1851: Eliza (Workman) Latta to Benjamin Franklin Workman

This letter was written by Eliza (Workman) Latta (1810-1892), the wife of William Franklin Latta (1807-1852). She was the mother of four children — Christina Ann Latta (b. 1838), Lydia Latta (b. 1840), Joseph Franklin Latta (1844-1917), and Catherine Cedillia [Sedelia] Latta (b. 1847). Eliza’s parents were Joseph Workman (1786-1874) — an Irish emigrant — and Lydia Shields (1791-1854) of Ashland county, Ohio.

Eliza married William F. Latta in 1837. William was the son of Ephraim Latta (1768-1838) and Christina McFadden (1776-1856) of Richland county, Ohio. In the 1850 U. S. Census, William and Eliza were enumerated with their four children in Jackson, DeKalb county, Indiana. In the 1860 U. S. Census, 43 year-old Eliza is enumerated as the 2nd wife of Thomas A. Sheetz (1823-1907), a 37 year-old farm laborer in Scott, Johnson county, Iowa.

In this 1851 letter to her brother Franklin, Eliza brings him up-to-date with the status of her family and their location. She also informs him she is destitute and in need of money as her husband is dying of consumption and unable to work. The letter was mailed to Stockton, California, and transported by steamer to California, most likely through the Isthmus of Panama.


Addressed to B. F. Workman, Stockton, California
Postmarked New York City

[Leo, Cedar Creek Township, Allen County, Indiana]
January 7th 1851

My much loved brother,

I will try to address you but the effort will be feeble indeed for I scarcely know what to say to you, it has been so long since I have seen you. I fear you have forgotten me. Dear brother, there is a vast distance between you and I, but by the help of Providence we may correspond to each other.

We are now living in the State of Indiana. We moved here in the fall of 1849. We left Thomas Johnston’s in the fall of 1846 and we moved near Mohicanville [Ashland county, Ohio]. William taught school there that winter. We moved from there the spring following to Loudinville [Ashland county, Ohio] and we staid there till ’48. We all was sick the last year we staid there. We moved from there to the Taylor District. There William taught four months. Since, he has lost his teeth entirely — that is, Lotty [William]. He has been for the last year unable to perform any labour of any account. You would not know him — he is reduced in flesh so. His disease is in his right side and chest principally and a general debility of the system, and hard cough, and spits blood very frequently and a burning in his hands and feet so bad that very often he cannot rest any all night and while sleeping, a curious noise is heard in his throat like he was strangling. I have frequently raised him up before the suffocation would leave him. I fear he will never be much better. He has an idea that he will never get well.

We are in low circumstances as we have always been. It is worse on our hand for we are among strangers and we have no source to fly to but I still look forward for better days to come. We are here on a place of Thomas Johnston’s and we cannot make a living on it on the account of his bad health. My health is better than it has been for ten years past. Our children are pretty healthy. Franklin has had some sickness but is well now. Christiana is larger than I am. Lydia is as tall as I. We have one you never seen. She is a fine little girl. She is five years old and she looks like Lucretia. She has one good quality — that is a good disposition which is a very pleasant thing in my opinion.

My thoughts many times have caused me many reflections for the welfare of my family. William anticipates that he won’t be long with us which causes many serious thoughts in our family. I have to labour hard in order to support our family. I am teaching school now in our own district for the paltry sum of six dollars per month which is not one fourth enough to supply our wants. You know I have not the qualifications to teach to an advantage. If I had the means, I would qualify myself yet for I expect to be obliged to maintain my family entirely in a short time if William’s health does not improve, which I have no idea of for his health fails fast this winter and the opinion of the doctors are that he has the consumption in the last stage.

I have thought very hard of Father. He knows my circumstances and has never helped me but to three dollars at one time and two at another is all the money he ever sent me. But I will pass over that. He is old and infirmities are prominent now. I want you to write and let me know how you are and how you are getting along in the land of gold as it is called sometimes. I would have written to you long ago but I could not fairly understand where you was. I am not certain you will get this. If you do, do not neglect writing to me.

I received a letter from [sister] Sedelia the 22nd of last month — that is December. She is in Columbus with Lucretia. I cannot say much more. She is well — Sedelia, that is. Please excuse my bad composition for I am in the school room and the scholars are gathering. Franklin, I almost falter as I ask you please send me ten or fifteen dollars and I will try to pay you sometime for it. I would not ask you but I am in adversity and I do not know what to do. William does not know I ask for help or he would not allow it but I hope you will not forget me on the account of misfortune. I never have disclosed my poverty to any of my connections as I have to you. It has been my disposition to try to be contented and bear up under affliction but the time is coming that I will disclose to some of my friends.

Nothing more but remain your very affectionate sister, — Eliza Latta

To Franklin Workman

When you write, direct your letters to Leo, Allen county, Indiana


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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