NOTE: These letters have A LOT of misspellings and grammatical errors, sometimes to the point where it almost reads as if English were not Jamie’s first language. This makes the editor in me want to tear my hair out and practically rewrite everything, but I’ve decided to make a compromise – I will write it out so that it at least mostly makes sense, and I will correct the spelling mistakes that I absolutely can’t stand to leave in, but I’ll leave most of it as is. That means that some of this might sound really weird. You can refer to the original letters if you want to see what I mean (that is, if you can even read his handwriting). He also rarely uses punctuation, so I’ve taken the liberty of throwing in a few periods and commas where they are sorely needed.
Hartford December 1st, 1861
My dear wife,
I feel lonesome to night without you. I think it will enliven my ideas a little to write you a few words to let you know that I am well. Hope this will find you well and enjoying yourself.
I arrived in Hartford at five O’clock Friday morning and got up to aunt Chas half past five in time to call them up. There was a bed and sleep had no thought of my coming so early. I went to work at leven O’lock. It rained all day Fri & Saturday and this after noon. I went to meeting this morning to the Methodist Church. This after noon Jane & Win came up here. Stayed two or three hours. She said you told her a lie, you told her you did not know when you would be married. I told her you did not know yourself this evening. Uncle Horrace & I went down to central hall to [hear] Elder Himes preach the Millerrite. He said the world was coming to an end in 1867 & 1868 without fail. So you must prepare yourself for that event without fail. I do not know how much longer I shall have work. He has not spoke of turning me up yet. I hope he won’t. This winter – I must draw this to a close for it is late and I am writing to Robert to night too. So good night.
My dear wife
From your loving Jamie
I am going to put this letter and one for Robert into the post office this evening. I thought I would tell you what I have been doing to day. I have been putting down base and laying floor & sealing up stairs & jointing in windows. Sash [?] when I was going back from dinner I saw Albert Smith on Walnut St. Shook hands with him. He was going up to Frank’s had been up here two or three days good by I must close and go to the post office.
Excuse all mistakes bad writing I am in [hurry] for the union. Good by with love and kiss.
So what we have here is a fairly ordinary letter from James Wallace Peckham, or Jamie, to Katie Greenfield whom he had only just married less than a month before on November 7th. Jamie was 20 at the time (if the birth date I have for him is correct) and Katie was 19. I’m guessing that the whole thing about Jane and Win claiming that Katie lied about knowing when she would be married is about her failing to inform them about it before it actually happened, but I can look into that. Another thing I need to ask about again is how Katie came to be called Katie, since her real name was Ezrena Aurelia Greenfield, a name that was passed down to my great grandmother. I know one of the adults in her life disapproved of her having such a stuffy name and then dubbed her Katie, which stuck for the rest of her life, but I can’t remember who that was.
I personally can’t tell whether Jamie was being sarcastic when talking about the end of the world, but I certainly hope so, and it seems that he must be including that bit in his letter as a joke since he just goes on to talk about more practical matters like if he’s going to be able to get work over the winter. According to my grandmother though, he was supposedly pretty gullible, so who knows.
This letter is a good introduction to Jamie and Katie’s story, as it illustrates his financial situation which you’ll soon see was an important factor when he decided to enlist, and it shows us a little of what their relationship was like. Uncle Horrace will come to play an important role in the events to follow as well.