1838: Elizabeth Woodhams to Henry Hunt

Canine figurehead taken from the shipwreck Sirius

This letter was written by Elizabeth Woodhams (1784-18xx), a native of England, who operated a Ladies Boarding School in Brooklyn with her sister Sarah in the 1830’s. In this letter, she shares an account of the arrival of the steamship Sirius — a British built steamer that made the run from Bristol to New York in only fifteen days. According to an article in the American and Commercial Daily Advertiser on 25 April 1838, “the arrival of the steamship…created a great sensation in this city, as well it might, — this being, though not the first steam ship that has crossed the Atlantic, the first in the attempt to do a regular packet business by steam. Thousands thronged the battery to see the Sirius, and boats went off by deets to visit her, she having anchored off the Battery….What attaches to it much importance in our eyes, as New Yorkers, … [is] the idea that this city is to be brought within 15 or 20 days of Europe…this securing our importance as the Commercial Emporium.” The Sirius arrived in New York just ahead of its chief rival, The Great Western.

An Elizabeth Woodhams arrived in New York from London aboard the ship James and Henry Cumming on 10 October 1832. By 1839-40, Elizabeth is no longer residing at her 227 Fulton Street address and appears to have left the city. There are only three Woodhams in the New York City Directory in 1839-40, all of who were probably relatives of each other and with Elizabeth: Isaac (at 282 Division), Joseph (a flour inspector residing at 562 Fourth), and Samuel (a clothier residing at 6 Orange).

Advertisement posted in The Evening Star for Elizabeth & Sarah Woodhams’ Boarding School for Young Ladies at 227 Fulton Street in Brooklyn (1837)

I can’t be certain but I have conjectured that the letter was written to Henry Hunt who was an Engineer in the U.S. Navy. He had a residence in Brooklyn in 1832 before relocating to Norfolk, Virginia. He later became the Chief Engineer of the Washington Navy Yard.


227 Fulton Street
Brooklyn [New York]
May 6th 1838

Esteemed Friend,

Will that do to commence my letter? for I do not know how in the world to address a gentleman when I write. Pray enlighten my mind on the subject for I cannot boast of much knowledge in such matters, seldom having the honor of receiving any but Ladies letters.

Yesterday we were agreeably surprised by a visit from — who do you think? no less person than your brother Richard. He looks much more like you than when here before. I did not recognize him at first. I believe I should not for some time had not the expression of his countenance betrayed him. He has the same good honored smile as ever. He dined with us and was to have been here again today but he came to say he had made an engagement to dine at Mr. Lewis’. Tomorrow he leaves New York to visit his home. Upon his return he says he shall stay longer in Brooklyn. He can scarcely realize that it is two years since he sat with us in this same room. He sees no change. When will you come and see if you can perceive a change? though if the place is altered, I trust you will find warm hearts and friendly greetings. You will see your brother in Norfolk, I presume, before long.

There has been much excitement in New York lately about the Steam Vessels from England. A week ago last Saturday the Ladies of these sister cities received an invitation to go on board. Sarah wanted to make the attempt but it was so crowded she could not succeed. Thousands went. Many laughable accidents happened such as the loss of shoes, bonnet crowns, &c. I intend to wait till next time when there will probably not be so much curiosity manifested. I for one am rejoiced to think the communication between the two countries isa becoming so easy. My hopes revive. I feel as if I must visit my native country again, if only stay a short time.

The Steamer Sirius anchored off Castle Garden near the Battery in New York (1838)

Samuel ¹ has been with us since his return from Norfolk. He does not know what to be about. He has some idea of taking a store in New York with Isaac. It is difficult these hard times to know what to do. Sarah and I manage as well as we can. We have not a large school but we have a house full of boarders. We have overcome our scruples about taking single gentlemen. I fancy I hear you exclaim, “Is it possible!” Yes, actually the case. We have to midshipmen who will leave us in a week or two for Baltimore where they are to be examined. I am sorry they are going because they are so pleasant & easily suited Mr. & Mrs. Flingsly are boarding with us. We like them very much. Your friend Mrs. Boyles has moved. I do not know where. Dr. Rappalge has taken the house she [Boyles] occupied. He has let his own advantageously.

From your other Brooklyn correspondents I expect you hear all the news. I go out so little that I have not an opportunity of hearing much. Sarah begs to be kindly remembered to you. She has been out this evening and feels too tired to write. Therefore, take the will for the deed. It will always be a gratification to us to hear from you. Will you not answer this soon? With every good wish for your present and future happiness, believe me your sincere friend, — Elizabeth Woodhams

Mr. [George] Adlard’s family have returned to Brooklyn. ² They have a house in Atlantic Street near the South Ferry. Mr. & Mrs. Hall are still living in the Bowery. It appears a good location for a school. The weather has been unusually cold for the season; consequently vegetation is quite backward.

¹ Samuel Woodhams kept a millinery at 449 Broadway in 1842. In 1848-9, Samuel Woodhams had a clothing store in New York City at 10 U.S. Hotel Block; Isaac Woodhams had a clothing store at the corner of Commercial & Pearl Streets.

² This was probably George Adlard, a bookseller and importer of books and engravings with a shop at 168 Broadway. His home in 1839 was given as Brooklyn. 


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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