1861: John Prichet to Niece

This letter was written by John Prichet (1803-1884), the son of Joab and Mary (Buzby) Prichet of New Jersey. In 1805 his parents moved to Columbiana County, Ohio. He began studying medicine with Dr. Gustavus Allen of Fairfield, Ohio. After being granted a license by the Medical Board, he began his practice in 1825 and moved to Petersburg. He moved to Wayne County, Indiana in 1826, but stayed only one year before moving back to Ohio. However, he returned to Centreville, Wayne County in 1828, and soon after he formed a partnership with Dr. William Pugh. Dr. Prichet became a Mason in 1825 and an Odd Fellow in 1849. He was a prominent member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Dr. Prichet married Emily Talbott (1808-1895), a native of Virginia, on March 4, 1830. Together they had three children: Mary, Gustavus, and James. In 1843 he received a medical diploma from the Ohio College of Medicine in Cincinnati. Dr. Prichet went to California during the gold rush in 1849, but not having the success he hoped, returned to Centreville in 1851 where he remained. He later became co-owner of a drug store with Dr. Reed.

He was commissioned Surgeon during the Civil War for the 57th Indiana Volunteers on Nov. 18, 1861 and remained on duty with the regiments until June 16, 1862, when he resigned because of physical disability. Dr. Prichet passed away on June 6, 1884 in Centreville.

Dr. Prichet’s hand-written journals are housed in the Indiana State Library. They describe his journey from Indiana to California during the Gold Rush. His journals cover his trip from Centreville, Indiana to California by steamboat on the Ohio and Missouri rivers, and overland from Independence, Missouri to California using the Truckee river route; his life in the mining camps near Yuba City and Sacramento, California; and his return trip by ship from San Francisco through Panama, to New Orleans. The first journal includes a carte-de-visite of Dr. Prichet.


Centreville [Wayne County, Indiana]
September 1st 1861

My dear Niece,

I received a letter from you a considerable time since, and I have thought nearly every Sunday since that time that I would answer it, but either through carelessness or indolence I have neglected it until this evening.

Well, we are all in good health and the people are generally well, but I think we will have some ague this fall. The evenings are getting quite cool and some of the days are not very warm. The summer has been very pleasant except about 2 weeks in August which were very hot. The weather has been rather inclined to be showery for some weeks back but no very hard rains here, but over in Ohio they had a very heavy rain about the 12th or 14th of August that injured the railroad so as to cut off communication between here and Cincinnati for a few days.

The war fever was pretty high here. Our three months [soldiers] all returned safe and sound that went from this part of the country and I believe all that went from this county. They were in the 8th and 10th Indiana Regiments. They are now trying to raise another company of infantry here and I think they will do it. They are making up a cavalry company at Richmond [Indiana] and several of our boys have joined that. Our farmers are giving the horses for it. Some of our Quaker friends have been asked to give horses but that they cannot do. But some have offered to lend them for 99 years which does about as well.

We are all for the war to put down this unholy rebellion. If I was 10 years younger, I should be in.

[My son] James ¹ is in the Navy Yard at Washington City and is kept very busy. He said in one of his letters that just before the Battle at Manassas he was 60 hours that he never sat down to a meals victuals, and is frequently up all night. One time only slept one night in four. He has several times had to go on excursions down the Potomac and sometimes as far as Fortress Monroe. When he last wrote, he had 150 prisoners under his charge. They were some that had mutinied in some of the regiments and were taken and sent to the Navy Yard. So you see he is kept busy enough to keep him out of mischief.

We have had no letter from any of our friends in the West for some time except one from Jesse North a few weeks ago.

How is your father’s health this summer?

Let us hear from you again without waiting as long as I did. Give my best respects to all the folks.

Truly yours, — J. Prichet

¹ James M. Prichet (1836-1871) graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1857. Prior to the Civil War he served aboard the Mississippi on the China Station, and in Richmond on the Mediterranean Station. Assigned to the Washington Navy Yard in 1861, Prichett joined the Naval forces on the Mississippi River in 1862. On 4 July 1863, while commanding the gunboat Tyler, he participated in, and won praise for, effective action in repulsing a superior Confederate force during the battle of Helena, Arkansas. He also commanded monitor Mahopac during the war. After the war he sailed with Admiral David Farragut’s expedition to Russia and, in 1869, returned to the Pacific Squadron. Lieutenant Commander Prichett died in 1871 while attached to receiving ship Vermont at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

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