Letter Dated January 24th, 1847

London Coffee House, London, Care of Agent of Liverpool Steamers, Boston, January 24, 1847

Helen Powers Griswold, Lyme, Connecticut, to Capt. Robert H. Griswold

When Helen wrote to Robert in London after his winter passage on the Northumberland in 1847, she complained that she felt “wretched” in mind and body. Nearing the end of her third pregnancy, she conveyed her annoyance with his family members but also her resentment of his socializing and keeping “gay company” while she remained “shut in” at home. Preoccupied with her own discomfort, Helen reported the shocking deaths of two Irish servants in the home of his cousin Richard Griswold but sent scant news of their children. She dismissed advice from visiting friends that she should get dressed and go out and longed for her ordeal to end.


Lyme Jan 24, 1847
My Dear Husband

I have written you by the Yorkshire Ship Yorkshire
The Yorkshire, built in 1843 and reputed to be the fastest packet ship on the North Atlantic, sailed the New York to Liverpool route for the Black Ball Line. Image: Alexander Charles Stuart, Black Ball Line Ship Yorkshire, ca. 1843. Oil on canvas. Courtesy Skinner, Inc. 
 and by the Torontot_buttersworth_toronto_off_the_needles_1_unframed (1)
Robert had sailed the packet ship Toronto from New York to London for nine years until he took command of the Northumberland in 1844.
Thomas Buttersworth (1768–1837), Black X Packet Toronto off the Needles, ca. 1835. Oil on canvas. Collection of Mr. Geoffrey Paul 
 and have nothing new to communicate, I am still in the same situationHelen neared the end of her third pregnancy, and Robert H. Griswold, Jr., (1847-1864) was born on January 28, four days after she wrote this letter.  Oh! How I long to be over it no one knows, it seems to me as if I had been in this way for the last two years, so long I have been shut up in the house, not able to go out, and nothing to enliven me,

Captain Robert H. Griswold
Thomas Coke Ruckle, Captain Robert Harper Griswold, 1840.
Watercolor on paper.
Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Dr. Matthew Griswold

it is not probable you will hear of my confinement A woman’s confinement was the period during which she remained in bed before, during, and after childbirth.  as it is doubtful you getting my letter by the Henry Clayimage027The Swallowtail Line’s packet ship Henry Clay had been salvaged and rebuilt after being wrecked in a gale on March 25, 1846, off the New Jersey coast.
Packet Ship Henry Clay wrecked off the New Jersey coast 
 as they none of them except the Yorkshire sail their day, I am so wretched as I can well be, both in mind and body, I have, and still suffer dreadfully, but I wrote you all that in my other letters, and will not repeat it, every thing annoys me, Charles C’s  qCfQ8Lqv5IBSfXywEr4GFuKUiTh-1hxJ5g-kbxyPams_footenote
Robert’s cousin Charles C. Griswold (1787-1869) and his wife Elizabeth Griswold Griswold (1800-1888) had built a new home in the section of Lyme called Black Hall in 1842.
W.F. Miller, Charles Chandler Griswold, 1864. Watercolor on paper. Courtesy Griswold Family Archives 
 act as if they were possessed with the evil one, Mrs Griswold l3GB6-Mr5EpILiDnX3nlQDaFRAbaDT7cg6PPZRYJsus_footenote
Helen refers to Elizabeth Griswold Griswold (1800-1888).
Elizabeth Griswold Griswold, ca. 1880. Courtesy Griswold Family Archives 
heard you were talking of moving to New York as I wrote you, and she has taken it upon her to make all sorts of remarks, told Mother Fanny-Rogers-Griswold-detail
Helen refers to Robert’s mother Fanny Rogers Griswold (1767-1863).
Unidentified artist, Frances “Fanny” Rogers Griswold (1767–1863), ca. 1840. Courtesy Griswold Family Archives. 
 and MatthewMatthew-Griswold-d_1879_footnote
Robert’s brother Matthew Griswold (1792-1879) lived in Black Hall.
Matthew Griswold (1792–1879). Courtesy Griswold Family Archives 
 you could not afford to live there decently &c


  • A dreadful circumstance occurred a few nights since…


all that I do not care about, but Matthew thinks it has all originated in me, and does not like it that I have set such a story afloat, now Robert I know (and told Matthew so,) that you had not the most distant idea of going to New York, but do not see why it need be considered such a dreadful, awful! thing my speaking of it, which I have merely done for talk sake, but then it displeased Mr and Mrs Charles C Griswold and that, (in Black Hall P5.3 copyMost of Robert’s family lived in the section of Lyme called Black Hall where the first Matthew Griswold had built a homestead in the 1660s.
Image: Approach to Black Hall, Harper”s New Monthly Magazine, February 1876
people’s estimation) is enough to make it a crime, Mr Griswold has also taken it upon him to add 2 dollars more for your per cent, has taken the liberty to write down your name for 14$, do you not think that free and easyObjecting to the way Charles C. Griswold (1787-1869) managed a family financial arrangement, Helen chided Robert for deferring to his prosperous cousin.  ; or do you consider it an honour! He says you have got to pay it, (I would like to know if you submit to such things! – All are well at Black Hall, Phebe Phoebe-Ely-Griswold-1804-1904_footnoteHelen’s sister-in-law Phoebe Ely Griswold (1804-1904) also approached the end of a pregnancy and gave birth on February 6 to a daughter Elizabeth Griswold (1847-1915).
Phoebe Ely Griswold (1804–1904), ca. 1870. Courtesy Griswold Family Archives
 keeps along as I do, and that prevents Mother from coming up, I long to have her, and she is very anxious to come, the Children are very well, both have good appetites,

A dreadful circumstance occurred a few nights since, two of Richard Griswold's us-nlggLike other prominent residents of Lyme, Robert’s cousin Richard S. Griswold (1809-1849), a partner in the family shipping firm N. L. & G. Griswold, employed Irish immigrants as household servants.
N.L. & G. Griswold Flag
 servants, (both Irish girls3035Many of the young women who provided household help in Lyme had crossed the Atlantic to escape famine in Ireland. They traveled steerage class in the crowded and unventilated holds of packet ships like those Robert commanded.
“Emigrant Vessel—Between Decks,” Illustrated London News, May 10, 1851
) took charcoal up into their room when going to bed, there was no fireplace in the room and in the morning were both found dead, it created a great sensation, and made Richard G. almost sick, he says he cannot get over it, although there was not the slightest blame to be attached to any one, — I could not sleep nights for thinking of it, — how I long to know dear Robert how you are, where you are, and what you are doing, do you ever think of your poor, miserable, wife? Or are you too much engaged with gay company 3008Like other packet ship captains, Robert socialized with cabin-class passengers during and after a voyage. Novelist Herman Melville (1819-1891) crossed the Atlantic with Capt. Griswold on the Southampton in 1849 and described the lavish meal they shared in London followed by an “exceedingly diverting” pub visit. “Had a noble dinner of turtle soup, pheasant &c with glorious wine,” Melville wrote in his journal. “At 10 o’clock, left with the Captain & the rest of the company. . .for the ‘Judge & Jury’ Bow Street. Exceedingly diverting but not superlatively moral.”
Cutaway of packet ship
? I am dreaming of you every night, and thinking of you constantly, but then I cannot expect you to think of your Helen as often, you have other things to take your attention, — Mrs Richard Lord Esther Ann Lord (1811–1866) was the wife of Richard L. Lord (1794–1860), owner of a 200-acre farm on the Connecticut River. and Miss Harriet LE1.3Harriet Lord (1795-1882), the unmarried older sister of Phoebe Griffin (Lord) Noyes (1797-1875), at whose school in Lyme Helen had taught music before her marriage, lived a mile away on the town’s main street.
Richard Sill Griswold, Jr., Phoebe Lord house, ca. 1885. LHSA
, called here yesterday, insisted upon it there was nothing the matter with me, and said, if there was a party I should dress up and go,

I thought if either of them felt as I did, they would think it was no joking matter, Mr DeanThe caretaker who maintained Robert’s 30-acre property may have been Richard Dean, born in 1791, a farmer who lived close to Robert’s relatives in Black Hall. Mr. Dean performed essential tasks like cutting ice, loading coal, harvesting corn, and keeping the barns and carriage in good repair. has been geting his Ice, it is much better than that we had last year and will keep longer, You did not write me any thing about your Freight – or Passengers, but I understood you had a good Freight, do write me how you expect to do home, for I am also [being] questionedCharles Chandler Griswold co-owned several Black X Line ships with John Griswold, Jr. As part owner, he questioned Helen about Robert’s cargo and passengers. so much upon the subject, and all look so surprised that I never know, — how I shall long to see your arrival out and that you have a good passage,

do write me long letters, if I am well I shall not be able to go out before you will be at home and my only comfort will be in hearing from you, dear dear Robert I fear this will be the last letter you will receive from me, but do not forget me, think of me kindly and affectionately, forget my many faults, and remember me ever as your own, Helen –



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Credit: Collection of Robert Lorenz