Searching for Susan (Chapter Eight - Tintypes and a Disaster, page 1 of 1)


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Photographic imagining had begun less than thirty years before these letters, at first in a primitive form. Early images were expensive and difficult to attain, but the popularity of owning a portrait of a relative or loved one soared after the civil war. With the introduction of tintypes, sometimes called shadows, the craze hit a peak in the 1860s and 1870s when prices were no longer prohibitive. Customers flocked to studios to endure long sessions while remaining totally still lest they blur their likeness.

Edwin and Susan's correspondence continues, with a touch of humor. She introduces an option for vacation plans with her school teacher friend, Miss Brown, the young lady who sometimes chaperones her meetings with Edwin. She too is moving on to the Lynn High School to teach, while Susan will both teach and act as assistant principal.

Lynn, July 23rd, 1866 Monday P.M.

Dear Friend.
You wish, I see to make it appear, that in the line of letter writing I am in debt. How can it be! Unless one letter of yours is to two of mine, granting this to be true I conclude the best way to prove to you that you are in debt is to write you this afternoon. Just as I was about to leave school on Saturday, your letter was given to me; although unexpected it was none the less welcome.

I enjoy a surprise. I am obliged for the picture and if you should ask my opinion concerning it, I should say it is not as much like you as it might be, although I should have known it had I not found it in your letter. I think your brother would not object to your sending me one of his. I think I am entitled to one, as he has mine. I am glad you had so pleasant a trip to Boston & that the day was so favorable. It has been very dull and rainy since morning & there is a prospect for such weather tomorrow.

I spent the Sabbath in Danvers, but did not attend church anywhere, fearing to add to my cold which has troubled me much, and which I think I must have taken on Wednesday. I think now it will be entirely well in a day or two. Mr. Hills was very thoughtful & had fires made in the furnaces to day & it was really pleasant to gather around the register. It seems as if such changes must cause much sickness; but all these things are in the keeping of our Heavenly Father. How many, many times, in hours of darkness and seasons of joy, in my life, has the thought of that guiding and loving care, brought a quiet trust & comfort which the world will ever fail to give to immortal souls. And it is none the less pleasant to feel that all that is in the future will be measured by the same gracious hand. I sometimes wonder why in hours which are clouded, our faith can be so weak, for are we not having abundant proof that his promises are wise and in him, amen?

Miss Brown is desirous that I should go to Burlington, Vt. with her during the vacation to attend the meeting of the American Institute. I am quite undecided; but am inclined to think I shall not go, which decision on my part would I think deter her from going. Julia thought she would like to send you a tintype if you would like it, and wished to know if I would not ask you to give her one of yours. I told her I would do the errand.


Julia is the ten year old daughter of Susan's married brother Charles Smith and his wife Mary. Together with Charlie Junior, their seven year old son, all reside in their Danversport home. Susan lives there when not boarding weekdays in Lynn.

Perhaps you will be interested to learn that I have resigned my class in Chemistry to Mr. Hills, giving me one less recitation in school and less to do at home. The reasons for it were chiefly these, that I needed more time for Algebra, and it was, it seemed to me better for all the class to review the book together, which they could do by reciting upstairs. So I shall not be under the necessity of taking that one book with me on all my travels.

It seems really pleasant to have "a head," this week, and know that we are not responsible for all that goes on in the school-rooms. Sister Mary wished to be remembered to you; my brother and young Charlie took an early boat-ride this morning, leaving home about four o'clock. I think they would have taken you as passenger, had you been there.

May I not hear from you soon? As it is late, with kind regards, I will say "good night," and remain very truly your friend,

Susan Smith


Brother Charles and his young son must have gone fishing to leave so early in the morning!

Acton Thurs. Eve July 26, 1866

Dear Friend.
Yours of Monday P.M. was received on Tuesday evening, proving that I am indebted to you and if I could pay all my obligations as easily and with as much pleasure as the one I am now paying the misfortune as it is usually considered would be the reverse to me.

I am sorry to learn that you are suffering from a cold for which I suppose that I am partly responsible as I was the means of taking you from your warm and safe quarters. I trust you have recovered before this and will pardon me for the affliction caused as it was entirely unintentional on my part.

I expect to go over on the Sabbath, and return on Monday. My brother John has gone to Portland on a pleasure excursion to see the ruins of the once beautiful. I suppose he is having a splendid ride on his way home tonight. I took the same trip several years ago and had just such nights to go and return and enjoyed it much. His family members are still with me but I expect to be left alone again tomorrow. I have enjoyed their being with me and shall probably miss them a good deal.


Brother John Fletcher, two years Edwin's senior, worked with him in the family shoe business. He, together with wife Martha, son Silas, age twelve and daughter Sophia, age ten, live next door to Edwin in Acton.

The "ruins of the once beautiful" John was viewing was the city of Portland, Maine. Three weeks earlier, on the Fourth of July, a great fire destroyed much of the state's largest city. Ignited by either a fire cracker or cigar ash, nearly two thousand buildings were destroyed, killing two and leaving ten thousand citizens, a third of the population, homeless. According to Wikipedia, most of the commercial buildings, half the churches and hundreds of homes lay in ruin. Until "The Great Chicago Fire," five years later, the Portland, Maine conflagration was the worse city fire in American history.

John may have travelled by either train or steam ship as both means of transportation were available at the time for the ninety mile trip. Edwin doesn't specify, but his pleasant description hints to the reader of the water excursion.

Edwin continues his letter. He is to have more company.

Mother received a letter from brother James's daughter Mary yesterday, saying that they were intending to make us a visit next Tuesday and spend a part of their vacation in Acton. He will probably supply our pulpit for two Sabbaths as our minister is away on a vacation.

We had another fine shower yesterday. I should judge it was the mate to the one we had on our way to Danvers. We seem to have an abundance of rain of late for which I feel thankful as I do not like to see the grass and flowers suffer from drought. My garden enjoys the wet weather and what pleases that has the same effect upon me.

What a delightful day we have had and this evening would be a very favorable one for a ride on the water which I should enjoy very much and am hoping at some future time to take the trip down the river with you. In the absence of my brother John I have taken his family out this evening to ride as I thought it too pleasant to be shut up in the house though I am spending the latter part of the evening very pleasantly.

Have you decided to go to Burlington? I think you will find it a very pleasant trip and would not object to taking it myself if my business engagements did not forbid it. If you conclude to go I trust you will have a pleasant and profitable time and see that Miss Brown is returned to her home in safety, not forgetting to take good care of yourself. I see that I am getting near the end and the clock is also hinting that it is time to close and so I must bid you good night and hoping to hear from you again soon I remain,
Very truly your friend,

E. Fletcher
PS: I am obliged to Julia for her tintype and am sorry that I cannot send her a better one in return.


It is clear our ancestors led an active and interesting life a hundred and fifty years past.

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