Updated: Oct 11, 2022
This is not a postally interesting item from 1837, but its contents are poignant.
This is stampless folded letter sent from Boston, Massachusetts to Augusta, Maine. It was sent postpaid on July 31, 1837. The postage rate for this item would have been about 18-cents. That’s all mildly interesting. But the letter…
The letter writer, Emerson Faulkner Carter, starts the letter by profusely apologizing to the recipient, Miss Susan Fisher of Augusta, for taking so long to write given Miss Fisher’s “favors, kindnesses [and] civilities both to me and to my beloved departed companion. To Sarah who loved you kindly and tenderly and to the end.” Sarah was Sarah Tapley Carter, Emerson’s wife who died on December 2, 1836, at age 26 of “consumption” or tuberculosis, more than seven months before Emerson penned this letter.
Emerson continues, “A few hours before her pure spirit took its flight, she bore you on her prayers to the throne of grace, grateful to Him that ordereth all things for the many kindnesses she had received at your home and for the many joyous moments she had spent in your society.” He said Sarah told him to tell Miss Fisher and her other friends that “they have been and I trust are my best dearest friends that ever in the agonies of death. My prayers can testify of my affection [for] them. There were none on Earth save her own sister so dear to her as her friends in Augusta.”
Emerson then writes a bit about Sarah’s last moments. He says “her mind was remarkably clear. … All was clear – all was right and glorious beyond the grave. Unusually so. Said a clergyman one Sabbath addressing his congregation, ‘I never felt that I was so near Heaven as when I was at her bedside.’”
The letter continues, “A few days before her death Amelia was brought in to see her. She took her into her bed, kissed her, bid her goodbye forever and calmly said with a tearless eye and an unruffled brow, ‘She is an interesting little creature…’” I can’t make out the rest of this sentence, but I suspect it was touching since Amelia was Sarah’s one-year-old daughter.
As the end neared, Emerson said, “her mind did not appear to be the least impaired. She did not suffer intensely from pain till about 48 hours before her death. She gradually wore out. … She had a desire to die alone. … I think she was gratified for at the time of her death I was at another part of the room. … I turned to her and she was sweetly breathing her life away. … She had not a struggle but an involuntary motion of one of her limbs. … She now rests at Mt. Auburn at least her body. Her soul I am confident rests in a far more glorious above.”
In the rest of the letter, Emerson talks of his financial struggles since Sarah’s passing. He went into debt to pay for her care, and he was unable to work for four months. He seems confident that he will be able to pay off his bills since he expects some teaching opportunities to come his way. He signs off the letter “Yours, E F Carter.”
Figuring out that the letter writer was Emerson Faulkner Carter was mostly luck on my part. I had some basic information to go on: the letter writer was someone named “E F Carter” who resided in “Boston” and was probably a teacher; the departed was someone named “Sarah” who was buried at “Mt Auburn,” which was probably Mt Auburn Cemetery in Boston; there was someone or something (“creature” equals “pet”?) by the name of “Amelia” involved; and there was some connection to Maine given that the recipient, Miss Fisher, lived in Augusta and that “Bridgton” is mentioned in the letter, which is a town in Maine.
I did a few searches on Ancestry.com for Carter’s in Boston with the first initial E but with no success. I then went to Newspapers.com and searched for any mention of Carter in Boston newspapers between 1836 and 1837. One lead came in the Boston Post of January 2, 1836, where a “Emerson Carter” was listed as having unclaimed mail at the post office.
I then searched for “Emerson Carter” on Ancestry.com and came across a record for Emerson Faulkner Carter, born in Waterford, Maine on November 12, 1810, and who died at age 68 on September 6, 1879, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. That record revealed that Emerson’s first wife was Sarah Tapley Carter who was born in North Bridgton, Maine on March 8, 1810. Sarah died at age 26 on December 2, 1836, in Boston, Massachusetts and was buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. To round out the details from the letter, the records showed that Emerson and Sarah were married in 1832 in Bridgton, Maine and had one child: a daughter named Amelia born in Augusta, Maine in 1835.
Emerson was indeed a teacher (that was his occupation listed in the US Censuses of 1860 and 1870) and a prominent one at that. In a well-documented genealogy titled, History of the Hamlin Family with Genealogies of the Early Settlers of the Name in America 1639-1894, it states that “Professor Emerson Faulkner Carter…was educated in the common school and Bridgton Academy; taught school, Boston, Mass.; Kinderhook Academy, N.Y.; Principal of Young Ladies Seminary, Albany, N.Y., 1845; Associate Principal Temple Grove Seminary, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; established Carter’s Commercial College, Pittsfield, Mass.” Carter’s Commercial College no longer seems to be in existence and how long it operated is unknown. I did find an ad in the June 18, 1879, issue of The Pittsfield Sun that promoted:
Noble’s Block, West Street
And School of Business, A thorough
Commercial course can be had at CARTER’S
COMMERCIAL COLLEGE, Pittsfield, Mass.
In April 1838, about 15 months after Sarah’s passing, Emerson married Paulina Kimball in Portland, Maine. Paulina and he had two children: a son Charles (1841-1864) and a daughter Elizabeth (1856-1924).
Upon his passing in September 1879, The Berkshire County Eagle published a lengthy obituary on Emerson:
Mr. Emerson F. Carter, the well-known principal of Carter’s Commercial College, died at his residence on East Housatonic Street, on Saturday afternoon, aged 69 (sic). Mr. Carter was born at Waterford, Maine, in 1801, and his early life was spent in that place. After teaching for several years in his native state he removed to Boston, where, for a time, he was a submaster in the Eliot grammar school. About 40 years ago he went to New York state and taught successfully in Albany and other cities and towns, and finally established a school for young ladies at Saratoga, which won a fine reputation and was prosperous. He remained there until 1863, when he sold his interest in the school and came to this town, establishing soon after his commercial college, at which institution a great many young men received practical instructions in book-keeping, penmanship and business methods generally. In these departments he was a very competent instructor and his school, for years, was largely attended. In connection with this enterprise he taught penmanship at Maplewood Institute, Miss Salisbury’s school and in the high and first grammar schools, and was also a teacher in the evening schools. It was in attempting to do so much that he broke his health, and though he gave up a number of these engagements it was then too late. He never recovered from the effects of his overdoing, though he has (sic) continued to receive a few pupils even so late as the present summer. Latterly his mind failed as his physical weakness increased and for some months he has been but a wreck of his former self. He was a member of the Baptist church, had been superintendent of the Sunday school, and by all who knew him he was greatly respected. Mr. Carter leaves a wife and two daughters. His son, Capt. Charles Carter, was wounded at New Orleans, and died in consequences his injuries immediately on arriving here.
The funeral was attended from the late residence of the deceased, on Tuesday, Rev. Mr. Gile officiating, and many friends of the family attending to manifest their regard for one who lived a good and useful life and left a good man’s name.
The reference to “wounded at New Orleans” refers to the Battle of New Orleans during the Civil War, a naval battle that took place from April 25-May 1, 1862, and resulted in the capture of the New Orleans by Union forces.
And what of the letter’s recipient and Sarah’s dear friend, Miss Susan Fisher? I’ve been able to find a single likely candidate, one Susan – or Susannah or Susanna – Fisher. Susan, who lived her entire life in Augusta and never married and died intestate per her probate documents, was born on December 14, 1798, and died on February 27, 1879. She is listed in the Augusta city directories as “Miss Susan Fisher” and was a milliner and dealt in worsted goods. She ran regular ads in the local newspapers, such as the Kennebec Journal. Her obituary in the March 5, 1879, Kennebec Journal reads:
Miss Susan Fisher, for many years well known by our people as a milliner and fancy goods dealer, died last Thursday night, at Litchfield, where she was visiting relatives and friends. Her age was 82 years. She was a long a resident of Augusta, and a most respected lady.
This folder letter was acquired in a group of 60 covers at a July 16, 2022, Sterling Stamps auction. The cost for all 60 covers was $170.00 plus a 15% buyers' premium, which works out to about $3.25 per cover.
Figure 1 - Front
Figure 2- Page 1 of letter
Figure 3 - Page 2 of letter
Figure 4 - Page 3 of letter
Figure 5 - Page 4 of letter