3 May 15, 1842

In May of 1842, 23-year-old Lucius writes to his older brother Henry of his arrival in Allen Michigan, after a 10 day journey from Phelps. He announces he has bought a quarter section (160 acres) of prime farmland for $148 cash and his wagon and team of horses.  Lucius describes the property, listing the distances to neighbors and nearby towns, inventorying the trees and water on the parcel, and noting that the railroad will run only six miles from the property later in the year.   


Illustration in an 1884 history of Michigan railroads, showing the types of “cars” that first reached Hillsdale in 1843.


Lucius mentions that their brother Lewis came down to see him, but was unable to wait for him to arrive.  Lewis had a farm in St. Joseph County, about fifty miles away, where he had continued a Ranney family tradition by being the first farmer to successfully grow peppermint in Michigan.  Lucius also says their father is “very low” and that although their parents intend to move from New York to Michigan in the fall, he doesn’t think they will. He was right: their father George Ranney Jr. died in Phelps in September 1842.

Lucius tells Henry he plans to plant winter wheat and gives the current prices for wheat, corn, and oats.  He closes by asking Henry to write soon, and to send Massachusetts newspapers so he can keep up with events out east.

Like the earlier letter from Lewis, Lucius’s letter to Henry reveals their shared interest not only in news of the family, but in the specific details of the land Lucius has bought.  The list of tree species and the remark “you may judge what the soil is for yourself” suggests that the brothers remain very interested in each other’s success.  The slightly boastful tone of Lucius’s descriptions implies there may be some friendly sibling rivalry involved, too.    


My transcription follows the images of the letter:



Letter from Lucius Ranney to H.S. Ranney, May 15, 1842. The original images are from the archives of the Ashfield Historical Society and are used with permission.


Allen May 15th 1842

Respected Brother

I now take the present moment to drop a few lines to you as perhaps it will be interesting to you to read, for I suppose that you know that I am in the woods.  I arrived here on the fourth of the present month being ten days on the road with a team.  I am happy to say that I am well in good spirits and well suited with my location.

I have a warrantee deed of one hundred sixty acres of as good land as there is in Michigan.  For said land I paid one hundred and forty eight dollars, a span of horses, one wagon and harness which we calc $280.00 for it and I would not take a song for the bargain.

Lewis was here about three of four days before I arrived here.  He thought I was here, stayed two days expecting me along.  He then wrote a line and left.  He writes that he and a fellow by the name of Smith have set twenty four acres of mint this spring and it is large enough to hoe.  It is in the town of Florence St. Jo. Co. 5 miles from White Pigeon north I think.

Father was very low with a liver complaint or consumption when I left home.  I have not heard from him since I left.  The rest were well as usual.

There is a good spring of water on my land.  A brook runs through the back part of it which there is two saw mills within one mile of it.  A road on 2 sides of it.  12 houses within 1 1/2 mile of it.  9 miles south west of Jamesville.  3 miles south of Allen being in the timbered land white wood and maple beech butnut bass black walnut oak hickory are the principal timber on the land.  You may judge what the soil is for yourself.  Six miles from Hillsdale Center which the railroad will be completed to from Adrian this season.

I am calculating to sow ten acres of wheat this fall and fix some for building.  Our folks are expecting to move out here this fall but I don’t think that they will.  I stayed with Orren Ranney one night in Adrian.  He is in the mercantile business and is a doing well I expect.

Wheat is worth 87 1/2 cents per bushel here oats 25 corn 31.  I wish you would send the papers along here into the woods at least 1 or 2 a week so that I can pass of leisure time in a pleasant way.  Direct yours to Sylvanus, Hillsdale Co.  I have my board for $1.25 per week.  I don’t think of anything more to write just now.  Give my respects to all inquiring friends.  If you can solve this writing you will do well.  Write as soon as convenient.

This from a Distant Brother

Lucius Ranney

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