The following letter was written by 35 year-old Philip Schmucker (1811-1885), the son of Rev. Johann Nicholas Schmucker (1779-1855) and Catharine Heller (1780-1846) of Shenandoah county, Va. Philip datelined his letter on 7 August 1846 from his residence in Fishersville, nestled between Waynesboro and Staunton in Augusta county, Virginia, where he dealt in real estate and served as post master of the local office. In the 1860 US Census, Philip was listed as a slave holder in Augusta county, owning five slaves ranging in age from 42 to 5.
Philip’s letter refers to the return of local soldiers from the War with Mexico. He also speaks of the Whigs nominating Zachary Taylor as their nominee in the upcoming Presidential election. It was a desperate move by the Whigs to select Taylor who did not share all of their political views but it enabled them to win the White House.
Philip wrote the letter to his friend John Elder (1785-1851), who was born in Harrisburg, Pa., the son of a Presbyterian minister of the same name. He early became involved with the planning and construction of houses, public buildings, and bridges. He worked on the Juniata division of the Pennsylvania Canal. After a brief period in Florence, Alabama, he moved to Indianapolis in the early 1830s. He married Margaret Ritchey of Harrisburg. Her mother, Margaret Ritchey, later lived with the Elders and moved West with them.
In the period 1833-1836, Elder was proprietor of the Union Inn in Indianapolis. He designed several important public buildings, including the headquarters and Indianapolis branch of the State Bank; the Palmer House in Indianapolis; Henry Ward Beecher’s Home; Indiana School for the Blind; the courthouses at Lebanon, Columbus, Connersville, and Rushville; and the First Presbyterian Church (second building, 1843) on Monument Circle in Indianapolis. He was also interested in the construction of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad, and built a lock on the Wabash Canal at Covington. Never a good financial manager, he got into difficulties on the building of the Rushville courthouse. In an effort to recoup his fortunes, he went to California in 1850, but fell sick and died there.
Fishersville, Augusta county, Virginia
August 7th 1848
Dear Friend Elder,
It is some time since I heard from you and I must make some apology for not writing to you sooner, hoping that you will not think hard of my neglect. It was not for any reasons that I had not done so but mere neglect from time to time.
We are well and are doing well and hope that these lines will find you and your kind old mother-in-law and all the family enjoying the blessings. We would like to see you all very much but we must be satisfied by waiting as we are so great a distance apart—trusting to the ruler of all things.
Our soldiers returned last week, There was a great parade made and on next Friday there will be a public dinner given in Staunton. This is a strong Whig country and there is a good deal said about politics but it is here like in other places, the Whigs only take Taylor for his availability. They think better him than none. But they cannot come it in this state by a long ways. There will be a Whig meeting in this place this day.
The crops are better in this Valley than they ever were. There is more wheat made in this valley this year than there has been in any two years heretofore. Corn crops never were better.
We have a Presbyterian Church in a mile of this place where there is preaching every Sabbath, The most of our people belong to that church in the neighborhood but if I were to judge, I would say there was more pride here than religion. Each one tried to out dress the other and so it goes. I hear in that case our young western states exceeds this country. There is more religion in the western states than in here where they should set an example for the young western states but I can assure you it is to the reverse. I have heard more swearing here since I am here than I have heard in all the time I lived in the West. And drinking liquor is nothing thought of by professors for they indulge in the same.
Money is very plenty in this country. Everybody aspires to have some black and white. I have taken in nine hundred in about 10 months and will bring it to one thousand till the year is out. I have bought some property in this place and have built the finest stable in the Valley of Virginia, so I’m told. Twenty horses and mules now riding to my house. My house can be seen 8 miles [away]. There is not a handsomer place in the Valley. I intend to move to it in about a month and a half. The stage contractors talk of making my house a stopping place. If they do that, I won’t do better for there is an immense travel in the stages in the spring season. From two to a dozen pass here every day. Two mules a day the year round—Sunday not excepted.
My daughter does not live at home. She is 12 miles from here going to school and bids fair to make a very intelligent girl. She is boarding at a Mr. Brown’s house—the pastor of the Stone Church (an Old [School] Presbyterian known here by that name) in Misses Brown’s care who superintends the school. She comes home to see us sometimes. The people are generally well with the exception of the measles. They have proved very fatal here this summer. A good many people have died with them and they are still raging. I think they are more than the common measles.
As it regards the wife you was speaking about, you will have to make your bargain. I will bind myself to show you plenty but you must make your own bargains. I take your [Indiana] State Sentinel, but could not see your marriage recorded in it and take it for granted you are still without a better half. So come in and try for yourself. Nothing more but our respects to you all. — P. Schumucker
Write to me soon.
Go it cup and butter, Taylor and his second best Abolitionist can’t come it.