The thing that really got me hooked on genealogy was finding letters written by my ancesters in the mid-1800s. I was searching on the internet for anything I could find about the Bryan side of my family and I stumbled on a website called The Bryan Gathering. There were my people! And most exciting of all, there were several letters written by my ancestors in the mid-1800s! The letters had been transcribed by Deloris Johnson McBride, who was in possession of them. I printed the letters from the website and proudly put them in my Bryan notebook and I was hooked on genealogy for good.
Subsequently, family researcher Jerry Bryan reprinted the letters in his book, “Our Links to the Past: The Story of the Descendants of William Bryan”. The letters were written by Hester Jane Westfall Bryan, George Washington Bryan, Francis Marion Bryan, and John Wesley Bryan. The Bryans are my Grandfather Thomas Hoskins’ side of the family. George Washington Bryan was Thomas Hoskins grandfather – my 2nd great grandfather. Hester Jane Westfall was the mother of George Washington, Francis Marion and John Wesley Bryan.
Here is the transcription of a letter written by George Washington Bryan to his brother, Francis Marion Bryan in 1854:
Ray County Mo.
August 27th 1854
Dear Brother and Sister
I now gladly embrace the opportunity of informing you that we are tollerable well at present except Mary Hester and myself. Mary still has a spell of the phythisic occasionally and I have been greatly afflicted with the Rheumatism in my neck breast and sides. Sally has another boy born June 3rd/54 and he grows quite fast and looks well. We have not named him yet. We still live near where we first arrived. John and me are living together. Nancy has another girl she calls her Mary Jane. John and Nancy are tollerable well at present though Nancy has been very sick shortly after her child was born. Larkins live close to us we see some of them nearly every day but they talk about moving back towards Kentucky they are all tollerable well. We have had a great drought this summer and have had but little rain since the 20 June Consequently our crop of corn is very light I don’t suppose that we will realize more than 3 ½ or 4 bushels to the acre. Our oat crops are good, tobacco is very little account. I have been thinking about going 75 0r 80 miles north of this to look at some land and see if I can find a place to suit me this has become a hard place for a poor man to get a home. I would advise my friends if they are doing well not to pick up to come here yet. Corn is selling for 50 cents per bushel, flour for $3.25 per 100 pounds and the people talk about saving their bacon for another year. Price when sold from 7 to 10 cents per pound pork is thought to bring $5.00 per hundred the price of cattle is thought to fall. I want you to remember us in your prayers when it goes well with you that we may hole out faithful and if never meet in this world I hope we shall meet in heaven where parting friends will be no more. We send our best love and respect to all the connections in general. Frank don’t treat me as bad as I have treated you by not writing to you. I want you to write as soon as you get this letter and let us know how you and Lucy are getting along so no more at present. But still remain your loving brother and sister until death.
To Francis M. Bryan Mailed to Elkton, Todd, KY
From George W. Bryan
To put this letter in a little context:
George Washington Bryan and his brother, John Wesley Bryan, married sisters – Sarah Stokes and Nancy Stokes. Sarah’s and Nancy’s father was Larkin Stokes. When George refers to “Larkins” in the letter, this is likely Larkin Stokes and family. George and Sarah were living in Todd County, Kentucky in 1850, but probably arrived in Ray County, Missouri in the spring of 1854 – in time to plant crops. George says “it is a hard place for a poor man to get a home,” indicating that they are living on leased land and are not land-owners themselves. In fact, he and his brother’s family are sharing a home. The letter is written to Francis Marion Bryan and his wife, Lucy, who were still in Todd County, KY.
What is phythisic? I think G.W. mispelled phthisis – but who wouldn’t? The Michigan Family History Network provides the following definition –
“Tuberculosis: Commonly known in the 1800’s as consumption, lung sickness, long sickness, white swelling, the white plague, marasmis, phthisis, wasting disease or tuberculosis of the lungs. …. Tuberculosis most commonly affects the respiratory system, but may affect other parts of the body. TB may be acute or chronically progressive. It is spread by the act of breathing by people with an active case of the disease. 100 years ago one in every seven people died from TB.
… The progressive wasting and emaciation of the individual gave rise to the term consumption. Persistent coughing is the most common symptom of an active case of TB. The diagnosis of TB was a slow death sentence. Cough, prolonged fevers, bloody sputum and wasting are the primary symptoms.”
I am happy to report that Mary Hester grew to adulthood, married, had at least 5 children, and lived past the 1885 Kansas census. I haven’t dug into her life any further.
The unnamed baby boy born to Sarah and George was eventually named William Wesley Bryan. Unfortunately, he died two years later, on 04 Dec. 1856.