Carl F. Herreshoff. miniature by Edward Malbone ca. 1800. RIHS 1972.21.1, Gift of Norman Herreshoff
Sally Brown, miniature by Edward Malbone ca. 1795. RIHS 1972.21.2, Gift of Norman Herreshoff
Once again, I begin to consider What Cheer Day, and, feeling uninspired, I turned to primary sources, thinking that reacquainting myself with the characters might prove useful. Among the documents I read today was this letter written by Carl F. Herrreshoff (late of Prussia, but now in New York) to Miss Sally Brown of Providence.
New York 17th June 1800
I hasten my dear Sally to answer three of your letters, two of which, one by Gideon and one by the mail, I received yesterday. I am glad to know you at your favourite place, and the more so as I am well convinced you will think of your absent friend on visiting those spots where we have been so happy. That moments like those should ever return, I thought it folly to hope until a few weeks since; a little lonely spot, where I would quietly reflect on what is past and love you with a pious resignation, was all I dare to wish for, but my love is too powerful for my reason, one beam of light was sufficient to give another turn to my imagination, and your last letter has compleated it. I begin already to see a chain of melancholy days in my solitude, I begin to think myself entitled to more happyness, what ever reason may say to the contrary; but taught by sad experience, like you my dear Sally, not to anticipate much happyness, I shall guard my heart from being to sanguine.One happyness I am not however determined to enjoy, let the consequences be what they will. I will see you, dear excellent girl, I will hear it confirmed from your lips that your heart is above the caprices of fortune, that it is as constant as my own. But though I feel now as much alacrity to obey your command as ever, it is not in my power to do it immediately. I have fixed to go to Philadelphia for a few days; I shall be as expeditious as possible, and on my return the first packet shall convey me to you. I rely on finding you at Point Pl. for I feel very averse to go to Providence. Ursus is in the same condition with your little mare, and I have sent him to the pasture, but I will try to get another horse.
Think of your promise: let me find you in good health and spirits; as for my own health, though never blooming, it is very strong, it have never been really affected from all my mind has suffered these ten months past, and since I have entertained the prospect of meeting you again, I feel as if there had been a great change in my fortune.
I lament that our pleasure will be chilled by the situation of poor A. Let us be ever so good we cannot escape our share of misery in the world, every one must have his turn.
As for your request regarding H I assure you, that if
I made a confident of him in matters which concerned you, it was of my own sentiments merely.
Adieu my charming little Sally, I expect a letter from you dated from Point Pl. forget not to direct all your letters in future to the care of John Murray & Son. Is Mr Coggeshall’s house still a tavern in Bristol? You shall soon hear again from
Your sincerest friend
I think it proper to write to your father before I go to Providence, are you not of the same opinion & if I should write from here, before I receive your answer, I shall enclose my letter in yours.
Carl Herreshoff to Sally Brown, 17 June 1800.
MSS 487, Herreshoff-Lewis Family Papers
RIHS Manuscripts Collection
A month after this letter was written, “poor A.” gave birth to her first daughter, Abby Brown Mason, a day after marrying James Brown Mason, the child’s father. It was not until 1801 that Sally Brown married Carl Herreshoff, despite her father’s misgivings. John Brown never really liked his sons-in-law, and given his nickname of “Old Thunder,” you have to wonder how they felt about him.
For me, this letter full of longing and acquiescence to a powerful love, has resonance beyond its years. Distance is easier to overcome today, to a degree, but letters remain a poor substitute for a lover.