1864: William Shafer Evans to Allen K. Rohrer

How Willliam might have looked
How William Evans might have looked

These two letters were written by 21 year-old William Shafer Evans (1843-1909), the son of James Evans (1808-1887) and Catherine Gardner (1805-1872) of Baughman Township, Wayne County, Ohio. William never attended any school other than the “Pokeberry” district school near his birthplace. He showed remarkable promise as a writer, however, and as a champion speller. In 1860, he followed his older brother David to Orrville and worked in his store while learning telegraphy. In 1863 he was sent to Plymouth, Indiana, to take charge of the telegraph office at the depot of the Pittsburg, Ft. Wayne & Chicago railway. He returned to Orrville, Ohio in 1864 and was the manager of that telegraph office for three years. He then went to Akron, Ohio and served as the assistant editor of the Akron Daily Argus newspaper. He returned to Orrville and attempted to publish his own newspaper — The Orrville Ventilator. He later took over the editorship of the Orrville Courier.

At the time of his death in 1909, William was divorced from his wife of more than 30 years, Celia (Painter) Evans, and his death certificate states that he was “killed by a gunshot into the abdomen.” I haven’t been able to learn anymore about the circumstances of his death.

John wrote the letters to his friend from Wayne County, Allen K. Rohrer (1845-1864), the son of Benjamin Rohrer (1821-1909) and Sarah McFarland (1826-1916) who enlisted in Company E, 169th Ohio Infantry in May 1864. Allen died of illness while garrisoned at Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia on 6 August 1864.

1864 Letter
1864 Letter

Addressed to A. K. Rohrer, Baughman, Wayne County, Ohio

Plymouth, Indiana
January 31st 1864

Old Chum A. K. R.
Dear Sir,

Yours of 10th instant duly & welcomely received and concluded to give a reply today by way of amusement.

At present, it is more like May than January. I hope it will no so remain long as it will be certain destruction to all fruit. I expect we will pay for this in February with good interest.

Hope you are having a good time at Pokeberry Institute this winter. I have been to only one night meeting this winter. That was a spelling school in the upper department of the seminary. They spell from Sauder’s Book but I put them all down except one. They got to spelling Indian names & that beat me.

I understand they are having quite a revival at Orrville. Getting all the children out in town. That is about all they can get — fools & children.

Guess Mag Withrow ¹ thought she was going to have a young Christ but she ought to have gone to a cow stable. That is almost as bad as Etna Green [Indiana] where Jake Mong lives. ² There is 4 sisters and all have young ones of one father — pretty good living for one fellow.

Brother James was out here about 3 weeks ago. We went up to Chicago to see the sights. It is a gay city. From a high tower on the court house, you have a fine view of the entire city, the prairie, & lake. I would like to live in Chicago much better than Cleveland. It is all life & bustle.

Did Mary Jane succeed in raising a writing school? How does it prosper if so? I notice that you are improving in your penmanship.

I had easy times during the great strike. For one week we had only one train each way a day. But they are running as usual again. They are paying Engineers 90 dollars per month. That will do pretty well for spending mont.

Is there any excitement in Ohio about going to the gold mines in the spring? A large number will go from this state & Michigan. I would go myself if I would see a good chance.

Well I cannot amuse you any further today but hope you will reply at the earliest convenience. That love you sent is kindly accepted but the kiss would be more pleasant in reality than on paper.

Yours &c., — W. S. Evans

¹ Margaret (“Mag”) Withrow (1843-19xx) was the daughter of shoemaker George Withrow (1805-18xx) and Catherine Davis (1815-1886) of Baughman, Wayne County, Ohio. I interpret from this letter that a rumor has spread suggesting Mag Withrow has become pregnant out of wedlock but perhaps I’m mistaken. Nothing more could be found regarding Margaret and her family left the county during the 1860s.

² Jacob I. Mong (1830-1875) married Lucinda Priscilla Iden (1842-1924) in Etna Green, Kosciusko County, Indiana.


Addressed to A. K. Rohrer, Baughman, Wayne County, Ohio

Plymouth, Indiana
March 23rd 1864

Friend A. K. Rohrer
Baughman, Ohio
Dear Sir,

Yours of the 13th inst. duly received & owing to a spell of sickness, this is my first opportunity fro replying. The weather is very cold here now but no snow. It [is] quite pleasant again today and has the appearance of having some more sugar weather. That [paper torn] …you sent me is very good….for a ladies hand ….for business, although…. good to get the proper form and practice on rapidity. I have a specimen of writing & some drawing in my office from Ame’s College of Syracuse, N. Y. But Wm. H. Duff of Pittsburgh is about the best pensman in the U.S.

Gen. Burnside

I had the pleasure of seeing 30 Indian Chiefs one morning last week on their way to consult with Father Abraham at Washington. They were of the Chippewa ¹ & Ottawa Tribes and were savage-looking devils. Last Saturday morning I was in the car conversing with Miss Lizzie Gardner of Slankerville when Maj. Gen. Burnside came in & took a seat opposite us. He is a splendid looking fellow and was on his way to Chicago. ² I have seen 3 of the [paper torn] …war generals….Gen. Halleck & Gen…… Well how do you think ….make things go this summer. I presume you will remain at home. I don’t know if I will stay here this summer or not. I hope not. I am about tired of Indiana. It don’t amount to much at best.

How does Old Baughman feel over the last call? Won’t it make the old dutch reach down in those old pockets & bring up the rusty silver? I onder if they ain’t cussing us boys for playing soldier at school and bringing on this war. We were the fault of it no doubt.

Nothing more than I have been expecting of Ann Johnson. She ought to have some damned old jackass fuck her to death & learn her how to take a joke. How is Katy [paper torn]…that fat ass of hers pretty ….get it cooled off….to see the great….hoosier girls as hot as red heifers in fly time squirming around as though they had a bug in their twot. Nothing firther today but hope to hear from you again.

Very respectfully yours, — “Will”

¹ President Lincoln interviewed Chippewa Indian Chiefs in the East Room of the White House and took them on a tour on 18 April 1864.

² General Ambrose Burnside was busy during the first three months of 1864 recruiting soldiers for his Ninth Corps but he made a trip to Chicago to attend a reception in his honor at Bryan Hall on 19 March 1864. Newspaper accounts claimed the hall was “crowded to its utmost capacity with one of the most enthusiastic assemblages that ever gathered in the city. Thousands were unable to gain admission to the room.” 

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