1849: Jane Janvier (Whilldin) Danforth to Rev. Joshua Nobel Danforth

How the Danforth's might have looked
How the Danforth’s might have looked

Joshua Nobel Danforth (1798-1861) was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to Joshua Danforth (1759-1837), an American officer in the Revolutionary War, and Salome Noble (1768-1814) of Williamstown, Massachusetts. Joshua was schooled at Lenox Academy, graduated with distinction from Williams College, and studied at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1820. After Princeton, he ministered at Presbyterian churches in New Castle, Delaware, starting in 1821, and at the Second Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. starting in 1828.

Danforth married Jane Janvier Whilldin (1789-1870) on August 6, 1829; they had at least four children: Emma Noble Danforth (1832-1880), John Weldon Danforth (1835-Aft1849), Samuel Adams Danforth, and Julia H. Danforth (1840-18xx). From 1832-1834, Danforth worked as a general agent for the American Colonization Society in Boston, which supported the movement to help blacks emigrate to Africa, and supported the founding of Liberia. His views on the subject, however, were castigated by William Lloyd Garrison who called them “a compound of folly, presumption, arrogance and misrepresentation.”

He returned to the ministry as pastor at the Congregational Church in Lee, Massachusetts, and in 1838 was called to the 2nd Presbyterian Church of Alexandria, Virginia, where he remained for 15 years.

Danforth was particularly active in the temperance movement and worked to establish schools for young children. He contributed to the religious and secular presses and wrote a number of books, including the 1852 publication, Gleanings and Groupings from a Pastor’s Portfolio. In 1855, he received a D.D. from Delaware College. In 1860, Danforth again received employment with the American Colonization Society, where he worked until his death in 1861. [Source: William J. Clements Library, University of Michigan where his papers are archived.]


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1849 Letter

Addressed to Rev. Joshua N. Danforth, Alexandria, Virginia
Postmarked New Castle, Delaware

New Castle [Delaware]
March 26th 1849

Yours of Saturday, my dear husband, I have just received and am gratified to learn you reached home safely after the accident which happened on the cars. We could not learn for some time how serious a one it was.

That the boys are doing well, I am pleased to hear and hope they will so continue to do. Father’s sufferings since you left have rather increased than abated, and Dr. C remarked this morning his strength had very much failed in the last twenty-four hours. He said to me today, “how great a mercy it will be if my Heavenly Father should permit me gradually to sink into my Savior’s arms in this way” but if it is his righteous will that I should suffer on until the last, that will be done. I read to him yesterday Mr. Walton’s dying exercises which he seemed greatly to enjoy. He then asked me to read “His Loving Kindness” hymn. When I came to the last verse, “Soon shall I pass the gloomy vale,” — not gloomy but joyful, because Jesus has thrown light there, and such a sweet serenity irradiated his countenance, as did in that memorable interview with Mother. I am truly gratified you saw him when he had strength to communicate his feelings so fully, for since he is so weak ’tis painful for him to say much and for his friends to witness the effort it costs him.

There is scarcely an hour in the day I do not think of that dear, precious sainted friend Mrs. H. How little I thought I should never see her again when I left home. Truly a great breach has been made not only in that domestic circle bout in our little church and circle of beloved friends. Present my most affectionate love to each member of the family. How trying that Mr. did not get on, and how great a pity the message had not been sent to you and him sooner, that you might have arrived in season.

Father has several times enquired for you and added, “he is doing his duty, no doubt. I am pleased he came in time to converse and pray with me.” He enjoyed Mr. Kean’s vsit. Indeed, he seems to wish to see all his friends. You know how excellent Mr. K. is, in a sick room. He never appeared here so than on that occasion.

Kensey Johns, Jr.
Kensey Johns, Jr.

Kensey Johns [Jr.] ¹ came in on the same day and Father requested he should be invited up. He appeared to feel a great deal for him and prayed with Father.

Mr. [John B.] Spotswood ² seems very kind, but so little qualified for conversations with the sick, for Father always says, “Mr. S. is very kind, but not much of a preacher.” He can scarcely help smiling at his manner. Dr. C. said to me yesterday he could not tell the reason of so great a falling off of the congregation for the last two years. He thinks ’tis for want of a new church but I fear he is mistaken.

I don’t know when the New ____ ______ convenes, but if E. Walton should visit Alexandria, invite him to our house at least to spend part of his time. We have been so engrossed with Father’s illness that I have not thought to inquire of Wash anything about their ____ation when he has been in.

My return home, of course, remains uncertain, but I shall but tarry any longer than duty demands. Of course I could not for a moment think of leaving him without some very decided change, but I fear that change will be of the most melancholy nature to us. I had never had the least hope of his recovery from the first, and less reason have we had than three days ago. The most painful part is to witness his excruciating agony — this leaving Mother and myself here compelled to leave the room, so intense are his pains. There are moments when I feel as if I could most joyfully see him released from his sufferings and yet when relieved, I find myself reluctant to feel we must give him up.

Emma came down early this morning and is here yet (3 P.M.). ____ Mrs. A. did not get her letter before. Sends a great deal of love to you and love to all. I hope she will have pleasant weather to arrange her house. Julia is here now and very well. Wishes the boys would write her a long letter.

Father here lying in one of his stupors or I would as him for a message to you. Mother desires her love as do G and B. Remember me to the boys and servants. Write often and present love to all dear friends — Mrs. A in particular. Believe me yours affectionately, — J. J. D.

¹ Kensey Johns, Jr. (1791-1857) was a lawyer and politician from New Castle, Delaware. He was a member of the Federalist and Whig Parties who served as U.S. Representative from Delaware.

² Rev. John B. Spotswood (1808-1885) was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in New Castle, Delaware, from 1842 to 1883.


1849 Letter
1849 Letter

Addressed to Rev. Joshua N. Danforth, Alexandria, Virginia
Postmarked New Castle, Delaware

New Castle [Delaware]
April 4th 1849

I did not expect to address you so soon again, my dear husband, but as Mr. Kilpatrick (there is a mistake in the name given in the advertisement being Kil, not Kirkpatrick) has fancied (since she saw the account of the recent supposed murder of a man near Georgetown) it may have been her husband. ¹ Dr. C. begs me t write you and request you to make immediate inquiry and let him know through me if the person taken to Alexandria answers the description or not. Mr. Kilpatrick has lost his situation in the foundry and having worked once in Georgetown, the conjectured ____ is that he may have been murdered. He had manifested great depression after he was thrown out of employment amounting to slight alteration of mind. His wife resides here, has a family of four or five small children, is herself in a consumptive [condition] and her husband’s disappearance seems to be preying upon her so distressingly she will probably fall a victim to her grief. I have some slight recollection if an allusion being made to the murder by you, but so wholly have I been absorbed with father’s situation, I do not now remember distinct enough to make any statement of it. I would not venture to speak of it without hearing from you. Write just as soon as you can collect something satisfactory for it would be a melancholy relief to the poor woman to hear anything decisive. I do pity her condition and great sympathy has been felt here for her. She is thrown entirely dependent upon a benevolent community for the sustenance of her family.

Father had a wretched night, appears again greatly prostrated, and his mind almost entirely gone. O’ it is affecting. He easts scarcely nothing and is much emaciated. The affliction of his bladder has been greatly relieved by the nux vomica ² given 6 times in 24 hours tho’ the operations are performed as usual. His other symptoms not any better and the physicians say will not be. How long he is to suffer is only known to Him who doeth all things well. The Dr. came in yesterday and insisted upon my walking around town at least and said he would stay here while I breathed a little fresh air, which I did, and father was asking all the time where I was. He was afraid I had gone to Alexandria. He fancies no one can feed him so del as I can, or ___ his pillows, or change his linen.

Ferdinand J_____ brought him a fine pair of chickens for making chicken water from his farm, and every lady who came in that day he told he had had a present of a pair of splendid fowls all the way from Alexandria, and we could not make him understand any thing to the contrary. His countenance is wild and vacant and he often imagines he has received a blow upon his head which makes us suppose he suffers violent paroxysms of pain there. Julia went over to W____ with her Aunt M to pass a day or two again.

I have been thinking rather more about home for a few days past. I know it is a season when I am rather hard headed there than at almost any other, but duty must detain me yet here. Mrs. A. will have more than fill my place and I presume the boys are better instructed than they would be by me. Providence has been very kind in all his arrangements certainly. I would send Emma home except that I know but when a sudden change may take place in father and he has so often expressed the desire to have as many of his grandchildren here as conveniently could be. And then too I believe he rather more anxious if I should learn she was not entirely well at any time as it is nearly a year since her dreadful attack and Dr. Black thinks there would be greater danger about this time than at any other. If there should be any predisposition to a reoccurrence, and thinks it better she should be where she can take exercise in the open and constantly. I have told him she belongs to him for a time to do with her as he thinks best. She is perfectly well and has not lost her appetite, but rather increased it. She and Louisa spend part of every morning here, and generally ride five or six miles in the afternoon. They went to N. Ark yesterday with George.

Mr. [John B.] Spotwood says there was an account of the murdered man being identified, but the Ledger of yesterday contradicted it.

Give much love to my dear boys and tell them they are often in my thoughts. I hope they are very studious and obedient. I wish them to reply to my letter and see how well they can write. Present my love to Mrs. A. and all dear friends.

Your affectionately, — Jane

¹ The murder Mrs. Danforth refers to is no doubt the one that occurred on 9 March 1849 as described in the local papers:

Shocking Murder. On Friday afternoon last, the body of a young man most shockingly assassinated, was discovered in a little group of pines near the towpath of the canal between Georgetown and Alexandria, and about a mile from the Georgetown aqueduct. A very severe would, apparently with a knife, had been inflicted upon the back of the head, near the neck, and his throat cut, nearly severing his head from the body. A knife, about eight inches in length, was found just inside of the vest of the deceased. Who this unfortunate stranger was, where he was from, or what the object of his visit, is as yet wholly unknown. For some days his presence, as well as that of many other strangers, was noticed in Georgetown. He appeared to be about thirty years of age, black hair, light colored eyes, and correct in his deportment; wore a fashionable drab coat, black pantaloons, striped vest, cravat tied loosely, and a black fur hat, of Massachusetts manufacture. On Friday morning, a lung man answering this description was shaved at the who of Mr. Wilson in Georgetown which leads to the conclusion that he was murdered in broad daylight. As he was seen to wear a gold watch, may not some fiend in human form have decoyed him to the lonely spot for the horrid purpose too successfully perpetrated? The remains were conveyed to Alexandria for interment. — National Intelligencer, 12th March 1849 [murder occurred on 9 March 1849]

² The seeds of the nux vomica plant was used to treat diseases of the digestive system. Given in large doses, however, its use can be deadly. It contains strychnine and other chemicals that affect the brain and cause muscle contractions. This can lead to convulsions and death. Strychnine in amounts that are too small to produce symptoms can still be a serious problem. Small amounts of strychnine build up in the body with continued use, especially in people with liver disease. This can cause death in a period of weeks.


1849 Letter
1849 Letter

Addressed to Rev. Joshua N. Danforth, Alexandria, Virginia
Postmarked New Castle, Delaware

New Castle [Delaware]
April 30th 1849

I embrace a few moments before the mail closes to send you a few lines ____ husband ____ particularly to announce to the safe arrival of the trunk on Saturday. I have not yet examined its contents as it remains in Wilmington until this afternoon when Tom goes after it. I thank you and Mrs. A for I presume it will be very acceptable to Erwin particularly. How great are the facilities for our accommodation and comfort. Have you heard Mr. Randell (the Engineer) has been projecting a railroad to be built even with the 2d story windows of New York, a few which persons may travel about the city without interfering with those walking the streets? ¹ It seems visionary, but we thought railroad traveling in the present manner equally so at one time. But Mr. Randall is a great castle builder.

Father — I am happy to say — had a ___ quiet and comfortable night and consequently appears less exhausted this morning, but ‘ere I write again another change may have taken place. We do but ___ rely at all upon these temporary appearances, yet it is pleasant to see him in any measure some comfortable.

Julia was delighted with Mrs. A’s letter and everyone of us. I believe ____ _____ ____ read it, for she has carried it round and this morning father asked her to let him read it, which she did. She was in Wilmington when the trunk arrived, and then discovered it. I suppose the boys had quite an interesting time on Saturday and the result of the exhibition will certainly afford them considerable materials for a letter. I hope they will appreciate at least one half of the ____s to some benevolent object.

Major Young and the Dr. have returned but as yet we have not heard what transpired. The Dr. was here yesterday but of course the subject was not introduced — it being the Sabbath. The impression generally is that the Major will resign, tho’ his friends oppose it exceedingly. I guess John M. has done for himself in this region. There can be no doubt of his being at the bottom of this whole affair. Father told me that only a short time before his nomination he called on him and wanted to convert a few hundred dollars disclaiming most positively and with an oath the least intention of suffering himself to be nominated or any wish for any public office whatever. But Father thinks he is a man uninfluenced by usual principle in anything and he knows him pretty well. The sympathies of the people are entirely with Major Young hereabouts, and if they have the power, his opponent would pretty soon be dethroned.

Did you see by the last Observer that Mrs. Daigle of Boston was dead? Have you heard any of the particulars? Mrs. Rhee’s obituary was a very just one, as well as Aunt Mary’s. Neither were any too highly thought. I should but wonder to see a memoir of the former. She was a Christian of such deep humility but little comparatively was known of her beyond her own church. But her writings, I am told, would prove a most interesting and profitable volume, and then there are some most interesting circumstances in her life.

I attended church yesterday morning — heard Mr. Ralston preach quite a good sermon from the text, “Examine Yourselves.” The communion was interesting to me as I so seldom enjoy the privilege in the church of my childhood and when I sat down for the first time, many associations crowded into my mind. Many dear absent ones in imagination were there but in reality far far beyond the necessity of these _____. Mr. Ralston is the principal of a school near Morristown but a native of the South. He preached with considerable energy. He is here making an effort to obtain pupils.

Who will probably be sent to the General Assembly but yourself, I presume, as you have had your turn. Write me after the meeting of R___ all about it. I hope you will have an amicable meeting and none of the brethren become unduly excited.

I begin to think considerably of my boys and the necessary preparations for spring and summer comfort, of house cleaning, &c. If father should be in a state to justify my leaving for a week, I should like to come home and attend to all these things, but I don’t know that it would be safe. I thot I could busy myself to have it ____, ’tis only when he is a little more comfortable I allow myself to think of it at all.

Present my love with that of all the family to each one at home. The mail will close in five minutes.

Yours, — J. W. D.

¹ The identity of the engineer —  “Mr. Randall” – has not been confirmed. In 1849, it certainly must have seemed like a far-fetched idea to have elevated train tracks in New York City. Only two years earlier, the City of New York had authorized street-level railroad tracks down Manhattan’s West Side. For safety, the railroads were compelled to hire men (who came to be called the “West Side Cowboys”) to ride horses and wave flags in front of the trains to warn pedestrians and horse-drawn wagons and conveyances. Despite this precaution, so many accidents occurred between freight trains and other traffic that 10th Avenue became known as “Death Avenue.”

The first elevated trains, or “els,” did not run in New York City until 1878. The trains on the el tracks were actual trains – large, dirty, and heavy steam powered locomotives. The idea of using horse drawn cars, rather than trains, was floated, but there is one thing worse than ash and cinders falling from elevated tracks, and it comes from horses… so the idea was quickly shot down. The trains puffed and smoked their way down most major avenues in the city. By 1880, most Manhattan residents lived within a 10 minute walk to an el.

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