1835: Robert Thomas Corss to Joseph C. Stone

This is a wonderful handwritten letter, written on 8 July 1835, by 17 year-old Robert Thomas Corss (1818-1879), who had recently moved to New York to seek his fortune. He wrote the letter to Joseph C. Stone, an acquaintance who lived in Guilford Centre, Vermont. This articulate and tongue-in-cheek letter is of a philsophical nature, regarding how NYC is a place where young, hardworking people can become successful: ” New York is the place…for young men to ruin themselves or to make something out of themselves, just as they choose…”  Corss also relates the ongong riots on the (politics, abolition, etc) which raged at the time. He also details what life was like for a young man at the time; long work hours—but still time to have fun. The address leaf has the applicable red postal mark of New York City.

Robert was the son of John and Lucy (Lee) Corss of Leyden, Franklin county, Massachusetts. By the late 1850’s, Robert was working as a broker on Wall Street—a position held until he died single in 1879.

Robert’s letter mentions the riots in New York City that were getting to be commonplace. “There has been so many riots in this place that it is almost impossible for a public day to pass off without some disturbance,” he wrote. The year previous to this letter saw a huge antiabolitionist riot (the Tappan Riot) that lasted nearly a week until it was put down by military force. At times the rioters controlled whole sections of the city while they attacked the homes, businesses, and churches of abolitionist leaders and ransacked Black neighborhoods. But the growing number of Irish immigrants flowing into the city loomed as an even greater threat. By 1835, it was estimated that over 30,000 Irish emigrants were arriving in New York City annually. The conflict between the newly arrived Irish “foreigners” and the so called “native” Americans—those born in the United States—was keenest on the lower east side of Manhattan in the Bowery (Five Points), but fighting occasionally spilled over into other parts of the city.

Scene from “Gangs of New York” (Movie)

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


New York [City]
July 8, 1835

Joseph C. Stone, Esq.,
Dear sir,

I received a paper from you July 3rd and am happy to hear that you have found business; and to you mind I hope. I have had several letters from Leyden recently, and some of them bring very interesting intelligence in regard to the young people, their present and future prospects, &c. I understand they are as usual, very serious, and meeting with more changes everyday in their temporal, as well as spiritual affairs.

There is one happy result in the experience which they profess to go through; as soon as they are brought to see the error of their ways, they become so attached to one another that an offer of the heart & hand is indispensable. And with these two changes secure their happiness in this world, and the world to come. What lovely times! In fact, some of them hardly live to see the error of their ways before they become so deeply impressed with their situation that an offer from the most respectable citizen would not be respected.

I had rather a serious time in getting into business in this place but at last succeeded to my satisfaction. But had it not been for Cephus Root, I hardly think I should have succeeded at all. I was out of business five weeks doing nothing but viewing the infernal great city which is nine miles in length, buildings as thick as they can stand, six or seven stories high, and generally filled with pretty girls. I am in as good place as I could wish to be. There have about thirty clerks and porters and have as much business as they can attend to in the business seasons four months in the fall and four months in the spring, but the summer and winter, we have nothing to do of any consequence. They give each clerk fifteen days in the summer to go in the country. I shall not probably go home till next summer.

The Fourth of July was celebrated in grand style, and passed off without any rioting or disturbance, which was contrary to the anticipation of a great many if the citizens who went into the country to spend the Fourth. There has been so many riots in this place that it is almost impossible for a public day to pass off without some disturbance.

I am engaged in the store from six o’clock in the morning until six o’clock in the evening, when I go home to tea, and after tea, sit down with the ladies and have a chat, and sometimes walk on the battery with them. I have a very good boarding place for four dollars per week, washing included. They live like “pigs in the clover” and have three pretty girls for associates as any man need boast of, and the way I enjoy myself is the right way.

New York is the place, and I wish you was here for young men to ruin themselves, or to make something out of themselves, just as they choose. I cannot [say how] I shall come out, but I am inclined to think at the little end of the horn. I have but two old acquaintances in the city. They are James W. Newton and his brother Ralph. There is another coming, however, soon from Greenfield to try and get a situation. You must come on after you have been in a store three or four years and by that time perhaps you and I will enter into copartnership in the wholesale business.

Remember me to all who enquire and I should be happy to hear from you always and of your prosperity.

Truly your friend & servant, — R. T. Corss, 122 Pearl Street

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