1855: Lorenzo Alson Kelsey to Ada Helen Kelsey

Lorenzo A. Kelsey

This letter was written by Lorenzo Alson Kelsey (1804-1890), the former mayor of Cleveland (1848). Kelsey was born to Eber and Lucy Ann Leete Kelsey in Port Leyden, New York, where he was locally educated. He later moved to Youngstown to work in the lumber industry. Kelsey and his wife, Sophia Smith (1806–1893), from Windsor, Connecticut, moved to Cleveland in 1837, after which he became the manager of the Cleveland House Hotel. After managing the hotel, Kelsey became captain of the USS Chesapeake and later the General Harrison. In 1848, Kelsey ran as a Democratic dark horse candidate due to his lack of political experience and defeated Charles Bradburn and Milo Hickox for the title of mayor. Kelsey returned to the hotel business in 1849 until his retirement. Kelsey died in Cleveland and was buried in the Erie Street Cemetery, until his remains were moved to Lake View Cemetery in 1903.

In the 1850 US Census, Kelsey was enumerated in Cleveland, Cuyahoga county, New York. He was married to Sophia Smith (18xx-1893) and their children were Antoinette (b. 1832), Eugene Oscar (b. 1835), Theodore (b. 1846), Helen (b. 1843), and Josephine (b. 1845).

Kelsey wrote this letter to his daughter, Ada Helen (“Nettie”) Kelsey (1843-1906). [See also 1861: Theodore Rolland Kelsey to Ada Helen Kelsey] He wrote the letter from Chicago where he was identified as “Capt. L. A. Kelesey” — the “local mail agent” in the 1855 Chicago City Directory.  The Chicago Post Office was located on the east side of Clark Street, between Randolph and Lake at that time.


Post Office Chicago, Illinois
August 21, 1855

Dearest Nettie,

1-corliss-nightingale-letterheadYour and Jack’s came safe to hand. I was right glad to hear from you again as I was somewhat alarmed about your health. I received a letter from [your] Mother the same day written at Salem. She writes she has been to Providence [Rhode Island] — arrived there in the night. In the morning took omnibus — went to Corliss & Nightingale’s — called in front of the office for [your brother] Oscar.  After a long gaze amongst wheels, straps, bands &c, saw a tall figure approaching. She says she would not have known him if she had met him accidentally. He went over to Salem with her &c. Mother says I ought to have seen Jo while in New York. On the passage at various places, says her big eyes were more prominent than usual — on many occasions was perfectly delighted. While visiting at Matilda’s on the sea shore, she says she shall go from Salem to Cherry Valley in about three weeks. I think from her description they have enjoyed their visit very much. I hope so.

As for myself, I can’t say I am as happy as a clam at high water but I never was more hearty in my life. For over a month back, I have worked 20 hours out of the 24 — rise at 4 o’clock in morning to deliver the registered money letters to the distributing clerk and commence delivering my mails on the different routes. This last until 9 or ½ past 9 o’clock a.m.  Then go to breakfast and hurry back as soon as possible. I have been relieved from peddling stamps & envelopes the P.M. having employed a man below in a segar store to do that so that I only wholesale now — 60 to 100 at a time. I have now sold over $30.00 worth since the new law went into effect the first of July last for the registrating monied letters. It makes a multiplicity of extra work. This is a part of the game that does not belong to me to do at all, but Mr. [Hezekiah Allen] Wynkoop, the asst. P.M., and Mr. [Isaac] Cook, the P.M., have been so very kind to me I feel to render all the assistance I can and I had rather do it than be spending my spare hours about the city. From breakfast time to about six o’clock P.M., I don’t think of leaving the office. Then go to supper and return immediately, see the evening mails off and then into the office again where I have for over a month found as much work, in addition, to all I have done in the daytime and can do until 10, 11, and sometimes 12 o’clock. About this time we have some heavy in mails, and I sleep mighty fast that 4 hours. But I never felt better in my life and never was so fat. I am almost uncomfortably so.

So you have turned politician, have you? You say you hope I am an American. I claim to be so, and for that reason, I am very far from belonging to any class of people that hold their secret societies for political purposes and prescribe another class for their religious belief &c. I furthermore believe in ministers of the gospel attending to their profession and let their politicks alone, or abandon the one and devote their attention to the other. I believe the religious fanatics of the North have done more injury in disturbing the good feeling between the North & South that would otherwise have existed than they can or ever will atone for. Here we as Democrats are utterly opposed to abolitionist and K. N. [Know Nothingism] and as the abolitionists have taken into their kind embrace the few Know Nothings that were left, we felt quite satisfied to get rid of them. So it seems to me to be something unnatural that when the Democrats at the North are endeavoring all in their power to stay the abolitionists from their destructive work and then when the Know Nothings are here swallowed up by the Sambo’s that in the South a party should arise to oppose us.

I am sorry to hear of the excitement arriving to such a pitch as it was in Kentucky and same of your other states. One of our Democratic papers here wanted a [wood]cut to represent Sambo swallowing Sam, so I got a block of wood and mornings between sending off the different loads of mail (“the only time I had”) with my penknife I cut this figure [See newspaper below].  I think I see you laugh if it does not correspond with your politick — whew. Jack Devereaux preaching Know Nothingism on a stump — well, it is where Whiggery ends here also, It is not so much to be wondered at, but by the creed, he must not ask any favors at their hands. His father has foreign blood in his veins. Purely American is the motto. But should we proscribe all that have rendered assistance in establishing this glorious Union of ours because they had foreign blood coursing in their veins? I think we would at least be very ungrateful.

Well, let’s drop politicks and talk about something else. Tell Jack that I am very thankful for his letter. Tell him I saw Mr. [Col. Andrew] DeGraff yesterday morning but only saw him for a moment. He was on his return from Dubuque, Iowa. He has taken a little contract in that direction somewhere of 20 or 30 miles. He has also been up in Wisconsin — has seen some of the largest R.R. folks there and I understand that he made a very favorable impression there and that the probability is that when the lettings take place, he will stand a good chance to get some heavy contracts. He says he should like to take all they have in Wisconsin to build if he could. I understand that the Illinois Central Railroad Co. are desirous of purchasing the charter of the Lake Superior Road. It is reported that Erastus Corning of Albany who is connected with the company that built the St. Mary’s Canal & took lands for pay and of course are much interested in the completion of this road, made the remark that he would offer as he was interested consent to the sale, tat the Illinois Central was — or would be immensely rich, but at present was very much extended and had immense wealth laying in lands — and he was afraid if they took hold of it, they would not build it quick enough and that it must be built quick and should be and report says he could build it alone with his own means. Mr. Degraff told me he had that name still in his memorandum book and in all probability he could only secure a big contract to last long enough to make it an object you would hear from him. I should be very happy if this  should result in bringing us all together again in some pleasant place in the West.

I think I have written about as much as you will care about reading this time. Write me in your next who is Governor of Tennessee. We have heard from Virginia. We expected you would take Tennessee & Kentucky and South Carolina this fall and by the time the next Presidential Election comes off, your party would have discovered your errors and been good Democrats again. But we shall see what we shall see. But why don’t you keep good-natured in your elections? What do you kill folks for? ¹ Goodbye for the present, my dear children.

Your affectionate father, — L. A. Kelsey

¹ A reference to “Bloody Monday” (6 August 1855) when Protestant mobs attacked German and Irish Catholic neighborhoods. These attacks grew out of the bitter rivalry between the Democrats and the Nativist Know-Nothing Party. Twenty-two people were killed and many others injured.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, 21 August 1855 — “Sambo Swallowing Sam”


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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