Parents transporting their dead child on steamboats down the Illinois River


Date Written

Dec. 1, 1834

Nancy Taylor Beach Webster was 27 years old when this was written.
The recipient, Elizabeth Beach, was 35 when it was received.

Nancy Taylor Beach Webster died 13 years, 30 days after writing this.
It was written 188 years, 10 months, 2 days ago.
It was a Monday.

St. Louis
December 1st
Dear Sister Betsy,
Since I last wrote you I have been called to endure a most painful scene, and a most trying one it was, to part with my sweet baby. Yes, she has gone to join her little mate in a fairer and more congenial clime, to a healthier world than this. She was too fair a flower for this cold clime. O sister, you cannot tell the sorrow and anguish of my heart. It seems as though I could not part with the little thing. I feel very lonesome indeed.
She died the next morning after we started from Louisville, living Thursday. The doctor thought her past danger Monday morn previous, being his last visit, but I thought she was not much better. She had first the inflammation on the bowels, and then the croup. It seemed as though she fairly choked to death. I followed the doctor’s directions, but she needed something more powerful to raise the phlegm off her lungs.
It is now five days since she died and she has scarcely changed at all. She is the sweetest-looking corpse I ever saw. We have not yet buried her. We have come to St. Louis and are disappointed in everything. Chipman has stopped in Pekin, a very sickly place near two hundred miles up the Illinois. It has frustrated Joseph so that he hardly knows what to do. We have concluded to take the babe to Jacksonville to bury her. I shall probably spend some time with Sabra; perhaps, all winter for I cannot think of going up into that cold climate with my cough which has been increasing ever since I started. I have a steady hard cough all the time and have been sick much of the time. Feel in rather low spirits.
Have just had a letter from Sabra. Says she was never better in her life, is boarding in a private family. Julian is gone most of the time buying pork and wheat. Says he was now doing better. Bradford’s wife is sick with the ague. Has no hired girl and a large family. Has a very smart babe. I know not what to do or what course to pursue. You can get no kind of house in Illinois less than two or three hundred a year and board is so poor I can’t think of that. Joseph wants to keep house so as to live as he wishes. His health is poor; has had two or three turns since we left home.
I wish very much you were out here this winter, but I would not have you come in the season that we have for nothing. Whenever you come, be sure that you take the dryest and most pleasant time in summer. I think if we could have come in September, I should have had good health all the way and saved the babe besides. Everything is damp and chilling. The berths all have a window in them and are very open and cold. The bed and clothes are damp enough nights to iron. I have found my blanket very convenient indeed. Should have suffered without it. LeRoy is well and makes but little trouble. We have been giving him salts and still are for his eyes and they are much better.
Last Friday I had the ear ache and have not been able to hear out of it since owing to the cold in my head. Bradford’s babe has the ague. Sabra tells me her health never was better and she is happy. It is the first time she ever wrote me thus. I expect to have a very hard, unpleasant time up the Illinois. Sabra advises us by all means to keep house. Says she will go with us and stay some time and help. I don’t think of anything more to write.
Remember me to Amanda and Mrs. Mack. She will sympathize with me in the loss of my sweet babe. Write often as you can. I want niece Beray to write and shore my spirits once in awhile. Direct to Jacksonville, Morgan county, Illinois.
Farewell. Your affectionate sister,
Nancy T. Webster

[To] Betsey KIng

Moses King, Esq.
Dear Sir,
As our circumstances have so changed with us since we left Louisville that we thought best to write you from that place as Nancy has detailed the death of our sweet little babe which is a severe loss and one that I little thought of when we left Brockport. We have been now four weeks & one day and are now nearly 200 miles from our destination which will occupy from 6 to 10 days more most likely. I think I shall leave Nancy & LeRoy with Sabra awhile but have not fully determined as yet.
I am sorely disappointed at not finding Chipman at St. Louis, yet Mr. James Smith says that I need not regret as that is a rich country and abounds in produce. That Chipman has hired a Mill of good size and great cost and thinks that we cannot fail to do well. Wheat is worth 40 he writes. But there are so many impediments to doing business there on account of the low water in the Illinois that it must ever be a tedious dragging business. The country I am told is full of flour and corn but cannot be got out and freights are so high up the river also — 8/ from St. Louis to Pekin — but I shall not live there myself long. Mr. Smith said he understood they intended to send me to the lower country but I can learn very little as yet, Mr. Chipman not taking the trouble to even write me.
I have now spent about $200 and if we have good luck, 50 or 60$ more will get us up to Pekin. A peaking mean place is too & more sickly than New Orleans itself if report be true. Flour sells at retail here at $4.00. We have taken passage on as mean and dirty a steamboat, the “Springfield”, as you can conceive of for I am sure you never saw the like. The only one in port going up the River and no certainty that she can get up. I hope I shall be in better mood when I write next time. I have not eat but once or twice in as many days, but I assure you, I am not discouraged and shall never give up the ship as long as there is a plank left now.
Now all my business plans are out of joint, but I must make a new set. Last night did not sleep half an hour. Drank some strong tea, the cause perhaps. Mr. Collins of this place says that two young men have cleared $4000 this season with $2000 capital in wholesale grocery business. All agree that this is a first rate place for business.
Farewell. Your friend,
Joseph Webster

My impression now is that I shall put a cylinder for kiln dry in cornmeal if I find corn cheap & plenty which I am informed is the case—Luck has opened another store on the river at Mendoseu and Sabra writes is doing better than ever he has done before. We must be interested in a small steamboat to run on the Illinois and tow two keels, cost about 4 or 8000$--all [?] that it would be first rate stock—a great many boats will pay for themselves this season but all depends on luck and good arrangements for freight.

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