Ranney Letter #7
Twenty-one year old brother Lyman writes to Henry from Van Buren, Arkansas, in January 1850. He had left Michigan a couple of months earlier, apparently intending to study medicine with his cousin, Paul Sears, in Illinois. Paul Sears was a well-known doctor in Mt. Carmel, the son of Lyman and Henry’s mother Achsah’s brother Nathan Sears, who had also been a doctor. When this plan failed (Lyman says it was from a lack of books, which hardly seems likely), Paul sent Lyman to his brother-in-law Ephraim B. Bishop, to work in his store. (Bishop’s papers, interestingly, are in the manuscript collection at Yale University).
Lyman writes of several relatives from his mother’s side of the family. Uncle Henry was Achsah’s younger brother. He was a circuit judge in Arkansas before moving to Texas in the mid-1840s. Uncle Paul was another of Achsah’s brothers, who was a real estate speculator who traded in soldiers’ claims around Houston Texas, and was said to be wealthy. He died in New Orleans, but I haven’t been able to determine when or to find out anything about the “affair” Lyman mentions.
Lyman goes on to describe Mr. Bishop’s business a bit, which he knows will be of interest to his merchant brother. He also remarks on the slaves he has seen in Arkansas. In his opinion, some have an “easier time than most of hired girls at the north.” Lyman’s observations of slaves and Indians will continue to be a feature of his letters. By 1850, Henry was a pretty vocal abolitionist (more on that later), so Lyman’s youthful remarks to his older brother are very interesting.
Van Buren Jany 8/50
Dear Brother & Friends
Having written to you from Jonesville Mich. Some time last June and not receiving any answer, thought you must have not rec’d it, and thinking you would like to hear from me once more. I am residing in Arkansas at present, having been here about one week. I started from Mich on the 9th day of Nov last for Ills, where I expected to stay through the winter provided I could make any arrangements to get into business of some kind. I did not know but I might get an opportunity to study Physic with cousin Paul. But as he had not sufficient books for me to study I thought of returning home. But Paul said his brother-in-law Mr. Bishop he thought would like help in his store, and therefore advised me to come here and thought I would find Uncle Henry on the way between here and there. But was disappointed as he and removed to Texas. He went to Texas about a year since to find out anything in regard to Uncle Paul’s affair and he got married while there, as I learned at the mouth of the Arks. River which is about twenty five miles from where he used to live, and returned to Ark. the last fall to get his little daughter.
Uncle H. Has been married twice before and has had two children but has but one living at present. I did not learn whether he found out anything about Uncle Paul’s affair or not. I found our relatives in Ills. all well. Paul, Uncle Nathan’s son, is a very good Physician and is worth about $20,000 and gets a great ride in his profession. Uncle Nathan has been dead two years come February. His widow lives in Ills. also. They had three children. One lives in Mt. Carmel Ills. (Paul) and two of them live in Arks. Clarissa (Mrs. Bishop) and Henry. Henry is attending school about sixty miles from here. He is sixteen years of age and a hard case at that.
I am staying at Van Buren Arks, a town on the Arks. River six hundred miles from its mouth. I have given up the idea presently of studying Medicine as it will cost so much and I have nothing to get through with. I am not getting very great wages at present but I think I can command greater wages in the course of six months or a year. I have been posting books and drawing off accounts the most of the time since I have been here. Mr. Bishop has a large store, keeping almost everything from Potatoes to Pins. He has another store in Fayetteville which is sixty miles from here, having in both a stock of about $20,000. Keeping a large assortment of clothing making fifty to seventy-five per cent on them.
They have plenty of slaves in Arks. What little I have seen I think they fare better than half of the poor whites at the north. They have their holidays. They had the Christmas week, having dances &c. They have Meetings every Sunday. The Methodist preacher for this circuit preaches to them by themselves. But they are permitted to go to any meeting. Mr. Bishop has one slave only. She does the cooking &c. She has an easier time than most of hired girls at the north.
As it is getting late and I think of nothing more of importance to write, I shall bring my letter to a close hoping that as soon as you receive it you will answer. I send my love to all our relatives and especially to your wife and children.
Yours with respect
Please excuse all mistakes as I am in a great hurry and have not time , if there should be any.
P. S. Direct your letters to Van Buren Arks. Write soon as it takes a letter four or five weeks to come.