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