Buried in the archives of the New York Historical Society, amid wills, deeds and other mundane paperwork produced over the course of hundreds of years, hides a letter. As stories of the far off Mexican American War dominated the headlines a young man in Richmond put quill to paper and wrote to his aunt, Maria Dyckman, back in Inwood.
While I’ve read, and even written, about the Dyckman family, they always felt like what they are, figures from history. Likely never before published , this letter, written on thin, nearly translucent paper, captures the Dyckman family in an era marked by uncertainty, and ultimately, Civil War.
Richmond 27th April 1847
My dear Aunt Maria,
I have been intending for a fortnight past to write you a letter, but every day something has happened to prevent, having been closely occupied with business of various kinds, and I beg that you will now accept my apologies for the neglect. It has not arisen, I assure you, from forgetfulness, for I have thought of you many times and Ma has requested more than once, that I write to you for her. As I have seated myself to do so at last, I have but one request to make in return and that is that you will let us hear occasionally from you concerning the health of yourself and the family at
We are all very well and the children are growing finely. Little Sarah has improved very much and is not troubled so much with her sores as she was when you left us. She walks all over the house (except up and down stairs) and is as sprightly as possible. She remembers you we think, for when we ask her sometimes “where Aunt Maria is?” she will look around the room for you. Susy is very well and Sister Susan’s children are all in excellent health.
She made up her mind to go very suddenly, an opportunity presenting itself for an escort, which she feared might not occur again in a short time.
Sister Susan is making preparations for accommodating several of the Presbyterian Clergy, who will be here at the session of the General Assembly next month. About 250 ministers are expected to attend and will continue in session for a fortnight or more.
The weather is mild at present but has been astonishingly cold for spring, and yesterday morning there was quite a heavy frost. Of course all the fruit is killed, peaches, cherries, apples and even early vegetables and the strawberries. This and the want of ice will be a great privation to us during our long (sic) summer.
We have just got through our State Elections and the Whig Cause has been triumphant in the election of Mr. Botts, which has occasioned great joy in Richmond. But Mr. Botts himself has little occasion for joy, for to-morrow he will have to bury his eldest son Lieut. Botts, who died in Mexico, and whose remains reached Richmond this morning by the Southern Train. The funeral will be conducted with military honors and the discourse will be delivered by the Rev. Mr. Hoge.
Daniel Webster is expected to arrive in Richmond this afternoon.
Papa and Ma write with me in affectionate regards to Uncles Isaac and Michael and James Smith and much love for yourself. Sister Susan also sends her love and the children kisses.
Maria’s nephew signs the name Thompson to the letter, but for the life of me I cannot decipher the initials before “Thompson”
If you’d like to read even more on the colorful and tragic life of Richmond politician John Minor Botts, click here to read a fascinating bio from the period.