1838: John B. Foster to Henry B. Curtis

This letter was written by John (or Jonathan) B. Foster from the Ohio River village of Georgetown, Beaver County, Ohio. From the letter we learn that his wife’s name was Eliza.

John wrote the letter to Henry Barnes Curtis (1799-1885) of Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio. He was the son of Zarah Curtis (1761-1849) and Phally Yale (1762-1831). He was married to Elizabeth Hogg (1803-1878).

Curtis came to Ohio from New York State in 1809 with his parents, settling in Newark. At the age of 17, he began practicing law with a brother in Mount Vernon, Ohio. [See 1821: Jacob Winter to Henry B. Curtis]

The letter contains a great first-hand observation of an Ohio keelboat packed with passengers passing by Georgetown, Pennsylvania.


Addressed to Henry B. Curtis, Esqr., Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio
Postmarked Georgetown, Pa., August 7, 1838

Georgetown, [Beaver County] Pa.
August 5, 1838

Dear Sir,

Without waiting for a reply to my last, I send you another letter. Not that I have anything new — but lest you might think me so selfish as not to write, only when I expected an answer.

The weather has been hot & sultry here for some considerable time. For many weeks we have had but one shower to refresh our parched up earth. Today we had a little rain — not enough however to keep the dust silent for more than two or three hours. The spring grain and other vegetables have not been much benefited by the few showers that have fallen in them. My thoughts and ideas seem to be written by the hot season and will not, I presume, resume their natural state till the cold of winter shall raise them. But notwithstanding all this, I prefer being rather a little too warm than a little too cold. The medium state, however, is most pleasant although I do not know that it is the most “scriptural” one (as our good grandams tell us) for lukewarmness is much spoken against in the Apocalypse — I think it is.

Since my last I have word from Mr. Hunt and strange as it may seem, Eliza (my conspirant) says he appears much improved in his health. The diarrhea which they had supposed it was impracticable to have any influence upon in his low situation was checked, so he soon began to be more active. But she appears to think he will never reach Ohio. He was endeavoring to reach Massachusetts by slow journeys & return immediately again to New York.

I have about closed out my labor in harvesting as I find it too parching to stay out in the sun more than is absolutely necessary. But yet I will stumble about on the river bank some once in a while & gaze on the different kinds of “floats” as they move lazily by. The other day I had quite a music & yet felt a little spark of pity to see about one hundred passengers — male & female — stowed away in a “keel boat” (as we call them here), some above deck exposed to the sun, without awing or shade save what their own forms made, & some under deck fighting & quarreling with clones of mosquitoes for the possession of their blood & smooth faces, apparently melting from heat & close confinement. I know what it is in comfort & enjoyment to be on board a “keel.” After sailing with Job’s patience during the day for a comfortable repose at night, and when the sun disappears & your meal is taken, & you adjust all things in high hopes of a sweet repose, as the air from the water is bland & soothing, you take your post upon some flour keg or work sack and just as your eyes are closing in soft slumbers, you imagine you hear a charming band of music at some great distance sending their silvery chords far over the stream. You are fast falling into sweet visions of the past & the future, when the first place you find yourself in under the operation of some dozen or two of these sharp-billed “tormenters” & you slash away with arm & foot in Don Quixotic humor and imagine yourself haunted by a thousand fairies torturing you with pins or infested by a regular host of “couch corsairs.”

But this is a subject belonging to the Ohio River and you away out there about the little streams that after a course of some hundred & more miles empty themselves into this river, do not care much about how the poor fellows suffer with mosquitoes away off here.

Well, I am just on the first [paper torn] Tomorrow one week if nothing happens, I shall make my way to Mount Vernon, and I think I shall not be more than three days at most, if we have good luck.

I have heard from my brother & sister lately. There were well & their kind remembrance to you & Mrs. C.

Mrs. Foster wishes her respects &c. We wish much to see you again & our old acquaintances in Mt. V.

Most sincerely your friend, — John B. Foster

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s