1863: Elizabeth Sprague Tenney to John Tenney

These four letters were written by Elizabeth “Lizzie” Sprague Tenney, the daughter of John Tenny (1799-1853) and his first wife, Mary Augusta Bartlett. Lizzie’s father was an 1824 graduate of Dartmouth and an attorney and County Commissioner in Essex county, Massachusetts. He was also a Representative and a Senator of the Massachusetts State Legislature. Lizzie had three full siblings — Margaret Tenney (1831-1839), Edward Jarvis Tenney (1833-1853), and Mary Augusta Tenney (1837-1905). After Lizzie’s mother died, her father married Augusta Elizabeth Sprague in 1844. Her father had four more children before he died in 1853. These four were named Margaret (1845-1905), John (1847-1905), Laura (1849-1922) and Augusta (1852-1905).

Lizzie wrote all four of these letters to her half-sibling, John (“Johnny”) Tenney (1847-1905). Johnny was educated at Andover Academy and went to sea at the age of 14. These four letters were addressed to him while part of the crew aboard the Samuel Appleton — a merchant vessel commissioned by Fisher, Ricards & Co. of New York City and commanded by Capt. Osborn while on a long voyage to Australia and Singapore. Johnny returned to the United States in 1864 and spent some time in the Navy before entering the insurance business and settling in Philadelphia.

“Sidney” is often mentioned in these letters. This was Joseph Sidney Howe (1832-1923), the husband of Mary Augusta Tenney (Lizzy’s sister). Sidney was a civil engineer and for over forty years the town clerk in Methuen, Massachusetts.

From these letters we learn that Lizzie was keeping house for her step-mother’s sister, Mary Louisa (Sprague) Fellows (1815-1875), in Chelsea, Suffolk county, Massachusetts. Mary was the daughter of Joseph Sprague (1771-1833) and Margaret (“Peggy”) Osgood (1778-1837). Mary was the wife of Col. John Foster Fellows (1815-1887) who commanded the 17th Massachusetts Infantry. Mary’s son was Capt. Charles Oliver Fellows (1845-1924) who served with his father in the 17th Mass.

Lizzie never married.


Chelsea [Massachusetts]
December 7th 1862

Dear Brother John,

I wrote you a very short letter a day or two ago thinking the mail left the next day and it was all I should have time for — besides I was feeling very much disappointed that your letter had been delayed. But now everything is all right. Your very interesting and gratifying letter has at last been received and if you enjoy those you get from home as much as we have enjoyed yours, then it would be very safe to say that letters are a great institution. I am so happy to think that you are getting along so well and that everybody is so kind to you. I can think of my sailor brother with a great deal of pleasure and your letter to Mother telling her of your determination to do right even if strong temptations are put before you will do her more good than you can tell. [page creased — missing text] We thank [Capt. Osborn] for his kindness and care for you and the great interest he takes in your welfare. He speaks very favorably of you to his wife and says he has no doubt but that John will always be a comfort to his mother. Charley [Oliver Fellows] says your experience as a sailor is not much like his first experience and he would most willingly throw up his commission in the army and step into your shoes. I am very glad you are not in the army for I think camp life is most ruinous to a young man’s morals.

You know that Gen. McClellan has been deprived of the command of the Army of the Potomac and Burnside has been put in his place. McClellan’s method of prosecuting the war was not satisfactory to the authorities in the land so he was ordered to retire to private life. Poor Little Mac. I pity him. But his farewell speech to his army was so manly and in such good taste that I could but admire the man even for that one thing alone. They are doing nothing now. There seems to be a perfect stagnation of all warlike [activities] for the present but I suppose it won’t last long.


Samuel Cook Oliver

Samuel [Cook] Oliver resigned his commission as Lt. Col. of the 14th Massachusetts and formed a company and was appointed Capt. in the 35th Massachusetts. In the Battle of Antietam which occurred in September and in which our troops were victorious, Capt. Oliver was injured in the spine by the bursting of a shell which paralyzed his whole body with the exception of his head and shoulders. ¹ He is much better now and can hobble about on crutches and the Dr. thinks he will in time recover the use of his legs. He has had a pretty hard time and is at Gov. Andrews’ house.

Have you heard that Uncle Joseph [Fellows] has a third son which they call Joseph? I suppose Mary will tell you all about dear little Carrie’s sickness and death. She had grown to be such a sweet little pet that we all loved her very much. She was very sick for a fortnight and then when the Dr. thought she might recover, the disease went to her brain and the angel’s bore her pure spirit to heaven. O she looked so sweetly as she lay so still in her little casket. One could hardly believe death could be so lovely. Poor Sancho missed her little playmate and at first seemed quite unconsolable. He would wander about the house looking sad and lonely till he saw something she used to play with when he would brighten up and look as if he expected to see little Carrie running about again.

I think your plan of writing a good long letter to all together is very good. It is easier to you and we all have the benefit of it and by writing in the way you did you would be likely to get a good long letter. still I must confess I should not feel at all troubled to have one all to myself. I hope you have no difficulty in reading  your letters from home. Put them over a clean sheet of white paper and you will have no trouble. I was surprised to see how well you had written your letter and how well it was expressed. I felt quite proud of you. The first thing I do when the paper comes is to look at the ship news to see if the Samuel Appleton has been spoken. The day after Thanksgiving, Mary (who was visiting me) and I had been in the city all day and I had no chance to look at the paper till after I went upstairs to bed and after I was undressed, I told Mary I could not go to bed till I had looked at the ship news and the first thing I saw was your safe arrival in Melbourne. I woke up Margie who was sleeping in another room to tell her the good news and we all had quite a gay time over it for we knew that the same steamer must have brought letters from you.

Good night and God bless you. From your sister, — Lizzie

¹ Capt. Samuel Cook Oliver’s was wounded late in the day at the Battle of Antietam. The regiment had lost more than 200 men and officers, including 69 killed and mortally wounded. “At or about six p.m.,” recalled Oliver, “when nearly and safely through that terrible day, by the explosion of a shell, a fragment of which cut a piece from my hat, another fragment nearly severing my badge of rank from my left shoulder, I was thrown violently backwards against a stone wall or batch of large rocks, rendering me for a while insensible. I was carried from the field utterly helpless.”  [See Sam Oliver Gets Married by Ronald S. Coddington]


[January 1863]

Dear Brother John,

This Sabbath evening the children have all gone to Sabbath School and Aunt Laura and I are all alone. I came up with Mamie to pass the day. Your last letters home have been probably lost. It is too bad that we should miss any of them but I suppose that is something that often happens when they come so far. The China arrived in New York a few days ago with a mail from Australia and we are on the lookout for your letters. I wish they could come before this is sent off. You can’t tell how much good your last letters did us all.

There is not much news to tell you about. The President issued his Proclamation the first of January liberating all the slaves in those states which have taken up arms against the government. The Rebels are very much provoked about it but what the final effect will be it is hard to determine.


Col. John Foster Fellows, 17th Mass

They have had several battles in North Carolina lately in which our troops have been successful. Uncle John [Fellows’] regiment [17th Mass Infantry] did finely and he is very highly spoken of in the papers. It is now thought that the war will be more actively carried on in North Carolina than in the other states. There has not been much accomplished of late and in very many cases the rebels have got the advantage. The aspect of the war is not very encouraging but we hope it will turn out best and this unnatural strife soon ended. Charley Fellows is yet at home an may be some time longer.

You will have letters from Mother by this same mail and from her you will learn some Andover news although I know she is not much of a news teller. Her Christmas presents were very handsome. Mr. Allen gave her $60.00. Mr. Wheeler and some few of the old students sent her $15.00 and Aunt Sarah Sprague sent her 25.00. Then Uncle Joseph Andrews ¹ gave her two barrels of sugar and everything else is outrageously high. It is a terribly cold day and one can hardly manage to keep comfortably warm even over a hot stove. I suppose it is the heat of summer where you are. I wish it was so here. I feel almost frozen.

How do you get along as [paper torn]… Do you keep your stockings well darned? I should like to see you mending and washing. I saw by the paper that your ship had sailed for Otago three months ago. This will reach you at or from Singapore. Three years seems a very long time when I think you may perhaps be gone that time and how much changed you will be. I can not realize it. But I am so glad that you are not in the army. It is so much better to be where you are under Capt. Osgood. I heard that the other boys on board the ship are discontented. I hope it is not so — poor fellows. I pity anybody who is homesick. I know what the feeling is and would not recommend it to my friends generally.

Mr. [William Burnet] Wright and Lucretia [Osgood] Johnson ² were married on New Years Day. Miss Johnson’s engagement with Mr. Fenn was broken off, I believe, before you went away and when Mr. Wright came home from Germany they were engaged.

Prof. [Calvin Ellis] Stowe[Calvin Ellis] Stowe‘s family will leave Andover for Hartford in the spring. I guess the Andover people will say “good riddance” for they are not great favorites there.

Now Johnny, I have almost got to the end of my sheet and what would I not give to see you tonight. Do you remember the time you came down here before Aunt Mary [Fellows] went to Somerville ³ when I was afraid  to come alone? I remember it well and wish you were here now. Always try to do right and be able to tell Mother in every letter you write to her that you have contracted no bad habits and it will make her heart glad for she has great hopes in you. I am expecting Mary here tomorrow. She will stay a week here and at Margie Hall’s and Sidney will be here most of that time too. I expect we will have a grand time together. Mother passed two nights with me last week. I wish I could be at home for mother misses me very much these long winter evenings. Aunt Laura & Mamie and all the rest here send ever so much love to you. I hope that very soon I shall have a nice bundle of letters sent down from Andover which have come from our sailor boy far over the water. God bless and take care of you and keep you from all danger and sin and bring you back safe to us, our pure-hearted, noble-minded brother. Mother and all of us will feel so proud of you. I wish I could put myself in this letter and go off to you. What do you suppose the postage would be at 3 cents for ¼ of an oz? What would 200 pounds cost? With ever so much love and ever so many hearty earnest prayers for your safety and prosperity. From your affectionate sister, — Lizzie

¹ Joseph Andrews (1808-1869) of Salem was a Brig. Gen. in the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He was the Adj. Gen. Commander at Fort Warren on Georgia Island in Boston Harbor from May 1862 to 21 August 1862. He also served as the 9th Mayor of Salem from 1854 to 1856. He married 1st, Elizabeth Maria Sprague on 10 October 1832. He married 2d, Judith Walker on 15 January 1857.

² Lucretia Osgood Johnson (1835-1886) was married to William Burnet Wright, Jr. (1838-1924) on 1 January 1863 in Baltimore, Maryland. William studied divinity at the Andover Theological Seminary from July 1858 to January 1860 and then matriculated at the University of Berlin in Germany. He traveled in Europe until June 1862 when he returned to the United States and was ordained pastor of the South Congregational Church at Chicago.

³ Apparently Lizzie’s aunt, Mary (Sprague) Fellows, suffered from mental health problems as she spent two years at the Somerville Asylum.


Andover [Massachusetts]
August 19th 1863

Dear brother John,

You see that I am at home and glad enough am I to be here. Martha has quite a large family although it is vacation. Augustus Emerton, ¹ Carrie, Freddy, Mary Osgood, Minnie & Josie, Aunt Laura & Mamie & Louise Fellows and four theologues besides our own family. It is beautiful weather now and Andover was never looking pleasanter than now. Mother’s new home is such an improvement on the old one.

We were all delighted to get your last letters and very happy to hear that you are so contented and cheerful. Singapore & Shanghai must be much pleasanter ports than Melbourne and there must be many new & strange sights to interest you. My mouth fairly watered to read what you said in your letter of pineapples, bananas, and other tropical fruits. When you get home we shall look upon you as a man who has seen a good deal of the world and who knows much more about many things than we have ever dreamed of.

Mother is pretty well but she has a great deal of care and a great many people to feed. I hope before a great while to be at home to relieve her. Aunt Mary [Fellows] is a great deal better and the Dr. says she will be well enough to come back to her family in the winter.

There is not much war news now. Everything has been very quiet since the surrender of Vicksburg and Port Hudson but there are great preparations going on for the attack on Charleston and I suppose that just as soon as the weather gets a little cooler, the troops will put forth all their energies and take that city. After that, I think the war will be pretty much over as far as fighting goes. Will Mason has gone to visit one of the boys who board here — Henry Cowles. ² Do you know him?

We shall be on the lookout for your likeness with a great deal of eagerness and depend upon seeing it. I am going to Lawrence this afternoon and will see about getting some likeness to send to you as soon as they can be got. We will send Sidney’s, Gussies, and mine all of which have been taken, and then will send the others when we can have them taken.


Capt. Charles Oliver Fellows, 17th Mass

Uncle John † & Charley Fellows are still at Newbern. Charley recently captured three rebels who were mounted & armed with carbines and swords and the Commanding General gave a gun & sword to Charley as a reward for bravery. Most of the troops that went off for nine months have returned and they have drafted for more men. In New York & Boston there was great resistance made to the draft but everywhere else it was very quiet. There were a good many names drafted in Methuen but we were very glad that Sidney was not among them. George & John Lawyer & John Merrill ³ and one of the Gordon’s who live near Sidney’s were drafted. Uncle Joseph Andrews has hired a house very near Cousin Mary Mason’s in Boston and will move his family there in October. Lizzie & Sam will probably stay in the old house in Salem at present. Sam is appointed Major in a new regiment and may leave for the war at any time.

You can’t tell, John, how much good it does mother and all of us to hear that you are doing well and are happy. The Capt. speaks very highly of you and says John is a good boy & faithful and trustworthy. It is a great comfort to hear such pleasant news of you and makes mother more happy than you can know. The children will some of them write you so I will leave the other half of this sheet for them. Mother will write too. I suppose there is not much news in Methuen. I wish you were here to go over to Mary’s with us. Guess Sancho will know and be glad to see you. With very much love to you from all. I am your affectionate sister, — Lizzie

¹ Augustus Emerton (1827-1901) was a resident of Salem, Massachusetts.

² Possibly Henry Augustine Cowles (1846-1864), the son of John Phelps Cowles (1805-1890) and Eunice C. Cowles (1811-1903) of Ipswich, Essex county, Massachusetts.

³ John Kelly Merrill (b. 1836) was the son of Washington and Abigail Merrill of Methuen, Essex county, Massachusetts. John’s occupation was given as “hatter” in 1860. At the time of the 1863 Draft Registration, his occupation was given as “teacher.”

† Lt. Col. John Foster Fellows (1815-1887) commanded the 17th Massachusetts Infantry. His son, Charles O. Fellows served with him in the 17th Mass.


Chelsea [Massachusetts]
September 16th 1863

My dear brother John,

The last letter I wrote to you was from Andover where we all went to pass the vacation. Eddie was at Mary’s almost six weeks. He had a splendid time there. He assisted about the farm work a good deal and had great times with Sancho. Did you know that Sidney has got a new horse? His name is is Tige and they say he is the fastest horse in Methuen. He ran away the other day and broke the chaise. Everything else about the farm is about the same as when you went away. Fanny, Old John, and Old Tom are still fixtures there. I am going up to Mary’s to pass a week next month and we are going down to Salem with Fanny & the chaise to pass the night. Mrs. Cabot is going down in her carriage at the same time. Don’t you think it will be pleasant?

Aunt Mary Fellows is a great deal better and will be well enough to come back to her family this winter. We are all very glad and there is nobody more glad than I am. Only think, I have been here more than two years and it will seem almost strange to have Aunt Mary back again.

There is not much news to tell you about. Sydney has told the little news there is about the war. There is nothing at all going on excepting the bombardment of Charleston. It has been feared that we should have trouble with France for they seemed to favor the rebel cause but the last steamer brings the news that there will be no intervention by France — that she will remain neutral satisfied for the present with the acquisition of Mexico. Every steamer that arrives we hope will bring some news from you. It must be very tiresome to stay as long at Singapore although it must be much pleasanter than your long stay at Melbourne. I suppose it would be very dangerous to attempt to bring the ship home now while the sea is so infested with rebel pirates. Tonight’s paper brings the news of the narrow escape of a Boston ship from China who fell in with pirates off the Cape of Good Hope. They got clear of them only by throwing overboard a part of their cargo & provisions and lighting the ship so that she could outsail them. I shall feel very anxious if you start for home while there are so many of the confounded pirates on the track of ships homeward bound from China. I hope the owners of the Samuel Appleton will conclude to sell the ship at Singapore is she is not seaworthy and then you would come home overland. On many accounts that would be very pleasant but still it would be pleasant to come back in the old ship for you have been in her so long that it must seem quite like home. There is one thing you may be pretty sure of and that is that you will find a warm welcome whenever & however you come. I hope you were not very sick and that you were not sick long. It must be pretty dubious to be sick on board ship so far from home. I hope we shall hear from you very soon. While you stay in Singapore you will probably hear from home quite often for we shall write every fortnight.

When I was at home, Kate Abbot came up one day to pass the afternoon with Margie. She is a real pretty girl and behaves more sensibly than most of the girls now-a-days. What a pretty girl her sister Helen is too. Did you know that Mr. Carleton has left the school and they have got a new teacher? The boys hated Mr. Carleton and they are glad enough to have someone to take his place. Uncle Sam looks as fat and as stern as ever.

This paper is so thin that I fear you may have trouble to read it but I shall try to get some more before I write again. The children all send love to you. Eddie is going to Newbern next month to make a visit. He is hoping to have a gay time as he calls it. Mother and all the rest were well when I left them about a week ago. You will have a letter from Mother by the next steamer. With ever so much love and best wishes for your safety and happiness, I must bid you good night. From your sister, — Lizzie

What do you think of my photograph? It is not quite as good as some others I had taken.

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