18 June 30, 1851

Lyman writes to Henry in June 1851, acknowledging receipt of a letter of Henry’s forwarded by Lucius.  The brothers apparently forwarded each other’s letters onward, which may account for some of the gaps in the Ashfield collection.  In some cases, as we’ll see, they also transcribed letters so they could send the latest news along to several places at once.

Lyman says he has been well, but that there has been an outbreak of cholera, both at Fort Smith and in Van Buren.  It originated with soldiers who had lately come up the river, Lyman says, although he blames the disease on the soldiers’ drinking and debauchery once they arrived, not realizing that they probably brought it with them.

The political season was in full swing, Lyman reports, and the hot topic was “disunion.”  Due to its location near the lands recently taken from Mexico in the war ending in 1848, Arkansas was very interested in the debate over extending slavery into the newly acquired territories.  Arkansas Congressman Robert Ward Johnson was Chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs and a fervent supporter of South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, who had urged southerners to reject compromise.  Johnson shocked moderate Arkansas Democrats with his extreme position, and then declared he would not run for reelection in 1851.  This created the confusion Lyman mentions.  Johnson was appointed by the Arkansas State Legislature to serve in the U.S. Senate, and later to the Confederate Senate.  His political career ended when the South lost the Civil War.  Lyman apparently favored the Whig candidate, Col. John Preston, but he didn’t come close to winning as Lyman predicted.

Lyman tells Henry that Mr. Bishop has taken on a partner and that they will have $100,000 in stock for the upcoming season, if the new partner can find a way to float his recent purchases up the dangerously low river.  This is an interesting reminder that before the age of railroads, merchants and their customers depended on water transportation that was much less predictable.  Dry goods bought in Boston had to be shipped down the Atlantic coast and into the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, where they were loaded on flat-bottomed steamboats (which began carrying freight on the Mississippi and its tributaries right after the end of the War of 1812) and shipped north.  Although steam power had reduced the trip upriver from months to days, the boats were still affected by weather conditions and especially by low water levels.

My transcription follows the images:


The original images are from the archives of the Ashfield Historical Society and are used with permission.


Van Buren Arks June 30th 1851

Dear Brother

I recd your esteemed favor (via Michigan) a few days since and was glad to hear from you and to hear that you were all well.  I have enjoyed very good this summer so far but the cholera is among us.  There has been some 10 or 12 deaths from that disease here within a few days.  First the cholera has been raging at Fort Smith, a point on this river about ten miles above this place.  It first originated among the soldiers who had lately come up the river and who had been exposed and had been dissipating and drinking.  There has been some thirty or forty deaths among the soldiers at Ft. Smith.

There is some considerable excitement here in this state at present of the union question.  The nominee of the Democratic convention for M. C. in this district is a dis-union man and there is a great split among the Democrats about it.  They will probably run a union candidate or vote for Mr. Preston the Whig nominee who is a strong union man and a smart man.  Mr. Robt W Johnson is the Democratic nominee who has represented this district in Congress for the last two years.

The candidates are canvassing the district.  They were both of them here and spoke yesterday.  Mr. Preston will probably be elected.

The Arkansas River is very low at present.  None but the smallest of boats can come up it at present.  Dr. Baker, Bishop’s new partner, has been on East to Boston, New York & Phila. and bought about 50,000$ stock of dry goods and am afraid he will not be able to get them up if there does not come a rise in the river.  Mr. Baker bought of one house in Boston (Blanchard Converse & Co.) over 12,000$.  The firm will have about 100,000$ stock this year which is quite a stock for this country.

Harvest is finished here.  Wheat cut about 2 weeks since, green corn sometime since.  The weather is not as hot here as it is at the north.  At times the thermometer scarily even getting above 98.  But it is more steady heat here than at the north.

Give my best respects to Marie and our friends in general.  And to Aunt Jerusha, to whom I would write but I have not time at present.  Write as often as convenient and let me know what you are doing down in the Yankee land.  Lucius made a raise of a half sheet of paper partly filled and sent it with your letter.

Yours affectionately

Lyman A Ranney

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