1862: Susan Jane White to friend Nettie

This letter was written by 30 year-old Susan Jane White (1831-1915), the daughter of James Patterson White (1800-1879) and Mary Ann Clarke (18xx-1873) of Belfast, Maine. Susan’s father was a ship builder and a successful businessman in Belfast where he served two years as major and two years as a state senator. His 1840 Greek Revival home—where Susan wrote this letter—was located at the southern end of Church Street, occupying a lot at the corner of High Street. The home still stands today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Susan became the second wife of Col. Samuel Donnell Bailey (1825-1885) in Belfast on 27 November 1873.

The letter was addressed to her friend “Nettie” whose last name was likely Devereaux but I could not find her in census records under that name. Nettie appears to have recently moved to Marblehead, Massachusetts, and had a brother in the Western army.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Aaron Greene and is published by express consent.] 

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The home of James P. White in Belfast, Maine; where Susan wrote this letter.


Belfast [Maine]
February 23, 1862

My dear Nettie,

Your interesting and welcome letter reached me in the midst of a Tableau, ¹ in which I was very much interested. It was my first attempt and I was made very happy by their proving themselves a great success. We had very pretty young ladies [in] very handsome dresses and a number of rehearsals which accounts for it. I allowed myself to be made a nun, and an old woman, much against my inclination, but one is willing to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of our soldiers, and that was our object.

We had, after defraying all our expenses, $150 to devote to their comfort. We have already made a number of night shirts and are now engaged in pillows and pillow cases.

What glorious victories we have achieved the past two weeks. How bravely and nobly the Western troops fought. They should each have a diadem for their brows. But think how many homes are left desolate and alone, and how many aching hearts to mourn for them. However, we have to cheer us, the thought that the war cannot continue long. You must hope soon to hear from your brother at Memphis. I hope we shall very soon hear that the Stars & Stripes are floating over it.

Have you read Cecil Dreeme [by Theodore Winthrop]? If so, how do you like it? I think his style is splendid. His first writings, Washington as a Camp, and the March of the New York Seventh were admirably written. Love and Skates is a charming little story—so spicy. I am really glad we can say there really was one modest man that lived. Who but he would have left such dine writings and the world not known of him.

Great Expectations I have just finished. It is thoroughly Dickens. I am one of his admirers. Are you, my dear Nettie? Write what books you like best. I want all my friends to read and like what I do. Don’t think me selfish. Perhaps you don’t indulge in light reading, but I can assure you, it helps t pass a great many hours pleasantly in quiet Belfast.

Was Old Marblehead awake yesterday? we had a very stirring day with us—ringing of bells, firing of guns, and the reading of Washington’s Farewell Address—with good Union speeches from any of the citizens made the day one of rejoicing.

Does it seem possible winter is so nearly passed and bright, pleasant spring will be so soon amongst us? O, Nettie, I delight in spring and summer, when I can almost live out in the open air after being confined to rooms heated by furnaces through a long winter. It is so refreshing to work and be among the flowers. June is our month of roses and we have a great variety. If you lived near, you should have a fresh basket every morning. But I hope my dear to show you all my flowers this summer and gather you a choice bouquet. You won’t disappoint me, will you? It would be really cruel to be so near and not see each other after so long a separation—if it is only for a few days, you must certainly come. I think you will like our little city. It really is a charming place in summer. We have some delightful rides and you shall see them all. Of course Mr. Devereaux will not object if it is your desire. I have no doubt we could find something to interest him. If he enjoys fishing, we have a plenty of that of all kinds.

My sister Julia will be at home this summer with Edith. I should like Manin and Edie to become acquainted although Manin is so much older, I think they might perhaps enjoy each other’s society.

I am afraid I have already tired you with my importunities but you must excuse me, I have such a desire to see you my dear Nettie.

With a kiss for the little ones, and a remembrance to Mr. Devereaux, with much love to yourself I am your affectionate friend, — S. J. W.

¹ A tableau vivant was a production using one or more actors to create a stationary scene (a “living picture”) accompanied by music. In this case, the tableaux was part of a fund raising activity for the benefit of Union soldiers. 

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