These three letters were written by temporary residents of Merrimac, Wisconsin, hailing from Templeton, Massachusetts, and throwing interesting light on social and economic conditions in the Badger State in 1857-58. The letters were written to Unity Fales (Mrs. Otis) Partridge at Templeton by her sons James Otis and Maynard. James Otis Partridge, who was born at Templeton in 1828 and died at Partridgeville, a village in the town of Templeton, in 1873, was the father of the contributor.

The letters were carefully preserved by the recipient, packed in a homemade box, and covered with wallpaper of and old-fashioned pattern. At her death in 1869, they passed to James Otis Partridge and then to the contributor. During the past years they had frequently had narrow escapes from the bonfire and junk heap but now have come safe to rest in the Manuscript Division of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Mrs. Smith, the contributor, long time resident of Iowa, has lived at Carbondale, Illinois, since 1938, and has provided the biographical data and the story of the letters. The editors have added paragraphing, periods, commas, and capitalization to make some letters more readable.

Letter of Nov 22, 1857 from Merrimack, Sauk County, Wisconsin by Maynard Partridge

Merrimack, Wisconsin, Sauk Co., Nov 22, 1857

Dear Mother:

… I have been in this place for about three months past, and I expect to stop here this winter. My wife &

baby have been with me since the first week in October. We are boarding at the hotel. I have boarded at

the hotel ever since I came here. Merrimack is situated on the Wisconsin River 26 miles from Madison

and 10 miles from Baraboo, where I first come to, or where I was when I wrote to George.

I have been very well in this country. My wife and baby have been very well most of the time since they

have been out here. We have got one of the prettyest & handsome babys you could ask to see. She is a

great hand to laugh & play…

Times are very hard here. Sometimes it makes me feel quite blue. Most business here in the West is

suspended or there is but very little doing. I like Wisconsin well as far as I have seen. Milwaukee is a very

large & powerful city and very handsomely laid out. So is Madison.

My goods I have not got yet. I expect them soon and then shall go to keeping house. Shall send for them

tomorrow morning to Madison. Shall get to keeping house this week I expect….

Merrimack is a new town and but few inhabitants as yet, but if nothing happens we intend to have a Rail

Road to this place within 18 months or less than one year we expect, and with what little business we

can push along with other help shall expect to see a large town very soon if times are good. One word

more; we can buy wheat for 35 to 45 cts. per bushel, corn 25 to 30, oats 20 cts, beef 4 to 6, pork 3 to 5,

potatoes 20, butter 25, cheese 12 1/2, eggs 10 to 12 doz. All West India goods are very high. My wood

will not cost me anything only the drawing & cutting up…

From your son

Maynard Partridge

Letter of Jan 24, 1858 from Merrimack, Sauk County, Wisconsin By J. O. Partridge

Merrimack, Wis., Jan. 24, 1858

Dear Mother:

… I have wishes sometimes that I had gone east instead of comeing up here to spend the winter,

although I know it is more for my interest to stop here. I am realy getting to be quite a Westerner. When

the 6th day of Feby. comes, it will be four years since I started from home to be gone a year to the West.

Pretty close calculateing, don’t you think so?

I am getting pretty tolerable long winded as you may know for I was out hunting deer the other day and

shot at one but did not kilt him. However, I gave him chase and ran him ten miles all atone but finely

gave up without getting him. However, I intend to go again the first snow that comes.

I have been fishing considerable of late. Have had some good luck. I caught one Pickeril on Friday last

that weighed 6 lbs. We had him stuffed & baked today. He was fine eating. I wish I could bring you one

occasionally. We have had all the Pickerils we could eat since I began to go fishing.

I have not done any work except to cut the wood for the stove since I came here. It costs nothing for

wood except for the team to draw it with, which is not much. Uncle Sam’s farm is near-by, at least small

patches of it here & there. There is generaly wood & timber on it.

I believe I wrote in my letter to George the reason of my leaving Hamilton [Illinois]. My move from

Galena [Illinois] to Keokuk [Iowa] was a bad one on the whole I think, that is, if I could kept on makeing

as fast as I did make for the time I was there, I should have been much better off to stoped there. My

investments in real estate at Keokuk proved only a ten per ct. interest operation on account of the

contested title, and I could not take my money out of it at that under a year. However, two months of

that year has passed and the remaining ten months will be gone before I am aware of it. However, I wish

I had it now; I should use it in the spring, I presume, to buy me a farm. But perhaps it is all for the best,

for I do not call it extrordinary good farming land in this section. But then I might not buy about here.

Maynard & Harriet are very well. The baby is quite well & smart, weighs 20 lbs, has two teeth, sits up to

the table and eats bread at meal times…. We have had no winter here in the West as yet, and I do not

believe we are going to get any this year. It seems more like April the January….

They have a Lyceum here called the Merrimack Lyceum in which all the great men of the town take part.

I was appointed the last evening to defend the negative of the next question, which is as follows,

Resolved, that the sale of intoxicating lickors as a beverage ought to be punished by imprisonment. I am

on the wrong side for me according to my principles, although I shall try and make a bold defense for

the whisky seller….

I am with much love your obedient son,

J. O. Partridge

Letter of 23 May 1858 from Merrimack, Sauk County, Wisconsin By J. O. Partridge

Merrimack, Sauk Co., Wis., May 23, 1858

Dear Mother:

… When I think how things are at home, I begin to wish I was there once more enjoying myself with you,

and I anticipate I shall be before New Year’s if I get what is oweing to me at Keokuk, and I do not doubt

but that I shall as soon as it becomes due which is in Nov. And again I expect to earn enough before that

time to pay for my passage to Boston.

I expect to have work now all summer, although I do not know as I shall work here. I some expect to go

to work for a man putting in a large flouring mill. However, they will not be ready for me before the

middle of June. They have got the mill started here, and I am for the present running the muley saw mill.

Commenced yesterday. I expect they would like to hire me all summer, but I think I can do better if I can

get to work on this flouring mill….

I have planted Maynard’s garden and got up quite a little pile of wood for him. We get along here very

well. It does not cost much for flour & potatoes and other provisions to live on that is raised about here,

but sugar & molasses is high. Flour remains at 3 doll. per barrel; potatoes are plenty at 12 cts. a bushel,

butter 11 cts. a pound….

You speak of the revival in the church at Templeton. I am glad to hear if the folks there are geting to be

any better. I think as a general thing there are more that get religion that there is that get true

Christianity. Henry Ward Beecher says that the first thing he does when people join his church is to turn

them out of religion into Christianity, and I am about of his opinion as to getting religion. I think people

ought to be less religious and more Christianlike….

Maynard & Harriet have got a pretty smart girl, but I presume they will spoil her makeing such a pet of

her. If she is not the mistress of the house soon, I will be mistaken….

With much love your son,

J. O. Partridge