HST296E: Assignment 1: Letters and Diaries

Hubbard Family Correspondence

The Hubbard Family Collection consists of one box of letters that span the years 1825-1878. The letters are, for the most part, those received by Asahel and Jerusha Houston Hubbard and their children. Their correspondents include family and friends, some of whom had moved to the midwest. According to the background information provided by the Library's Finding Aid, "the major interest of the Hubbard Family Papers lies in the considerable number of letters to and from Vermonters serving as soldiers during the Civil War." A number of the letters are addressed to Asahel and Jerusha's second son, Frank Hubbard, who, after ten months as a prisoner of war, died in Andersonville Prison Camp in 1864. It is interesting to note that the surviving letters must have been returned to his family upon his death.

While it is true that the bulk of the letters in the collection date from the Civil War period, the letters before and after the war, though limited in number, provide a fascinating glimpse at concerns of both men and women in Vermont and areas of the midwest. The writers do not provide information about their day-to-day routines but they do, on occasion, mention events that indicate what kinds of activities they are involved in. Visits from neighbors, church related services and meetings, illness, marriages, and deaths play a predominate role.

The letters are particularly useful for examining the expressed attitudes of the writers, what those writers consider important or newsworthy, the language such expression takes, and the way that language and those subjects change over time. For example, early letters from the 1820s and 30s are filled with religious references. Later letters, while occasionally quoting from the Bible or referring to religious themes, generally only mention references in terms of sorrow and death. Imagery in the letters also confirms prevalent ideas. A letter from a niece  describes the scene before her as she writes: her husband is in his chair reading, her older son is out walking, her younger son is on the rug in front of the hearth poring over an atlas tracing the way back to Vermont. As one might expect, the letter is dated 1854.

The events in the letters are not all such scenes of domestic bliss. One letter from a Mr. Ives in Wisconsin to Asahel in 1849 begins with information about his crops of corn and wheat, and prices of cattle and wood, but then interrupts itself quite suddenly with a "news flash" that has just been brought by a neighbor: another neighbor has attempted suicide which Mr. Ives describes in grisly detail. A few sentences later he reports that the neighbor has died later that evening. Another letter provides a long, and again, graphically depicted, protracted death of a young woman, probably from tuberculosis.

The letters, then, provide tantalizing glimpses of the lives of the writers, their perceptions of their world and reactions to events in it. Though not comprehensive enough to provide a complete picture of nineteenth-century life, they do reflect, augment and support current theories about that life.

hope.greenberg@uvm.edu, 9-Feb-2005