Matthew S. Marsh to George M. Marsh, 17 September 18351
No 11—New Salem Septr 17th 1835Dear folks
I have received your letters of July 21st and Augst[August] 26th, the latter came to hand yesterday including the $10.00— The time had expired that I had borrowed the money for: having depnded on Clarke’s return before this. I had limited the time to 6 weeks from 3d Aug— but his non-arrival made the rec’t[receipt] of yrs[yours] quite opportune—
The Post Master (Mr Lincoln) is very careless about leaving his office open & unlocked during the day—2 half the time I go & get my papers &c without any one being there as was the case yesterday, the letter was only marked 25 & even if he had been there & known it was double, he would not charged me any more— luckily he is a very clever fellow & a particular friend of mine— If he is there when I carry this to the office I will get him to “Frank” it—3 I do not know who could have cut off the figures from my former papers— the side margin is the best place to put them— The coner[corner] is often very much worn so as to render the writing or figurs that may be on that it unimtelligible—
I will take the July letter first in hand although there is but little that requires an answer in it.
I should think that farming as it is carried on in this Country will ^would^ be an employment that would Suit George & by engaging his attention would dispel ennui, which feeling is almost inseparable from an inactive life, The mind must be engaged on something & if it has not external objects to act upon it will turn inwardly & create dulness & abstraction.
This Climate is rather damp than dry & subject to sudden changes, but we seldom have an East wind & it never rains from that quarter— It almost invariably storms from the S. W[South West]— which wind blows ¾ of the year—
The winter sets in about 1st of Jany[January] & last 6 or 8 weeks—
Billious Fever & Ague & Fever prevails more or less throughout the State & particularly in the South where the land is flat & wet—4 I do not know that it ^is^ healthier in the northern than in the middle Counties—Morgan & Sangamon are two as good counties as is in the state The River towns & in fact any situation near the water or swampy grounds is quite unhealthy, the country being so level that the water courses move quite slow— The milk sickness, which I presume is but little known in the East as those who live in such places keep the knowledge of it to themselves in order that they ^may^ have a chance of selling out— It exists in many of the southern counties & those that border on the Wabash— such places are by all means to be avoided, for neither the milk or5 flesh of the Cattle that are affected with it can be used—6
The true cause has not yet been ascertained, but is supposed to spring from the stock eating some weed when the dew is on it—
Most of the Emigrants to this state from the south came, & still come in their waggons & always camp out & expose themselves very much after their arrival which is enough to make any one sick; & then the first settlers had no conveniences & when taken sick had no Doctor or physic
<Page 2>and were obliged to wear out the disease— Either of these diseases readily give way to medicine and are the only ones we have here, so that the Doctors have acquired a perfect knowledge of them— The Ague & Fever Can be cured in 2 days at the expence of $1 or $2— Two or three remedies have been made known within a year that stops it on every one who has taken it— I used considerable Quinine last fall, but it only stops it a short time for the least cold a person gets afterwards renders its return certain— It did not let me have an intermission of more than a week— what is singular it is comes only in warm weather & the subject has a great appetite when the fever is not on— This summer my health has been extremely good. I have made use of Bitters made of Indian turnip. Blood root & sarsaparilla, the first is very warming & the latter two are excellent for the blood— I have no fear of the ague now— There has been more sickness this summer than ever was known before— deaths however are rare & I am of opinion that as a general [thing?] people enjoy better health here than in the East, for there is hardly a family there but what has some member of ^it^ afflicted with some local complaint or other, which I think may be attributed to their manner of living; while here when all the food is simple people are never sick except in Augt[August] & Septr[September] & we have not any lingering Complaints like the Consumption—7
I must acknowledge that florid complexions are more rare than in the East—
For my own part I am well satisfied with the country & much prefer living here than in N. England—
Caroline is a good natured girl & this is all that be Said in her favour, there never was any congeniality between8 us— her mind wants discipline— Emily possesses a more vigorous imagination which gave impulse to her feelings, tinctured her conversation with good ideas & rendered her on the whole very pleasing— It was altogether the mind expressed in her countenance & not her features that were attractive—
I was made a fool off once & may be again, but I ^now ^ have some experience in affairs of the heart— It seems H. P. is lost to me— I sent 3 weeks since a paper containing a discription of this country to J. W. P—
The alterations Geo found in his visit to [md?] were probably as great as is to be met with— I was aware of the Change when I made my delightful excursions there— The Miss. H’s are worth looking after— What C. C wrote about my being attentive to a “sucker girl”9 had some truth in it— Yes! her name is Martha Jane Short & lives in Morgan County on Indian Creek, the timber of which can be seen from here distant 13 miles acrost a Prairie in the S. West. direction, She possesses more qualities which assimilates with my peculiar disposition & comes nearer to the standard of what I consider essential in a wife than any other girl I have ever seen— In stature, middling height— & slim— light brown hair, black eyes, which suppress half their fire until she speaks, then through their soft disguise will flash an expression more of pride than ire, & of love than either— Her age 20— Such is all the description I can give of the girl who at present stands the highest in my estimation— How long she will continue to do so, I cannot assure even myself as I have naturally a fickle disposition— But as I have told you all in a previous letter if you Could Come here to live I never will marry but devote all my attention to seeing you made happy—10
I have one objection to marrying in this State, & that is, the women have such an everlasting number of children— twelve is the least number that can be counted on— The natural increase of this state I know is greater than any other, which with Emigration will run the population this
<Page 3>census (1835) to at least 250 or 300,000—
I am glad that there is some enterprise left Among the Portsmo capitalists, & that you have the Railroad in prospect— If Real Estate rises in value in consiquence of the contemplated work— sell out & come here where the money can be so much more advantageously invested—
I am sensible of the difficulties to be encountered in winding up— Mr B. appears very friendly to me & I believe is a little afraid of getting me displeased— I heard from M & S. A. [in?] a letter dated about 20th July, in which S. A. told me of her beaux— your letters, (that is) from N.Y & Portsmo came together as generally happenss— I have not heard from W. Melcher— Sorry Geo did not see the [Ollys?]— I still have my eye or rather mind on 3 girls there & they are Martha— L. I. Hill & miss Giles— Do let me know how the latter comes on & don[’]t fail—
You ask, “is” there a prospect of my place growing rapidly— I [s]uppose you must mean New Salem— No; that stoped 2 yrs since [?] Town ([in?] a bad place) 2 miles lower down on the River is likely to become the County Seat of a new County which will be made by dividing this one & taking some off of some others— This County is now miles square— The town (Petersburg) is only one by name having but 2 stores— 2 houses & a Coblers[cobbler's] shop—
S. Haven acted indiscretly in regard to the Turnbull affair— I hardly expected Clarke would go to P— as I look for him every day & the mail does not go out till the 22d I will omit till then a conclusive answer in regard to the money: & ^to^ the Articles sent by him—
I have no hesitation ^in saying^ that money Could not be better invested than in land & there is not any question of its safety, Land will always be valuable here as every foot of it is susceptible of cultivation— no stones or broken land to obstruct the free course of the plough— Not less the 75,000 acres is entered monthly at the Springfield Land office— Speculators are taking it up wherever they can find. Some individuals have entered 20.000 acres in one day— Prairie & timber adjoining Cannot be entered any where in the state— It is difficult finding where the unentered lands lay, nothing Can be found out from the settlers as they wish the range open— The [Land?] is not surveyed to the buyer— who must look the land out & procure the numbers— If the land is [adjacent?] to [any?] he owns, he can guess pretty near— One person is not allowed to enter but 2— 40 acre lots & then has to take an oath that he wants them for farming purposes & not for speculation or in trust for another— I have already entered my 2— 40s— Any one Can enter as many 80s as they choose—
There is some first rate praire about 2 miles S.w of this that I should like to enter 160 acres off as a company intend taking the whole tract & I could almost oblige them to take this— What retards them is the difficulty of getting timber of which there is none to enter any where near this— Distance appears the same on these prairies as on water & in fact as [there?] is no hills 2 miles is as easy to haul over as one with you. I do not know but that there has been more land entered the past year than there had the five preceding— I hope they will find the Coal on Gerrishs Island. I wish my Coal beds were located somewhere there as the Blacksmith says it is superior to any he can get—M S M.
[ docketing ]
[ endorsement ]
Free. A. Lincoln P. M[Postmaster]
New Salem Ills
New Salem Ills
Mr Geo. M. MarshPortsmouth.N. H.
[ docketing ]
1Acting as Postmaster, Abraham Lincoln wrote the endorsement on the envelope. He also wrote the address on the envelope.
2Abraham Lincoln served as Postmaster at New Salem from May 7, 1833 to May 30, 1836.
3From 1776, members of Congress, the President, the Vice President, cabinet officers, and postmasters enjoyed the franking privilege, which entitled them to free postage (for official business) of letters, newspapers, and documents. Congress never extended that privilege to state legislators. Abuse was rife under the system, prompting charges of corruption and misfeasance, and Congress briefly abolished the privilege after the Civil War, only to reinstate it after a few years.
James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899), 10:375.
6Milk sickness is a kind of poisoning affecting those who ingest dairy products or the meat of cow that have fed on the white snakeroot plant.
9“Suckers” is a colloquial term for Illinoisans; Illinois was also sometimes referred to as the “Sucker State.”
Edward Callary, Place Names of Illinois (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 338-39.
10Matthew Marsh and Martha Jane Short were married in Morgan County on December 11, 1839.
Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, Morgan County, 11 December 1839, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL.
11Abraham Lincoln served as Postmaster at New Salem from May 7, 1833 to May 30, 1836. Postage for distances over 400 miles cost $0.25. At this time, postage was paid by the recipient of the mail.
Harry E. Pratt, The Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln (Springfield, IL: Abraham Lincoln Association, 1943), 15.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, DC).