Ranney Letter #22

Lyman writes Henry in the winter of 1852, saying that he is healthy and that his older brother Harrison is “still living in the Indian Nation,” after apparently taking the job that Lyman had done there the previous year. Lyman has served on several juries, and tells Henry about the weather and local conditions.

Henry has said he plans to visit Michigan the following summer, and Lyman says he would like to do the same. Lyman also mentions that he wants to go the World’s Fair. He is referring to the “
Exhibition of Industry of All Nations,” held in New York City from July to November, 1853. This was the first such fair held in America, and it attracted over a million visitors and featured a “Crystal Palace” that emulated the one built for the very successful 1851 fair in London. But this is the final letter from Lyman in the collection, so I don’t know if he ever made it.

My Transcription:

Van Buren Arks Dec. 6
th 1852
Dear Brother

I embrace the present opportunity of writing you a few lines. I have enjoyed remarkably good health for some time past. Harrison is still living in the Indian Nation at the point where I stayed last winter. The United States District Court has just closed here after holding for some three weeks. There has been twelve or fifteen convicted during the term of the court. Some are sentenced to the penitentiary. Others are (three) sentenced to be hung for murder, among whom is an Indian. I was on four different
Juries, one the Jury was “hung” for three days.

The Arkansaw River is in fine boating order at present and has been for some time. The boats are arriving here almost every day, bringing some of the delicious fruits of the “
South” such as Oranges, Pine Apples, &c. Mr. Bishop is absent at present on a trip to New Orleans.

I have not heard from Mich for some time, hope to get a letter from there soon. I have not heard from
Lemuel but once since he started for California. That by way of Lucius who recd a letter from him somewhere on his route. I am hoping to get a letter from him soon.

You say you think you will be out to
Michigan during the next summer. What time do you think it will be? I should like to visit the north during the next year. Don’t know as I shall. Not the fore part at least. When I do I shall give you all a call. I would like to attend the World’s Fair if convenient. Mr. Bishop thinks of going north next summer and attending the Fair.

The weather here is as pleasant and warm as the month of September is at the north. There has been but one or two frosts and no freezing weather here. I have recd two numbers of the Home Journal coming from the office of publication. You may order it sent to Mich. or make some other disposition of it if you choose, as Mrs. Bishop takes it and I am not very partial toward it to say the most. I this day recd the Boston Atlas after an intermission of about 2 months.

Write soon & give my love to all your family.

Yours Truly
Lyman A. Ranney

Ranney Letter #21

Lyman sends Henry a short note with a five dollar bill to renew his newspaper subscriptions to three Eastern papers. Lyman says the banknote is from “the N.O. Bank which I think will go there without much if any discount, it goes at par here.” Until Federal Laws were passed during the Civil War, State-chartered banks printed their own currency. Some varieties of this money were more widely accepted than others, depending on the remoteness of the bank and its perceived solvency. Rather than flatly refuse the notes of a distant or shaky bank, people would sometimes “discount” the note, saying in effect, “I’ll take this, but only at 90¢ on the dollar” or some other amount below the par or face value of the note. Historians disagree on how common this practice was, often citing the fact that people were taught in elementary school how to “discount” in their heads. Personally, I don’t see the point of taking a note at 90¢ or 95¢ on the dollar, if you think the issuing bank is likely to not honor the paper. The reason people were taught how to quickly calculate discounts was that many of these notes carried interest. They were promises to pay a month or two in the future, so people needed to know how much the five or seven percent interest would come to over that length of time.

Lyman briefly answers Henry’s questions about the size of the firm he works for, saying they do about $140,000 a year and that they sell a lot of goods at wholesale prices to smaller merchants who lack the capital to go East and buy for themselves.

My Transcription:

Van Buren Arks. Oct 17
th 1852
Dear Brother

I recd yours of — Sept. And was glad to hear from you again. Enclosed you will find a five dollar bill (5$) on the N. O. Bank, which I think will go there without much if any discount, it goes at
par here. This as you will no doubt understand is to pay for another year of the Tribune, Atlas, & Blade which I wrote you about some time since, as the two former papers have already stopped, the year having run out I suppose.

You wished me to give youth amy of goods sold by the firm with which I am staying. We have four stores in different parts of the State and two here in this place. The goods for the other stores all pass through the stores here before they go out to the branches. We sell in the year about 140,000$ here and and at the branches. We wholesale a great many goods here in the course of the year. The country merchants buy, some who have not capital enough to go east to buy for themselves.

I have to cut my letter short as I am writing on Monday morning, and I have now to close.

Yours Truly
L. A. Ranney

Ranney Letter #18

Lyman writes Henry again from the “land of Bowie Knives and Pistols.” He describes a recent murder and says that there have been fifteen or twenty killings in the vicinity since he arrived three months earlier. Lyman hopes to leave Tahlequah after the next big infusion of U.S. Government money in the Spring.

Lyman remarks that he has read a notice in the Greenfield, Massachusetts, newspaper that Henry has been elected to the Legislature. Henry was an early member of the Liberty and Free Soil parties that contributed their abolitionist agenda to the Republican party in 1860. The
History of Ashfield says this: “About the beginning of the forties, the Liberty or Abolition party made its appearance in the shape of perhaps a dozen voters, or whom Jasper Bement, Henry S. Ranney and Dea. Samuel Bement were most prominent…this small beginning was the nucleus of the Free Soil party, which was in turn the nucleus of the Republican party in Ashfield, as well as in the nation…” The History describes the growth of the abolition movement in Ashfield, noting that in 1849, Hosea Blake was elected in a contested race that included the recruitment of at least one black voter. The election was protested and decided by the Legislature in favor of Blake, who won reelection in 1850 and was one of the men who voted to elect Charles Sumner to the Senate. Sumner was elected by a single vote.

My Transcription:

Tahlequah C. N. Jany 18
th 1852
Dear Brother

Once more I drop you a few lines from this land of
Bowie Knives and Pistols. There has been not less than fifteen to twenty murders in this nation since I have been here (3 mos.)(all Indians I believe). Last night there was a man part Indian (who had a grocery at this place) cut in pieces by two men under the influence of liquor. They killed him in his own house, where there was five or six more at the same time. They have the murderers but there is no certainty of their being hung as they clear more than half of the perpetrators of that deed here in the Nation.

This morning the news reached here of another man being murdered a few miles from here. The one that was killed at this place was badly cut up. I saw one cut in the breast that was not less than eight inches long and laid the
heart bare. A man has no certainty of his life I must confess. Yet I expect to have to stay here six months or year longer.

We have had some very cold weather here for the last few days. Snow about 3 inches deep, the first there has been here this season. Trade is dull here at present, the money that was paid out last fall to the Indians being nearly all gone. There will be another payment made to the Indians about the 1
st April next (amt. 1,500,000$) which will make money more plenty once more, after which I hope to leave the nation as it is not the place to suit me.

I see by the “Greenfield Paper” you sent me that your elected a representative to the Legislature and will no doubt be in Boston at the time this reaches you, but I will direct it to Ashfield and then it can be forwarded if necessary. Nothing more of importance to write at present. Give my love to all our friends in your vicinity. Write soon and let me hear all the news.

From Your Brother
L. A. Ranney

Ranney Letter #17

Lyman writes to Henry for the first time from Tahlequah, where he says he is “no longer under the protection of the laws of the United States.” He has been put in charge of Baker & Bishop’s store there, at a salary of $350 annually. Lyman also says he has “found” $350, so perhaps he was given a bonus to take the position.

Tahlequah was about thirty miles from the U.S. border, and was a town of about 400 people at this time. It was established in 1838, and became the capital of the Cherokee Nation the following year. Lyman describes the people and the Cherokee government, and mentions that two schools have been set up for Indian boys and girls. Although he says “some of the students are far advanced,” Lyman seems to consider it odd that they study Greek and Latin: “English and
dead languages, and no Indian language is taught at the school.”

My Transcription:

Tahlequah Cherokee Nation Oct 28 /51
Dear Brother,

You may be somewhat surprised to be hailed from this quarter of the globe. I am no longer under the protection of the laws of the United States as I do not remain within their limits. My employers Messrs Baker & Bishop have established a store at this place and wanted me to take charge of it, to which I accepted. This city is situated in the C. N. about 30 miles from the line of the States. It is regularly built with a square in the center. Population of about 400 persons out of which number but about
twenty entirely white. And some of them have Indian wives. But the Indians around here nearly all civilized. The greater part can talk English. They are greatly amalgamated, you can scarcely find a full blood. Some half and some as white as anybody.

The Nation built two fine seminaries of learning, one for the males and one for the females. Cost about ninety thousand dollars. One is about one mile and the other about three miles from this place. Some of the students are far advanced, studying in the
Greek and Latin languages. They study the English and dead languages, and no Indian language is taught in the school.

They have a chief & 2
nd chief here, and have a house of councilmen & house of committeemen chosen one member from each district. The two houses are now in session. They pass laws, make appropriations, &c.

I wrote home to Michigan last mail and sent
Anson ten dollars to help him attending school this winter as the last two years of my attending was the making of me. It may be the case with him also. I wrote you from Van Buren before coming here, to direct your letters, papers &c, and also to have my regular papers, those sent from office of publication, directed here to this place: Tahlequah, C. N. Arks.

You will please answer this on receiving it and let me hear from you.

Truly Your Brother
L.A. Ranney

P.S. I am getting a salary of 350$ per yr and found 350$. L.A.R.

Ranney Letter #15

Lyman writes Henry in the fall, after a trip down the Arkansas River to its mouth on the Mississippi just beyond Little Rock, Arkansas. Lyman has been ill, but tells Henry he is moving up to Tahlequah in the Cherokee Nation, to take over a store there for his employers. Tahlequah was the first town incorporated in the territory given to the Indians after their removal from Georgia on the “Trail of Tears” in the 1830s. The territory became the state of Oklahoma in 1907.

Lyman says the payments to Indians he described in a previous letter have begun, and he says the “appropriation” money comes to $800,000 more than the Indians regular annuity. This is apparently a payment associated with the 1851
Indian Appropriations Act, which allocated funds to create a system of reservations and move Indians onto them. This was a boon to the local economy, since as Lyman also described earlier, the Indians have nothing else to do with all this money but spend it in stores like Mr. Bishop’s. And it apparently came at a good time for the white community, since a three month drought had reduced the cotton and corn harvest by up to half.

Lyman also mentions a young man he met who claimed to be related to the Gardner family of Ashfield. He gives quite a bit of detail, although he never even got the man’s first name. The Gardners were not closely connected to the Ranneys as far as I can tell (no marriages, no correspondence in the archives, etc.), so perhaps Lyman’s interest in this person suggests his continuing homesickness and nostalgia for home.

My Transcription:

Van Buren Sept 27
th 1851

Dear Brother

As I have just retnd from a trip down the river I thought I would let you know how I am getting along. I have been to the mouth of the Arkansas River after goods and arrived here on the 25
th of Sept after an absence of over three weeks. I enjoyed very good health while gone except the last two or three of my trip when I was taken with the chills & fever. But I made out to reach home. I am now taking medicine and think I will be able to work in a few days.

I am a going up in the Cherokee Nation in a few days (to take charge of a store for Messrs.
Baker & Bishop) at a place called “Tahlequah” about 25 miles from the American line. There is some whites and a good many Indians & Half Breeds that live there, but it is supposed to be a good place for selling goods. The payment of the Indian appropriation money has commenced to be paid out on the 22nd of this month which amounts to over 800,000$ beside the regular annuity which is nearly half that amt.

It has been remarkably dry here this season. Not over half or two thirds of a crop either in
corn or cotton. There has not been any rain of consequence in about three months.

I saw while down the river a young man by the name of Gardiner. Says he is a relation of the Gardiners of Ashfield. He was formerly from Springfield Mass, did not learn his given name. Has been west two years or more, most the time in Cinti Ohio but came to Little Rock (capital of this state) last spring. Is engaged in merchandizing I think. Is a young man about 25 years old.

You will please direct all letters & papers, also please inform the offices from which I have papers sent (I have recd the
Atlas & Tribune) to direct them to “Tahlequah” C. N. (Cherokee Nation) Arks. I must draw to a close as I am quite weak yet and not able to write any more at this time.
Give my
Love to your family & our friends in your vicinity. Write on receiving this without fail and let me hear all.

Affectionately Yours
L. A. Ranney

Ranney Letter #14

Pasted Graphic
Lyman writes to Henry in June 1851, acknowledging receipt of a letter of Henry’s forwarded by Lucius. The brothers apparently forwarded each other’s letters onward, which may account for some of the gaps in the Ashfield collection. In some cases, as we’ll see, they also transcribed letters so they could send the latest news along to several places at once.

Lyman says he has been well, but that there has been an outbreak of cholera, both at Fort Smith and in Van Buren. It originated with soldiers who had lately come up the river, Lyman says, although he blames the disease on the soldiers’ drinking and debauchery once they arrived, not realizing that they probably brought it with them.

The political season was in full swing, Lyman reports, and the hot topic was “disunion.” Due to its location near the lands recently taken from Mexico in the war ending in 1848, Arkansas was very interested in the debate over extending slavery into the newly acquired territories. Arkansas Congressman Robert Ward Johnson was Chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs and a fervent supporter of South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, who had urged southerners to reject compromise. Johnson shocked moderate Arkansas Democrats with his extreme position, and then declared he would not run for reelection in 1851. This created the confusion Lyman mentions. Johnson was appointed by the Arkansas State Legislature to serve in the U.S. Senate, and later to the Confederate Senate. His political career ended when the South lost the Civil War. Lyman apparently favored the Whig candidate, Col. John Preston, but he didn’t come close to winning as Lyman predicted.

Lyman tells Henry that Mr. Bishop has taken on a partner and that they will have $100,000 in stock for the upcoming season, if the new partner can find a way to float his recent purchases up the dangerously low river. This is an interesting reminder that before the age of railroads, merchants and their customers depended on water transportation that was much less predictable. Dry goods bought in Boston had to be shipped down the Atlantic coast and into the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, where they were loaded on flat-bottomed steamboats (which began carrying freight on the Mississippi and its tributaries right after the end of the War of 1812) and shipped north. Although steam power had reduced the trip upriver from months to days, the boats were still affected by weather conditions and especially by low water levels.

Steamboat Washington, built in 1816.

My Transcription:

Van Buren Arks June 30
th 1851

Dear Brother

I recd your esteemed favor (via Michigan) a few days since and was glad to hear from you and to hear that you were all well. I have enjoyed very good this summer so far but the cholera is among us. There has been some 10 or 12 deaths from that disease here within a few days. First the cholera has been raging at Fort Smith, a point on this river about ten miles above this place. It first originated among the soldiers who had lately come up the river and who had been exposed and had been dissipating and drinking. There has been some thirty or forty deaths among the soldiers at Ft. Smith.

There is some considerable excitement here in this state at present of the union question. The nominee of the Democratic convention for M. C. in this district is a dis-union man and there is a great split among the Democrats about it. They will probably run a union candidate or vote for Mr. Preston the
Whig nominee who is a strong union man and a smart man. Mr. Robt W Johnson is the Democratic nominee who has represented this district in Congress for the last two years.

The candidates are canvassing the district. They were both of them here and spoke yesterday. Mr. Preston will probably be elected.

The Arkansas River is very low at present. None but the smallest of boats can come up it at present. Dr. Baker, Bishop’s new partner, has been on East to Boston, New York & Phila. and bought about 50,000$ stock of dry goods and am afraid he will not be able to get them up if there does not come a rise in the river. Mr. Baker bought of one house in Boston (Blanchard Converse & Co.) over 12,000$. The firm will have about 100,000$ stock this year which is quite a stock for this country.

Harvest is finished here. Wheat cut about 2 weeks since, green corn sometime since. The weather is not as hot here as it is at the north. At times the thermometer scarily even getting above 98. But it is more steady heat here than at the north.

Give my best respects to
Marie and our friends in general. And to Aunt Jerusha, to whom I would write but I have not time at present. Write as often as convenient and let me know what you are doing down in the Yankee land. Lucius made a raise of a half sheet of paper partly filled and sent it with your letter.

Yours affectionately
Lyman A Ranney

Ranney Letter #13


Lyman writes from Fort Smith Arkansas, which is only ten miles from where he has been living at Van Buren, but looks across the river at the “Indian Nation.” The fort not only defends the boundary between the United States and the Indian territory established by the removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw people from Georgia in the 1830s, but it is the center for trade with the Indians. Lyman writes that in a couple of months the Indians will receive their annual annuity of between $800,000 and $1 million, and that this cash payment will result in a frenzy of selling as the Indians try to turn the government scrip into something they can use.

Lyman writes bluntly about the Indians, but he has also taken the time during the few days he has been in Fort Smith to find out that there are three nations of crowded together in the territory across the river, and that they can’t communicate with each other. He ironically quotes a southern song (
All I ask in this creation, Is a pretty little wife and a big plantation, Way up yonder in the Cherokee Nation), and then declares that he would rather live in Fort Smith, because it is more lively and he likes trading with the Indians.

Illustration: Fort Smith, from
Harper’s Weekly, March 9, 1861
Translation note: Dido: a mischievous or capricious act: prank, antic. Often used in the phrase
cut didoes. (Merriam-Webster online)

My Transcription:

Fort Smith Arks. April 28
th 1851
Dear Brother

You may think it somewhat strange to receive a letter from this remote corner of the Earth 9as you think I suppose), but it is so. I came up here about a week since to stay a few days as Mr. Bishop has a store at this point and the young man that has been attending to his business here is sick. I had to come up and supply it.

This is a great business point, although most of the trade is with the Indians. All that separates this place in the Indian nation is the Arkansas River. We can look across and behold the Indians on the opposite shore, cutting up all sort of “didoes.” They are over on this side every day, sometimes hundreds of them, trading. And most sure to get drunk, most of them.

Fort Smith is situated on the Arkansas River ten miles above Van Buren. It has more inhabitants than V.B. But the society is not near as good as at Van Buren.

There is to be paid out at this point more about this point about eight hundred thousand of one million dollars appropriated to them by Congress. It will (they expect) be paid to the Indians about the first of June next. Which if it is there will be a great chance of making money as you can sell to the Indians at double price and they would not know the difference.

I am way off down near the Cherokee Nation, but I have
no pretty little squaw or big plantation. There is three different nations of Indians that join this place: the Cherokee (the most numerous), the Choctaws and the Chicisaws all talk different and cannot understand each other no more than they can the white man. But there is a great many of them that can talk English considerable.

I shall leave this place for Van Buren, I expect, in about one week, as the young man is getting able to be about. I think I had rather live here than at V.B., it being more lively. And I like to trade with the Indians.

Give my love to all our friends in the Yankee land, the land of my birth.

Hoping that this may find you and your family all well I close as I am writing on the counter and expect a customer in every moment.

I remain Faithfully Yours
Lyman A Ranney

P.S. I wrote these scattering remarks as I had nothing else to do just at this time and thought perhaps you would like to hear from this point.

Ranney Letter #11

Lyman writes to Henry in December 1850, having just returned from driving Mr. Bishop’s cattle from Arkansas up to Boonville Missouri. Lyman did not form a very high opinion of the people he met on the 400 mile trip to the Missouri River. It’s interesting that he would go to Boonville instead of Kansas City, but I don’t know anything about cattle driving in the 1850s except that the Missouri River was the destination.

Mr. Bishop has gone on another buying trip, so apparently Lyman has gained some responsibility. But he still complains he is only earning enough to cover his immediate expenses. Lyman says he was ill for a couple of weeks with bilious fever (probably typhoid or malaria), but has recovered.

Lyman describes the holidays briefly. Thanksgiving had featured a public feast and a sermon against “ultraism” (political extremism, often associated with reform movements like abolitionism), and Lyman says the slaves have the whole week of Christmas off, and spend it celebrating. But he also mentions a bill is being proposed to expel free blacks from Arkansas (this was ultimately signed into state law in 1859), which he says would “break up a great many” families if it passed.

My transcription:

Van Buren (Sunday) Dec 8
th 1850
Dear Brother

Yours of Sept 9
th came duly to hand and was thankfully recd but I was delayed in answering it in consequence of starting for Missouri about that time. I took a trip to Mo. in charge of a drove of cattle belonging to Mr. Bishop and consequently had a view of the Natives not of North America but of Missouri who by the way (most of them) are same as far as the trading of cattle or horses are concerned and that is about the extent of their knowledge. I was gone about six weeks, went as far north as Boonville on the Mo. River which is about four hundred miles from here.

We have quite a snow here at present, about six inches deep which is something quite uncommon for this country. It has melted some today and will probably all be gone before tomorrow night. Bishop is gone to N. Orleans at present and is expected to be gone for 3 or 4 weeks yet. He will buy his groceries in N. Orleans but will go East (Boston probably) in February to purchase dry goods.

Business is very good here at present. Our cash sales average about 2 or 3 hundred dollars per week beside a large credit business. I am bookkeeper here in this establishment and am getting so that I think books tolerable correct. We keep by double entry in which you have to be very particular.

I don’t expect to get much more this year than my expenses covered which will be over one hundred dollars, Doctor’s bill & all. As I have been sick since I last wrote you (which I like to have forgot). I will now mention it. I was taken about the first of Sept with the Bilious Fever which kept me down about two weeks. But I soon recovered and am now enjoying as good health as I have for years.

Thursday last the 5
th day of Dec. Was the day appointed by the Governor as day of thanksgiving and it was kept. Stores were all shut and the Presbyterian Preacher of this place gave us a good discourse on ultraism, after which we had a fine dinner prepared for he occasion.

Christmas is the greater day here. The
slaves have Christmas week for themselves to do whatever they choose, but they generally keep up dancing the most of the time. They are about passing a law in the state to expel all free Negroes from it which will break up a great many should that law be passed.

It is getting to be about 10 O.C. at night (and Sunday night at that) and I have a business letter to answer yet. I must close.

Give my love to Marie, the children, Aunt Jerusha, and all our friends in Mass.

From your brother

I have written home several times, but have not recd but one letter from them since I have been here. I have just written again and am in hopes they will answer it.

Ranney Letter #10

Lyman writes again from Van Buren, in August 1850. He has not heard from Henry, so he suspects his letter never made it — although, since his letter is in the archive, apparently it was Henry’s reply that was lost in the mail. Lyman seems lonely, and writes again about wanting to study medicine, but not having the funds.

Van Buren is apparently a “wild west” sort of boomtown at this time. Lyman says “merchants are getting rich here,” but he also says that murderers walk the streets and that people are regularly killed in duels “or just for some grudge they had.” And since there are many young men looking for work, Lyman’s wages are low. Lyman hints that if he had some money to invest, he could probably make enough to get back to the north and study medicine. But he doesn’t come right out and ask for it.

(Illustration is Van Buren in 1888)

My transcription:

Van Buren August 8
th 1850

Dear Brother

After waiting some time for and answer to a letter I wrote you come time since I have come to the conclusion that you did not receive it, as I have not yet recd an answer. But be that as it may, I will once more write you. I have enjoyed remarkably good health since at the South, although we have exceeding hot weather. I don’t know but that I may leave here between this and next April and try to make some arrangements about studying
medicine. I like merchandising very much yet I think I would rather practice medicine and should have made greater progress that way ere this if I had possessed the means. Merchandising is a good occupation but it takes a long time to get a start in that business.

Merchants are getting rich here. Mr. Bishop four years ago when he came here had not over fifteen hundred dolls and is now worth about 2000$ which is doing well.

I have not heard from home but once since I have been here yet I have written home several times. I recd a letter from Lemuel a short time since. He wrote from Albion Mich. I expect he strolls about too much to save a great amt of his wages.

I think I have been well paid for coming here, having learned in several ways. For one in the way of business, keeping books, &c. I am keeping books here at present, which is done by double entry. Yet there is but little chance of saving much here as wages are small comparatively. There being a surplus of “clerks” who work for next to nothing apparently. It is about all I can do to clothe myself here at present.

There is quite a chance here for speculation if a man has a little money, say 4 or 500$ to commence with. I think he can double his money in a year and perhaps more in buying and selling different articles. Wheat you can buy in the Indian States about ten or fifteen miles above here for from 10$ to 20$ you can sell for from 30$ to 50$ and other things in the same proportion.

If I could see any prospect in the next year for making a few hundred dollars in any way I would do most anything. There is a good society here in this place. Mostly Eastern people. But with those in the country it is far different. There is not over 1/10 of them that can write their own name, and are a desperate sort of men most of them. There is many a man here I have seen who has killed one or more persons in some way, whether in a duel or just for some grudge they had. And yet these persons are passing about seemingly as unconcerned as though they never had committed any act. There has been one or two quarrels here in town since I have been here, and one or two killed, but perfectly without effect.

Write as soon as you receive this and let me know what you are doing and what you are a going to do for the next generation to come. How the children are and Sister “Marie” and the friends in general?

Mr. Bishop gets a paper from Elisha Basset occasionally. I have not sent you as many as I ought, I have had to distribute them to so many different people, but will try to do better for you in future. Send me some papers occasionally as you have done since I have been here. Write on receipt of this and let me hear from you all.

I send my love to sister Marie, the children, and our friends in general and tell them I may visit them in future if nothing takes place other than expected.

Hoping this may find you all well I now close.
From your affectionate brother

Ranney Letter #8

Lyman writes Henry again from Van Buren, in the Spring of 1850. He thanks his brother for writing, and says he is responding immediately because it takes three weeks for the mails between Arkansas and Ashfield. In response to Henry’s questions, Lyman describes Van Buren and the commerce there. He says there are people there from nearly all the old Eastern states, including some merchants from Boston. Although many have caught “California fever,” Lyman lacks the funds to go further west, but he does hope to move back to the north once he has made his fortune.

Lyman reports once again on the slavery in Arkansas, and tells the story of a young slave boy who looked white, and who as a result was apparently worth less than other enslaved children. Lyman says he would like to bring the boy back to the north, “and let them see what some of the subjects are that are held in bondage.” But, realizing that his opinions are unwelcome in the South, Lyman reminds Henry that when he sends newspapers, it would be best to send no openly abolitionist “Free Soil” papers.

Lyman says his employer, Mr. Bishop, is on a buying trip East, and will probably go as far as Boston. This was typical of western and southwestern merchants, who would often float the cotton they took in trade for their merchandise to New Orleans, and then continue on to the Northeast to buy product for the next year. Lyman referred Bishop to their friend Elisha Bassett, who was a merchant in Boston (Henry had moved back to Ashfield by this time).

After Lyman concludes his letter to Henry, he writes a short note to his sister-in-law, Maria. Although they have never met, Maria apparently wrote to Lyman along with Henry, admonishing him to be good. Lyman thanks her for the advice, and assures her that “fortunately I never was guilty of anything which I thought would degrade me or detract from my character.”

Translation note: Doggery is a word dating from about 1830 for a low-class saloon or dive. Lyman puts the quotes around it in his letter, suggesting the word — and probably the places — are a bit of a novelty for him.

My transcription:

Van Buren Arks. March 8
th 1850
Dear Brother

It was with pleasure I recd your letter of Feb 10
th and I make soon in answering it as it takes about three weeks for letters to pass between this place and Ashfield. I was glad to hear from you and family and to hear that you were all enjoying good health.

As it was your request that I should give you a situation of our place I will try so to do. Van Buren is on the Arkansas River 600 miles from its mouth. It has a fine landing for boats, consequently there is considerable business to do here as this is the only landing of any importance for one hundred miles below and 10 above. Consequently the produce and cotton that comes to market or that which is to be shipped has to be sent to this place if sent to New Orleans or Cincinnati, and there is where most of the shipments are made.

We have about 12 or 15 hundred inhabitants in town I should judge (Whites). Some two wholesale houses (dry goods & groceries) and ten retail establishments besides several “doggeries.” It is somewhat mountainous in most parts of Ark. and therefore is not so productive as it otherwise would be. The climate is very mild, there not having been any snow here since I arrived. The weather at present is very delightful & warm. People are making gardens and some made garden two weeks ago.

The people in this place are much mixed. Some from the Southern States, some from Ohio & Indiana, and others from Va. N.J. And in fact from almost every state. Even from the old
Bay State. There is two or three merchants here from Boston, been here about two years.

They have a very good society of young people here and as I get acquainted with them I like them very much.

Although the village people are as intelligent as they are in any country, it seems to be far different with the country people, for I think at least there is one in three of them that cannot write their own names. Consequently are ignorant and are harder to deal with than they would be otherwise, as they are so afraid of getting cheated.

Mr. Bishop has gone East after goods, intends going to Boston for the most of them. I told him to find Elisha Bassett while there if he could. I didn’t know his address consequently could not direct him. I like merchandising very much so far and think that it will suit me well.

There are large numbers going to California this spring from this place and surrounding country. I have had the California fever but have got over it mostly, as it is not possible for me to get there under present circumstances. Slavery exists here in almost all forms. Some have a good master, others hard. Some slaves are black others are white. There is one boy around in town who is whiter than half the so called white children. He has very light colored hair, roman nose, and his features do not resemble a negro in the least. Yet this boy is a
slave. He was sold since I have been here for 150$, being less than half what a black boy would have brought, or him if he was black. If I had plenty of money when I go north I would purchase him and take with me and let them see what some of the subjects are that are held in bondage.

I sent you 2 newspapers a few days since and will send one occasionally. I hope you will do likewise. It would not be best to send any Free Soil papers. Thinking of nothing of importance to write you at present I shall close as I am a going to write a few lines to your wife. Mrs. Bishop sends her love to you and wife. Hoping you will write soon, I now close.

I send my love to all our friends in Mass.

P.S. As regards Uncle Henry, I do not know his address nor cannot find out as there is no one knows where he is exactly. He never lived in V.B. but lived formerly about 30 miles from the mouth. He was in the habit of using liquor to some extent, but I understand he had left off when he returned last fall.

Affectionately yrs
Lyman A Ranney

Dear Sister

Although I never had the privilege of a personal acquaintance with you, still it does not seem that you are a perfect stranger to me as I have heard Mother speak of you so often. I am glad to hear from you and am thankful for the good advice you and Henry have put forth in your letter, although fortunately I never was guilty of anything which I thought would degrade me or detract from my character. I am glad to hear that you are all well and hope that I may yet see you all in Mass. Perhaps the time may be years distant. As it is getting late and for want of room I will have to close these few lines to you. I hope to hear from you and Henry often.

From your Brother

Ranney Letter #7

Twenty-one year old brother Lyman writes to Henry from Van Buren, Arkansas, in January 1850. He had left Michigan a couple of months earlier, apparently intending to study medicine with his cousin, Paul Sears, in Illinois. Paul Sears was a well-known doctor in Mt. Carmel, the son of Lyman and Henry’s mother Achsah’s brother Nathan Sears, who had also been a doctor. When this plan failed (Lyman says it was from a lack of books, which hardly seems likely), Paul sent Lyman to his brother-in-law Ephraim B. Bishop, to work in his store. (Bishop’s papers, interestingly, are in the manuscript collection at Yale University).

Lyman writes of several relatives from his mother’s side of the family. Uncle Henry was Achsah’s younger brother. He was a circuit judge in Arkansas before moving to Texas in the mid-1840s. Uncle Paul was another of Achsah’s brothers, who was a real estate speculator who traded in soldiers’ claims around Houston Texas, and was said to be wealthy. He died in New Orleans, but I haven’t been able to determine when or to find out anything about the “affair” Lyman mentions.

Lyman goes on to describe Mr. Bishop’s business a bit, which he knows will be of interest to his merchant brother. He also remarks on the slaves he has seen in Arkansas. In his opinion, some have an “easier time than most of hired girls at the north.” Lyman’s observations of slaves and Indians will continue to be a feature of his letters. By 1850, Henry was a pretty vocal abolitionist (more on that later), so Lyman’s youthful remarks to his older brother are very interesting.

My transcription:

Van Buren Jany 8/50

Dear Brother & Friends

Having written to you from Jonesville Mich. Some time last June and not receiving any answer, thought you must have not rec’d it, and thinking you would like to hear from me once more. I am residing in Arkansas at present, having been here about one week. I started from Mich on the 9
th day of Nov last for Ills, where I expected to stay through the winter provided I could make any arrangements to get into business of some kind. I did not know but I might get an opportunity to study Physic with cousin Paul. But as he had not sufficient books for me to study I thought of returning home. But Paul said his brother-in-law Mr. Bishop he thought would like help in his store, and therefore advised me to come here and thought I would find Uncle Henry on the way between here and there. But was disappointed as he and removed to Texas. He went to Texas about a year since to find out anything in regard to Uncle Paul’s affair and he got married while there, as I learned at the mouth of the Arks. River which is about twenty five miles from where he used to live, and returned to Ark. the last fall to get his little daughter.

Uncle H. Has been married twice before and has had two children but has but one living at present. I did not learn whether he found out anything about Uncle Paul’s affair or not. I found our relatives in Ills. all well. Paul, Uncle Nathan’s son, is a very good Physician and is worth about $20,000 and gets a great ride in his profession. Uncle Nathan has been dead two years come February. His widow lives in Ills. also. They had three children. One lives in Mt. Carmel Ills. (Paul) and two of them live in Arks. Clarissa (Mrs. Bishop) and Henry. Henry is attending school about sixty miles from here. He is sixteen years of age and a hard case at that.

I am staying at Van Buren Arks, a town on the Arks. River six hundred miles from its mouth. I have given up the idea presently of studying Medicine as it will cost so much and I have nothing to get through with. I am not getting very great wages at present but I think I can command greater wages in the course of six months or a year. I have been posting books and drawing off accounts the most of the time since I have been here. Mr. Bishop has a large store, keeping almost everything from Potatoes to Pins. He has another store in Fayetteville which is sixty miles from here, having in both a stock of about $20,000. Keeping a large assortment of clothing making fifty to seventy-five per cent on them.

They have plenty of slaves in Arks. What little I have seen I think they fare better than half of the poor whites at the north. They have their holidays. They had the Christmas week, having dances &c. They have Meetings every Sunday. The Methodist preacher for this circuit preaches to them by themselves. But they are permitted to go to any meeting. Mr. Bishop has one slave only. She does the cooking &c. She has an easier time than most of hired girls at the north.

As it is getting late and I think of nothing more of importance to write, I shall bring my letter to a close hoping that as soon as you receive it you will answer. I send my love to all our relatives and especially to your wife and children.

Yours with respect

Please excuse all mistakes as I am in a great hurry and have not time , if there should be any.

P. S. Direct your letters to Van Buren Arks. Write soon as it takes a letter four or five weeks to come.