This letter was written by Sophia Morton (Williams) Harris (1804-1880), the wife of William Chapin Harris (1797-1885) of Hamburg, Erie county, New York. Sophia was the daughter of Richard Williams (1773-1822) and Sophia Morton (1776-1854).
Sophia wrote the letter to her younger sister, Mary (Williams) Brayman (1816-1886), the wife of Mason Brayman (1813-1895) of Springfield, Sangamon county, Illinois. Mason Brayman began his career as an attorney in New York State but relocated his practice to Michigan in the late 1830s. In 1842, he again relocated his practice to Illinois and while there, in 1845, he compiled the Illinois Revised Statutes, and was also appointed by Governor Thomas Ford to investigate the difficulties between Mormons in Nauvoo, Illinois and their hostile neighbors. When Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1848, Brayman rented Lincoln’s home while Lincoln lived in Washington. Brayman served as general solicitor for the Illinois Central Railroad from 1851 to 1855.
With the outbreak of the American Civil War, Brayman joined with other railroad executives and secured a military commission. Initially serving as a major with the 29th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment under General McClernand, he was promoted to colonel on April 15, 1862 and command of his regiment. Following the Battle of Fort Donelson, Brayman stopped shaving and grew a beard that would eventually reach his belt. He also had his horse shot out from under him twice. At Shiloh he became a minor hero, rallying his troops by charging between the Union and Confederate lines. During the Siege of Vicksburg he suffered a bout of heatstroke that forced him into garrison duty. By the end of the war he had achieved the rank of Major General and was serving as head of a claims commission in New Orleans. Major General Mason Brayman was the highest ranking Civil War officer to have lived in the Lincoln’s neighborhood. Mason Brayman – 42 years old, served as a Major General with the 29th IL Volunteer Infantry. He lived in the neighborhood two times—once as a renter in the Lincoln Home and once as a renter in what is now called the Shutt House.
After the war, Brayman became the editor of the Illinois State Journal and held that position until 1873 when he moved to Wisconsin. Brayman continued newspaper work until President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him Governor of the Idaho Territory in 1876. After the expiration of his term, Brayman moved to Wisconsin and then later to Missouri.
Hamburg [Erie county, New York]
April 18, 1865
My Dear Sister,
I received your welcome and long wished-for letter last evening and now take my pen to answer it. But dear Sister, how can I write or what shall I say? My heart is nigh to bursting and my eyes are swimming in tears. Our Country’s Protector and best friend is no more. Murdered by a Fiend, a Devil. Was there every anything so horrid before? But I cannot write about it for you know it all as well as we. And as he was your neighbor and friend, I know you will mourn in sadness at his great loss. But sister, his work is done and our Heavenly Father has taken him home, and when I read the piece you sent in your letter about his needing rest, I thought now he has rest eternal. No more cares—no more anxiety—no more sorrow or pain; all is over and he is at rest.
But Sister, I must tell you how I have felt for the past year about him. I have seen such a true semblance between him and Moses and have been so afraid he would not be permitted to see the Canaan—for you know Moses got in sight of the promised land but was not permitted to enter it, that I felt afraid our President would be murdered at or about the time of his second Inauguration, and when he went to Richmond I was very anxious about him. But when he returned safely to Washington and Lee’s Army had gone home and everyone seemed so happy in the near approach of Peace, that I had thought all danger was past. But now I can see he had got to the place Moses had when God took him. He came to the place where God said I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shall not go over to possess it. And now I feel to say, O My Father, President Lincoln is dead, and send us a Joshua to lead the people and endow him with wisdom and knowledge that he may lead them as faithfully as Joshua of old.
Oh Mary! what fearful, what responsible times we are living in, and it becomes us all to daily pray, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do.” But I must change my theme or I shall fill my sheet with this sad subject, and in fact I can hardly think on anything else. I could tell you how our City is draped in mourning and all business is suspended, and the mourners go about the streets, and next Thursday was set apart for our Great Jubilee, and now it is to be observed as a day of fasting and prayer.
You ask who is our Pastor. Dr. [Velona Roundy] Hodgkiss is again our Pastor, and there is none better. His only son [Albert]—a noble young man of 22—died in the Andersonville Prison the past winter from suffering and starvation. 1 It was a great affliction, almost insupportable. Last Sabbath our Church was draped in mourning too when our Pastor Dr. Hodgkiss arose to open the meeting, and when he announced his text, ‘All these are the beginnings of sorrow’, he proceeded but a few minutes before he buried his face in his pocket handkerchief and sobbed aloud, and for, I should think, five minutes, there was nothing heard but sobs. It was truly a mourning congregation, and Sister, if these are the beginnings of sorrow, what will the end be? Oh God, have mercy on us.
Well, I must change my theme and tell you of the sickness and death of Mother Brayman. She was taken with a pain in her stomach but did not think it serious and you know Father Brayman does not like doctors. He have her such medicine as they though best but she died. They had a doctor but it was too late. It was inflammation in her stomach and mortification set in ad relieved her of her sufferings. She was sick only a few days and none thought her dangerous till the day she died. Mell’s wife told me she died happy and said death had no terrors. Mell’s wife said she asked her a short time before she died what message she would send to Mason. She said, tell him I should have been glad to see him once more, but I hope to meet him in heaven. The Old Gentleman felt very bad. Mrs. Emerson was with her when she died and stayed with him a week after. They tried to persuade him to sell his farm (as he had an offer of $55 dollars an acre) and go and live with Mrs. Emerson, but he would not sell or leave his home. He got a woman to keep his house for awhile till Mr. Emerson could get ready and move there. I do not know what bargain they have made but Mr. Emerson has moved there to take care of him. Mrs. Emerson thought it her duty to do so, and besides, Mr. Emerson was thrown out of his business by the bridge being broke down and probably there will not be another built before fall. So the Old Gentleman is very comfortable with Mrs. Emerson.
Four weeks after Mother Brayman died, Deacon Foster died. They were two of the oldest inhabitants. Marion Bird was here to the funeral. She spent three days with me and a week with her Aunt Foster. She says her mother enjoys good health and is very pleasantly situated. Jane and Ada are with me. Ada says I must tell Nell not to forget her amid all the wonderful scenes she is passing through. Abell’s folks are still on the Starring farm and they have reported that Mason gave it to Mason for his name (or Mrs. Brayman has). I visited with her two weeks ago to Joshua Smith’s and I told her the farm was for sale. She did not tell me that Mason gave it to them but said if it was sold they should buy it. Dwight is living to home but Asher is married to a Miss Bruce and lives on his wife’s father’s farm and Mason is going to the Oil regions. You ask if the farm would sell well this Spring. It depends on circumstances. They are boring for oil about two miles from there and if they succeed, the farm will fetch a good price. A company have been on from the East and tried to leave all the land where they thought there was a prospect of getting oil. They think there is no better prospect than in the Gulf on the Staring farm. Mr. Beach came to see me about it and I told him I did not think it could be leased but it was for sale.
I am glad to hear from Fred and of his prosperity. I wish he would write to us. Jane has written him two letters but received no answer to them. She has a letter from Will a short time ago. He was well and happy in the prospect of so soon seeing his friends once more. He says he shall leave there “Number One.” Sister Morgan’s family are well. Albert’s wife has a son six weeks old, both doing well. Sister Hannah and family are well. She was at Sylvina’s a short time ago and Sylvina says she never saw her look so well. She is most as large as I am. Dora is a young woman. She is with her Mother. Theodore is in the City in a store. Helen is still in New York. She has a son.
My own family are well. [My husband] William’s health has not been better for many years. [Our son] Richard [Williams Harris, (1822-1890)] has been very unfortunate. He was bitten by a dog the day before New Years on the first finger on his right hand and the inflammation set in and four weeks after he had to have his finger cut off. For a long time we were afraid it would cost him his life. He lost 30 pounds in three seeks, so you may judge how bad off he was, but he is getting better now and his finger is healing. [Our daughter Sarah] Sylvina [Harris Peek]’s husband, [Harvey Peek] is quite unwell. His health has been poor the past year and I sometimes fear he is going into consumption. [Our son Cyrenus] Chapin [Harris (1835-1899)] and family are well. He has three nice children. Willie, his only son, has been with us the past two years. He is six years old and says he is Grandpa’s farmer boy. The two girls, Hannah and Sophie, are nice children. We had a letter from [our son William] Hamilton [Harris (1830-1899) four weeks ago. He and family were well. They live in Warsaw, Benton county, Missouri. He is still working for the government.
Mary, I told you I would let you know when [sister] Eliza [Williams Morgan (1806-1886)] made me that visit and I will if you keep me posted of your whereabouts. But she has not been here yet. She says if it did not cost her any more to come and see me than it did you, she would come. It only cost her four shillings to visit you and she says it will cost her three dollars for a horse and buggy to come and visit me.
I suppose you have heard of the death of Cousin Julius Morton? He died in Detroit some three months ago—sick one week. I hope you will excuse all mistakes and poor writing for I cannot hold a pen very well. I see by your letter you have heard of my misfortune and so I will explain. Last November I went to the City of Friday to be to our Covenant Meeting in the evening and was going to stay till Sunday to communion. Well I went to Meeting Friday night and Saturday I called on some old friends and in the evening Sylvina came up to Mrs. Booth’s after me. She lives near Sister Morgan’s. We were walking along and had got most to her house when she saw the first thing she see, I was going head first onto the pavement, I do not recollect anything—only I was walking by her side. I struck my face so hard that I broke my nose apart where the gristle joins the bone and cut it open lengthwise and the blood streamed out and I suppose that was what brought me to. Probably I should never come to if the blood had not flown so freely. Two men see me fall and run to me and when they got me up the blood was running off the bottom of my dress. The Dr. said it was a sudden rush of blood to the head in my fall. I hurt my right hand severely. My little finger and the one next to it were put out of joint and the little one is broke apart from the rest and the cord that holds it in the joint is broke so it will never stay in its place. It is stiff. I cannot bend it and the swelling has never left it. I have sometimes wished I had had it taken off but I think now that I will take it to my grave with me.
I shall be so glad to have you and Mason come and see us this Spring. A few more meetings and we shall be gone. Earth is not our home. I feel that my work is nearly done. Did you think our good President was murdered on our dear Mother’s dying day? Our dear good Mother died eleven years ago last Friday, and all that day I had felt gloomy and my mind had run back over the past, and the scenes of my childhood had passed before me, and the image of my loved Mother was with me all that day. I thought of our dear departed Father, of our brothers and sisters dear, and of our children’s home, and I thought of the contrast of the then ad now, and I said surely, this is a changing world. Surely this is not our home. Surely we are only pilgrims and strangers. Our home is beyond this changing world, beyond the narrow bounds of time.
Sister, I don’t know what you will think of my letter or whether you can read it or not. I am not fit to write for I can think of nothing but the scenes at Washington. But I will try to tell you about [brother] Oliver [Hazard Perry Williams] and then will close this. He sold out all he had at North Evans and has bought him a tannery and house and lot at Pontiac some six miles from North Evans and three miles from Angola Station. He thinks he has bettered himself materially and shall do well there. [His wife, Emma [Parthenia (Lake) Williams] has been very sick. We received a note a week ago last Saturday night that she was not expected to live through the night and Sunday [my daughter] Jane and I went to see her. We found her very low and the Dr. said if he could get her through that night, he should have hopes of her. She was better in the morning and for the first time since she was taken the pain subsided in her head. She is now slowly recovering but it will take her a long time to regain hers strength. Jane says I must tell you that she and Abell’s wife had a political battle a short time since. She was denouncing the Administration and Old Abe Lincoln in bitter terms and Jane replied to it. She is a perfect secesh or Copperhead as they are called here, and Mary, all such are now rejoicing at the Assassination of our good President. Now dear sister, farewell. May the best of heavens blessings rest on you and yours is my sincere wish and prayer. Your sister, — Sophia
Mary, do write often to me. I should have written to you long ago if I had known where to direct. Jane wrote to Ada [Sarah Adaline Brayman] Bailhatche but she did not answer her letter. Thanks to Nell [Ella Sophia Brayman] for the bakery. We had crocuses in blossom the 21st of last month and now our garden is beautiful with daffodils, hyacinths, purple, white , pink and straw colored. Violets sweet scented and the Polyanthus. Do write soon, — Sophia Harris
1 Albert G. Hotchkiss was 19 years old when he enlisted in the 8th New York Cavalry. He was taken prisoner on 29 June 1864 and died of starvation in Andersonville Prison two months later.