I have worked on many old homes over the years, including my own. The ‘Holy Grail’ of old home restorations is to find an artifact that reveals something about the early or original owners. Those who are lucky enough to find an artifact, solidify the link between our century and theirs and their families and ours. I have never found anything like that, but have been content with initials on beams and the well-worn marks in our floors.
During a recent site visit to the old home we are renovating and have been writing about in the blog, the owners and the rest of us were discussing some details when Paul, the lead carpenter walked up with a small brown envelope in his hand. He had been hammering on a beam when he saw something drop from between the floorboards. It was a small brown envelope postmarked Litchfield, CT and was addressed to the original owner of the house, Colonel Nathan Beckwith. The excitement began to build, and when we pulled the letter out, to our delight, it was from the owners’ son, Dr. Josiah Beckwith written February 15th, 1861.
One of the most amazing things about the letter was the fact that it was in perfect condition, and looked as though it were written yesterday. The current owner of the house found a photo of Dr Beckwith in the historical archives of Litchfield Connecticut.
The letter sounded in many ways, like something a grown son might write to his father today. The following is the best transcription we could come up with.
Litchfield Feb 15, 1861
It is sometime since I have
heard directly from you – I am aware
that I am in your debt for one or two letters.
The truth is that I have been very
closely occupied. Dr. Seymor’s sickness
in addition to all other matters. And
finally his death on the 29th. I am (???)
has thrown all the hardship on my
shoulders – The Doct. had been
unwell since September but occasionally
was well enough to bide sometimes
but he finally became so unwell that
he could do no more – his funeral
took place on Friday Feb 30 – was largely
attended. All the churches in the village
there (???) and there were more
people present than could get into the
large church – The day was pleasant
He was laid out in Citizen dress
a wreath of roses on his heart
and he looked as if merely asleep.
All mourned his untimely death.
And paid to his remains with
deep solemnity the last sad
duties due to his eminent worth.
He was always kind and gentlemanly
in his deportment. And the poor
as well as the rich fared alike
in his sympathies – He often spoke of
you and the family & always enquired
about and seemed to feel a deep
interest in your welfare –
I had hoped to have been able
to have visited you (after?) this time
but am now alone – Must work
or lose my practice & family
need all that I can earn –
Let us hear from you
soon. All send love
You never know what you will find while renovating an old home, but I can’t imagine it getting any better than this.