This letter was probably written by Stephen John Brinckerhoff (1793-1882), the son of John Brinckerhoff (1757-1793) and Hannah Van Wyck (1764-1827) of Fishkill, Dutchess county, New York. In the 1846 NYC Directory, Stephen was identified as a merchant employed at 37 Beaver Street which was the firm of Brinckerhoff, Fox & Polhemus. His residence was given as the New York Hotel. Other members of the firm were Robert R. Fox and Theodore Polhemus, Jr.
On 24 September 1846, Stephen was married to Mrs. Mary E. (Skelding) Yates of Chittenango, Madison county, New York. Mary was the daughter of Thomas Skelding and Rheua Jones. In 1850, the Brinckerhoff’s were enumerated in Madison, Sullivan county, New York.
During the Civil War, Brinckerhoff’s firm made a fortune manufacturing “duck cloth” — a canvas material used to make military tents.
Stephen wrote the letter to Miss Charlotte L. Brinckerhoff who was probably an unmarried cousin of his. In 1830, there was a Miss Charlotte L. Brinckerhoff identified as a member of the Market Street Church in NYC.
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published here by express consent.]
Addressed to Miss Charlotte L. Brinkerhoff, Tarrytown, New York
Raleigh, North Carolina
January 20th 1846
Being stage bound and weather bound, I again resume my pen. It hailed and rained all day so that everything is now — 5 P.M. — covered with ice, and after reading and smoking most of the day, I have concluded to commence another “budget” without stopping to ask if “you will have patience to read it.”
This place is the capitol of this state and its capitol building is said to be the finest in the U. S. It stands in the center of the city and its square is large with no fence or anything but a natural grove to adorn it and is built of the granite found in this place or near it. Of course it is the great place for lawyers, judges, and publick men of which there are a number here now attending the Supreme Court and boarding in the hotel where I am stopping — it being opposite the Capitol. Many of these men are men of fine talent — [Edward] Stanly, [George Edmund] Badger, and some others who have made some show in the Capitol of our Nation. But amid all these, I must confess I have felt more lonely than any day since I left home. Still as more than one half of the time I propose being absent is past, I feel more like seeing friends than when while I was going from home. I have this moment come up from tea and [you] would be amused to see me fill my clay pipe with reed stem and whiff away before a good fire alone. But this is one of the comforts of a lone traveler.
I commenced by saying that I was stage bound for I should have left this morning but no stage leaves for Greensboro until tomorrow at 2 o’clock so I must wait with all patience and expect to find the roads very bad and travel very slow until I get to the railroad again which will be about two weeks. And I shall not return to this place but after going into the western part of the state, get to the railroad again in the north part of it where I shall direct to Petersburg, Virginia. But if you write me again at this place, I will have it directed to meet me at Richmond.
Greensboro, January 25 — Since I wrote the above, I have traveled 80 miles west in the stage over a very bad road but have got along very well. Stopped two days at Hillsboro and arrived at this place last evening and found one New Yorker here but he was about to leave for home and [I] shall have to remain until Tuesday eve as no stage goes after this eve until then though I should be ready to go tomorrow eve.
This morning I went to the Presbyterian Church — or rather the lecture room as they are building a new church and they built the lecture room first. ¹ But [it] is small and was very much crowded but had a good sermon from these words, “having our conversation in heaven.” The minister went on to prove we could be in heaven in spirit while we are here in the body &c. and he gave notice of a service at 3 o’clock so I went round but found it was for the Blacks. So you see there is something done for them here and I am more and more convinced that had [it] not been for the Abolition movement, many of the people of the South would have made some movement ‘ere this to get clear of the slaves.
I see but very few young ladies as I do not stay sufficient time in a place to make any acquaintance with. In fact, [I] have declined being introduced for in traveling one feels not much at ease and feels dirty and unfit to appear in the company of young ladies — particularly when they expect so much from a man from New York. I suppose I must confess the whole and say I have but little inclination to be made acquainted with them as my fortune is made. What do you think of it?
[January] 26th — So you will find I get along slow for I must stay in this place until tomorrow night when I must ride all night again in the stage. But I begin to feel that I shall spend but few more nights in the stage before I reach home. Last eve I attended church again and had a good lecture from an old man from these words,”Jesus Christ came into the world not to condemn the world, &c.” It was a very solemn lecture and he said how strange that God should send his son into the world and more strange still that he did not come to condemn it for the world had rebelled against him and how justly might he have come to condemn it, &c. Sometimes when I spend Sabbath pleasantly, I wish the Sabbath would last all the week. But I must be diligent in business while I am fervent in spirit.
This town with Hillsboro are the oldest in the state and I presume about as pleasant. I hear much said about matrimony — young men coming several hundred miles to visit the young ladies. A young doctor from a distant part of the [state] asked for his bill of the landlord and a young man standing by me says that man has got his dismissal. I know for he looks very base. He came here to see Ex-Governor [John Motley] Morehead’s daughter.² And that young man is from Virginia and is spending this eve at the Governor’s but I presume from what I heard about him at Hillsboro that his fortune is made there. The Observer was sent you by my directions and I am glad you find something in it to interest you. I very seldom can find a New York paper in this country for they care but little about what we are doing there.
The weather was cloudy this morning and, indeed, it rained a little but it is again clear. But it does not affect me much when I am on the road in a close stage. I expect to get out of this state in [this] or next week and if so, shall make but one or two stops before I get to Richmond.
I hear the piano going in the room below and wonder of my friend practices much this winter. I hear nothing about it. Oh how I wish I had learned to play myself. Then I should not [be] dependent on my friends for music. If I should not get home before Valentine’s Day, I shall expect that long letter and you may write as many valentines to your other friends as you have time to do for some of the old widowers or bachelors would be pleased to hear from you in that way, I have no doubt.
I will write you again and let you know when to expect me but do not begin to look out of the window too soon as I may get some new instructions when I get to Richmond as G. M. Atwater ³ has been there most of [the] time since I left and knows when to expect me there. Give my love to your mother & sister. Tell Aleda she has had one friend at the South all winter. With my constant prayer for your prosperity and happiness, I remain yours, — S
¹ The brick Greek Revival style Presbyterian Church built in Greensboro in 1846 was designed and constructed by James D. Ehitice and H. C. Worth. It cost $23,000.
² This may have been Corinna Mary Morehead (1825-1897), the 21 year-old daughter of Ex-Governor Morehead. In May 1846, she married William Waightsill Avery (1816-1864), a young attorney and promising politician from Burke county, North Carolina.
³ George Merwin Atwater (1814-1902) was born in Branford, Connecticut, the son of Rev. Charles Atwater (1786-1825) and Mary Merwin (1785-1879). He was married in Cleveland, Ohio, to Minerva Merwin in October 1841 but she died less than two years later in Brooklyn, New York, where he was employed as a buyer in the firm of Baldwin, Kent & Company (later Kent, Kendall & Atwater) — a dry goods house in Richmond, Virginia. In the 1846 NYC Directory, we find that George was the senior partner in the drygoods firm of Atwater, Gould, & Co., located at 14 Wall Street; his partner was William R. Gould, Jr. By the mid-1850’s he had relocated to Springfield, Massachusetts, with his second wife, Harriet Brodhead (1826-1900). In Springfield, he started the Glasgow Mills at South Hadley Falls — a manufacturer of ginghams, and he also founded the Springfield street railroad.
We find notice of George Merwin Atwater’s name appearing in the Richmond Daily Whig on 13 January 1846 as one of several promoters of a bill before the Virginia House of Delegates that would construct a railroad from Virginia to Ohio that would further enhance “the value of Western lands.” The project was titled the “Richmond and Ohio Rail Road Company [see newspaper article below]. G. M. Atwater’s name also appears in the 1849/50 New York City Directory as a Commercial merchant at 24 Broad Street. His residence was recorded as Remson at the corner with Clinton in Brooklyn.
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