Letters from the Past

Summers brought families closer together

Summer is a season that sees many travelers. Schools liberate their pupils to supplement academics with adventures, the fairs and beaches have their time, and sunny weather seems to shine brightly upon roads that can lead almost anywhere. In Haymarket’s younger days, it was a similar experience when the warmth and light not only allowed for longer days, but had a beneficial effect on the well-being of local residents who benefitted from the yield of Piedmont’s farms and pastures.

One important benefit to summer in the 1800s is something that doesn’t affect us today: the mail became more reliable and was delivered relatively consistently. After spring rains had reduced the roads to muddy wallows, the summer’s heat dried and hardened the roads, allowing them to become passable both for travelers and stagecoaches delivering the mail. Letters—residents’ only communication with far-away relatives—brought families closer together, whether the distances that separated them were great or, by today’s standards, small. The Ewell Family, previously profiled in Haymarket Lifestyle, were residents of the Haymarket area whose travels brought them all over the country. The post, whether via stagecoach or steam engine, always brought some of their letters back to their relatives in Haymarket.

May 10th. 1852

Aldie, Virginia

My dear Brother,

I have intended writing to you for some days past, but did not do so because I heard that the mail did not come to Aldie, owing to some change they had made in the stage routes – but as I believe they have now made some arrangement for sending the mail, I will not delay writing any longer.” ~ Eleanor Ewell

The excerpt above was written by Eleanor Ewell to her brother, John, who divided his time between Washington, D.C. and the family’s Haymarket estate of Edge Hill. As Eleanor repeatedly wrote in her letter, the traveling distance from Aldie to Washington was prohibitive, and even the stagecoach postal service did not often make the journey. These sentiments are repeated by the Ewells’ mother, whose few lines at the letter’s conclusion took her son for an incredible guilt trip, and asked him to visit more often.

“I do not like to miss the opportunity of saying a few words to my darling boys—alas, I lost one out of the number of those whom my heart so fondly clings to, and so dearly loves upon earth; and it is natural that my feelings toward the remaining ones should be deeper and more tender than ever before—my most ardent wish in this world is to be allowed to have the society of my children during the rest of my life. I tremble at the thoughts of being left in old age without them—what there may be in store for me, of future bereavement: God only knows, yet I would not be selfish, in exacting or requiring anything burthensome [sic] of them—I wish I could write cheerfully…”

Since this maudlin correspondence was written in May, one can only hope that John Ewell took some time that summer to visit with his mother and lift her spirits.

A generation earlier, John, an infant at the time, was the one left at home while his father took a long trip very far afield. The letter below was sent to Edge Hill from the short-lived Republic of Texas. As the letter indicates, even this incredible distance was not too great to keep this loving father from buying sweets for his children (of which there were eventually eleven). Addressed to John’s sister Helen, the letter was enclosed with a quarter, and included directions for Helen to buy candy to share with her siblings:

“I would send you some new frocks but Mr. Jim is just going to take a little carpet bag so he cannot bring them. I would send you some candy but Texas is such a poor country that they don’t have any candy here. I send you a quarter to buy some with. You must be sweet & give some to brother, May, & maybe Alice Maud is big enough to suck a stick by this time, at all events you can try her.”

Then, as now, people took advantage of the summer’s kind weather and passable roads to travel, and their families at home were treated to glimpses of far-away places through their eagerly-awaited letters, which arrived more reliably in the summer.

Danielle Kijewski
About Danielle Kijewski 2 Articles
Danielle Kijewski is a longtime volunteer at the Haymarket Museum. She and her family have lived in the Haymarket area for 15 years.

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