Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge to Virginia J. Randolph Trist
|Philadelphia. Sept. 14. 26.|
I intended dear Virginia to write to you from Richmond, but had not one moment to do it in. I committed your gingham &c to Martha W. praying her to send them immediately. the packet contained besides the gingham (which you will be surprised to hear was the best I could get,) some cambric & floss cotton for Mary, a plaid frock with scarlet ribbons for Ellen Wayles, & a few yards of rose colored ribbon for darling little Matty. the plaid was by no means t so pretty as I wished but I trusted to Jane Richardson’s taste which deceived me in this instance. the rose ribbon I got a whole piece of for about 2 ½ cents a yard and thought it would be a good width for minikin. we left Richmond very early sunday morning; I was pleased at the attentions we received there from some of my old friends especially Mrs Watson & Mrs Rootes—this last made quite a conquest of Joseph & she certainly is a lovely woman.—She has the most splendid collection of rare & beautiful plants, among which are two or three grand bushes of the citronella. two years ago the spot where she now lives was a muddy bank of red clay. her taste has converted it into one of the prettiest spots I know. they have a neat & convenient house in the midst of a square yard, part of which is in turf & the rest covered with pots & boxes containing green house plants beautifully & tastily arranged, & which having decorated the open ground during summer, are, in winter, deposited in a small green-house back of the dwelling house. we left the Eagle the day after our arrival in Richmond & removed to Mrs Richardson’s where I found much kindness but a most distressing quantity of dirt. I cannot understand how people who have seen better days can so immediately degenerate in their habits & modes of life. we came down the river in company with Gen. & Mrs Taylor. Joseph was delighted with the Gen. & I most agreably disappointed in Madame, whom I found kind polite & sociable. the day would have passed pleasantly, could I have forgotten that every moment of time increased the space which separated me from all I love on earth, except the two dear ones who accompanied me in to what I must always feel as an a state of exile. New-England & Boston may have great advantages over Virginia, but the heart of a woman ever remains untravelled; and like the poor the Greenlander who pines amid the pleasures and luxuries of civilized Europe, for the dear barren shores of his poor but cherished home, she and woman ever prefers the spots endeared by recollection & association, to any that derive their value from a superiority of in things that address themselves to her reason rather than her affections. one unpleasant occurrence considerably damped the spirits of the female passengers on board the steam-boat Richmond in which we had taken our passage. there is a furious rivalship between the two boats which ply from Richmond to Norfolk, & on this occasion, as on some others, they carried their animosity so far as to run foul of one another, to the great terror of the women, & rage of the men, who reciprocally blamed the captains of the opposing boats, although I suspect both were to blame in perhaps an equal degree. I am however unwilling to impute any fault to the gállant & gallánt commander of our bark, who seemed quite too much of a gentleman to do any thing to distress the ladies. we were assured there was no danger, but I for one was what Lady Mary would I call “very handsomely frightened”. we reached Norfolk at nine & having deposited Baby & her nurse at a boarding-house, we took a long, rapid & fatiguing walk in search of Aunt Hackley, whom, we found, with all her household in bed. we gained admittance however, & I went into her bed room & staid until nearly eleven. little Martha is quite a beauty but exceedingly coy & coquettish. the next morning the whole family came to the boarding house & remained until nine when I took a reluctant leave & went on board the steam-boat for Baltimore. I felt very anxious to see more of Aunt Hackley & would willingly have tarried a day or two, but Joseph was desirous of getting on, and there was something in the air of the place that warned us off. I have never breathed in an atmosphere so heavy so oppressive so burthensome to the lungs. I waked in the night terrifyed with the thought of suffocation, & when the sun rose, the heat became in early morning more intense than [. . .] elsewhere, at noon. it is a kind of heat too more difficult to bear than any I ever felt. dull sluggish & overpowering it causes the blood to creep slowly & heavily through the veins, a general torpor benumbs the whole frame, it becomes a painful effort to move the limbs, while a dead weight presses upon the heart, [. . .] the lungs play with difficulty & a clammy perspiration covers the body from the hair of the head to the burning soles of the heavy & feeble f[. . .] the aspect of the city, as I traversed it with rapid steps to gain [. . .] boat which was to bear my darling child to a purer atmosphere, seemed to me plague-struck & devoted. the grass was growing rank in the streets, forcing its way thro between the paving stones, & a fever-cloud appeared to overhang the whole place through which the beams of the a hot & sickly sun struggled to penetrate. Joseph looks over my shoulder & laughs at the force of fancy as he calls it, but most true it is that I never felt so oppressed or so much alarmed at the thought of infection & disease, & it was not until going rapidly through the waters of the Elizabeth we entered the bay & met the fresh elastic sea breeze that I believed myself safe. moreover in a part of the town remote from the one where we were, three individuals had died of the black vomit in the 24 hours preceding our arrival. Aunt H’s house is in a very healthy situation or I should feel quite unhappy about her. we left Norfolk at nine in the morning & reached Philadelphia about eight P. m M. the following evening being a distance of more than 300 miles in less than 36 hours. we did not go on shore at Baltimore, but took precautions for the safe delivery of Nicholas’s box of books & notes, & Mama’s gown into the hands of Dabney Carr. adieu my dearest sister, we are stopping 2 days in Philadelphia, the weather being gloomy & the baby suffering from a bad cold. our situation is not very comfortable at a crouded boarding house, & I am writing with a tooth pick & the washings of an ink bottle. my best & dearest love to all & for you the assurance of my warmest affection.