England, Wales, Ireland, and New Bedford, Massachusetts: 1815-1849. Envelope or Cover.
This fascinating archive of 12 letters containing 28 densely packed pages of text was saved by the Reverend James Austin Roberts and his wife Sarah Gilby Robert. Besides addressing religious matters, they are filled with insight into 19th century immigration law, westward expansion, social mores, family relationships, and concerns about health, illness, and death. They additionally provide glimpses into abolitionist thought, businesswomen, whaling, canal investments, and British politics. The letters bear a myriad of U.K. and U.S. postal markings. In nice shape. Transcripts will be provided.
Roberts was born in England and attended the Hackney Theological Seminary. Upon graduation, he was sent to serve in Ireland. Upon his return, he left the Anglican church and became a nonconformist minister in Warminster. In 1827, he married Sarah, the daughter of an influential physician, at his ancestral home in Wales. After the birth of a son, the family sailed for New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1832 where Roberts became the pastor of the new Trinitarian Church where he served until asking for a leave of absence in 1843 to be “released from the cares of the church.” After spending time in the U.K. to include assisting a friend Thomas Jenkyns who was the President of Coward College, Roberts and his family returned to Massachusetts where he lived until 1872.A few tip-of-the-iceberg excerpts from his letters include:
1815 – Letter to Roberts at Hackney from his brother Lewis at Bala, Wales showing the concerns of a divinity student were not much different from other young men of the same age. “Jane Green is a strange girl I do not like her. . .. She seems very spitfell of you because you took so much notices of Mrs Owens Daughter. She said you was kissing her as sone as she went out off the room . . . that Jane as yet so long tongue, she . . . told Davis Chartles the doctor that you was Drunk, a pretty fellow said D Charles to be a Minister, and he would have beleave it only William told him it was not so. . .. I think Miss E Lloyd was very fond of you as she was always talking about you. . .."
1818 – A letter of commiseration to Roberts in Salisbury, England from an associate regarding his pending assignment in Ireland. “I am sorry on your account, . . . however your honor is committed and . . . you must go. Perhaps your heavenley Father has some souls to be called in that Isle. . ..'
1820 – Letter to Roberts at Tralee, Kerry, Ireland from a vicar in Haverfordwest, Wales discussing his return from Ireland and two young women and their parents who see him as a possible catch. “Mr & Mrs Evans are continually talking about you [and ask me] to remind you that they shall expect you in August without fail [also] Mrs Warlow and family are quite well (you appear to be the reigning favorite with them) and are anxious to see you (Miss P. Warlow is quite well). . ..”
1825 – A letter to Roberts at Warminster, Wiltshire, England from Alicia Ann O’Connor at “Horrid=Wood” (Norwood), England reminiscing about Ireland and suggesting they meet. “Glad to find you propose Coming to London. . .. I quite long to hear [about] the good people of Hireland . . . which never fails to set me off in almost a laugh. . ..“ (Norwood, the Great North Woods, was long the legendary home of vindictive fairies, a hairy cave-dwelling hermit, and antler-headed Herme, perhaps this accounts for the sobriquet, Horrid Wood)
Circa 1830 – A letter to his wife, Sarah, at Clifton, Bristol, England from Roberts at Bala, Wales, describing a hiking journey with his nonconformist minister friend, Thomas Jenkyns. “This day has been a very fatiguing one and . . . I am more set for bed than for any thing else. But I cannot suffer another night to pass . . . without the assurance that my letter is on the way to my Dear Sarah. To write before, I could not – to occupied is been my time with climing mountains, making way glens, viewing underwater falls & taking enough sketches of the scenery. . .. I write now to say that I am tired of the mountains and of every thing else without you. . ..”
1833 – A two-part letter from Sarah’s mother, Elina Gilby, in Bristol to both Robert’s and her daughter in New Bedford, Massachusetts containing her lawyer’s advice concerning U.S. immigration law along with questions and advice about their new home. “Mr. Wills . . . gave me the perusal of the acts of Congress relating to aliens which he had lately received from. . .. The Government may at any time seize upon Property purchased by an Alien . . . and [it] becomes the property of the State. . .. Mr Wills informs me the usual way of getting over the difficulty is to have the purchase made in the name of a Citizen in whom you can rely. . .. what ever you do now or hereafter look before you leap. . .. Getting a Whale Ship or have a part in one it would be far better than buying a House. . .. My poor Harriet has been confined for more than a month by Scarlet Fever. . .. The great Lawrence (Sir William Lawrence, the President of the Royal College of Surgeons of London and Serjeant Surgeon to the Queen) attended [which will] lighten Gilby”s purse. . .. Jane Haverlock married a poor Lieut. in our Navy. [She now has] two lovely little Girls . . . they think of settling here if her poor man can get anything here to live upon. Jane’s Fr has now become a bankrupt so all of them will not have a penny. . .. I mean to advise Mrs C. to go to you. it would be better than starving here. . .. I am reading now Mrs Carmichael’s domestic manners of ye white, colour’d & Negro Population of the West Indies which all our M.P.s ought to [have] read before they had granted 20,000,000 [pounds to Caribbean planters in compensation for the forced emancipation their enslaved workers] when poor England wants it so much. . ..”
1834 – Letter from Elina Gilby in Bristol, England to Sarah in New Bedford explaining she fired two worthless female servants and helped establish one as a real estate agent and housekeeper for a successful female landlord. “On the 8th of May last parted with Oliver & her Sister Jane – for the truth was simply this, we were keeping them much more for their benefit than for our own. . .. To there great surprise as well as mortification I gave them notice. . .. They are going to keep a grocer shop [however] since they were out of place I recommended Oliver to Mr Creah who is Agent for Mrs Brookes who owns 21 Houses [and she will now] be Mr Creah’s under Agent to look after and to shew them to whoever wishes to see or take them this is a famous good thing for Oliver being certain of 6S a week and if to clean a . . . house 2/6 besides wh makes her mightily well pleased. . ..”
1835 – A letter to Roberts in New Bedford from his brother in Jacksonville, Illinois, who had recently immigrated to take advantage of inexpensive homesteads offered by the U.S. government. In this letter he offers lengthy descriptions (actually, disparagements) of several cities. “Cincinnati . . . is unhealthy and the water is not good. . .. I have seen a number of persons from the state of Ohio and they invariable look sickly. . .. Louisville is . . . full of Blacks and the people’s houses are like the streets. . .. I have a great objection to a Slave state. . .. The people are durty their houses are the same. . .. Instead of the white population making the blacks fall into their habits they fall into the habits of the blacks . . . most of the inhabitants carry dirks in their pockets, . . . St. Louis is a good sise City. . .. The greater part of the Inhabitants are French and dutch; it is considered very sickly and the countenances of the people conforms it. There are a great number of slaves and it is a very ungodly city. . .. Alton is certainly a rising thriving place [but] there is no good land [except] at an extravagant price, but it is a very sickly place, I am pleased with its appearance . . . but what is that if we cannot enjoy our health . . .. Illinois River is beautiful [but] it must be very unhealthy as I understand it is covered with green weeds. . .. [Here in Jacksonville] are some of the best people I have met. . . but there is no land to be had at Congress price [or]I should have been inclined to have bought. . ..”
1837 – Letter to Sarah in New Bedford from her mother in Bristol expressing relief that she did not attempt to cross the Atlantic for a visit since she was so seriously ill that she likely would not have survived the voyage.
1839 – Letter to Sarah in New Bedford from her mother in Bristol bemoaning the current political crises in England and reporting their friends were moving to Australia. “I pity all those who are Radicals. . .. If we have not soon some great Interposition of Providence poor England will soon go to the dogs. What with Birmingham & Newport Riots and the Chartists gathering all by the Aid of the present bad Ministry and that Vile Viscount Mal bone (as I call him) wicked Government we see at this moment not at all . . . to be envied and then our Doll of a Queen now going to marry a Boy her Cousin Albert Coburg we have not paid enough to his Uncle but we must now pay more to his Nephew. . ..”
1847 – Letter to Sarah in New Bedford from Roberts at Coward College, London providing an account of his participation in a series of revivals and concluding to resign from his New Bedford church.
1849 – Letter to Roberts in care of the “President of Coward College” in London from an associate in New Bedford asking for a reminiscence to be include in a memory book to be printed in honor of his recently deceased daughter and expressing hope that the Roberts family will return to the United States.. Item #010065
(For more information, see “Trinitarian Church” in Ellis’s History of New Bedford and its Vicinity, Wheelock and others’ History of the Churches of New Bedford. . .., Ashley’s “Historical Address” in the Semi-centennial anniversary of the Trinitarian Church of New Bedford, “Coward College” at the UCL Bloomsbury Project website, The Coward Trust website, Eads’s “The Early History of Norwood” at the Norwood Society website, Gilbert’s Mischief Acts, and genealogical records at Ancestry.com.)
Scarce. At the time of listing there is nothing similar for sale in the trade, and the Rare Book Hub shows nothing similar has appeared at auction. OCLC notes two of Sarah’s diaries are held at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Bodleian Library holds a small collection of “Correspondence of the Rev. James Austin Roberts, his wife, and son.” Additionally, a letter from Robert’s advising President Lincoln that although English aristocrats and the economics of the cotton trade make it appear that the United Kingdom might support the South, the U.K. government “will not go contrary to the general feeling of the people and that feeling is for us: for the north, and as long as it is so we are safe in respect to that quarter.”.