1849: Catharine Elbert to Martha Doolittle

How Catharine El might have looked
How Catharine Elbert might have looked

The signature on this letter is Catharine Elbert. I have not been able to identify a woman by that name from that timeframe residing in St. Mary’s, Georgia. My hunch is that she was a slave who belonged — or once belonged — to the famous Samuel Elbert (1740-1788) family. Samuel was an early Governor of the State of Georgia. It would appear that Catherine was employed by the Doolittle family while they resided in St. Mary’s in the 1820s and 1830s and probably helped raise the Doolittle children. An argument against Catharine being a slave is her use of the term “cracker” which is normally a reference to poor whites, but I don’t think any member of the Elbert family would have been poor or working as a house servant at that time. If she was a slave, she may have been the property of Harriet Ann (Jackson) Elbert, the childless widow of Samuel Elbert (one of the Governor’s son). She was known to have hired out her slaves to others (see story about Moses Dallas) and she lived amongst the families mentioned in this letter.

Catherine wrote the letter to Martha Doolittle (1837-1906), the daughter of Alfred Doolittle (180o-1860) and Henrietta Adeline Garvin (1806-1868). Alfred Doolittle was appointed postmaster at St. Marys, Georgia in 1828. Sometime not long before this letter was written, Alfred moved his family from Georgia to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he became a flour merchant. By 1860, Alfred had relocated to South Ottawa, LaSalle County, Illinois, where he was a farmer.

1849 Letter
1849 Letter

Addressed Martha Doolittle, Care of A. Doolittle, Esqr., Springfield, Massachusetts

St. Marys, [Camden County] Georgia
February 2d 1849

My dear Matty,

Your old Moma was delighted & very grateful to get such a nice kind letter from the family she had received so much kindness from & gratified that you should remember her with so much affection as to write to me. I should be very much pleased to be with you for a little while & see how comfortably fixed you are but that country is too cold for me. I had rather be here where we do not need so much wood & warm clothing & shelter from the cold. It would be bad for my old painful limbs. I am just about what you left me. I have all I want but I miss the many little acts of kindness you children were always doing for me.

We are all going on much after the old sort — some things a little worse than usual. Dr. Mitchell & his family are here & Dr. [Francis] Curtis ¹ doing as bad as ever. He drove his whole family out the other night & beat his wife. Dr. [Henry] Bacon ² still very mad with poor Kate & Mr. Parsons (they have gone to Jacksonville). It is no use to keep mad for it only makes things worse.

I heard from Fanny last week. She is well & I hope to have her home shortly now. Mistress has wrote for her to come the first of March.

Major Clark ³ is dead & the family all broke up. Mrs. Clark & her daughter have taken another house & Henry & Louisa keep the old one. Henry expects to get his Father’s office. The school is broke up. Mr. Barratte quit & Mr. Delian could get no scholars hardly so Mr. [William] Williams † is trying to get a pious man to come and take a school. Hellen Gun & Nancy Flood have each pretty good schools. The church is so, so. The people do not seem to like Mr. Williams though I think he is a good man & I hope God will bless his labors among us.

Tell [your brother] Jesse I have got short & he is fat & contented with me & I love him for his Master’s sake. The cat I have not got. Your “help” — as you call her — must look very smart in your nice kitchen with her nice apron & silk shawl, but do not think your victuals are any better cooked that I could do with my crippled foot & cracker’s apron. Anyhow, they do not love you better than I do & shall ever remember the kindness of you all to me. Please give my love to all your family — father, mother, sisters & brothers. All here send love.

From your old Mama — Catharine Elbert

I hate to look towards the old house you left. I have not been there since you went away. Mr. Clark is fixing up quite smart. Tell Jamy he has forgot his promise to send me something nice. Give my love to Mr. Ingersoll & all the family & Abby & everybody I know. My old Mistresses — both of them — send their love to you all. George Long is married & brought his bride home (Uranie DeCoome).

¹ I assume this is Dr. Francis Orlando Curtis (1801-1861), the son of Francis Sylvester Curtis (1760-1795) and Frances Lavinia Churchill (1772-1840). Francis earned his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1822. He resided in Camden County, Georgia in 1850 with his wife, Sarah Rivers Seabrook (1806-1880), and three children. In the 1860 Census, Dr. Curtis is enumerated in the household of Moses C. B. Wright of Glynn County, Georgia, and no longer living with his family.

² Dr. Henry Sadler Bacon (1802-1873) of Litchfield, Connecticut. Dr. Bacon’s sister, Catherine (“Kate”) Ann Elbert Bacon (1831-1907), was married to William Tallman Parsons (1814-1881) in 1848 and relocated to Jacksonville, Florida (as mentioned in this letter).

³ Major Archibald Bellinger Clark (1782-1848) was the son of Henry and Margaret (Smith) Clark. His father had emigrated from Scotland to Savannah, GA in the mid-eighteenth century and joined the Continental Army. Clark entered the Litchfield Law School at the age of 16 and spent four years there, being one of the youngest students ever to attend. Clark and his wife had ten children. Clark then returned to GA with his wife and settled in St. Mary’s in Camden County, GA. He practiced law and acquired extensive lands on St. Mary’s River and built saw mills on Spanish Creek. Clark also maintained some New England ties. He built a clapboard home in the New England style for his wife which was unlike other area houses. His close friend Aaron Burr also stayed with him in 1804. In 1807 he was appointed Collector of Port of St. Mary’s by President Madison which was an important post due to the presence of Spanish Florida across the river. Clark held the position until 1843 and during those years also acted as the Mayor of St. Mary’s. He served as a Major in the War of 1812 and was taken prisoner by the British. He died in St. Mary’s on 24 December 1848. His first wife was Rhoda Wadsworth (1784-1830) of Litchfield, Connecticut. Their son was Henry Elijah Wadsworth Clark (1812-1857) who worked as a lawyer and merchant, and also served as the Collector of Port in Jacksonville, Florida.

† Rev. William G. Williams (1807-18xx) was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in St. Mary’s from 1847-1855.

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