1848: Jonathan Samuel Wilcox, Jr. to Catherine Artemesia Wilcox

How John Wilcox might have looked
How John Wilcox might have looked

This letter was written by Jonathan Samuel Wilcox, Jr. (1821-1869), the son of Col. Jonathan Samuel Wilcox (1792-1875) and Chloe Hand (1791-1875) of Madison, New Haven County, Connecticut. Jonathan, Sr., was a merchant in Madison. His diaries (1844-1875) are housed in the William J. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. A biography there describes him as an intensely pious man, who frequently described his church attendance and evaluated the sermons he heard (sometimes three per day spread among several churches), and gave occasional updates on the religious involvement of his children. He worried about several sons who had moved to Augusta, Georgia, whom he described as “too much engaged with the world,” and noted which children had made “religious profession[s]” (January 1, 1844). Wilcox exhibited a strong hostility toward abolitionists, he supported democratic candidates, and was opposed to the Civil War. On November 7, 1844, he expressed his support for presidential candidate James K. Polk, and criticized Henry Clay for his habits of gambling and dueling.

Jonathan, Jr. married Sarah Jane Ansley (1823-18xx) in June 1846 in Richmond, Georgia. He died relatively young during a family reunion in the Wilcox home on September 1, 1869. He wrote the letter to his younger sister, Catherine Artemesia Wilcox (1824-1903) who was apparently visiting with relatives in the south at the time. She was married to John M. Nash (1823-1900).

Lee’s Academy was founded by Captain Frederick Lee and other pillars of the community as a privately funded co-educational institution for higher education. It provided students with a level of instruction beyond the basic rudimentary subjects available in the town’s common schools. Although primarily attended by Madison residents, the school also served students from other parts of the state and country.

Lee's Academy in the 1880s
Lee’s Academy in the 1880s

Lee’s Academy was built as a schoolhouse in 1821, at the corner of the Boston Post Road and Neck Road in Madison. It was named for Captain Frederick Lee, who had led the effort to establish a private college preparatory school in town, and the new building was constructed across the street from his own house. Capt. Lee had also been the one to propose Madison as a name for the new town in 1826. Although built with a proviso that it would never be moved, the school building has been relocated several times: in 1836 to the western end of the town Green; in 1839 (when it began to serve as a district school, continuing to accommodate the preparatory school as well until 1884) to a plot across from the Green’s northeast corner; in 1896 (making way for the construction of Memorial Hall) to a location behind the Hand Academy. In 1923, the Madison Historical Society began to manage the building, which was moved, for the last time, to its present location, facing west toward the Green. Having housed a number of organizations and businesses over the years, Lee Academy is now used as a museum and as offices for the Historical Society.

Wilcox mentions that “Mr. Rice” was teaching at the Academy. This was Richard Elisha Rice (1816-1897). He attended school in Saybrook, at Lee’s Academy in Madison, Feb 1833 – Aug. 1835, and Yale 1835 -1839. On 22 Nov 1839, he left Winthrop to take charge of an academy in Deleware, Ohio (15 students and virtually defunct), staying there through the winter of 1840-1841. From 1841-1844 he was principal of Lee’s Academy. In Oct. 1844 he entered the mercantile business with R. A. Scranton in Augusta, Ga. He married Parnella Scranton (1818-1893) on 1 Sep 1845. In 1847 he again became principal of Lee’s. In 1850, he established a boarding school for boys in Stamford, Ct. On 7 Sept. 1864 he became secretary/treasurer of a manufacturing firm in New Haven and resided at 29 College St. From May-Sept. 1873 he and his son Richard engaged in a business venture in Europe that was cut short by the panic of 1873.

Though undated, my hunch is that the letter dates to about February 1848. Mr. Rice’s return to teaching at Lee’s Academy in 1847, Dr. Burr’s marriage in December 1847 (mentioned in the letter), and the statement that “spring is fast approaching” lead me to this conclusion.

1848 Letter
1848 Letter

Addressed to Miss Catherine A. Wilcox, Charleston, South Carolina
Care of J. Ansley, Esq.

[Frederick] Lee’s Academy
Madison [Connecticut]

Dear Sister,

You wished me to write you so I thought I would try as Aunt Pratt promised to add a few lines to my letter. I am in school now and I hardly know what I can write that you would like to hear for you receive letters from home so often that you hear all the news. But perhaps no one told you that a Mr. Emmons has held a writing school here, both of the Green and down in the neck. He has had a great many and I think he teaches them very well. At any rate, we have lots of fun. I am not one of the pupils but he admits spectators so I go over quite often as they meet in the Academy. Mr. Emmons likes Rebecca Dudly very much. She has been one of his scholars & he has been quite attentive to her. He is a widower and he talks of buying Hamilton Scranton’s house.

We have full School this winter & we all like Mr. Rice better than we did when he taught here before. He has bought the brick house so I think he intends to stay in Madison.

Joseph and Cornelia with little Willie have been here. They spent the Sunday. Mr. Selden Scranton ¹ came with them. And Uncle Theophilus has gone home with him to spend the winter. We have had very little snow and no skating at all. Since February began, there has been more snow than before this winter. George, Joel Scranton, Emmy Smith & Sarah upset in a sleigh last evening down on the neck but were not hurt. I hope we shall have more snow for it is not decent sleighing now.

The portrait of Jonathan Samuel Wilcox most likely referred to in the letter
The portrait of Jonathan Samuel Wilcox most likely referred to in the letter

Mother’s portrait is finished & Father is having his altered. So is Dr. [Reynold] Webb and Mr. [Samuel N.] Shepard and Uncle Scranton. Mr. & Mrs. E. C. Scranton , Mr. Selah Lee, and several others are going to sit for theirs. I am learning to play the violin & I can play six tunes already. Aunt Pratt will think I am using all the paper up so I all close. We are all well and George was very glad to get your letter day before yesterday night. I wish you would write me just as much as you did him, if you please. All send much love, and I am, your affectionate brother, — John

My dear Niece,

As John has left a small space for me to write, I will improve it. I do not think I can add anything to your happiness by writing and I hope not to diminish any. As your friends write so often, you get all the news. As I live in the bustling part of the town, the news slides by, if any, for I stay at home very steady and mind my domestic affairs and let the throng pass on unmolested. I occasionally visit your father and I can assure you that it looks very lonely without you, my dear niece. But I think Sarah does well. She is quite domesticated and flies round when she has company with energy. She bears your absence heavily. Your father, you know, has moved his family into another pew and I am glad on one account for they looked so lonesome without you I could not bear to look at them. They now sit behind me. I have been able to attend church every sabbath since my return from New York although it has been very muddy most of the time and the rest cold enough to freeze.

I must mention one thing. Dr. [Horace] Burr of Westbrook is married to a lady in Lyme so Mary has lost him. ²

Catherine, John has so near filled the sheet I cannot write anything worth reading and I must make use of this side. The spring is fast approaching and soon if our lives are spared we shall greet your smiling face and prize the privilege. I cannot write any more for want of paper, May the best of heaven’s blessing rest upon you and may you again return home with health to your friends is the sincere wish of your — Aunt Sarah W. Pratt. ³

N. B. I often hear from Elizabeth. She appears to enjoy herself well. Her health has been good. Cousin Elizabeth is very smart. Love to your Aunt Eliza and all my nephews and nieces. Respects to your family. Tell Jane I did not get my gingham apron. I felt disappointed and thought I was very much neglected, however I shall expect something from you. I should like to see little Will. Kiss him for me.

Lee's Academy and the Congregational Church in Madison in the 1830s
Lee’s Academy and the Congregational Church in Madison in the 1830s

¹  Selden Scranton became the first president of the Lackawanna Company (Iron Manufacturing).

² Dr. Horace Burr graduated from the Medical Department of Yale College in February 1842 and immediately began practice in Westbrook, Connecticut. He married Louisa N. Hungerford on 13 December 1847.

³ Aunt Sarah Ann (Wilcox) Pratt (1789-Aft1850) was the wife of George S. Pratt (1789-Aft1850) of Madison.

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