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I am truly a wanderer

Leaving Toledo, Ohio, in late March 1853, James Griffing traveled along the Miami and Erie Canal selling maps to the settlers and immigrants that he encountered along the way. The first, full letter that he wrote to Augusta Goodrich during his second journey across the State of Ohio was mailed from Minster, a small pioneer village inhabited by German immigrants.

Minster [Ohio]
April 10, 1853

Dear Beloved Augusta,

It is the blessed Sabbath—a day I know that you well love and ever welcome its beloved hours. Not as so much time you can claim as your own, but as a portion our Heavenly Father has lent us for the very highest and loftiest purposes. And I think you are ready to say, “Why, James, do you intrude upon its solemn moments in epistolary correspondence?” Were you but here and could you look in upon my situation and listen to my arguments, I think I could convince you that conversation with a near friend may be justified even on this day. I.e., If in doing so, the heart is only actuated by the highest and purest purposes.  Far away from my beloved home and friends, unable to meet [any] features but those of a stranger, no ear to listen to my sorrows, my trials, and my joys, but that one which listens to even the young ravens. Thus away from all earthly friends, am I not justified in leaving my outward frame away here in Ohio and allow my immortal part to betake itself away and hold such communion as has in former times proved a source of great delight?

It is just three o’clock P.M. How many are holding strict converse with Heaven even at this moment? Almost within a stone’s throw of where I am standing there is a spacious brick edifice [named St. Augustine's Catholic Church] where nearly a thousand people are reverently kneeling in the sight of the Holy Virgin. But I am afraid their supplications rise but little higher than the images before whom they prostrate themselves. Yet among that group, far be it from me to suppose that the sincerity and purity of purpose with which many are actuated does not reach the approving ear of Infinite Purity. I was among them in the forenoon. Right at my feet (as I was obliged to stand in the space back of the slips), I could not but be impressed with the earnest devotion of a little girl. Hard by knelt her father and it seemed to her a great privilege to kneel close by his side and supplicate the same Heavenly Father he worshipped. And I am sure to the heart of infant sincerity, the beloved Jesus is ever ready to manifest himself as the chiefest among them and the one altogether lovely.

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Catholic Church in Minster, Ohio

The exercises were all in German. There is but, I believe, a single English family in the entire village of about six hundred or a thousand people. All are German Catholics. Their church -- a very imposing edifice -- cost upwards of forty thousand dollars [1], and as the people have mingled but very little with the Yankees, they retain all their European habits, have built their church in that style, and I wish I were capable of giving you a correct idea of its interior arrangement. Upon its walls are depicted an imaginary representation of each of the Apostles, large as life. Under bench of their feet hangs a large frame representing some scene in the history of our Savior’s life. Viz. His crucifixion, his betrayal, bearing his own cross, &c. A great expenditure was made about the alter. Successive bouquets peering one above the other came to a climax very near the golden cross which adorns its summit. In the same manner arose a line of candles, all of which were permitted to burn until the priest [2] ascended the pulpit, [at which time] they were all extinguished by one of the little lads in a red dress -- [all] except the tallest. This burned all through the service.

The Holy of Holies wherein is “kept the body of the Lord” was mounted with a bright metallic substance resembling gold. Just in front of this, was a small image of the Savior upon the cross which seemed to receive greater reverence and more attention than any other object in the house. Every time the priest or one of his little boys passed in front of this, they fell upon their knees and did it reverence. So did all the congregation as they came in the house after they had touched the tip of their finger in the Holy water and crossed themselves. I could not help but notice how all the children were very strict to observe all the forms of worship and joined most heartily with their parents.

The trappings of the priest were the most splendid I ever saw, all mounted with gold. These he threw off before going to the pulpit and when he came to preach. Oh how much I wanted to understand the German! His gestures were easy, and his features were marked with great animation.

In purchasing property [in Illinois, I’m afraid that I have] thrown myself under obligations that will require continued effort on my part until these obligations are fulfilled. [This] will keep me busy until about the first of September. I am not sure as I have been doing right. I find a thousand sources of diversion and pastime, many of which I endeavor to turn to advantage and enjoy myself just as well as one possibly could under my circumstances.  Yet, after all, many times I feel uneasy and feel that I am not in the way of duty. I get so very little time for steady, systematic reading. Am obliged to witness so many scenes of wickedness and wrong. Am so frequently brought with the roughest and worst specimens of humanity on the footstool, whose very breath and touch is wretchedness, whose whole life is one complete series of profanity and pollution, that I am fearful my heart does not yearn with that earnestness it should to alleviate earth’s wretchedness.  Oh how much the repeated spectacle of sinning men tends to callous the heart!  I am sure my whole soul does not go out after these poor wretches as it did when first their unhallowed sayings first fell upon my ear.  No person can travel in the West without being annoyed every day in some way. And if that verse in “Watts on the mind” is true, beginning “vice is a monster of so fraughtful miens, &c, &c.,” does it not become me to “watch and pray lest I enter into temptation?” [3]

There is no one thing that produces a greater amount of mischief here than alcohol.  Ask the cause of “that street brawl” -- “that drunken row” -- “those bloated features” -- “Why is that poor child ragged and wretched?” -- “that woman crying?” —Whiskey does it. Among the Dutch [German], not only the fathers and mothers drink, but even the children. This noon whilst passing a liquor stall, I saw stretched out on a box in front of it a little boy apparently about twelve or fourteen [years old who was] drunk.  I paused a few moments to see if it was so. Sure enough. Soon he raised his head and began to throw up the contents of his stomach. The consolation he received was from a bystander [who offhandedly remarked], "You must leave likker be.”

My host [4], who is a member of the Catholic Church, has kept his bar open all day for any who wished liquor. It is used in the morning, at midday, and half the night. And oh! After you have enumerated the dear youths that are worse than orphaned, the wives worse than widowed, after you have heard all the cries of distress and followed to the unchanging state its daily multitude of victims, still you know only very little of the immense evil growing out of the excessive use of liquor. Ten thousand voices all combine in saying, “It is our greatest evil.”

I must close. Pardon me if I have done wrong in conversing with you this blessed day. Pray for me that amidst all the wickedness of earth, I may keep my eye upon the home on high, live not for the present, but for the transcendent glories that brighten around the unfolding future. [May I] live to do good, serve my God, and save my soul. Do you hear from Owego often? Of course you do. And so should I could I but tell them where to direct [their letters]. Letters are already awaiting me at Monroeville [Ohio], but weeks must pass before I can get there. This is the third letter I have written you since I have received a word. Your letter to Chicago I have ordered remailed and shall get it in a few days, Providence favoring. If you will be so kind as to answer this soon and direct to Newark, Licking County, Ohio, I shall get it quite direct. I fell in company with the Deaf and Dumb preacher over at the Asylum at Columbus. [He] said [Rev.] Mr. [Collins] Stone’s health was good.  Saw your Uncle Jasper [Goodrich] in Toledo two weeks ago. Said all were well. My health is good. Forever yours, -- James

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Ohio Canals

Hartford [Connecticut]
April 15, 1853

My dearest James,

I received your letter at Minster the 10th inst. this afternoon and will write a few lines this evening in reply. I have several letters which you have not received and now I shall not be able to write much. I am to sit up tonight with a very sick child and it is nearly time for me to go. But I will write a few lines.

Uncle [Elizur] is now in New York [City] but we expect him home tomorrow eve.  We are all very well and moved into our new home opposite the college. I have written that Uncle has sold his house in Buckingham St.

Since I last wrote, one of the best teachers in New England, Miss F. Strong, Principal of the Seminary here, has died. She was much loved and respected and was an excellent woman. Her funeral was the largest I ever attended.  All her scholars dress in mourning. She was granddaughter of the predecessor of Dr. [Joel] Hawes in this place. And Dr. Hawes has looked upon her almost as a daughter.

The little child that I am to sit up with is one of our neighbors that is very sick with the whooping cough. The father, Mr. Gallop, has gone to Philadelphia and, since he left, the child is much worse and I hardly think that it will live. There are two of them, both beautiful children about six months old, but one is worse than the other. They have sent for me several times in great haste.  But oh, it suffers more than the tongue can tell.

In my last letter from [Owego], they wrote that George Light was dead.  He went south.  Also that Uncle Alanson [Goodrich] was suffering a great deal with the Neuralgia in his limbs and could not step or bear his weight on his feet.

I have not seen cousin Hancie [Abbey Dayton] since about the time I last saw _______ but saw her husband a few days ago who said she was coming up in a few days and that she had been afflicted with 47 boils. Cousin Maria [Wright] comes up rather oftener. Her brother Sheldon is married to a young lady from Philadelphia. I met Mr. Perincheif a few days ago and he has been about sick with the whooping cough. It is vacation now. You ask when I think of going home [to Owego]. I now expect to go in June sometime. I cannot be ready before as I want to visit [my relatives] in _________.

I read your letter from Woodstock with a great deal of interest on several accounts. One because you saw my cousin [Sarah] in such an unexpected manner, and secondly, because you purchased there. Still I cannot but feel that you have not done just as you wished, and that to please me you did so.  I truly hope not, for if I have said anything to influence you in that matter, I shall never forgive myself. Will you not write in your next if it is so? And also your plans. And how long you intend to stay in Owego.

I should have thought you would have been very lonely last Sabbath [in Minster] -- no friends and no Christian people to associate with. How thankful we ought to be that we have been educated differently.  When supplicating our Heavenly Father for His blessing, I do not forget you far away. And will you not remember me? I hope to hear from you before long. Good night.  Yours ever — J. Augusta


Newark [Ohio]
April 28, 1853

Beloved Augusta,

You can hardly guess what emotions of pleasure I experienced in arriving at this place last evening and finding not only one, but eight letters. Three from yourself, one from Osmyn, one from Henry, one from Daniel, and two on business. I was expecting one from Chum Walton, but was disappointed. But in writing back [to you], what among the ten thousand things I want to write shall I record? First, let me answer some of your questions least I forget it.

You ask some questions about the Western country and whether I have changed any of my former plans. I can tell you nothing about Iowa—only information I have gained by report and from reading which is general. And [certainly] nothing particular that would much interest anyone. As to my intentions of pursuing a Theological course, it remains the same but probably my plans may be different from what I had formerly projected. Very often it comes into my head that I am endeavoring to pursue my own way too much without seeking direction from on high. I have many trials. Sometimes it seems as if I was wasting a great deal of time and accomplishing but little for Heaven—apparently but a cipher among my fellows. But how, in my circumstances, can I do differently? The means I must have for comfort. And I am sure I know of no better time for a young man destitute of aid to provide a little in advance, when he has but himself to care for. Besides, some property obtained now in a proper location will increase enough in value by the improvement of the country to place a man in comfortable circumstances in some future day if he is only prudent. I purchased land at Woodstock not only because my cousins lived there, but also because I thought you would like it better near your relatives [rather] than where the country is newer and no acquaintances are near. Also, because I thought [the land] was offered cheap. I would hardly take two hundred for the bargain. [My] brother Henry writes that he intends to sell his place if he can and move West and Ossy thinks he shall come out in the spring.

I have concluded that in my circumstances, I had better continue my present business until I meet all my liabilities which will require all my time until the middle or last of September. After [that], I want to commence study again where I can do it at the least expense and for some seasons, if I can select a suitable place. Shall stop through next winter in the city of Davenport, Iowa, the city opposite Rock Island where they are bridging the Mississippi [River] for the great Western Railroad. Already it is a place of some six or eight thousand inhabitants and filling up rapidly every day. You inquired about Fort Des Moines. It is already quite a large place containing between one and two thousand inhabitants and filling up rapidly. It is on the Des Moines River in about the centre of the State and without doubt will ultimately be the Capital. Iowa must be the great State.  Its resources are boundless. Vast beds of coal cover nearly half its surface, or at least over very large portions of it.

You inquire about the society and church at Woodstock. The Presbyterian Minister is a most excellent man, Mr. [Richard Kimball] Todd [1814-1894], and they have a very flourishing Sabbath School. The church is not very large, illy calculated to meet the wants of the rapid growth of the place. Seven years ago, Woodstock had not an existence. Now it numbers from six hundred to a thousand or more. You would not like the society there much after leaving Hartford. Refinement is a term but little understood. Yet, after all, I think there is as much real politeness there as [back] East. To be sure, they are not studied in the rules of etiquette and they are not formal. Yet treatment by them is the unstudied promptings of their generous natures. It has no borrowed stiffness, no affectation, but comes directly from the heart where most easily you can read the real feelings and motives that actuate the movements. They are plain, simple, frank, and generous [people]. To be sure, the society is new and, as a consequence, are destitute of many of the facilities for education and general information. Yet the time is coming when the Mississippi Valley is to be the garden of the world, the great seat of literature and the arts, and at the present rate of developing resources, that day is already dawning.

I am glad that you are coming home in June for I think probably that will be the time when I can make it most convenient to be there [also]. The firm for which I am acting [as an agent] have written for me to come and operate in the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut and only one thing prevents my coming: Viz.—PRIDE. So many of my school acquaintances are scattered about in those states that I should dislike to be peddling around among them. However, as I have only engaged in it for a temporary employment, I ought not to allow it to affect me thus. I shall, however, make up my mind soon. I want to attend the World’s Fair [5] and wish I could only be there when you are.  I suppose, however, there will be a great crowd and it will be very fatiguing. Scarcely a village in Ohio but what will be represented there and some of them largely. Many are talking about it. I suppose by being there early in the forenoon, a person could manage to preserve his identity and see the world’s wonders without much disturbance.

If you come to Owego, shall you probably return to Hartford again? I shall not probably stop [in Owego] very long—only long enough to make mother a good visit. It may be a week. And if you are not there, I shall hardly stop that long. Oh how much I want to see mother. I am afraid she is lonesome with Mary absent and her family all gone.

I am not positive whether the Theological School at Auburn is Presbyterian or Congregational. [6]

The difficulty you mentioned among the students there [in Hartford] reminded me forcibly of a great disturbance that occurred during my freshman year at Middletown. How foolish students can act sometimes. How much against their own interest and how much unnecessary trouble and pain they can give to those who take the deepest interest in their welfare. My whole class came very near getting their walking papers. Ah, what if they had. I wonder how much honor they would have gained by it?

Neither [of my brothers] Osmyn or Henry mentioned any particular news. Henry speaks of a revival in the Congregational Church under the supervision of Mr. Pourchard. Says Almerin S. Warring (Harriet Hall’s husband) has experienced religion and decided to be a Christian. Henry mentioned that sister Clarissa had a very narrow escape occasioned by the horse running backwards one very dark night and precipitating the wagon down a wall forty feet into the canal. She came very near losing her life as well as one of her children. I am sorry he did not give more of the particulars. Ah, whilst we are so highly favored with health and are surrounded with all that the widest longings of our hearts would crave, how very many of our nearest friends are undergoing the most extreme suffering?

I was most forcibly reminded of this whilst at [South] Charleston, [Ohio], this week. It was known that half a dozen young men from that place had shipped to California on the steamer Independence which was wrecked. As [I stood offering maps for sale near the railroad station when] the cars came in, the baggage master called one of the parents of the young men to him, mentioned the incident, and, at the same time, handed him a paper containing the particulars. I happened to stand at his side as he received the paper. To that man, Oh what a moment! What anxiety could you read in his countenance as his brows knit together and his lips compressed. Withdrawing from the crowd, his trembling hands commenced unfolding the clumsy sheet. How much of interest all bound up in a single moment. Yet so much was he agitated that he could not read. Desirous to know the particulars, I drew near him and he asked me if I could see B. F. Harvey among the lost. [7] Assuring him that I could not, his countenance began to relax and his nerves grow calm. Still he remained very uneasy when he learned that the survivors were cast upon a desolate island without the least food near for sustenance. And it really seemed as if he would give the world, were it in his possession, could he but tell at that moment the real condition of his dear son.

Also in traveling about among all classes of society and witnessing the untold suffering of many, how often have I thought, “How very little does one part of the world know how the other lives.” It is truly fine traveling weather about here now. The roads, which were so exceedingly muddy, have all become very hard. The trees are just unfolding their richness and the multitude of early wild flowers cluster closely around every stump and hillock. And then to be surrounded all along your way by so many species of songsters by night and day, for just as soon as the little birds cease, the frogs stand ready to take up the song where they left off and continue until late in the night. The trees here grow much larger than there in the forest. I notice often a tree full of blossoms resembling our mayflower or peach blossom. It is very handsome. There were a great many of them in the Dayton [Ohio] Cemetery and I mistook them at first for the peach. Bright and beautiful is the daytime everywhere here. Scarcely an object to mar the scenery—unless it be the suffering of some unfortunate being. This world would not be so unwelcome a place after all did not the evil disposition of some people make it so to them. I should enjoy myself much better did I only, in my rambles about, have someone with whom to converse—some bosom friend in whom I could confidentially confide. However, I must endeavor to make the best of it.

My health continues quite good, yet I have often thought that if kind Heaven should remove me from time, I should consider it a great favor could I only close my eyes whilst resting my head in the lap of my mother and then be placed for my final rest very near the remains of my dear father. How very short the time when all that interests us here will be swallowed up in the wide embrace of eternity. One great disadvantage I find in wandering about is that I am deprived from the regular attendance at meetings. No one to whom I can unbosom my difficulties and trials. No well known acquaintance that knows just how to make all due allowance for my imperfections. No one with whom to counsel, but must wander on from day to day with the same routine. After all, I think I am surrounded with a much greater variety than most persons. I trust that I am grateful to bear even the most humble share in your remembrance although I may be unworthy a position there—more especially at evenings and mornings’ hour, for then, oh then, if ever forget one not. And when in solitude I converse with my Savior, I will endeavor to breathe ardent wishes for your present and future welfare. Oh that happy days and hours of peace may crown your whole existence, so prays your, -- James

P.S.  Hannah Hall, whom I saw at Toledo the other day, says he has been elevated to some office on the railroad and thinks he will have the supervision of building the bridge over the Mississippi at Rock Island. I hope so, for probably he will locate in Rock Island or Davenport. Will you please direct [your next letter] to this place—Newark, Licking County, Ohio. Write soon and give all the news. When I get my letters written, I always feel as if I had written nothing.

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Ensign & Thayer Map of Ohio

Newark, Licking County [Ohio]
[Wednesday] May 18, 1853

My Dear Augusta,

Have just returned to this city after an absence of two weeks and was right glad to find ready to welcome my return four letters – one from yourself, one from [my] brother Daniel, one from cousin George [Griffing] at Woodstock [Illinois], and one from my old minister at Middletown [Connecticut], Parson Reid. [8]

Every particular mentioned in your kind favor was new to me. The death of Louisa Goodrich sent across my frame curious emotions. It recalled vividly the time I formed her acquaintance. I thought I never formed the acquaintance of anyone possessed with such a surplus of good nature. I remember that a little circumstance occurred that threw her into a fit of laughter and nothing that could be done restored her to her right mind during my stay. Did the Christian’s hope comfort her last hours? I do hope that she rejoices among the happy throng on high.

I was glad to hear of the improvement of Uncle Aner [Goodrich’s] health. I suppose his disease is very afflicting. Who was Samuel Sacket? Any relation of the Candor Sacket’s? I suppose today you will have a very pleasant time in Glastonbury. How very much the old people must enjoy it.

In my letter from [brother] Daniel, there was fastened this piece of paper the reading of which has given me much pain:

“Mr. Nesbitt, a lawyer residing in Tioga County, N.Y., has been arrested and examined by U. S. Commissioner Sabine, on the charge of forging pension certificates in the name of Eliakim Hamilton, who has been dead eight years. He has been held to bail.” [9]

Can it be possible that it can be James Nisbet? If so, oh how much I hope that it will prove the result of some oversight or accident rather than a willful determined forgery. If it is true, oh what pain will it bring to the heart of his dear mother and father, his precious sister, and above all, to his noble and deeply pious brother, who is now toiling for the salvation of the heathen away in Burma. [10]  I humbly pray that it may never reach his ear. With the training James Nisbet has received, who would ever have thought that one possessing so much self esteem and so thoroughly vested in morals would have been willing to exchange all his hopes for the present and future for a mere bauble and then send sorrow and sadness into the hearts of those so tender to feel and so competent to judge of the extreme aggravation of his crime.

[My brother] Daniel thinks of selling out there in Baltimore and moving west. He says nothing keeps him there but the feebleness of his aged father-in-law. Whether this hindrance will be obviated in any way soon is uncertain. He says that James Fiddis staid with him a few nights ago but did not mention what brought him down in that section. I was in hopes that a letter would come to me from [my] brother Henry so that I would have the latest news from Owego to send you. As it is, I have not the first word.

I have just returned from a very pleasant trip down on the Ohio [River]. I passed down the Scioto [River] to Portsmouth, and went from there to Pomeroy, and then passed up through the country to Zanesville and took the cars for this place where I just arrived. Nothing of surprising magnitude occurred during the trip and yet a thousand little incidents occurred that add so very much to the pleasure of a wandering life. The valley of the Scioto is noted for its heavy yields of corn. Thousands and thousands of acres have been repeatedly planted with nothing but corn ever since the country was settled and yet the yield is just as prolific as ever. To see one man planting a field containing several hundred acres is no uncommon thing, and sometimes a mile’s walk in a direct line will not carry you across his cornfield. And then it seems so strange to see people husking corn in the spring. Many of the farmers, by improving all the pleasant weather they have through the winter, do not get their corn all husked until late in the spring. The ears grow very large and every hill yields bountifully. It is no uncommon thing to get over a hundred bushel of shelled corn to the acre. Yet oh, how ready men are to prostitute the very richest bounties of a kind Heavenly Father to the very basest of purposes. Boat load after boat load of these golden treasures are borne away to some filthy distillery where it is converted into an agent that will go about among happy homes, introducing sorrow, tears, and discord, rob society of some of its most precious ornaments, and in every way performing an office that must greatly displease that good Being who so plentifully scatters over the earth such an abundance of His rich blessings. What a scene must the revelations of the final day develop to the gaze of the recipients of Heaven’s bounties.

I traveled on a steamboat up the Ohio [River] from Portsmouth and I do think it one of the most pleasant trips of my whole life. Oh it is such delightful traveling on that river at this season. One must enjoy it to know anything about it. From Pomeroy I came up across the country to McConnelsville and had a fine opportunity to study the habits and character of yeomanry of Southern Ohio. No person can help but like them. Not many of them roll in wealth; yet they are very kind and hospitable, and never in my life shall I forget my entertainment in the family of Wilson Selby, Esq., last Sabbath. If I had time, I would tell you all about him and his family together with the pleasure derived in attending a Presbyterian meeting at a log schoolhouse in the woods. After all, how could this interest you? Probably just as much as anything else. Amidst so many things, I hardly know of anything that will interest you, nothing but the common occurrences of life surround me daily. I keep no diary or I suppose I might refer to it occasionally to recall any incident of importance.

The only Wilson Selby appearing in 1850 Ohio Census Records lived in Rome Township of Athens County. He was a Farmer from Virginia and would have been 47 years old in 1853

This afternoon I start out again and have several letters to write before I go. I think I shall continue to travel about here in Ohio at my present business until I see some person shaking with the ague, or hear of some cases of cholera, after which I shall direct my course homeward. When I shall get there, I cannot now tell. Probably to spend the Fourth of July, celebrating it [and] visiting my good old mother. I should like to be at Middletown at commencement [in August].

I know you will excuse my scribble. I commenced writing before I rested from my travel and have written it at a counter in a store where there has been more or less talking. I will send with this a sheet map of Ohio containing a line of my journeyings. Please answer soon as convenient. You will today see Hancie [Abbey Dayton]. I wish I could too. Have those 17 cavities taken their departure? I can sympathize with her in a measure. Mine troubled me much although I had to [endure it]. I however found that chewing sarsaparilla root was beneficial [in relieving the pain]. Please bear my kind regards to her as well as Maria [Wright]. When I shall again see them, I know not. When you write, state just how your father’s and mother’s health is. And if you hear one word from any of our folks [in Owego], please mention it. Please direct to this place – Newark, Licking County, Ohio. I hope to see you ‘ere long until which time may all your hours be happy & may nothing occur to give a single pain. My heaven’s choicest favors ever be yours and withal a long, happy and useful life is the sincere wish of your old friend, - James

Cousin George [Griffing] writes from Woodstock [Illinois, and] says that three churches are soon to go up there. Says there had been a protracted meeting there among the Methodists and several hopeful conversions. I think you will like Woodstock on account of its enterprise if nothing else. I have just read The Senator’s Son by Metta V. Fuller and like it much. It possesses much merit and will do much good if it is only circulated. [11]

[Somewhere in Ohio during the summer of 1853]

....I was glad to hear from home through your letter. I do wish our folks thought enough of me to write oftener. I suppose they think because I missed [receiving] some of their letters [that] I will miss them all and have become discouraged. [Either that] or they think I will be home soon. I know they do not wish to see me worse than I wish to go there and see them! [My brother] Daniel wants me to come [home] by way of Baltimore as he wants to come west about the first of July, but I cannot promise him. I do not intend to appropriate a single penny needlessly.

You spoke of your enjoying cold weather better than warm. I think you would probably like the climate of Minnesota. I do hope that you have had some good cool place for these few days back. I think it has been excessively warm. Last week I traveled on foot over a hundred miles and I felt the warm weather at times quite sensibly. And then when evening came, it was so pleasant to be plodding along the bank of some stream and catch the good cool breezes and step from the dusty road upon God’s beautiful carpet, throw my eyes upon a multitude of delightful objects all new and enlivened with His presence, and with a million tongues proclaiming His magnificence and love. Surrounded as I am every day with such tokens of His favor, how can I help wishing I was a better man? [I wish I were] all intensely laboring for His own glory but, alas, it is not so. And I am afraid every day I live, it is less likely to become so. I can detect in my own obtuse feelings less sympathy with all that is ennobling in the idea of self sacrifice for God and truth, less earnestness to go forth and live and labor in the blessed cause of alleviating human wretchedness and lift up the sorrowing and downtrodden from the depths they have fallen. In fact, the love of the world seems to be preventing its claim upon my ambition and I sometimes think not without success. I know I can perceive a great deal of worldly mindedness besides a thousand other things that never ought for a moment to have any bearing upon my immortal doings. What can I do? You say that when I know you more intimately, you are afraid I will be disappointed. Probably only in this—disappointed that you would continue to regard with any degree of respect one whose life is marked with so much error that you should be willing to admit that in your heart there is true and unflinching friendship for me. [I am] truly a wanderer, not only about the earth, but away from duty. If so, the more intimately I know you, the more I shall be constrained to believe that in your bosom dwells a heart surcharged with pity, willing to forgive the waywardness of the wanderer, and to overlook the crooked footpaths which a crooked calculated makes amidst a crooked and perverse generation....  

Yet for all this, I ardently hope that He who counts all events will overrule all for the good of us both, leading us to be better and wiser persons, to love Him and each other more fervently, and bring each [of us] to share finally the unbounded bliss of Heaven.  Let this be our daily prayer and may you, my beloved Augusta, live long and happily, is the wish of your own, -- James.

Illustration Credits

Catholic Church in Minster, Ohio

History of St. Augustine' Church, Minster Ohio

Ohio Canals

The Big Ditch, by Jim Baker, Published by Ohio Historical Society, 1975

Ensign & Thayer's Map of Ohio, 1853

Ohio Historical Society


[1]    According to the official church records, "the total cost of the building was $18,287.21."  Pilgrims All, p. 87.

[2]    The pastor of St. Augustine's parish in 1853 was Father Andrew Kunkler. He was born December 4, 1824, in Glottertal, Baden [Germany] and arrived in the United States in 1845.

[3]    This quotation is from "An essay on man" authored by Alexander Pope (1688-1744). The full verse reads:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen to oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace. 

[4]    James Griffing does not reveal the identity of his "host" in this letter but it was likely to be 43-year old German emigrant, John H. Vocke who ran the only hotel in Minster, Ohio in the 1850's. John Vocke and his wife Catherine came to Ohio from Oldenberg, Germany in the mid 1830's. He ran his hotel in Minster until sometime in the 1860's. By 1870, he had relocated some 70 miles further north to Napoleon, the county seat of Henry County, Ohio, where he worked as a "merchant," according to the 1870 census. In the 1880 census, the 69-year old Vocke was identified as a "Miller & Distiller" in Napoleon.

[5]    New York City held a "World's Fair" in 1853, patterned after London's Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851.  

[6]    "One of the country's oldest seminaries, Auburn Theological Seminary was located for over 120 years at Auburn, New York. Like Union Seminary, it was a progressive, "new school" institution. It had a special commitment to the Presbyterian churches of New York State, from which many of its students were drawn and to which many returned to serve. In 1939, Auburn moved to New York City and became associated with Union Seminary where, in 1950… Auburn maintains the Seminary's historic relationship with The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the presbyteries of New York State."  Source: Auburn Theological Seminary web page.

[7]    The records of the Maritime Heritage Project list "F. Harney" among the passengers of the steamer S.S. Independence that shipwrecked on February 16, 1853. This was undoubtedly Benjamin F. Harvey who was the 26-year old son of Samuel and Nancy Harvey of South Charleston, Clarke County, Ohio. 

[8]    Thirty-year old John Morrison Reid was the Methodist minister in Derby, New Haven, CT at the time of the 1850 census. He was born in New York City, the son of John Reid and Jane Morrison. In 1851 and 1852, during James Griffing's senior year at Wesleyan University, Rev. Reid was the pastor of the Methodist Church on the north side of the South Green in Middletown, CT. 

[9]    Eliakim Hamilton (1757-1845) served as a private for three years in Capt. Hoffied White's Company, Col. Rufus Putnam's (5th) Regiment. This unit fortified the defenses at West Point. In the 1840 census, the octogenarian Eliakim Hamilton appears in the Richford, Tioga County, NY census records. In 1823, Eliakim was restored to the service pension rolls by Congress. It appears from this newspaper notice that James Nisbet was accused of cashing pension checks intended for Eliakim Hamilton even though he had passed away eight years earlier.

[10]   James Nisbet was the son of Alexander and Margaret Nisbet, natives of Scotland who came to Tioga County, New York sometime prior to 1840. In 1853, at the time of this letter, Alexander and Margaret were in their upper 60's. James Nisbet was 25, his sister Eliza was 28, and his older brother, John R. Nisbet -- referred to here and elsewhere in these letters -- was serving as a missionary in Burma for the American Baptist Mission Society.

[11]   Born on March 2, 1831, in Erie, Pennsylvania, Metta Fuller grew up there and from 1839 in Wooster, Ohio. She and her elder sister Frances attended a Wooster (Ohio) female seminary and began contributing stories to local newspapers and then to the Home Journal of New York. In 1848 she and Frances moved to New York City, where they entered into literary society. In 1851 they published Poems of Sentiment and Imagination, with Dramatic and Descriptive Pieces. Metta also published a temperance novel, The Senator's Son, or, The Maine Law: A Last Refuge (1851), which enjoyed some success in American and English editions. Source: Brittanica Online.