Category Archives: Antebellum New York

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

1847: Calvin Waldo Marsh to Sarah (Whitney) Marsh

This letter was written by Calvin Waldo Marsh (1825-1873), the son of Henry Marsh (1797-1852) and Sarah Whitney (1796-1883) of Berkshire county, Massachusetts. Calvin’s father, Henry, died of cholera at LaSalle, Illinois in 1852 when he was 55 years old. Calvin graduated from Williams College in 1844) and later worked as a commission merchant in St. Louis, Missouri, and served as a Union officer in the Civil War.


Addressed to Mrs. Henry Marsh, Sandusky City, Ohio

Buffalo [New York]
August 29, 1847

Dear Mother,

I take a few moments this evening to write you a few lines although it is Sabbath evening. I was quite disappointed when I arrived here not to find Father. But next morning I received a letter from him dated Pittsfield, August 25th, being last Thursday. He writes me he should be in Albany tomorrow and next day to attend to his wool and that he should be here on Thursday of this week so you will not expect him till the very last of this week. He will undoubtedly write you from here when he will be at home.

A graphic description of my journey will no doubt interest you. We had a charming moonlight evening after we left Sandusky and Mary, Mrs. Mills, Whitney & myself enjoyed it much. The clerk of the Buffalo would not take any fare of me but made me take a fare ticket as we had so good a load, we did not make but an hour’s stay at Cleveland whereas the boats generally lay there till next morning at 8 o’clock, 7 hours. When we got up we were far down the Lake and got into Erie [Pennsylvania] just about eleven. I hired a carriage & Mary, Mrs. Mills, Whitney & myself rode up town and all about and all agreed that Erie was a very pretty & pleasant place and that the road from the Landing to the top of the hill was “‘orrid”) We had some fine plums and after dinner about 2 o’clock we were off for Buffalo.

The Sidewheel Steamer Niagara (ca. 1847)

Soon after we got out of the harbor at Erie, we saw asteern a little column of black smoke apparently rising out of the lake. Gradually & slowly a speck appeared and after awhile we could clearly distinguish the hull and upper works of a steamer, just off Dunkirk—the “Niagara“—truly the “pride” of the Lakes, slowly & steadily passed us, and as twilight faded with it, the Niagara vanished far in advance. Mr. Parmelee, not satisfied with giving me a free ticket, in the afternoon gave me a large bowl of delicious peaches—between three & four dozen.

We got in here about 7 o’clock in the evening and after waiting awhile we came up to the “Mansion” 1 and we found the House so full it was doubtful for some time whether we should get a room but at last Mr. [Philip] Dorsheimer, the proprietor, gave Mary his daughter’s room & Whitney and myself took a parlor with a couple of cots put in it for the occasion. At 9:30 Whitney and Mary took the cars for Rochester. When we got down to the depot, found some St. Louis gentlemen who told him that Judge Carr & Dabney were in the depot somewhere. We looked all around but could not find him. Just as the cars started, Whitney found that he had walked out on the track a little ways to see the cars pass. As the cars passed, Whitney put his head out of the window and the Judge recognized him and bowed. After the cars left, I walked out and introduced myself to him at Whitney’s request. He gave me a very cordial reception and said that he was going to the [Niagara] Falls in the afternoon train and urged me when I told him I had thought of going down to accompany him and Dabney.

Tourists in top hats standing on the American side of the Niagara Falls, early 1850s (LOC)

After dinner I wrote a letter to Father, one to Henry, and one to one of our captains. I just finished my business in time to run to the cars at 4:30. We reached the Falls about 6 o’clock and we went down to the cataract. Judge Carr at first sight was very much disappointed in the falls. Next morning we went down the bank in the cars which take down and bring up passengers by water power at an angle of about 45 degrees. 2 Went across the small boat and visited the battleground of Lundy’s Lane, Table Rock, British Museum, Camera Obscura, &c. 3 I stopped at the cataract & Judge Carr insisted upon paying everything except my bill at the hotel and what trinkets I bought which I did not give him an opportunity to do. He went on in the cars & is going by way of Montreal and Boston to enter Dabney at Yale College.

I went to Mr. Ware’s house and saw Aunt and the rest of the family. Aunt is not as broken down by her age as I expected and looked perfectly natural. Her health is pretty good for her age as she is now over eighty. She seemed glad to see me & thought I had altered very much. She desired her love to be sent and all of the rest of the family. Charles gave me a very pretty cane. I saw Moses Miller & Chester White of Racine the first evening I got here. They left Racine last Monday in the Niagara and said Harry was well and Mr. Canfield’s family also.

Last evening after the cars came in, who should come in but Mr. John Boalt & I soon made”wacks” for the Ladies Drawing room. Miss “Pill” & “Nan” appeared very glad to see me and after they got some tea, we had a very pleasant chat. “Pill” had a bad headache and retired about 9:30. I ate breakfast with them this morning and soon after they took a cab and went down to the house of some of their cousins. They got up Tuesday morning and I shall send a small package by them which I wish you would open & ask Clara to deliver the one to Kate & Martha. With much love to [all]. From your affectionate son, — Waldo

Kind regards to all enquiring friends.

The Mansion on the corner of Main & Exchange Streets in Buffalo, New York

1 The Mansion House was built on land purchase by Philip Dorsheimer sometime after the British burned buffalo in 1813. The location was formerly the site of the Crow’s Tavern. Philip built his five story structure and then added another floor which was styled a modern hotel in 1829. It stood on the sire for over 100 years. It was torn down in 1932 to make way for building utilized by the New York Central Railroad.

2 An 1847 visitor to Niagara Falls wrote of this conveyance to the base of the falls in an article published in the New York Commercial Advertiser on 4 August. Among the most recent improvements he observed at the falls, he stated, was “the stairs and inclined plane on the American side, constructed [in 1845 and operated by water power] by the Messrs Porter, the proprietors of the land adjacent to the falls. They afford an easy ascent and descent to the ferry across the river, where thousands annually cross and recross within full view of the mighty cataract, but still there seemed something wanting to enable visitors to obtain a closer view of the falls from below, and this want has been supplied by the construction of a steam boat appropriately called the Maid of the Mist, which now safely conveys passengers from the lower landing on the American side to the very verge of the falls themselves—passing the American falls and nearly approaching the Horse shoe falls, where three-fourths of the waters of the Niagara plunge over a precipice of about 160 feet. This steamboat excursion, which occupies about forty minutes, has become very popular, and will no doubt well repay the enterprising proprietors. The Maid of the Mist is commanded by Captain H. Filkins, whose obliging manners have made himself and boat deservedly popular.”

3 It has been said that “tackiness is a cherished tradition at Niagara Falls.” Tourist attractions have abounded at the falls saince at least the mid 1920s. An 1847 visitor reported: “Now the neighborhood of the great wonder is overrun with every species of abominable fungus—the growth of rank bad taste, with equal luxuriance on the English and American sides—Chinese pagoda, menagerie, camera obscura, museum, watchtower, wooden monument, tea-gardens and old curiosity shops.”  The “Camera Obscura was “Robinson’s Canadian Pagoda which was built in 1847. It stood 70 feet tall and had three observations platforms for viewing the Horseshoe Falls. It was torn down in 1860.