From Mother

Betsy Maria (Penfield) Cook

Last month, I shared a letter penned by Betsy Maria (Penfield) Cook to her son, Arthur, during the American Civil War; in it, she worries about Arthur’s safety and laments the death of her son, Wesley, only a few months before. It’s an emotional and touching letter (one of my favorite lines is: I feel that I could make almost any sacrifice or endure almost any hardship could I but see you for 1 half hour) that is all the more meaningful because it was written by a female ancestor and a copy still exists today. Many of my female ancestors couldn’t read and write–especially during the Civil War era–and even if they could, the copies have largely been lost to time. It’s incredible to have a source like this–to have my female ancestor’s thoughts and hopes printed on paper–and I promised to share the other letter I have in my possession with each of you soon. 

This one’s another letter written to Arthur; it was sent from Lime Springs, Iowa on June 6, 1864 while he was still away fighting in the South, and it had been a little over a year since Wesley’s death and burial along the Mississippi River:

My dear Arthur,

I most gladly embrace another opportunity of penning you a few lines. Yours of June 16th was received last evening and we were exceeding glad to hear of your welfare and we now feel assured that you were not taken prisoner as we heard.

We are sorry indeed that we did not know you were in need of paper for it would have been very easy to send you a little in with a letter and I shall write but little and send a sheet with this and if you want stamps, etc., we will send all; for I had thought of doing so before and am sorry I did not.

I am sure you are still courageous and I trust your highest hopes will be realized in regard to summer campaign, but we shall all have need of patience and especially our dear brave soldiers who are suffering and endeavoring to preserve our Nation’s freedom.

Jonas Adams is still very feeble, looks bad and upon the whole gets no better and I fear never will. W. Buckland still in Madison in comfortable health.

We would be glad to hope you celebrated the 4th as you mentioned but fear you did not–and now for ours. We had just a comfortable collection–a little music on the fife and drum, prayer by Joseph Knowlton–an excellent speech by H.C. VanBuren which would do honor to any statesman–and a good wholesome but not costly dinner and–with one exception–a very pleasant time. But when I looked upon our flag floating so quietly in the breeze with no traitor’s hand to assail–and compared our circumstances with that of our loved ones who are making such costly sacrifices to purchase for us those peaceful privileges–I could at least say for one–my pleasure was partially marred.

We received last evening a letter from your Aunt Matilda in feeble health, the rest well.

I regretted very much that you did not come and see them last spring as they had hoped you would, and also that you did not write to them.

Did you know the Railroad was in running order from McGregor to Postville? Your Father sold his wheat there for 1 dollar 75 cts per bushel. He has taken up the Carpenter note.

We are all well and hope this finds you the same. Our love to Jasper and Alfred and accept a very large share for yourself. With the humble prayer for your best good, from Mother.

In the year that remained, Arthur marched with Sherman to the sea and fought in a few more battles and skirmishes before returning home–without his brother. He started a family and devoted his life to the church, and his mother was overjoyed to have almost all of her boys together again. These letters–these snapshots of history–are special, and I’m lucky to have them; they give insight to the Lime Spring community’s happenings and provide a mother’s perspective during the Civil War era, and it’s not every day that these primary sources come to light. I hope you’ve loved reading them as much as I do–and thank you, as always, for following along with the Cook family’s story.

13 thoughts on “From Mother

  1. Jamie, have I missed it? Have you discovered and shared how Betsy received such a fine education? Her writing is articulate and fashioned to persuade. You have received a treasure!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I haven’t found it yet; I’m still going through school rosters for different Methodist Episcopal and Free Methodist schools in Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. My GUESS is that she attended one of these–her son and grandson (my direct ancestors) did, and her granddaughter-in-law even attended college. It seems like it runs in the family, so I’m hoping I’ll find her name soon. Still waiting on copies!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jamie,
    As your story illustrates, people could write much better years ago. Even moderately educated people could pen lines that far surpass those of today. Now, unfortunately, we are losing our ability to communicate sensitively. That is indeed a great shame.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Absolutely; her son mentioned her love of reading in her obituary and eulogy. She apparently read the Bible over and over again (not surprising!), but she kept a small collection of novels in the house. That must’ve been what occupied her on rainy days!

        Liked by 1 person

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