1869: Joseph Henry France to William Thompson Murphy

France (ca 1869)
Joseph Henry France, Jr. (ca 1869)

This letter was written by Joseph Henry France, Jr. (1847-1925), the son of Joseph Henry France (1819-1871) and Mary Elizabeth Hubbard (b. 1822) of Washington D. C.  Joseph was an 1868 graduate (valedictorian!) of the Columbian University School of Law. In the 1870 U.S. Census, he was enumerated in Ward 1 of Kansas City and gave his occupation as “school teacher.” Joseph married Hannah Fletcher James (1850-1913), a native of England, in 1869. In the 1880 U.S. Census, Joseph and Hanna were enumerated in Lowville, Lewis County, New York where Joseph gave his occupation as “minister.” In the intervening ten years, the couple had five children: William (b. 1872), Joseph Irwin (1873-1939), Mary G. (1875-1931), Clemens James (1877-1959) and Ina (1878-1949).

In 1900, Joseph and Hanna France were enumerated in Johnstown Ward 4, Fulton County, New York.  Joseph still gave his occupation as “minister.” Two more children appeared in the record: Royal W. (1883-1962), and Marguerite R. (1888-1985). In 1910, Joseph and Hanna are in Naples, Ontario County, New York — no occupation given. Joseph was a minister in the Presbyterian Church.

Joseph father, Joseph F. Francis, Sr., was engaged in the 1840s in an enterprise called “France’s Temple of Fortune” which seems to have been a lottery “scheme.” It was advertised in the local District papers.

Joseph wrote the letter to his friend, William Thompson Murphy (1845-1913), a grocer on 10th Street in Washington D. C. William was married to Mary Service (1849-1938) sometime between 1869 and 1873. Not much is known about William except that he was the son of Irish emigrants named John and Mary Murphy who also made their living keeping a grocery in the District. His second child was named Grace France Murphy so he may have been related in some way to Joseph.

1869 Envelope Postmarked Kansas City, MO
1869 Envelope Postmarked Kansas City, MO

Addressed to William T. Murphy, Corner 10th & L Streets, Washington D. C.

Kansas City, Mo.
December 17th 1869

Dearest Will,

I have been so busy the past week I have had hardly one moment to spare. You will be surprised to know that I have resigned my position in the Seminary and have gone to housekeeping. Your money did me the same service as it would have done had I remained at the school. I have been enabled with it to furnish my house, of course adding to it some money of my own which I had been saving for other purposes.

J. H. France married Hannah (ca 1869)
J. H. France married Hannah Fletcher James (ca 1869)

I think it due you to explain the cause of my resignation. It was simply this. The school had been started under Episcopalian patronage but the proprietress had no idea of making it a High Church School. The Episcopalian Rector who conducted chapel exercises wished all the teachers to become Episcopalians. This we could not conscientiously do, preferring our principles above all else so all the teachers with one exception resigned. The proprietress also resigned. The school has received such a blow that we expect it to break up.

I would feel worried were I not supporting myself outside of the school. As it is, I am somewhat so as it will delay my meeting obligations incurred at home. I am afraid you too will be very much disappointed. But old fellow, it will all come right. I am succeeding as well as the most sanguine could expect when it is remembered there are over 100 lawyers in this town. I would not have anybody else know it and so tell you in confidence that all [William Henry] Babcock ¹ has made from his profession since he has been here is 50 cents. His license and sign money has thus far been just so much out of pocket, while my first case paid me more than both of these cost.

You wish to know what then supports him. His newspaper arrangement. We are principally employed on this at night — it being a morning paper — so that it does not interfere with the practice of our profession.

And now, Will, I wish to tell you what Mr. [Daniel Sawan] Twitchell ² said about me — “That never in his experience had he met a young man who in so short a time had inspired for himself in the community such confidence and respect.” That this was not merely an individual opinion but a fact which actual experience and the conversation of others brought to his knowledge. That on my judgement he placed the greatest reliance and had approved of my every act since coming to Kansas City. He wound up his encomium by placing in my hands a suit for quite a good sum of money.

I will tell you another encomium bathed upon me by Col. [John] Wilder, ³ the managing editor of our paper [Kansas City Journal] who as the successor of Col. [Robert Thompson] Van Horn, now M.C. in the editorial chair of the Journal is one of our most prominent men. He is also a lawyer and fills the chair of Medical Jurisprudence in the Kansas City College of Physicians and Surgeons. He said of me, “I like his whole appearance — his whole demeanor. His address in every respect indicates him to be unmistakably a gentleman of the very highest culture. He has quick, active, lively sensibilities and I believe he will always be as I have found him — faithful to every trust committed to his charge.” Perhaps I may have written this to you before but I put it for fear I have not and I know my brother will be gratified to see these expressions of public opinion. As I have gotten a letter from Whitney which does not recognize the receipt of any of my letters, I will send him one directed to your care. I do not understand mail arrangements but am strongly of opinion that most missing letters are carelessly sent to Washington, Missouri.

I am much obliged for copy of Independent but am afraid you may rob your betrothed of her accustomed paper. Give her for me a brother’s love. Why have you not told me something about her? Write soon.

— Devoted Joseph

Joseph France
Atty at Law
Corner 4th & Main Streets
[Kansas City, MO]

¹ William Henry Babcock (1849-19xx) was born in St. Louis and was an 1869 graduate of the Columbian University Law School. He practiced law in Kansas City in 1869-70; then relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was editor of a paper. He then worked in the patent office in Washington D. C. He is best known for his published poems.

² Daniel Sawan Twitchell (1824-1901) was a law student at the University of Michigan and graduated in 1860. He practiced law in Ann Arbor for five years and then came to Kansas City in the spring of 1865. He was elected city attorney and counselor in 1869. 

³ Col. John Wilder (1836-1870) was an 1857 graduate of Union College at Schenectady, New York. He then graduated from the Harvard Law School and practiced law in Boston until enlisting as a private in a Massachusetts regiment. Before war’s end, he had risen to the rank of colonel, commanding a post at Key West, Florida. He came to Kansas City in 1867, purchase the Kansas City Daily Journal of Commerce, and became its editor. On 9 March 1870, Wilder was shot in the chest with a revolver by an assailant named James Hutchinson. He died twenty minutes later. A motive for the murder was never firmly established. [See: Shot Down in Cold Blood, by Leigh Ann Little]

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