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This Week in History: November 1

This week’s letter shows some brotherly banter as Hugh ribs Robert about writing letters, his wild lifestyle out West, and the slow-to-write family back in Ireland.  Also, Hugh seems to be popular with Irish immigrants…..and anybody else who needs a buck (especially Matthew Clark).


Philadelphia 3 November 1834 (Monday)

Dear Robert,

Yours of 22nd ult is received.  More than a page is taken up in the very laudable effort to convince me that you are the most punctual, & I the most negligent of letter writers.  In reply I have only two remarks to make – first I deny the fact in toto – and secondly I think the first page of your letter could have been much more usefully & agreeably filled.  Before I dismiss this subject, it may be as well to observe – once for all – that you are wrong in thus creating a windmill & Quixote like fighting against it.  Should any cause of offense exist, you shall be the first to hear it from me – & until I tell you that such is the case, you err very much in either talking or writing about it.  Remember Robert, we are brothers, and recall to mind whether any word or act of mine justifies you in placing me in any other position towards you, then such as a brother should maintain.

Canal Street, New York 1834

Last week I spent two days in New York, but did not obtain any fresh information relative to the price, or demand for furs.  The circle in which I move there, know nothing on that subject.  I sent you a statement of the last sales – since when it appears, unfavourable accounts have been received of the public sales in London.  Everything connected with your business, from trapping to selling, is conducted with such secrecy that it is almost impossible for the uninitiated to know any thing of the proceedings.  I am pleased to learn that you have mad a shipment – for I shall be certain of seeing both you and Mr. Sublette here, to attend to its disposal.  I shall make it a point to return from VA before 1st December so as to be here at the time named in your letter for your visit.

What will you think of our friends in Ireland, when I tell you, that six months & upwards have elapsed since I had a line from any of the family?  I begin to fear that they consider postage on American letters as a heavy tax – and doubtless it is so – for I have not made a remittance for more than a year – & then only a small sum for Mother & Andrew.  They have been duly advised of your return.  If they knew how very particular you are on the matter, I am sure they would write; – but with me they know from long experience, that they can, with perfect impunity, study their own convenience; – receive a scold or two in reply; – & have all forgotten.

In business at this season of the year, we have little to do.  Time passes rather heavily – for we have not here the exciting routine of parties & weddings described in your letter.  The quiet pleasures of a comfortable home – the careful overhaul of our fall transactions – and an occasional chat on the news of the day occupy us, morning, noon, & night.  For such dull employments, would you not consent to change your mode of living?

It grieves me to discover that you are resolved to persevere in the mountain business.  I admit that with your intimate acquaintance with its nature & chances, it holds out stronger inducements than other occupations; – but on the other hand, I maintain that with the utmost facility, you can enter on a steady pursuit; & with the same application – less risk of person and capital – and greater certainty of ultimate gain – you can now settle down in life, and forever abandon a pursuit so very objectionable to almost all your friends.  I am aware that this is nothing more than a repetition of sentiments often expressed; yet I cannot avoid recalling your attention to it again; – perhaps, like the widow in the scriptures, I may be heard for my importunity.  Before you finally decide on another expedition, I sincerely hope I shall see you & Mr. S. and we can then compare notes on this subject much more to our satisfaction than any thing I can say on the present occasion.

Mary is quite well & looks forward with pleasure to the time when we shall see you here.  I presume you have heard that my own health has not been good during the summer.  At present I feel much better and my throat (though not so musical as that of our friend Miss Speakman) is nearly as well as ever.  Mr. Gill & A. Campbell are quite well & desire their respects to you and Mr. Sublette.  My friend Miss Harriett Campbell will probably go on to VA with us about a fortnight hence.  Our stay in Richmond will be very brief.

Perhaps I should remark in the way of business, that woolens of nearly every description are higher than when Mr. S. was last in the city.  The importations generally have been light this season & almost every kind of foreign goods have advanced.  In many articles required for your trade, you will not perceive the change, because such goods are not in general demand & are little affected by the fluctuations of market.

Of our common acquaintances I can say little or nothing in addition to former letters.  I had a letter from Matthew Clark dated at Boston.  He was in want of money.  I sent him what he asked for & at the same time told him that I neither wished to see nor hear from him again.  He left Ireland in June & I believe has some of his illegitimate children with him.  Dr. John McFarland has not written me for many months.  He has cost me over $100 which of course I do not expect to have repaid.  H. Reed is still dealing in cattle & I believe is doing well.  I lent him some funds which enables him to get along pretty smoothly & independently.  Nancy Divine & another Irish girl from Glenrone are our servants.  You perceive my national attachments are unchanged – and to confess the truth I am sometimes heartily tired of them.  Scarcely “a neighbour’s child” within miles of home, but favours me with a call – and somehow or other all of them have wants to be supplied.  After all, I must not complain – some of them are grateful & all have some redeeming traits of character worthy of esteem.  Good bye!

H. Campbell


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