Folded letter by US Navy Surgeon David Shelton Edwards
In 1835 the letter probably would have traveled overland or by steamboat to Mobile, Alabama, where it joined the Great Mail route north using combinations of horse, coach, steamboat and train. The rate for a single letter (one sheet of paper) traveling more than 400 miles was 25 cents. The absence of the word "Paid" indicates that the letter was sent unpaid and 25 cents was collected from the addressee.
In response to a letter received from his wife Harriet, David Shelton Edwards reassures her that her preparations for visiting him in Pensacola, Florida, and the journey itself, will be successful. He tells her to hire a servant girl between the ages of 10 and 12 because it "is of no use to bring out a girl grown up to young womanhood." He concludes the missive with advice as a practicing naval surgeon, and gives her suggestions for combating sea-sickness on the voyage, which include wearing dark dresses and drinking mint juleps.
Traveling from New York City to Pensacola, Florida was a major undertaking for Harriet. She had to organize all of their household affairs including the rental of their home and care for their two children for a year and a half. Several months of planning were necessary for her to spend any time with her husband, and this was only possible because of his relatively high status at the Navy Yard and their financial stability. Lower ranking sailors and men who did not have substantial savings would not have been able to bring their wives for such a lengthy visit. In anticipation, Edwards bought her a mocking bird as a gift and writes about how he goes and visits it every day, thinking of her when he does.
This letter is part of the correspondence of David Shelton Edwards between the years 1835 and 1848. The 48 letters from this period held by the National Postal Museum are primarily addressed to Edward's wife Harriet; in 1830, Edwards married Harriet Eliza Henry and they had two children, William and Harriet. They kept up a frequent correspondence when his naval service kept them separated. Between 1835 and 1848, Edwards served as a Surgeon at the hospital in the Pensacola Navy Yard, Florida; Fleet Surgeon to the West Indies Squadron; and Surgeon aboard many vessels engaged in the Mexican-American War. His naval career spanned from 1818 to 1861 and his last sea cruise ended in October of 1859 after which he retired to his family home in Connecticut except for a brief time spent at New Bedford, Massachusetts recruiting for the Union Navy during the Civil War. He died in Trumbull, Connecticut on March 18, 1874.
Alt, Betty Sowers and Bonnie Demrose Stone. Campfollowing: A History of the Military Wife. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991.
Pensacola May 10th 1835
[draws three wavy circles around the initials: HME W. and H.]
My dear wife,
I have just had the pleasure of receiving yours of the 20th & 21st you seem to keep fussing & messing about trying to get yourself to believe you are really getting ready to come out there, well Dearest it will help to pass the time & employ both mind & body which will drive away many doleful reflections; besides you will really be doing some good by settling off all accounts & making such preparations as will be of much service when you get all out here If they dont frighten you off the track. & I think I know your resolution pretty well when you undertake anything you are pretty sure to go through with it. & unless something extraordinary should prevent I feel very confident of seeing you in Oct yes the arms of your own dear husband will again press you to that bosom of yours upon which your head shall again repose; & again you shall confide to your trusty one, your pains & your pleasures, your joys & your griess - of your troubles what can will be relieved, & your joys will be doubled by sharing with your husband. I hope you found them all well in Trumbull- tell me how they get on there. If Squire Beach is not in want of that money we will let it remain as it is- I perceive Miranda comes to you occasionally for pecuniary aid - well, Dearest, she has no one else to go to, she confides in us, & she is one among those, to oblige whom I would put myself to an inconvenience. If you have not insured H. St. house, I think 2000 is sufficient.- & 1200 at S.S. that will probably cover any Damages that may occur, If your nurse pleases you I would certainly give her another dollar is preference to parting with her. but when you come out here I must respect what they all tell me here, that it is of no use to bring out a girl grown up to young womanhood- one from 10 to 12 years of age a good looking, smart, intelligent girl of a good disposition- will be of some service to you, of any color. If you could get one no where else I think you could make a good choice at the almshouse and you could get Mr. Sloat or somebody to go with you- or to go & get one for you. I presume you would have to apply to the Superintendent. I dont believe they would require any papers drawn. with regard to the protection afforded by a woman it may be some- but the usual courtesy of Gentlemen to a Lady if a stranger & the casual attention of the Capt. of the steamboat. &c. is generally given. & a shilling to a servant to will often effect a good deal towards looking out for one.- a little girl of 11 years of age would be very useful to you out here. & if they have a good waiting maid on board the Packet I think you would get along very well - for Wm is old enough to mind what you tell him now.- In a conversation the a short time since with Lt. Ward he seemed very anxious that his wife should come out here. From what I have heard she is a most estimable woman I would like you to be acquainted with her.
The Parlors are being furnished after my fashion one of the finest young Ladies in the Country [inserted from above: Miss Eliza Nixon] who was in my house this afternoon expressed her admiration of my taste by exclaiming "How beautiful! It is really beautiful." Now do you think I am going to tell you any more about it - you Naughty Hatty - spend all the moneys- I wish I had hold of your little finger - for then I would soon get hold of a great deal more of you. You must tell me all about the House at S.S. about the Ferry & sale of lots &c. &c. & also whether they have established the width of Henry St. back to the line of the house there. I have got for you a mocking bird - it is young & a very fine one & will soon learn to talk. I wish you could bring ½ doz. of the cuttings of the Isscholla grape - wrap them up in a wet cloth. I think they will come safe they should have three eyes, each. three to set in the ground & one to grow above ground. I have given lots of orders for you to execute - you must attend to such as you can & leave the rest - when you are ready- step right on board the Packet without saying a word to any body (as the Fashion is nowadays) and a few days will bring you here.- If there are any Ladies who will come out here with you so much the better but if not I know you can come alone. You must learn to act independently- you are sure to find one here who will welcome you. You should not pay your passage until you are sure of coming - & then do it in time to secure a good birth - You must make as good a Bargain as you can for your passages.
And as soon as the Ship is under way put on a comfortable loose dress - pay no regard to what other do- but quietly & composedly go to work and prepare yourself & children for the voyage, as quickly as possible - & then turn to & write me by the Pilot boat.- & you will see your example approved & followed by others as far as they can - for a little motion of the vessel will disenable & disincline those who are unaccustomed to the sea from either dressing or undressing - & they will be very uncomfortable to be seasick in their fine tight dresses - a dark dress for sea - especially in doubtful weather.- I hope a few mint Juleps will either entirely prevent or soon carry off any seasickness& thru one or two Seidtilz powders will make you as bright as a new guinea. Then you ought to have some good corn meal to make you some good mush every morning for breakfast. a bottle of ginger or Turmarin syrup would be very good.
May 13th You see I have scratched it all over so good bye my love till my next.-
[written sideways, in the left margin on third page]
I have rec.d the papers with Mathia's Trial &c.-
[written in a semicircle around the seal]
It is really a gratification to write you, but not quite so good as to receive a letter from you - I shall now direct to S.S. your Hub: DS.E.