This letter was written by Sarah Mellis (Tilton) Howard (1807-1887), the daughter of William Tilton (1778-1819) and Catherine Mellis (1771-1843). Sarah was married to William L. Howard.
Most of the discussion in this letter centers on the illness of the Howard’s young son, Thomas Howard who was born 3 September 1831. From the description of his symptoms, it appears as that young “Tom” was suffering the ill effects of a large dose of camphor which he apparently liked to nibble on.
Addressed to Catharine Tilton, New Rochelle, West Chester County, New York
9 month [September] 5th, 1842
2nd Day [Monday] Morning
My Dear Mother,
We have very suddenly made up our minds to take a jaunt to Poughkeepsie for Tom’s health. He is much better but we think a little excursion will be of service to him. He has had I fear a narrow escape of his life. No doubt remains with me but that it was the effect of the camphor. I am unwilling to believe that watermelon, or any ordinary diet would produce such alarming effects. He was seized at first with delirium, then fainted away, and as he recovered, was attacked with violent fits of vomiting. Dr. [William] Bayard tells me he found him in a state of collapse and cold. He was at first a little alarmed, but when he found what he had eat, and felt that his pulse was still strong, he was more easy about him. But Elwood and the family were in the greatest alarm and the boys in the greatest agitation. They were afraid of him, he exhibited so much wildness when first taken. I should be quite uneasy myself could it be proved it was the camphor, but to suppose there is a possibility of his being in future subject from eating fruit to such attacks is to me very unpleasant, not can I believe it possible although Dr. Bayard at first doubted it being the camphor. He says he has eaten something and it will probably be a lesson to him, but Tom insists that he had taken no fruit for several days and the melon was eaten a week before.
It will be no lesson for Tom has not the slightest recollection of his sickness. The Dr. says it is not likely he would eat enough to hurt him because it is disagreeable. I told him Tom was fond of it. I do not believe he knows anything about it. Alice Underhill has a niece that was seized with convulsions, coldness &c. from eating a small piece of camphor. The Dr. decided the camphor as the cause. Elwood cites a case of a man who was taken with convulsions after eating a small piece — and John Seaman who appears to be an able chemist says it will produce (a piece as large as a pea) delirium, vomiting, and sometimes death. Enough of this subject, thee will say, but my uneasiness I wish you to understand is from the fate of similar attacks.
Let me now tell thee William came home Seventh day evening pretty smart. Yesterday morning (First day), we concluded about a jaunt to Poughkeepsie. Of course, I had some preparations to make and from my running to and from New York for the last week or two, everything was in particular disorder. I prepared everything yesterday for us to take Hawk’s stage today to New York and the Tow Boat this evening for Poughkeepsie, but the storm has prevented our going. If it clears this afternoon, we shall take the 4 o’clock cars, stay all night at Henry W. and take the Troy — a day boat which leaves at 7 o’clock. I think I prefer it to the Tow Boat. [My brother] William will meet us in the city, I expect, and assist us. If nothing occurs to prevent, we shall probably return the last of the week, but perhaps not until 2nd day. It is not a very pleasant visit to me. I dislike going in such haste. Besides, I wanted much to see you before I go, but it seems well that Tom should have a jaunt.
Was it not for the scarlet fever in your neighborhood, I should at once have brought him to the farm. I hope to hear from you this morning by Hawks. It seems a long time since I have seen you. Tom is in fine spirits at the prospect of his jaunts. He seems very smart.
I must conclude. I have many things yet to attend to. My health is excellent. I beg you will not be uneasy about us but remember what I am too apt to forget — that we are under the care of a kind Providence and are going amongst our friends. Adieu my dear mother. My affectionate remembrance to all, and in haste I subscribe myself thy most affectionate daughter, — Sarah