1842: William Brooks Bristol to John Murdoch

This letter was written by William Brooks Bristol (1806-1876), the son of Hon. William Bristol (1779-1836) and Sarah Edwards (1780-1866). Adding a postscript was William’s wife, Mary Wolcott (Bliss) Bristol (1810-1849). The Bristol’s had one child when this letter was written in 1842: Louis Henry Bristol (1839-1910). He no doubt wrote the letter from his home at 44 Elm Street, at the corner with Temple Street, in New Haven, Connecticut.

Fanny (Bristol) Murdoch
Fanny (Bristol) Murdoch

William wrote the letter to his brother-in-law, John Murdoch, Jr. (18xx-1861), the son of John Murdoch (1780-1826) and Esther Anketell (17xx-1843). John was married to William’s sister, Frances (“Fanny”) Louise Bristol (1819-1875). From this letter we learn that Fanny and the Murdoch’s young son John, are visiting in Connecticut.

William Brooks Bristol entered upon the study of law at the Law School in New Haven, and in the office of his father, Judge Bristol, and on the completion of his legal studies practiced law for one or two years in Painesville, Ohio. He then returned to New Haven and resumed practice there, and continued it successfully with the general public esteem and the fullest confidence of those with whom he had relations of business in his integrity, judgment, and ability, nearly to the close of his life.

This letter provides a interesting perspective of the state of the economy in the United States — particularly the northeast — in the “Hungry Forties” as the 1840s came to be called. Bristol describes the impact of the new Bankruptcy Law, the chaos created by the lack of a uniform national currency, and the threat to American manufacturing created by cheaper foreign imports.

1842 Letter
1842 Letter

Addressed to John Murdoch, Esq., Care of Bayly, Beck & Co., ¹ New Orleans, La.

New Haven [Connecticut]
March 5th 1842

Dear John,

This is the third letter I have commenced to you, the two former having been abandoned ones as entirely stale. Perhaps I should not have had the courage to attempt it now had not Fanny with her usual pertinacity in quired of you for more than three weeks at each time that I came home whether I had written to you, and, I as often was obliged confess that I had not, but like Gen. Jackson promised reform.

In truth, I have had some excuse for my negligence. The Bankrupt Law having gone into effect, I have been called upon not precisely to relieve the unfortunate in all cases, but to talk about it. A good many of them are ashamed to apply for the benefit of the act, and are seeking to compromise with their creditors for that reason. Others are not ready to surrender all their property. They therefore threaten their creditors that they will apply unless they will take a small percentage. Some few — a part of whom have no property & the others no character — go in for the benefit of the law. But after all the law does them less good than they anticipate as they will come out of the mill with less money, less character, & less credit than they ever had before. The operation of the law is extremely unpopular here. I apprehend that it will lose the Whig Party their ascendancy in this State at the ensuing election as the people have never before understood what a Bankrupt Law meant. However, they know now.

The times are extremely bad — very different from last year. Failures are of frequent occurrence. This is attributed in part to the want of some medium of exchanges & in part to the excessive importation of foreign goods. Our own manufacturers are looking for ruin from this source. Galpin & Robertson, ² large carpet men, failed yesterday. You will see by some of the papers much about the Home League, so called, for the protection of American Industry. This will be one of the important subject that will engross public attention for some years to come. The South will at some time come into it. They cannot go without it. Cotton is beginning to be imported here from India — “A new thing under the sun.” Even now, when the importation of goods is large, the price of cotton is lower than ever for the reason that this part of the country have not the means of buying them.

Our domestic circle has been very happily arranged this winter except for the want of your presence. Your representative, Master John, has however done all in his power to compensate us for your absence. He is a great favorite of all — takes notice of surrounding objects & particularly of little Louis who cuts up more ridiculous shines than ever for John’s special benefit. For myself, I apprehend, I am a favorite of John’s as he always pulls my whiskers when they come within his reach, but perhaps he only fancies them from their resemblance to his own pate. Now & then a mishap occurs to interrupt our friendship, as in the case the other evening when I was showing him off to some ladies his underclothing dropped off — a very unfortunate occurrence, showing that nurses should pin up children tight.

We have by the papers today news of an a____ from England and a further decline of bottom of ¼ penny. “The times are sadly out of joint” and I do not anticipate any improvement — at least not at present. Even if we had a Government Bank or Fiscal Agent, it would only oil the wheels of business, without making it. The subject of the war ³ will soon be a prevailing topic in the country, as it is said to be now at Washington, and a prospect of that kind would paralyze all business men here. Under these circumstances will not your planters raise less cotton and more produce for their own home consumption than heretofore?

I anticipate much pleasure from seeing you next spring, among other suggestions for employing time have sometimes thought that if you should have too much leisure & I too little business and Fanny could dispose of little John & Mary of little Louis, we might perhaps make our excursions together. However, we’ll talk of that. I had intended to leave part of the sheet for Mary and must therefore close. With best regards to Miss Jane & your other friend, I am very truly yours, — W. B. Bristol

William has  left me mighty little room for the big post script. I meant to write to you so I suppose I must be very pithy & ____. I know how aggravating it must be to you to hear from us all how much we enjoy Fanny & little John so I shall let them pass, only saying that I never have seen but two lovelier babies than Johnny & that I think Fanny is a perfect pattern of conjugal devotion — writing — writing all the while. She might as well be half of every week in Mississippi as here for all the good we have of her & the other half is employed in reading & re-reading your letters. I wish you would tell her not to make your letters appear like such ridiculous documents. When she gets one we are all eager for the news & she will sit & look glad & very grieved & happy over it for half an hour & then she will open her lips & say why. “John says he has seen Mr. Bowles & is going to Port Gibson next week” & then another tiny interval of silence & she adds, “He heard from his Mother last week” & then she folds up the letter & says I believe that is all you will care to hear!

I think there must be something very secret & confidential in your way of writing for even Louis makes a mystery of the letters you write him & reads out to us in a few broken sentences…. But I am writing with such a horrid pen that I am not only unintelligible myself but rendering Williams more valuable ideas equally so. So with a heart full of warmest regards for you, I bid you good night. [ — Mary]

¹ Richard Beck and J. B. Baily were commission agents in New Orleans with an office at 27 Camp Street.

² Philip S. Galpin and John B. Robertson were carpet manufacturers in New Haven with a store at 81 East Street at the foot of St. John Street.

³ The war news is Washington was caused by Mexico’s invasion into the Republic of Texas and the realization that American troops would most assuredly come to their aid as an ally. It was feared that Great Britain and the western tribes of Native Americans would aid Mexico. Fears were also entertained that Great Britain would then capitalize on the opportunity to seize Cuba and thus drag France into the fray.

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