Tag Archives: Dr. Asahel Hall


"Pen," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2015

“Pen,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2015

Among the Whirlwind Hill documents my mother treasured were a dozen or so letters written between 1812 and 1815 to my great-great-grandfather Salmon Hall. Until recently I assumed these letters to be written by his brother Aaron Chauncey Hall. All the signatures on the letters were either A. C. Hall, or A. Hall.

A. C. Hall signature

A. C. Hall signature

But just last week I discovered upon closer reading, that many of these old letters were written by my great-great-uncle, Asahel Hall, son of Aaron Hall Esq., older brother of Salmon Hall, and younger brother of Aaron Chauncey Hall. His signature is different than Aaron’s and the letters he wrote more detailed and informal. I was happy to be able to finally connect this Asahel to the Dr. Asahel Hall lauded in an obituary that my mother kept with these letters.

Dr. Asahel Hall signature

Dr. Asahel Hall signature

Asahel grew up on the farm, became a doctor, and during the war of 1812, when he was just twenty years old, became a surgeon’s mate at Fort Griswold in New London, Connecticut. (I wonder what this says about the medical profession in those days, that a twenty-year old could become a doctor?) Later in his life he settled in Poughkeepsie, NY, where he practiced medicine, married, and had four children. One of his sons, Henry Clay Hall, was a long-serving United States diplomat to Mexico, Cuba, and Central America, and was consul-general in Matanzas and Havana, Cuba. Abraham Lincoln signed Henry’s appointment as vice-consul general of Matanzas.

Asahel’s letters home to his brother from his post at Fort Griswold are affectionate and personal. He often laments the fact that he hasn’t heard from his four brothers and six sisters, and wishes he could come home to see them.

“Dear Brother, The mail has come in & nought [sic] do I hear from you & why? Are you too busy to give me a line, or your mind & attention given to the fair daughters? If the latter be the case, I will not presume but admonish you to relax a little and give me a word or two to revive a flagging spirit.” – Asahel Hall, in a letter to his brother Salmon from Fort Griswold, Connecticut, May 20, 1814

He also spends time thinking about women.

“Dear Brother, I am comfortably seated by a good fire in a warm room, although it is devilish cold without & in fact it has been so cold for a number of days, I have hardly made the daring attempt to call on the fair ones. Just after my return, I attended two parties & my favorite lady was there. She almost tempted me to sin. Her glistening arms & ruddy cheeks – her fine fair form & lips so sweet, would almost raise the devil with any fellow.” – Asahel Hall, in a letter to his brother Salmon from Fort Griswold, Connecticut, February 1, 1814

And he gives Salmon advice on planning for the future.

“I had some conversations with Father, about you & business. He said he had not mentioned to you anything about living with him the ensuing year, but was of the opinion it would be best for both for you to tarry another year, as in the course of that time the prospects of affairs might change, & some good opportunity arise for you. He said he would give you so much per month or give you a proportional part of the products of his land, etc. etc. Under all circumstances I could but believe an agreement in one or the other of those points, would be better than entering into any other business.” – Asahel Hall, in a letter to his brother Salmon from Fort Griswold, Connecticut, February 1, 1814

Salmon took his brother’s advice, and so the Hall farm was passed down for generations to enjoy.

Letters sustained me for much of my life. I became homesick easily, and newsy letters arriving at camp, college, summer jobs, and my eventual exile in the far west were always welcome. Both of my grandmothers and my mother regularly wrote me news of all sorts. In this letter sent to me at camp in 1958, my grandmother reports on all of my Hall first cousins except Dean, who hadn’t yet been born.

Grandma Hall's letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, front page, summer, 1958

Grandma Hall’s letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, Front page, summer 1958

Grandma Hall's letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, back page, summer 1958

Grandma Hall’s letter to me at Silver Lake Camp, back page, summer 1958

During my teenage years I corresponded with a pen pal, Merle. She and I wrote letters back and forth from her home in England to my little red house in Wallingford, Connecticut. We talked about lipstick, nail polish, new dresses, our parents, our siblings, our pets, and boys.

I never met Merle, but felt I knew her through the details she sent to me about her everyday life. And now I’m gradually starting to get acquainted with my distant and sometimes mysterious forefathers and mothers. Although their lives and times were different from mine, we shared a similar desire to stay connected, to send and receive news, and to give advice. Maybe the ancestors didn’t talk about lipstick and perfume as I did with Merle, and I certainly never advised anyone to take Calomel the way one brother advised another, but we enjoyed the process of writing a letter – of putting pen to paper and using words to bring another person closer to us and to let them know we care.

A letter from Asahel to Salmon

A letter from Asahel to Salmon

On Monday:  Foraging

A Few Old Books


A few old books

A few old books

Some of my ancestors’ books seem worth sharing. Most of them are educational in nature – three are dictionaries. Despite their two hundred years of existence and what must have been frequent use, the pages remain supple and thick. Most of the bindings still hold together, and the leather covers feel like velvet. As I open them and look at their inscriptions, doodles, jottings, and marks of usage, I applaud my relatives for their literacy and love of history.

Here are some of the books, and a few interesting facts about each.


The Oldest Book

I’m a 4-leaf clover hunter. Many of my finds live on between the pages of books and diaries on our bookshelves. So it was no surprise when I opened this book – “Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book,” published in 1803 – and found one of my dried clovers on the first page. At some point, the original binding, made of wood covered with leather and paper, began to deteriorate from hard use, so someone covered it with crudely sewn striped cotton cloth.

"Noah Webster's American Spelling Book"

“Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book”

At the end of the book are the “Additional Lessons.” My favorite lesson is “Of Cheerfulness.”

Q.  Is cheerfulness a virtue?

A.  It doubtless is. And a moral duty to practice it.

Q.  Can we be cheerful when we please?

A.  In general it depends much on ourselves. We can often mold our tempers into a cheerful frame. — We can frequent company and other objects calculated to inspire us with cheerfulness. To indulge an habitual gloominess of mind is weakness and sin.

Wow! Who knew?


The Wrong Asahel

"Entick's New Spelling Dictionary"

“Entick’s New Spelling Dictionary”

Asahel Hall was the first Hall to live on Whirlwind Hill. My grandmother Agnes assumed that this “Entick’s New Spelling Dictionary” was his, but since he died in 1795 and the Entick’s dictionary wasn’t published until 1805, it must instead have belonged to his grandson – also named Asahel.

The note my grandmother Agnes Hall left in the dictionary

The note my grandmother Agnes Hall left in the dictionary

Still – 1805 was a long time ago, and in this book the letter ‘s’ often looks like an ‘f,’ and there are definitions that are definitely of their time.

Oil man, s. a man who deals in oils and pickles

Oil shop, s. a shop where oils and pickles are sold.

 Fun with Fonts

Mary Jane Hall, my great-grandfather William’s sister, pasted an 1849 calendar into the back cover of this 1825 dictionary. The printers of these old books had fun with their fonts.

"Walker's Critical Pronouncing Dictionary"

“Walker’s Critical Pronouncing Dictionary”


Early History

This “History of the United States on a New Plan; Adapted to the Capacity of Youth,” published in 1843, belonged to my great-uncle Aaron A. Hall, who wrote a poem on the back page.

Marion DeLong

Asked me for a song

After trying in vain,

The tears ran like rain.

The book is full of lively black and white engravings illustrating America’s history. Someone used paint to hand-color a few of them.

Page from "History of the United States"

Page from “History of the United States”

Page from "History of the United States"

Page from “History of the United States”


The Book I Keep Meaning to Read

Archibald Robbin’s 1821 book about his three years as a captive of the “Wandering Arabs” in the Sahara was a bestseller when it was published. Abraham Lincoln, who read it, referred to it in speeches and spoke of it as an influence on him. I really do need to read it.

"Robbin's Journal"

“Robbin’s Journal”


My Great-Grandfather Read This??? 

Another book I mean to read, John C. Cobden’s 1853 “The White Slaves of England,” was written to call attention to the slave-like working conditions of miners, seamstresses, children, tenant farmers, etc. in Great Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. My great-grandfather, William E. Hall wrote his name inside the front cover.

Page from "The White Slaves of England"

Page from “The White Slaves of England”

Page from "The White Slaves of England"

Page from “The White Slaves of England”


A Different Country

My cousin Tom sent me this “Mitchell’s School Atlas – 1848” a few years ago on my birthday. Although it came from the farm, one of the neighbors, Amos Ives, wrote his name and made numerous doodles on its pages.

The colorful maps detail locations of Indian tribes, herds of animals, and routes to the frontier.

In Texas, part of the land is marked “Herds of Buffaloes and Wild Horses,” and “Extensive Prairies.”

1848 Map of Texas

1848 Map of Texas

Several states are conspicuously absent from this map of the west coast.

1848 Map of West Coast

1848 Map of West Coast

Amos must have daydreamed through his geography classes, because the book is sprinkled with doodles. He drew cats and dogs and circles and people. This is my favorite drawing. I wonder if Amos was having girlfriend troubles.

Belle and Beau by Amos Ives

Belle and Beau by Amos Ives

On Wednesday:  “Outbuildings #6 – A House for an Auto”