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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn E. Cook

A Saver’s Treasure Trove — Anna’s Letter

Anna Williams, photo taken in Philadelphia, early 1870's

Anna was Grandmother’s aunt. She was one of at least seven children born in Donegal, Ireland to Charles and Margery Williams. The eighth child was born after the family immigrated to Philadelphia in the early 1850’s. That eighth child was Sarah, Grandmother’s mother. There were two sons, John and Charley, and the list of sisters, by age, went—Mary, Lizzie, Jane, Margaret, Anna, and Sarah.

This missive from Anna to her sister Mary didn’t come into my hands until about thirty years after Grandmother’s passing. I’d never even seen it before. But by 2000, the many years had taken their toll on the pages. The letter had been folded in thirds for mailing. Along the way, those folds became weak and someone, perhaps Grandmother or maybe even her mother, had used Scotch tape to hold things together. That tape then turned brittle and fell away. It took tiny pieces of the paper with it, besides damaging the ink along the fold. Sadly, those places are now indecipherable and the pages are broken into three sections. To scan them as a whole, I lightly taped them with strips cut from stickies and after scanning, removed the strips. The original letter must remain as six pieces in an envelope.

Anna was about twenty years old when she penned this newsy epistle. Of the people mentioned, I think Lizzie Ward was a cousin, John Patterson was probably a friend, Charley was the younger brother — he had consumption, the other Lizzie was a sister married to William Archibold, and Maggie was a sister married to Hugh Campbell. Alf was sister Mary’s husband. They lived outside of Philadelphia in Bucks County.

See how many old-timey terms of speech you can spot, such as “get up at the first of May,” meaning “travel north” at the first of May. In my copying, I left all omissions of punctuation and capital letters the same as in the original. And Anna's handwriting is beautiful!

Philada. March 8th, 1871

Dear Mary,

I received your welcome letter last week ? ? were all so well. We had a letter from Lizzie Ward on Thursday she says John Patterson is going to his trade (Carpenter) next week it seems almost impossible that he has recovered but it must be so or he would not think of going to work. You are anxious to hear how Charley is getting I wish I could say he is getting better but I do not think he is to tell the truth I think he grows weaker though he will not say so, and is very much vexed at any one who intimates that he is not as well as usual.

I fear very much that God does not see fit to make him well and strong again. Think of John and we need not murmur How much better Charley as he is than John as he is.

[Page 2]

The Church case has come up at last. It is being warmly contested on both sides. I suppose it will take some time to finish it. So far things seem to be going favorably for us.

Lizzie & William with their family are well.

Hugh & Maggie are in good health also Hugh has ? ? and Maggie is going to [ be ? ] in Dr. Blackwoods this Communion.

There is nothing strange that I know of We try to get along as smoothly as possible though it is pretty tough sometimes but I suppose when times come to the worst they must improve.

I don’t think any of us will be able to get up at the first of May.

Don’t Alf come to town any more? All join in sending much Love to all

no more at present

Your affectionate Sister


“Write Soon”

[on back of Page 1]

May be I did not tell you I was in the

3rd Division of the

E. M. Stanton

“Girls’ Grammar School”

Anna was a teacher at this school.

In the letter, she only refers to brother Charley as being sick and not doing well. Since she doesn’t mention the others or herself, I assume no one else had shown symptoms of consumption by March of 1871, but almost everyone else in the house did come down with it, Mother, and sisters Jane and Anna. Anna died in 1873, Mother and Charley two years later, and Jane in 1876. The only survivors were the older siblings, Mary, Lizzie, and John, who had all married and moved to their own homes, and Sarah, who, although exposed, never showed symptoms of the disease. As to how this letter came into Sarah’s possession, perhaps it was never mailed and she was the first one to save it.

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