This letter was written from Chilmark, a town on Martha’s Vineyard by Rev. Elijah Willard (1782-1852) with portions added by his wife Thankful (Gross) Willard (1788-1872) and their daughter, Olivia P. Willard (1824-18xx). Other children mentioned in the letter include Lorinda Willard (1812-1891) who married Silas Edee Coy (1807-1889) in 1833 and resided in Lyme, Connecticut; Albert Willard (b. 1819); Lucius Willard (1821-1892); and possibly Cynthia and Maria.
Rev. Elijah Willard was a Methodist minister from 1803 to 1852. Minutes from the Annual Conference of the M.E. Church say that: “After traveling for several years, chiefly in New-Hampshire, Vermont, and Canada, winning souls to God in many places, Willard was induced by pecuniary embarrassments to locate. Subsequently, however, he joined conference, and filled several appointments, but was for the most part superannuated. Father Willard was a good man. He loved God with sincerity and truth, and served him according to his convictions of duty. The distinguishing feature of his character as a minister was his familiarity with the Scriptures. His preaching was eminently Biblical, not only in doctrine but in language. Brother Willard’s end was peace. As his physical strength failed, his love to God and man increased, till his whole soul seemed filled with glory. Thus, in the town of Saugus, he ended a long and pious career of conflict and suffering on Sunday, September 5, 1852.”
The letter was written to Elijah Willard , Jr. (1816-1894) who was apparently employed by the Rockwell Land Company in La Salle County, Illinois, at the time. Elijah returned to New England and settled in Lynn, Essex County, Massachusetts. He earned a living as a carpenter. He married Mary Theresa Donovan about 1851 and had four children. Forty-five years old when he enlisted in 1861, Elijah later served nine months as a sergeant in Co. C, 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery at Fort Albany, Virginia. He died in Beachmont, Massachusetts.
Addressed to Mr. Elijah Willard, Peru, La Salle County, Illinois
Chilmark [Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts]
February 3, 1837
We received your letter of the 1st of December which came to hand 26 of January, [We] are glad to hear of your health and prosperity and have the happiness to inform you that we are all in good health, enjoy ourselves on this isle of the sea, have a comfortable house to live in belonging to the society near the meeting house where I preach. Have an agreeable and happy society with whom I labor with satisfaction. As to my coming here, I think Providential I was by the Conference appointed at Harwich but soon after Conference being requested by the Presiding Elder to come here, in the month of August came here, and expect to remain here until our next Conference. I meant to be understood that [I] was contented to spend the rest of my days in New England and not on this island in particular, though in many respects this is an agreeable and happy place. The soil is good in this town, though poorly cultivated. Most of the men are engaged in the Whale fishery.
As to Albert, I can give no particular account as I have not heard from him of late and know nothing of his education for the year coming. Lucius goes to school at present. Will continue in school until spring. Shall probably have him work on a farm this coming season.
We had a letter from Silas dated in November. Lorinda was badly hurt by being thrown out of a waggon the Sabbath after your Mother left Lyme. Was so badly hurt they did not expect her life but when he wrote, he had hopes of her recovery. We have no late news from Cynthia or Maria and I’ve no particulars. Would be glad to give you all the information I could in this sheet [but] at present must adjourn.
February 23rd. We have all been well since the first date. Enjoy ourselves well in this place. Have a good house to dwell in, an agreeable and happy people to associate with and dwell among. A present we have a good revival going on. 9 or 10 have been converted and the prospect encouraging. We have happy meetings which increase i interest and numbers.
We have had a hard and cold winter thus far — the most ice in the harbors and round the shore that has been seen for some years past and hard times for seaman on the East and many shipwrecks have occurred. It has been a general time of health in this region of late, but hard times for poor people generally on the account provisions being so high — especially bread [and] corn. The oppression practiced in New England caused by speculators make it important that every one should have his mind stored well with useful knowledge; at the same time be on his watch lest he should be entangled or _____ and so lose his property, reputation, and good [paper torn] among a a free people. I was glad to hear that you embraced religion and joined the Methodist Church and that you took a certificate of your standing. And though you are so far distant from any place of worship, you will have the privilege of reading the bible and of holding communion with God in prayer, which I trust you will daily practice while you strive to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Your future happiness and prosperity depend on the manner you live and conduct while your life and health is in the hands of God. Therefore, trust in the Lord at all times, for in him is everlasting strength.
We think of you and do not cease to pray for you and hope you will be wise and prudent and that you may return to New England once more and should you want to go to Illinois or some part of our western world, we may want to go with you. But at present, we do not think best to have anything to do with land. I had made no calculation to have you spend some time in Middletown to get more learning which you may yet have the privilege when you return.
You have been particular in stating your circumstances but say you can let us have a $100 dollars which will be a great advantage to us and in the end no advantage to you. Your Mother wants to keep the place and I want to have her: and the sooner it is paid for the better. We can then sell it should we think best but till then we cannot do as we would. You will send an order in a letter. I shall probably visit Lyme in May next. At present, for myself, I must conclude wishing you happiness, peace and prosperity from your father, — Elijah Willard
I now take this opportunity to inform you of my health which is now very good at present and hoping these few lines will find you the same. I trust since I saw you last I have been brought from darkness into his marvelous light. He has taken my feet out the horrible pit and miring day and set them on the rock, Christ Jesus. I have enjoyed myself very well since [we] came to this isle of the sea and I think it is a providence in my coming here. I will therefore draw mine to a close and mother will write the rest. Excuse my poor writing for it lightens so cannot write good. I desire that you would pray for me. This from your unworthy sister, — Olivia Willard
As your father has left a small space in his sheet, I in haste improve a few moments to fill up the same. I have not much of anything new to write but just to inform you we do not forget you. We have delayed answering your letter much longer that we should. Had we not waited to have heard from Albert, but as we have not been able to ascertain what he has been about the winter past, we cannot tell what his future calculations are. I was much delighted to have a letter from you and hope you will not be discouraged in writing to us nor think that our affections are in any way diminished though mountains rise and oceans roll to sever us. I trust you will hold fast where unto you have attained and not be drawn aside by the snares and temptations of a wicked world. You will find that you will beed to watch and pray much to withstand the allurements of a vain world. Attend much to reading your bible for that is the greatest calculation a pious can be favored with. I have enjoyed myself very well since I have been here. I hope when your agreement is filled with Rockwell, you will return to New England again and if you find a place that would be better for us to move to when we get our place paid for, I do not know as I should have any objections for we might sell it to much better advantage if it was paid for. I must draw my letter by subscribing your affectionate mother, — Thankful Willard