1847: William Riley Griffith to Robert Negus Lamb

William Riley Griffith

This letter was written by 26 year-old William Riley Griffith (1820-1862), the son of Rev. James Griffith (1798-1876) and Nancy Hunt (1802-1850) of Lafayette, Tippicanoe county, Indiana. After graduating from Indiana Asbury College (later DePauw University) in 1847, William served as president of Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio; then as president of Mount Pleasant University in Pennsylvania; then — in 1855 — he moved to Kansas Territory where he wasted little time getting involved in the politics of the day. Initially a free-state Democrat, Griffith was a delegate to the Topeka Constitutional Convention in October 1855 and a recognized leader of the free-state movement in the southeast. Griffith won election to the superintendent’s office on December 6, 1859, and took office after Kansas was admitted to the Union in 1861. He died in Topeka on February 12, 1862, after only one year on the job. During the Wyandotte Convention the Daily Times writer described Griffith as “one of the most valuable members of this body. . . . a good, clear thinker, concise and terse speaker, and a man true always to the best instincts of humanity.

William was married on 23 December 1847 to Margaret Landes (1824-1908), the daughter of Samuel Landes (1801-1886) and Mary Magdalena Siple (1803-1889) of Putnam county, Indiana.

William wrote the letter to Robert Negus Lamb (1824-1904), the son of Solomon Lamb (1780-1848) and Elizabeth Shepherd (1791-1855) of Perry county, Indiana. Lamb pursued a career in law and eventually became a judge of the 26th Judicial Circuit of the State of Indiana.

Addressed to Mr. Robert N. Landis, Veva[y], Switzerland Co., Indiana
Postmarked Greencastle, Indiana

Greencastle [Indiana]
February 13th 1847

Friend Robert,
Dear Sir,

I received yours of January a few days since and now hasten to write in answer. A letter from a friend has the power to call up pleasant reminiscence of the past. Yes, when reading your letter, I could but remember the many pleasant hours which we have enjoyed in company, either sitting in our rooms or straying over the hills and through the meadows in the vicinity of the unimportant but interesting little village of Greencastle. When I think of times past, it seems but yesterday since we enjoyed the hearty joke, or contemplated deeds of chivalry in the republic of some fair and worthy heart. But these days have past and with them their pleasures and their toils, improved or unimproved, and we must take lessons from them and hope for the future. As time speeds away, circumstances change. A short time since and you were the enthusiastic college student; now you have retired from those pleasant and interesting scenes to delve into the intricacies of law.

But methinks you have not forgotten your worthy purpose. Neither have you wandered from those pleasant scenes of innocent pleasure. Tired of books, with ardent footsteps and contemplative mind, you wander over the mountains and through the valleys of Switzerland, gazing upwards on a sky clear as crystal, decked with myriads of bright, twinkling “stars,” and anon delight yourself in the company of some intelligent angelic cottage girl. Burns no doubt is your favorite poet. How you delight to dwell in some of those immortal touches, those delineations of more than friendship — no doubt.

“The golden hours, on angel’s wings
Flies over you, and your diary”

But while you are enjoying yourself with your angelic cottage “Lovey Dovey,” think not that your friend has nothing to warm his heart. Think not that the influence of books is all that bids him onward. I returned to college three weeks since and am pursuing my studies with the expectation to graduate next July. Amid the toils and privations of the students, I still find something pleasant and agreeable. Hope sometimes brightens, and then we are happy on the contemplation of future labors and future rewards — or the smiles of some heavenly beauty (fortunately for us) sometimes fall upon us, and the mystic spell is broken, and then we are all chivalry and love.

At the present I am attending college and assisting Mrs. Larrabee in her Female Seminary. ¹ I also board in her family and of course I am surrounded with “beauty.” Today while sitting at the table with twenty most beautiful and intelligent — and accomplished young ladies, I could but admire the loveliness of the scene. But do not think that I have fallen in love with any pretty face — not so. I admire the heart more than the face. But let me tell you the one most dear to me is not in this family circle. But no doubt you cry enough of such nonsense, let me hear something about the college affairs.

Well, as we have one hundred and sixty-four students in present attendance, the two [literary] societies are prospering. Philo numbers about sixty. Last week the Societies read their papers and the Philologian so far eclipsed the Republic letters that the latter is almost forgotten. We have elected Henry Clay to address us next commencement. If he accepts, I will let you know. Two of the Seniors from Bloomington have come and joined our class. Briggs, Sellers, and Daniels, it is supposed, cannot graduate. If they do not, we will have a very respectable class — viz: [Stephen S.] Brown, [William H.] Durham, [Greenberry] Short, [William] Cassady, [John Washington] Whitford ([Elkanah] Williams, [Henry Hoffman] Trimble from Bloomington) and “Griffith!!”

Write me soon and remember me as a friend. Yours most respectfully. — Wm. R. Griffith

P. S.  N. B. You perceive from the letter that I have deferred marrying at least till after commencement.

¹ The Greencastle Female Collegiate Seminary was founded in 1844 by Professor William Clark Larrabee (1802-1859) and his wife Harriet Dunn (1806-1859). In 1851, after ten years on the faculty of Indiana Asbury College, William Larrabee left to become Indiana’s first Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Larrabee family home in Greencastle was called “Rosabower.”


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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