The Letter

More often than not, paperwork overwhelms my desk and makes me grumpy. Organizing financial records, bills, checks, insurance forms, airline receipts, etc., gets more complicated every year. My computer, which is supposed to make things easier, just seems to add to my confusion. Some days I long for simpler times, even though I know they were neither simple nor easy. They just left a smaller paper trail.

In 1825 my great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Hall, Esq. wrote a letter summing up his life. The document hung in the farmhouse parlor next to his portrait, and although it was always referred to as his “letter,” it’s really more of a statement left for posterity. In it he sets down the facts of his time on this earth.

It’s easier for me and fairer to Aaron if I quote the letter instead of printing a photograph of the document, as it’s very hard to read. The misspellings and the missing punctuation are his, and I’ve added hyphens to clarify his sentence breaks.

Aaron Hall's Letter - Detail

Aaron Hall’s Letter – Detail

Wallingford, January 5th, 1825 – “I Aaron Hall son of Asahel & Sarah Hall was born November 11th 1760 and lived with my father and worked on his farm until the 25th of May 1777 which was the 17th year of my age – having a thirst for liberty with the consent of my father I inlisted a soldier for three years in the Amarican revolution during which time I indured many hardships and was in sundry battles at Germantown & Monmouth and being troubled with the rhumatis at times but not so as to prevent me from doing my duty – but since I have bin very much troubled and am at this time – after my term of service expired I returned and when I have bin abel have worked on my farm ever since – in 1781 May the 24th I was married to Elizabeth Cook by whome I had Eleven children and I believe are all alive at this time –   my wife Elizabeth died July 16th 1820 in the 58th year of her age – in December the 11th 1820 I was married to Sarah Hall with whome I have lived until this time September 12th 1826 when my wife Sarah died in the 70th year of her age – June 11th 1827 I was married to Annis Brooks

Because of this letter I could, if I wanted, become a Daughter of the American Revolution. I think several of my cousins have done this. But it wasn’t his participation in the revolution or the fact that he had eleven children that impressed me when I was young. Instead, I was amazed that he had THREE WIVES. The statements about these three women are so short, and so matter of fact, that I always pictured the three wives married to him at the same time. But in truth he was first married to Elizabeth, then to Sarah, and finally to Annis.

I’d like to know what these wives looked like and how they lived their lives – how Elizabeth managed to raise eleven children, how Sarah was courted when she was 64 years old, and how Annis met and agreed to marry 67-year-old Aaron. The paper trail for these four people is practically non-existent.

But in my photo collection, I found a tintype from the 1850’s with a label on the back written by my grandmother. The woman in the photo is the fifth of Aaron’s children, Mary Hall. She was born in 1790 and died in 1871. She never married, and, in fact, may have lived her entire life on the farm. In her portrait she looks like a precious and beloved aunt. Her cheerful expression makes me smile. She’s taken great care to dress in her finest clothing with what looks like the parlor rug wrapped around her shoulders and an oversized bow tied under her chin. It seems like this may have been her one chance to look good for the camera, and she was determined to make the best of it.

Mary Hall, 1790 - 1871

Mary Hall, 1790 – 1871

On Wednesday:  Muddy River

9 thoughts on “The Letter

  1. Michael Foster

    What a wonderful, living connection to the distant past! Various members of my family have worked on our family tree and it is interesting to see the names stretching back in time. To have a letter like this, though, hand written by an ancestor born in 1760 seems so much more compelling. Although there are no details, you can imagine the impatient 17 year old saying goodbye to his parents and setting off for the glory of the fight for independence. The reality of war and living hard in the open is alluded to in the mention of “sundry battles” and troubles with the “rhumatis” that plague him for the rest of his life. The women in Aaron’s life are briefly mentioned, but how essential they must have been since hardly any time elapses between the death of one and his union with the next. He must have been seen as a good catch, or at least a dependable provider. I do wonder about his relationships with these women and to his children who he believes are all alive when he writes. The tintype is fabulous. You try to read into Mary’s life by looking at the lines in her face and speculating about how she feels when posing for the camera. Very different times brought directly to us by this writing and image. Thank you.

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks, Mike. It is always compelling to have original sources of these documents. It makes me feel so much closer to the people and their times. And , oh, I would love a photo of those wives.

  2. Judy Rosen

    Carol, I agree completely about too much paperwork making me grumpy. And, what an excellent intro for
    this posting. Every generation has its burdens, but the thought of raising 11 children in that era sounds
    exhausting. One of my grandmother’s also had 11 children (10 lived long lives). Just think these women
    were pregnant over 20 years of their lives and for the most part bore their children at home and without
    anesthesia. Gives one added respect for birth control! It’s wonderful that Aaron wrote “the letter” for
    future generations to savor and have something tangible to connect them to their family history. Loved
    Mary Hall’s expression and how she dressed up for the photo. Keep up the good work! Judy

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks, Judy. Always nice to hear from you. It is amazing to think about how women lived and coped in those days.. Survival of the fittest for sure.
      I think we should all be required to sum up our lives in just one page like Aaron did. Only the essentials.

  3. Donna

    P.S. I opened my roll top desk yesterday…most everything came falling out…we can all relate ! lol your cuzin’ Donna

    1. Carol Post author

      Sometimes it gets even worse when we have a place where we can hide all the stuff away. Glad this was “timely” for you.

  4. Pingback: Letters | On Whirlwind Hill

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