Thursday, July 8, 2010

(A Digital) Treasure Chest Thursday: Texting Home

Another one of my digital treasures from the Tennessee Documentary History, 1796-1850 site is a chatty letter to Thomas McAdams in Washington County, Tennessee from his sister-in-law Mary Stephenson, who was visiting in Kingston, southwest of Knoxville in Roane County, Tennessee.  The letter, dated April 4th, 1838, is replying to McAdams' letter to her - a letter full, apparently, of news of the goings on back in Washington County.  Stephenson's letter is transcribed in full on the website.

She responded in kind, sharing her reactions to his news, teasing her sisters about some matchmaking attempts and adding bits of news from her end.  She was probably visiting her paternal aunt, Elizabeth Stephenson McEwen, whose late husband John McEwen had been a merchant in Kingston.

Stephenson to McAdams letter, 4 April 1838, p. 1

Her reference to "cousin Sam" tantalized me very briefly.  I had hopes she was referring to Gen. Sam Houston, her second cousin once removed, for he was close to the McEwens, having reportedly spent time recouping there after injuries suffered during the War of 1812 (see Houston bio posted on the Roane County Heritage Commission website).  But he was established in Texas by this point, serving as President during its brief Republic, and not likely to have been travelling through Tennessee.  It was surely another cousin (there are plenty of candidates, Sam being a most popular name in the extended family) stopping over for a quick visit before continuing his journey.  

There's nothing especially wise or articulate in the letter, no commentary on any events beyond her immediate friends and family, nothing to link her to a larger story.  But is is warm and loving, a little scattered and, as she says, "writen in haste as I am expecting the preachers for supper...".  It could be one of the phone calls or text messages we exchange in our family today, keeping each other abreast of our goings on. 

Stephenson to McAdams letter, 4 April 1838, p. 2
This work is the property of the Special Collections Library, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching, and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text. For all other use contact the Special Collections Librarian, Hoskins Library, University of Tennessee, 1401 Cumberland Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37996. (865) 974-4480.  Published with permission.  

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