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Letter to Mrs. S. C. Hoskins, Sheffield, Massachusetts, from her daughter Helen, Hampton, Virginia 1849



Hampton, Va., June 30, 1849.

Dear Mother, A long delay of letters has preceded the arrival of Mr. Bradford’s letter; and I was beginning to feel very anxious solicitude about home; and remarked to Mrs. Hill, on Thursday eve, May 31st, [interlined “in answer to her inquiry concerning my sadness,”) that I was quite uneasy that I did not receive a letter from home. She promised to send her little servant girl to the office, early in the morning and inquire for me, and send the letters directly to me, if there should be any. Accordingly [interlined “on Friday morning”] the little girl came bringing two letters; but to my disappointment neither were from home. One was from Miss Hunt, and the other from a young lady who was with me at the Institute. I read them with pleasure, but they brought no relief to my mind, and I went towards the schoolroom with a heavy heart.

On my way, I met Amanda who told me there was a letter in the office for me. I replied, I have just received two. “But there is another” she said, “and I will go for it if you will give me the change.” I did so, and she soon returned, and gave it to me after I had commenced school. I saw, by the postmark, it was from Sheffield, but the hand writing was strange, and all the scenes connected with that unexpected intelligence from Alabama rushed across my mind. I opened it and saw Mr. Bradford’s name and my apprehensions were increased.

When I came to the words “I have just returned,” I could, at that moment, read no further; but fancied the next words would be, from your mother’s funeral, and I felt that I was indeed undone. But as I gathered resolution to proceed, and read, “to inform you of the severe illness of your dear father,” I was completely taken by surprize; for, as I have said before, more unlooked for intelligence could not have reached me. The idea that my father, pale and consumptive in his appearance, would be seized with sudden and severe disease, had not, I think, in all my life, occurred to me.

The intelligence, however, was such, that not the faintest glimmering of hope, was left me that he would recover. Indeed, in attempting to pray for his restoration, I had no power of utterance, no language in which to express my wishes. I felt that the conflict was past; and that the desolation reigning in my heart was such as orphans, only, can know. I waited, in painful suspense, the arrival of the next mail, with tidings that should either remove or confirm my fears.

But when the letters came, yours, brothers and Mrs. Little’s, I dreaded to open them, and felt that they were truly to strike the death blow to my hopes; and I almost preferred the torturing suspense, to the dreadful certainty. Ah me! my worst fears were far more than realized.

Mr. Bradford wrote that he was unconscious, and unable to speak; but I had hoped and believed that he would revive, and be able to send a message, one word at least to his absent child. Yet, in this also I was disappointed. He sank away with a suddenness that I can now scarcely believe possible; the very next morning “terminated his earthly career.”

Well may we learn from this Providence, that oft repeated admonition “be ye also ready.” My dear mother, although I thus write, and have thus particularly given you my feelings; I feel no disposition to murmur at this dispensation of Providence. I know, and feel in the deepest recesses of my head “that all is for the best:” and I perceive that in the midst of affliction God has remembered for us mercy. It is my prayer that this bereavement may be effectual in weaning my heart from the love of the world, and may quicken my efforts to be faithful in the performances of duty. And I trust I shall not be alone in experiencing these effects.

O mother, let us seize with avidity and improve with alacrity the present moment, in doing or getting good. Life is but a vapor, and it flies so soon; but O, how very slow we are to learn this truth, notwithstanding it is engraven in living characters upon every thing earthly [–] O, let us forget self, and be willing to spend and be spent for the good of others, not only spiritually, but temporally. There are a thousand ways of a temporal nature, by which, if we will only do so, we may effect the spiritual good of others; by gaining access to their hearts and eliciting their good will.

My heart is sad for you mother, I know that you are lonely; but I could not deem it advisable to return before the close of the session; as I should be doing Mrs. Banks an injustice, from which, the good I might do you could scarcely atone. She continues in very bad health but is mending slowly. She now hears a few of the smallest scholars, which lightens my labors a little.

I am in perfect health, enjoying a bath every day. Sickness is very prevalent here, as in most parts of the country; even in the healthful vales surrounded by our own Berkshire hills. Mrs. Banks wishes me to return after a visit home of six weeks. I would like to spend another year in Hampton, and what would you think of a proposal to come on with me and board in this family with me. They will take you on very favorable terms. Is there any good reason that you cannot come. Do not say any thing about it to any one except brother, but let me know as soon as possible.

I have found such a field for usefulness here as I never found before, and it seems to me it is my duty to return. Perhaps I mistake but I hope to be guided aright.

My best love to uncle Samme, and to all others to whom I am indebted for their kind sympathies.

write soon to

Your daughter Helen

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Notes: Letter to Mrs. S. C. Hoskins, Sheffield, Massachusetts, from her daughter, Helen, Hampton, Virginia, June 30, 1849 -- From the Phillip F. Schlee Collection, Manhattan, Kansas

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