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
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.