I have not yet been able to identify the author who signed the letter “Laura.” It seems evident that Laura was a long-time resident of Bristol, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, and a member of the Bristol (Quaker) Meeting House. She mentions several residents in her community and the “exciting times” caused by the secession of the southern states and impending conflict.
The key to confirming Laura’s identity may be her reference to “Aunt S. Shotwell.” This was most like Sarah Carlile (Rich) Shotwell (1790-1862), the widow of Samuel Emlin Shotwell, a Quaker. Sarah’s parents were Joseph Rich and Elizabeth Carlile. If this Sarah was indeed Laura’s aunt, then Laura was probably born between @1810-1825.
Bristol [Bucks county, Pennsylvania]
6th Mon 4th [4 June] 1861
My dear sister,
I received thy truly welcome letter fifth day last and then thought it should be answered the very next day, but alas for good intentions, we have had company most of the week and then there are so many hindering things to prevent our getting in the quiet—all these must plead my excuse. In fact, I have written thee quite a long letter more than three weeks since but instead of then putting it in the [post] office, it was carried in the pocket until I tore it up and have not seen the time I could conveniently write until the present. I know I should have written soon after my return but really writing is getting to be quite an undertaking with me. So much for my excuses.
Now for home matters. At present, all are apparently well but where there are so many children, but few days pass without something to pay. Annie’s sister Emma who was married early this spring was to be at her father’s today and she and children have gone up to meet them. Mary is at home with me and sends her love. C & Fanny are at home and well and desire to be remembered to one and all.
Edward says the times are against visiting to have any enjoyment and he will have to wait for less exciting times and he thinks Jeff Davis will be likely to blockade us before he reaches you and we must be on the spot to watch. Is it not horrible to think of the state we are in? And it is all owing to the cause of slavery. Had this country been clear of slavery, there would have been no war but he South brought it on & I think will get enough before it is over. I sincerely hope it may now be settled for good. I for one would like the First Families [of Virginia] all to remain by themselves if it could be so.
Yesterday was a sad day with many in Bristol. A company of 70 men left for the war—two of Robert Beatty’s sons and Walter’s brother-in-law Granville was another. Harry Beatty was Captain of the troop. ¹
It is very trying times—no business doing and all excitement. Cannot collect any money. It is more difficult to get 5 dollars now than it has been twenty some time ago. If we could be preserved to see the end, how thankful I should be. But that we must leave. We have lots of flags flying.
E. Leekins is much better—expects to come down tonight with them for a few days. Henry and Anna were up last week a few days. They and children all well. George is a fine child—begins to walk. Tom Carey and babe went on yesterday to Rahway to spend a few weeks. Her babe is a sweet little creature and so good. She seems quite smart this summer.
I did come home that same day they left. Had I waited to come with Carey, I should have been caught in the storm. We had quite an interesting yearly [meeting]—not so large or quite equal to last year owing to the times. I expect by this time Rachel is with you as I understand it was her prospect to do so. During our meeting week, I met Rachel Craft and Kate Webster from Plainfield [New Jersey]. I was much pleased to meet with them. They were going out to Germantown. Jemima has left for Plainfield. I regret not seeing her again. I called two or three times but she was out. I tried to get to speak to Aunt S. Shotwell but it was out of the question to find anyone almost after meeting. I saw her twice in meeting [and] thought she looked quite smart for her. I intended taking her home with me to Henry if it suited her but could not meet her.
N. Broadhurst was down two days. Asked after thee and desired her love. She is not at all well. We have had much sickness in Bristol within the past four months and a number of deaths. Doc. Phillips ² one and a Southron Naval Officer Newell ³ by name shot himself but I expect you saw it in the papers. M. Buckman quite smart for her.
I had written an invitation to Edward and Margaret to attend our Yearly gathering in the letter thee missed getting but give our united love and tell them we will be pleased if they would only think thee could leave to see them whenever they can come—also Thomas. Tell Laura I met both her friends at meeting. They were quite disappointed [at] her not coming on as they expected her.
Let no one see this. I am ashamed especially, — Laura
¹ Capt. Henry Clay Beatty (1835-1862), Co. I, Third Pennsylvania Reserves, was killed in August 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run. According to a newspaper account, Capt. Beatty was struck in the arm by a deflected cannon ball. His arm was amputated at a field hospital but he died while being transported back to Washington D. C. [Bristol Daily Courier]
² John Phillips, MD (1790-1861) was buried in the Saint James Episcopal Churchyard in Bristol.
³ According to a notice posted in the Charleston Mercury (Charleston SC), “Commander Lloyd B. Newell of the United States Navy committed suicide at the Merchant’s Hotel, Philadelphia, Friday morning [26 April 1861], by shooting himself through the heart with a Colt’s revolver. He was a native of Georgia.” Capt. Lloyd Blton Newell (1804-1861) was appointed a Midshipman in the Navy (from the State of Georgia) in 1820. He served at sea for many years, and aboard several different ships, earning promotions to Lieutenant USN (1828), and Commander USN (1851). In 1855 he retired from active service and was transferred to the “Reserve List” of Navy Officers, settling down in Philadelphia with his wife, the former Sarah Heiss. He was buried in the Saint James Episcopal Churchyard in Bristol, Pa.