, Illinois, at the time of the 1850 US Census was Edwin R. Maples (1832-1877) who was married to Eliza Jane Houser (1836-1905) in 1856. He was from Chautauqua county, New York, and the son of David J. Maples (1809-1892) and (1811-1843). His unmarried younger sister with the pouty lips was Alice Victoria Maples (1839-1901), not yet 21 years old, who became a school teacher in Livingston county, Illinois, and married Capt. John Jay Young (1836-1894) in September 1862. Capt. Young was the commander of Battery G, Pittsburgh Heavy Artillery during the Civil War and spent most of his time at Fort Delaware.

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