Old Flames

Old Flames

“My Own Dear Addie—” William Augur wrote on October 27, 1861, from the steamship Illinois, “I received your long, loving letter Thursday afternoon, the 24th and read it with great pleasure. Each letter from you is received with a thrill of pleasure, that lightens my heart, and makes the future more attractive. I should like very much to step in for a day or two, and enjoy a pleasant tête-à-tête…”

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Augur, a 24-year-old mechanic from New Haven, had impulsively enlisted as a private in Company C of the Seventh Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers and shipped out the month before. He spent much of his three-year tour of duty writing long, detailed letters about his wartime experiences to his sweetheart in Northampton, Massachusetts, 24-year-old Adelia C. Phelps, otherwise known as Addie. Augur’s tiny, precise penmanship fills a ream of folded sheets still clipped to their original envelopes in an archival folder in the New Haven Museum’s collection, though they’re more readable in an accompanying transcription. To save precious paper, Augur sometimes doubled back on his original text, writing another perpendicular or diagonal layer over it or squeezing even more cramped lines into blank margins. In his letters, he often implored Addie to send him stamps. Following their engagement, he began to send her money, asking her to put some away and spend some as she saw fit.

Augur’s missives are filled with valuable wartime information about his service in South Carolina and Georgia, with 16 and a half months in-between, during which he served as a recruiter in Connecticut. But they’re also clearly love letters, meant to strengthen his attachment to the woman he hoped to marry. He began every one with a term of endearment— “My Own Dear Addie,” “Dear Addie Mine” and often, “My own loved Addie”—and signed off with a similar sentiment: “Good bye—Darling mine,” “Good bye—Dearest,” “I am as ever—Your loving—William.” The letters often include a romantic aside. On December 20, 1861, from Tybee Island in Georgia, having received mail from home after a gap in correspondence, Augur wrote (emphasis his):

… I immediately began to feel better, and when I received from you a package of books, one letter… and last and best of all one mailed the tenth with your picture enclosed, the blues had all gone, and I am now as happy and contented as I could be under the circumstances. The weather is delightful, and if I was enjoying it with you, how very, very happy I should be. I think your picture is a beautiful one, and it has given me much enjoyment already. I hope I may be permitted to return an enjoy the company of the original before many month.

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Augur’s love letters aren’t alone in the museum’s collection. The correspondence of Sarah A. Perkins to George H. Durrie, a landscape painter, from 1840 to 1841 is newsy and full of underlined drama. Perkins, from Bethany, was living in Hartford and teaching at a school there. Durrie, from New Haven, was “traveling around Connecticut, New York and New Jersey trying to earn a living as an artist, painting and sketching,” a note with the collection says. At the time of their correspondence, she was 26 and he was 20. In August of 1840, Perkins wrote:

O! I do long to see you, but when I shall again have the pleasure I know not!! It seems very long since you were here. You will let me hear from you soon will you not—your letters are like refreshing showers to the thirsty ground, or food to the hungry. They are always devoured with a keen relish—Don’t be afraid of the ladies, let them know that you can associate with them without being ensnared by their charms, as long as you have one true heart in your possession—That is the way I treat Gentlemen—they know that my treatment, is nothing but civility & esteem—It is pleasant to mingle in society with such feelings—I can act with more freedom. My Dear G—what will a year bring forth!—Who can tell!

A more restrained series of “love letters” in the museum’s collection comes in the form of a diary written by Revolutionary War soldier Josiah Atkins, whose primary concern was for the future care of his pregnant wife and young daughter. Atkins, who came from Farminbury (now Wolcott) near Waterbury and served in the Fifth Connecticut Regiment, explained the purpose for recording his wartime experiences. He wrote that he expected he would be killed at war, then added, addressing his wife:

But all things are possible with god, In whose name may I ever confide, & never trust in Vain! Having these things in view & being satisfied of your love and regard for me, I cannot but think it must at least be of some satisfaction to your mind to know something in particular concerning my fate, & perceiving no other for it than this, I hope & pray god to put this book, by some means or other, in your hand…

In a note written inside the front cover of his diary, Atkins implored his “Friends and Fellow Soldiers” to “use best your utmost endeavor to send this book with its contents to my dear wife whome I have left at home to moan my misfortune…”

Atkins died in October of 1781 in Hanover, Virginia, but the diary made it 600 miles home to his wife. A footnote in an account of Atkins’s service and writings notes that Sarah Atkins later married Amos Culver and that a “granddaughter of Mrs. Sarah Culver remembers how tenderly her grandmother cherished the little book, which always held its own place among her treasures.”

William Augur fared better. He was mustered out of service on September 16, 1864, returned home safely and married Addie Phelps the following month. The couple settled in New Haven, where Augur joined the firm of noted New Haven architect Henry Austin and later opened his own. He and Addie became the parents of three children.

Sarah Perkins and George Durrie, too, were reunited and married on September 14, 1841. Perkins’s love letters to Durrie were saved by their daughter, Mary C. Durrie, passed on to her daughter and then to a cousin, who wrote, “The fact that these letters are still in existence is testimony to the fact that they were treasured by those who received them.”

The museum holds at least one other little “love letter” of note. In it, a husband known to have been philandering dashed off two lines to his wife and children back in Philadelphia. “My Dear Child,” he wrote from London on November 8, 1768, “I write this Line in great Haste, just to let you know I am well, and to request your Care in delivering the enclosed. I am, with Love to our children, Your affectionate Husband, B. Franklin.”

The “enclosed” has been lost to history, but the founding father’s lines of love remain to pale in comparison to those of his lesser known compatriots. Let not yours, this Valentine’s Day, do the same.

Photo Key:

1. Letter and envelope from William Augur to Addie Phelps.
2. Addie Phelps and William Augur.
3. Letter from William Augur to Addie Phelps.
4. A daguerreotype of William Augur.
5. A hasty note from Ben Franklin to his wife.

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images depict items from the collections of the New Haven Museum.

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