Keeping tabs on the family in 1850

In another of the Ranney Letters from Ashfield, Lucius writes Henry from Allen Michigan in March 1850.  He mentions that he has not written in a long time, and later remarks that neither has Henry. We can’t be sure how long the brothers have been out of touch, but probably not for as long as the previous letter in the archive, from April 1843, would suggest. Chances are that after a century and a half, some of the letters are missing from this archive. In any case, letters seem to be moving between Ashfield, Phelps, and Michigan, because Lucius has heard from Alonzo Franklin that Henry has heard from Lyman.

One possibility is that whole letters were sent on from Ashfield to another brother, rather than transcribe all the news coming from one brother for the benefit of the next. In any case, we can assume Lucius and Henry have been out of direct contact for at least half a year, because Lucius announces that he was married about six months earlier to a local girl, whom he describes as “19 years old, her health is good, &c.”  Lucius gives Henry an update on all the family doings, including those of their cousins Lucretia and Frederick. Lucius thinks their brothers Lewis and Harrison are not as hardworking as they might be, but he describes younger brother Lemuel as “doing very well I suppose, but still takes the world easy & gains the goodwill of the people & has plenty of fun with the Indians and girls.” Their one sister, Priscilla, has had a daughter (Mary, b. Nov. 1849, d. Aug 1852), and Lucius adds some news about their brother-in-law Randolph Densmore.

A local physician and his students have been caught dissecting a stolen corpse, Lucius tells Henry. This happened a lot in the early 19th century — both the stealing of bodies by medical students and the prosecution of those who were caught. This may be of extra interest to the Ranneys because Dr. Charles Knowlton, their friend and doctor in Ashfield, had served time at hard labor in Massachusetts for the same crime (but that’s another story…)

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My transcription:


Allen March 10th 1850
Dear Friends

I am aware as well as yourselves that it has been a long time since I have written to you. Consequently methinks this will be gratefully received.  We are all well as usual, Mother is not very rugged however this winter. Our friends are also well.

I received a letter from A.F. a day or two since.  He says he recd a letter from you a few days since from which I understand that you have received one from Lyman.  Consequently I shall say little about him.  He has in my opinion made as food a move as perchance he could in going to Arkansas.  He wrote us about the time he did you.  He is quite steady & shrewd & has a good education, & that is you are aware a fortune to a young man.

I suppose that you have heard that I was married but let that be as it may.  I can safely say that I am.  I was married the 17th of Oct last.  My wife’s name was Clarissa A Wilcox.  She is 19 years old, her health is good, &c.  As for Lemuel, he is at Grand Rapids. I suppose he wrote us a letter about two months ago & we have other means of hearing from him. He is at work at his trade, he is doing very well I suppose, but still takes the world easy & gains the goodwill of the people & has plenty of fun with the Indians and girls. We expect him home this spring.  He left here last spring.  He worked in Paw Paw, Van Buren Co. The past summer.  He worked in Albion, Calhoun Co., a while in the fall, then he went to the Rapids where I suppose he now is.

Franklin wrote that his family was well.  I suppose that you know nearly as much about his affairs as I do.  Lewis and Harrison are at work on their places doing tolerably well.  They do not work very hard, perhaps I need not tell you that, but they are generally busy.  They are making some improvements.

Densmore is into all kinds of business & is bound to have a good living while he is sojourner upon Earth.  He & a partner slaughtered four thousand sheep last fall for the pelts & tallow out of which they made five hundred dollars.  This winter he is a butchering some & is working some at his trade &c.  He shifts too much for his own interest, I think.

Anson lives at home yet.  We are a jogging along after the old sort.  We are making sugar some at present.  We have made 100 lbs.  We have 14 acres of wheat on the ground which looks very well as yet.  Wheat is worth 75 cts, corn 25 cts, oats 18 cts, hay $6.00 &c.  We have one pair of horses, one yoke of oxen, 6 cows, 70 sheep, 2 roosters & one duck.  Also many other fine things.

We have had an open winter here.  We have not had any good sleighing, but about 2 weeks of poor sleighing.  A great deal of rain.  Aunt Polly, Frederick and family are out to Grand River.  I suppose Lyman wrote you about Uncle Henry Sears, Nathan’s family, &c.  There is no doubt in my mind but Uncle Henry has feathered his nest out of Uncle Paul’s property in Texas.  Who blames him?  Not I.  But some of you Ashfield boys ought to go and make him a visit.

Harrison likes the country well in the vicinity of Mt. Carmel.  Harrison has the Yellow Fever to a small degree, say a buck load or such a matter.  I have not had it yet & think I shall not bad, as long as I have plenty of Pork & Beans.  But human nature is not easily satisfied.  Clarissa and I was a visiting at Mr. Cross who married Lucretia Ranney this winter, they were well.  Abner Rogers’ family, some of them live near there.  Benjamin Rogers lost his wife last summer or fall.  He married another in six weeks. He has ten children.  They live in Lenawee County, I suppose you know that.

There is quite an excitement raging here in our town at present.  There is been found the bones of a human being, a Female, with the share of flesh on, found in a bag.  It was found in a field in the fence corner, covered with barks, a day or two since.  It was badly mutilated. It is supposed to have been dug up from some of the neighboring burying grounds by a Physician & student & two or three more.  They have been arrested & I suppose sufficient testimony can be found against them to convict them.  They have been dissecting it for two or three weeks. They have been watched. They found that they were like to be pursued & they secreted it in that shape.  The people let them work for the sake of getting sufficient testimony against them.  It will probably go hard with them.  It is no particular honor to the place but I want to show you what is a going on in this heathen land.

I have nothing more in particular to write.  We should be happy to see you here & if not convenient for that we would like to hear from that way soon.  If my memory serves me you have not written for a long time.  I have endeavored to give you the outlines of some of the most important news that is now in my mind, so you must excuse me for this time.  You have discovered of course that my writing is good, but poor ink.

Our folks all send their respects to you all.  Franklin’s little girl, Ellen Isabel, is here this winter & goes to school.  The rail road is a going to leave Hillsdale & continue west some ways I suppose.  They have commenced work on it.

This from your affectionate brother
Lucius Ranney

Priscilla has a daughter five months old, her health is quite good.