31 July 1821
Eliza Fenwick, Barbados, to Miss Hays, ‘Favord by Lieunt Johnstone 21st Regiment’, 41 Cross Street, Islington, 31 July 1821.1
Barbadoes July 31st 1821
My dear Friend,
Mr Johnstone, an officer of the 21st Regiment, and one for whom I entertain a very high esteem, will I hope present you this letter in person. He is a very young man, though a very tall one, and if I know any thing of our general coincidence in taste & feeling I think you will like him as I am very certain he will like you. At any rate if you do not assimilate to the degree that I expect, at least you will be pleased to look on eyes that have lately looked on us, and to hear from one who has often conversed with us, answers to all the questions your affection will dictate. Our boys are particularly attached to Mr Johnstone his kindness & notice to them has been very great, and he will tell you what sort of Children they are. We have known him about two years, and for our own sakes I much regr regret his departure, though on his own account I think his leave of absence a fortunate circumstance, as his health & constitution have suffered severely from a terrible accident he met with in May last, & from his extraordinary growth the injury I believe threatened a fatal termination. Before his term of absence expires his Regiment most probably will be ordered home so that we perhaps shall never see him more. That is a melancholy feeling, and conjures up other mournful ideas. I intended to have written by him one of my long gosipping letters but my mind is greatly unhinged by a severe shock we have just now sustained. A lovely & most beloved pupil left us on Friday Morng, July 20th (on a visit to her Parents & home) in perfect health, was taken ill on Saturday afternoon & died on Sunday night. She was an only daughter, the delight & prid of her Parents, the pride and ornament of our School. Very handsome, very accomplished – an object of general admiration wherever she appeared, yet modest, Lady-like & unassuming to a degree that would have conciliated Envy itself. She was in person, in grace, in engaging qualities for a girl what Orlando was for a boy – To us not only docile but blending the tenderest watchful affection with unvarying respect. We have many good girls but none to fill up the void made by Miss Breretons absence – Her place at table – in the school-room – at the Piano – in the dancing room never will be filled up by any succeeding occupant. Ours was indeed a house of tears when the fatal news came. Mrs Rutherford procured a conveyance & went directly to the distracted parents. She remained there all the week & but for her I believe the father had persisted in his resolution of never again tasting food, but Elizas gentle soothing voice and sympathetic reasoning, at length induced him to break his sullen bitter silence, and to take a small portion of nourishment. Mrs R— was obliged to return at the end of the week for the claims of our duties are weighty, but as we heard yesterday that Doctor Brereton has again shut himself up to mourn as one without hope, I am making arrangements to spare her for another visit, to calm the loud phrenzy of the Mother & to raise if possible the father to resignation. These are heavy dispensations my dear Mary – We are disease, poverty & misery lingering on through long & joyless life, while the young, the blooming, the rich the happy are suddenly consigned to the tomb. This dear Girl wanted one month of 16 and was to continue with us a Parlour Boarder another year. I never saw happiness domestic happiness so perfect as in this family – There cannot exist purer minded or better people than Doctor & Mrs Brereton. They have a son 8 years younger than his sister but inferior in endowments. We ought to believe that the Lord chasteneth whom he loveth.
I am suffering much from a complaint which the Physician calls Erysipelas. It has settled in my left foot & is very troublesome. Our little Elizabeth has had a low fever & is much emaciated. All the rest are at present well. The present state of distress for money is really terrible. I am put to the greatest inconvenience. Instead of receiving upwards of four hundred pounds due this month, I actually was compelled yesterday to borrow money for the household provisions. I believe we have made up our minds to run away from it – Alas not to England but to America. A most flattering prospect has been held out to us for removing to New-Haven in Connnecticut. The Climate excellent – the Country beautiful & every thing so cheap – Several West India families, some too that we know, have removed thither & are delighted with their new settlement. I saw a letter from a Major Williams, who keeps his Couch & four with suitable appurtenances of living, near New-haven on 2000 dollars per Annum, & we here, without even a single horse, expend upwards of 4000 dollars every year. There happens to be no female school of the higher order at New-haven though several at New York & it is supposed ours would be very attractive, as the principal families are ^now^ compelled to engage Masters at home. But the great temptation of removal is first, the health of our children & secondly the opportunity of giving excellent educations to our boys & bringing them up to habits of industry & utility at a very moderate expence. If we send them to England the expence will be enormous – if we go ourselves the removal will cost a little fortune & we should find so many competitors there that we fear not being able to live in that decent & comfortable order which we think highly salutary to the habits & good taste of our Children.
What say you my dear friend to joining us in America? I have made the strictest enquiries – Cold winters ^without fogs^ succeeded by bright summers form the constant climate. Every house in New-haven possesses its own garden abounding with fruit trees & an area in front handsomely planted. It is near the Sea. Splendid Steam boats or well appointed Land carriages proceed to & from New York (the most polished City of America) every day and at a most moderate expence. The finest Cyder costs not more than 5s/6d sterling for a cask of 30 gallons – all the produce of the Country is equally cheap. I pay now £200 per ann for the house we live in, I shall there have a very fine one I am told with an extensive garden for £65 at the very utmost; perhaps if taken for a time far much less. Of course we could board you much cheaper than you can find it in England. We shall draw a very agreable circle round us. We will walk together in summer & join together with pleasant parties of sledging excursions in winter. We are not too old to enjoy a new sphere of observation dear Mary! – What say you? Do consider it seriously – A voyage from London to New-York does not take much time nor consume much money. From New-York to New-haven (I hope my final resting place in this world) demands but a few hours, and one of us would hasten to be your conductor – We do not think of removing till about next April or May, the best season for our voyage as Packets at that period of the year are constantly passing from New Haven to the Island of St Thomas’s to which we should go from hence and where the Gentleman resides who was the first mover of this project, & wishes two of his daughters to accompany us to America. As he is of a most sanguine temper we waited for other information before we decided & before our letters were answered an excellent source opened to us by the unexpected arrival of Mr Edey a Native of Barbadoes who removed with a large family to New haven about 4 years ago. His approbation of the plan is so warm, and his encouragement so decided that we have resolved on making the experiment unless some unforeseen casualty arises to prevent it. As we had not fixed our resolves, the last day Mr Johnstone dined with us, & his ½ hour of leave taking yesterday was so necessarily occupied by kind wishes on both parts & obliging repetitions on his, of desire of being serviceable to us in England that no mention was made of thoughts of removal. He has often regretted our not going to England as he wished to give a little sister to whom he is a guardian to our care. With his soldier like prejudices I dare say he would blame us for becoming Americans. Mrs R— feels some reluctance & regret that her boys should not become right loyal subjects of Great Britain – I say let them be good Citizens of a good state it matters little where.
As I cannot help fancying that Mr Johnstone will be attracted to visit you more than once, <–> a thought has struck me I have on which I must give you a caution. I have never been told so but I shrewdly suspect I am here supposed to be a widow. I would not utter a falshood if questioned, but it seemed so much a probability or rather a certainty that no question or hint ever came across me either one way or the other. There is something so awkward & so humiliating in the explanations that would be necessary in stating the truth that I beg you always to avoid any mention of that person who has been so unjust a husband & unfriendly a father. We never hear from him or of him, and to all intents and purposes he is morally dead to us. How singular that my case should also be my daughters. Three years have now elapsed since Mr Rutherford left the Island & we are perfect strangers to his fate. What quarter of the world contains him or whether he be living or dead we know not. I am pleased on this account with our prospect of removal because I can look to a lasting settlement for Eliza in America. I should die here with a painful impression of the various disasters that might overwhelm her & her children in sudden ruin – our storms – our hurricanes but above all the fatal insurrection which we constantly dread prevent the soothing consciousness of being at home.
Farewell dear Mary I have written more than I at first expected[.] Let you[r] reply be speedy
And believe me
ever truly yours
Eliza sends kind rememberances
Address: To | Miss M. Hays | 41 Cross Street | Islington
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 209-213; Brooks, Correspondence 352-53.