Week 40: #52 Ancestors – Oldest
By Eilene Lyon
I believe the oldest document in my possession is this letter written by Henry Z. and Abigail Jenkins, dated October 19, 1855. The entire letter runs to over 1500 words, so I won’t give a full transcript here – your eyes would be glazing over long before the end!
Because Henry and Abigail grew up in Philadelphia under the influence of Quakers, their language is a bit archaic, even for the 1850s. It almost seems as if it could have been written a century earlier.
They wrote this letter to their eldest son, William Zane Jenkins, who suffered a blinding explosion in a mine he was working in Amador County, California. Though this letter hints that William expected to regain his sight, he never did.
In spite of all the grief Henry Jenkins endured trying to succeed at the mines in California himself, the letter makes it clear that he and others were seriously considering a permanent move back to the west coast.
My dear son Wm it seems a long time since I have written to thee and it also seems long between letters from thee – thy sister Ann wrote to us informing of thy sad misfortune and thy Mother and I myself truly sympathize with thee thy Brothers Sisters and many friends also express much sorrow on thy account – if it had been possible for me to have started on the first inteligence reaching us I should have been with thee before this time but it was out of the question and we had to wait as patiently as we could for further news from thee which did not come to hand until last mail five weeks after the first intimation of thy hurt but it rejoiced us then to learn that thee would recover the use of both eyes what a great mercy, had thee lost thy sight entirely or an arm or otherwise disabled as thy less fortunate comrade did how much harder it would have seemed for thee truly thee has great cause to be thankful although it seems a severe dispensation as it is still how much worse it might have been there are many verry unlooked for changes transpiring all round us and not the least is the change manifested in Wm R’s last letter to his brother Robt in refference to makeing that country his permanent home now he is all for coming back here and opening a store in Co with Robert I of course have no right to say a word about it either way but it was truly unexpected and I must say we (Bed Decater thy Mother and self if not Emma) were verry much disappointed 21st Robt and Emma have been up to see us and have just gone home again and while they were up we were made more fully acquainted with the sudden change in refference to going to California it is mainly a consequence of their Fathers inability to govern his appetite at all times and I must say it is commendable in them the children that can and will cross and subdue their own cherished plans for the benefit of their weaker parents will merit and no doubt receive their reward eventually I believe it is R’s intention to come out in two or three years if he can prevail on the old man to remain where he is the Makepiece business is not yet settled or I could tell better whether we will be able to come out shortly or not I would much like to know how thee feels about comeing back or staying in that country I cant help believeing myself that if we were all there together we would be better satisfied than in this country Bedford I fear will never enjoy good health in this and perhaps not in that or any other place he looks miserable and is verry often complaining thy Mother and myself fear he is not long for this world still he may outlive us all…
Feature image: Log cabin in Jay County, Indiana (E. Lyon 2017)