1835: Marine Tyler Wickham to Margaret Smith

This letter was written by Marine Tyler Wickham, Jr. (1811-18xx), the son of Marine T. Wickham, Sr. (1780-1833), a prominent gunsmith/locksmith from Emmitsburg and in later years, a resident of Philadelphia where he manufactured muskets under contract to the United States government. Through his government connections, he attempted three consecutive years to get his son, Marine T. Wickham, Jr., into the United States Military Academy but failed. Marine, Sr. was married to Matilda Breedin in 1805.

Marine, Jr. was born on 18 December 1811. When he was a young boy, his father moved the family to Philadelphia where he attended the public schools. He attended the Plainfield Academy in Plainfield, Connecticut in the the mid 1820’s and a letter of recommendation was written by the headmaster, John Witter, in 1826 advocating Marine’s acceptance into West Point. In 1826, Witter wrote that Marine had been for “two years or more” a student at the academy and that he had “uniformly sustained a good moral character, [was] amiable in disposition, correct in deportment, [and] regular in habits.”

In December 1834, Marine T. Wickham was still a resident of Philadelphia and James Baker attested to his being a US born seaman. What happened to him after he went to work as a steamboat clerk on the western waters in 1835 remains a mystery.

Marine wrote the letter to his cousin, Margaret (“Madge”) Wickham Smith (1815-1895), the daughter of Andrew Smith and Anne Wickham of Frederick county, Maryland. In her youth, Madge attended St. Joseph’s Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and spent time with her older sister, Louisa, who lived in Mountain View, Pennsylvania, near Gettysburg. Madge married William P. Preston (1811-1880) in August 1846. In his late teens, Preston lived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and by 1839 was an attorney in Baltimore. Once married, Madge spent much of her time managing the farm at Pleasant Plains and their residence in Baltimore, raising her daughter, and writing about her daily life. The Prestons were ardent supporters of Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy and expressed strong Confederate sentiments throughout their diaries and correspondence. [See Preston Family Papers at the University of Maryland Archives]


Addressed to Miss Margaret Smith, Care of Mr. William Smith, Gettysburg, Pa.

Steamer Nick Biddle ¹
Louisville [Kentucky]
August 27, 1835

Dear Mag,

I received your letter of 30th ult. yesterday, the delay of which I will give you satisfactory reasons to account for before I have done. Your friend Mr. Camp I neither saw or succeeded in obtaining any information of. He merely left the letter at Uncle Fraser’s office without any message. It would have afforded me much pleasure to have rendered him every politeness had I met with him. But I expect his business prevented his seeking me or making any enquiries.

Mr. [James] Baker mis-informed you with regard to my situation which is the more surprising as I have written repeatedly upon the subject. I’ll, however, curse one who from all accounts must have broad shoulders to bear the heavy load of abuse heaped upon him 9.e. the Post Master General. No doubt it was his fault that Mr. Baker did not know that I wasn’t in Mr. Frasier’s store when Mr. Frasier had no store all the while.

You must know that upon my arrival here last fall, I was very industriously employed for three weeks in doing —– nothing — an occupation every way pleasing and in which I greatly delighted. But alas, an indispensable part of my pantaloons raised an insurmountable objection to that mode of making a living, so I was necessitated to try something that would better please my pocket. In pursuance of that determination, I found myself in a few days in possession of a clerkship on one of our large steamers — The Chief Justice Mars Hall [Chief Justice Marshall] ² was the happy boat that damned Marine Tyler took home as her clerk, not that I should have to acknowledge it! only second clerk, tho’ a berth every way respectable. It did not quite silence the grumblings of said indispensable. I went with her one trip to New Orleans & back and then took up quarters on the Baltic, ³ another and larger boat. One her I made 8 or 9 trips to New Orleans and then received what everybody should confess was due to my merits — viz: promotion. I was regularly and duly installed as head devil and bottle washer at the books. Don’t suppose, Madgey, that a clerk on a boat is no great shakes — but let me insinuate that our first men in this place have been glad to obtain the situation when young. Indeed, the office is second only to the Captain’s and is entirely independent even on him — only responsible to the owner.

I continued on the Baltic until about six weeks since when she was laid up for repairs and I accepted the same berth on the Nick Biddle — a St. Louis trade boat — where I am snugly situated at this precise moment. We leave tomorrow for New Orleans so should you hear I had kicked the bucket, don’t be surprised.

I have received every kindness and attention from Uncle Frasier and his delightful family since I first arrived here and indeed they seem to feel pleased that it has been in their power to render service to a son of one to whom they felt under great and many obligations. Anna has become a beautiful and fascinating woman and has lovers immeasurable among young and old. But I cannot perceive that her heart has been in the least singed. I should stand a slim chance should I feel disposed to put in my claim for a chance. But alas! my affections are engaged — pro tem: a dear delightful, sweet, handsome thing of a young girl who was a passenger on our boat last winter. Somehow or other, accidentally received right in her heart a dart from my eyes more than usually severe from its passing thro’ a concase [?] glass medium and confessed at once her inability to resist. She confessed to liking me a little which means a good deal and I swore I loved to death and destruction which means truth. So we agreed we would be lovers and all that sort of thing. Mind you the pro tem up there means for time or eternity. I have never seen her since she left the boat at —— but such exquisite little billet d___ she sends me. O Crickie! She’s a sweet creature. And when I collect a few dollars. don’t be alarmed for my understanding if I should introduce to you the very personification of youth, beauty, and loveliness as Mistress Marine Tyler Wickham, Esq. Recollect this is between you and I and no more. So say mum.

I wrote Mr. B some three or four weeks since and directed some enquiries to him with regard to the girls, amongst them I wished to know, which of the two showed the most willingness to obey the command in the scriptures — increase and multiply — they started fair and I offered to bet two two to one of the little filly’s coming to time, and beating the elder in answer he assures me that from outward and very prominent appearances, Kate has the advantage. Write to her and tell her I have won a suit of clothes upon it. I’ll bet on her still. I am extremely sorry that Elizabeth has made a bad choice. I feel much affection for both the girls and at one time was right smartly smitten with Kate, but she was rather too open and allowed more liberties than exactly suited my ideas of a wife. So I was not sorry I did not have it in my power to propose.

This long letter will prove, Madgie, that I am not exactly indifferent towards you and I shall use not more assurances to convince you I feel every affection for you that our relative situations now and hereafter should produce than to tell you to write at all times and rest satisfied that your letters will be dearly prized and promptly answered.

Your affectionate cousin, — Marine

By post, tell me something about yourself. I have heard that you were to be married, How is it?

¹ The steamboat Nick Biddle struck a snag in the Mississippi river 45 miles above Vicksburg on 25 July 1837. Ten deck passengers were drowned.

² The first steamboat explosion resulting in the loss of life was that of the “Chief Justice Marshall” in 1830.

³ The Baltic sank below the mouth of the Ohio in the Mississippi river in 1841.


Griff View All →

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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