Searching for Susan (Chapter Two - May 1866, page 1 of 1)


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We hear from Edwin for the first time as he responds to Susan Smith. Their correspondence begins in earnest.

Acton, Tuesday evening, April 24, 1866


Miss Smith,
It was with pleasure I received yours of the 21st instant last evening, and will now write a few lines in reply, having no means of spending a few moments more pleasantly than in this silent manner.

The time you name of meeting you will suit my convenience, and I am anticipating much pleasure in seeing you at that time. If the weather should be decidedly unfavorable on Tuesday, I will meet you on Wednesday unless your engagements are such you would prefer some other time, of which you will please inform me.


Edwin discusses his brother James and his new school in Danversport, thought to be easier to govern than in Acton where he previously taught. The institution appears to be a private school, perhaps affiliated with a church. He now has eighty-four students. The letter mentions a musical chorus Edwin attended the prior year, with seven hundred voices and a "very great organ."

We have, we think, a very good choir of about thirty, although perhaps I am not a judge, as the Fletcher family is largely represented in it. My brother John is the chorister, and sister Abbie is lead soprano, and myself a private on the tenor. James represented the family on bass when he was in town and my brother John's wife Clarissa is on the alto.

I am planning to go to Brighton and Boston tomorrow and am hoping for a pleasant day as it is about a three hour ride by private conveyance which I propose to take with my sister's husband, Mr. Smith. We are going to the nursery for plants and trees for our gardens. The prospect is that we will have a cool ride as we expect to start about five in the morning. There is such a decided change in the weather. We have had a fine rain which has given a beautiful appearance to vegetation. I am longing to be at work in my garden as soon as the weather is favorable. Looking forward with pleasure for the time of meeting you, I remain with kind regards,
Very respectfully etc.

Edwin Fletcher

The formality of the correspondence seems ludicrous as do their interests; church, choir, garden; all differ so much from the activities of our lives. It's difficult for us to conceive the planning necessary for a trip of twenty-four miles, taking three hours, with the goal shopping for garden items. Yet, visualizing a horse drawn carriage ride on a countryside lane paints a serene picture. They would have passed through Concord, by the homes of Emerson and Louisa May Alcott, both living there at the time, and passed Walden Pond, though Henry David Thoreau had died four years earlier.

Edwin was able to meet with Susan on Tuesday, May 1st. She writes of that meeting on Friday.

Lynn, May 4, 1866

Mr. Fletcher,
This is one of those quiet hours which accompanies the sunset of a beautiful day, and if you please, I will spend it writing to you. Nature has been beautiful today and the temptation to be free of the classroom and be where it could be enjoyed was so strong, that I yielded to the entreaties of the scholars and closing school a little before the usual time, took a walk over the hills and pastures searching for flowers. The sweetly scented saxifrage, the tinted anemone, the modest violet, innocence and some other varieties awarded the eager search of the children, while the teachers were receivers of their sweet little offerings. The views of the harbor and the thickly settled portions of the city and in another direction the green fields and little groves of pines added not a little to our pleasure. Although pretty wearied, we concluded as much good had been accomplished as would have been in the schoolroom with the text books.

I trust you were successful in making the desired connection of trains on Tuesday and were not disappointed in meeting your brother at the station.

I am looking forward with pleasure to my visit home, over the Sabbath. I could hardly content myself to remain in the city with home so nearby.

At this season of the year Danvers is particularly pretty. The river is in front and the pond in the rear of our house making it a pleasant situation.

You will see from the programme of examinations that we, in Ward Two, are to enjoy such an occasion next week. I sometimes am quite startled by my own indifference concerning it, when I see other teachers so anxious for their own. I trust, however those scholars who have been faithful during the term will do themselves credit at the examination.

I am still boarding with Mrs. Hills and a letter bearing my name, in care of Nathaniel Hills, Johnson Street will reach me without difficulty.

Bidding you good night, with kind remembrance, I remain respectfully;

Susan Smith


Susan is referring to the direct examination of her students by the School Board Committee, certainly a trying experience for both pupil and teacher. I am surprised she doesn't seem nervous. It is the last time she'll be involved with this procedure as she is moving on to the high school where she'll serve as assistant to the principal.

The home with the setting Susan describes so beautifully still stands, with the river running to the harbor before it and a pond to the rear. Edwin receives the letter next day and responds.

Acton, Monday Evening May 7th, 1866

Miss S-
I was agreeably surprised on Saturday evening by receiving your letter a little in advance or the promised time. I was much interested in your account of your pleasant walk in search of flowers and your success in finding them. I have no doubt, as you say, that time was more profitable spent than it would have been in the schoolroom as such excursions tend to interest the children in the beauties of nature.

I had a prosperous journey home by my brother John meeting me at the station a little before seven, according to our agreement. The next morning when the rain was pouring down I felt like thanking you for suggesting the change in the day of my visit. It is with much pleasure that I often think of our ride to your pleasant home and only regret that my plans were such that we were obliged to make so brief a stay and shall hardly be satisfied till I have had a view of the scenery you write about. It is not surprising that you look forward with pleasure to your return home after the labors of the week. I often think of the wise arrangement of one day in seven for rest to say nothing of the higher and nobler value of the day.


Susan must have invited Edwin to personally attend the public school board examination of her students, but he declines.

I should be happy to attend your examination but think I may enjoy seeing you when you are not under the charge of the committee and probably it would be more pleasant to you to see me some other time. I shall think of you on that date as "enjoying" yourself and have no doubt it will pass off satisfactory to yourself and the committee.

He continues the letter, discussing his garden and that of his elderly mother next door. After planting what he presumably purchased in Brighton, he looks forward to, "the results of his labors."

Yesterday of Sabbath School was reorganized. I have charge of a class of eight ladies of about fifteen years of age. I do not feel competent for the responsibility but felt it to be my duty to accept the trust another year.

With pleasant recollections and bidding you goodnight, I remain very respectfully etc.

Edwin Fletcher.


The Fletcher Shoe business must have contributed financially to brother James and his family, at least until James is settled in his new teaching position. In a letter to Edwin, he asks that his brother pay a twenty-five cent insurance premium, and pay a local man who "carried him over to the depot."

James complains that the choir at his Danvers church, does not sound very pleasant to the ear and if invited, he should hesitate joining the company. He then mentions another means of communication. There are public places where they leave messages for one another.

Boston. May 12, 1866

Dear Brother Edwin.
I have just read your letter left at Earle's and as I have a few leisure moments I will write a few lines in reply.

The singing on the Sabbath is very much out of taste - and the style of singing ­ drawling and screeching. I say nothing but do not see how the people can long be satisfied with such entertainments. Mary (his fifteen-year-old daughter) is well and happy. She has to do all the playing on the seraphim all the other girls having failed. She can play much better than any other one in the school. If she had an instrument at home it would help her and I may decide either to buy or hire.

Miss Smith dined with us last Sabbath and appeared well but complained of feeling tired. My assistant is to take tea with us tonight.


James is playing the spy in this beginning relationship between his brother Edwin and the spinster school teacher he has introduced. It's unclear if doing so is his idea or that of Edwin. In any event, in his next letter he reports in detail.

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