Edward Fenno to Maria F. Hoffman, January 23, 1819
Edward Fenno to Maria F. Hoffman, New Orleans: January 23, 1819. Fenno-Hoffman Family Papers.
Dear Sister New Orleans Jany 23, 1819
I yesterday received your letter, which was really welcome, and for which I return you my sincere thanks I had never been so long and so far from home before, without any tidings, never expected a letter, with so much anxiety and never read one with so much pleasure. It is now a long time again, since yours was dated and I am not a little anxious to receive another. I wish all my friends could realise the pleasure I enjoy in receiving a letter, if they did, I am sure my walks to the Post office, would not be so frequently in vain. I was very agreeably surprised by meeting Martin yesterday morning on the Levee, he had just arrived in a keel boat, from St Louis, after forty three days passage. He is entirely recovered from the effects of his illness, and looks as well, as I have ever seen him, He intends sailing in the first vessel bound homeward, but will probably stop at the Havana on his way. There is yet no change in the prospect of business and all are anxiously awaiting the rise of the river. I shall be perfectly idle, until this desired event happens, which will probably be at least a month hence. I am staying on board a New york packet, where I shall remain until I can get possession of a house, which several of us have hired, where we intend to keep batchelors hall, the most economical, as well as the most common and agreeable manner of living here. Since I wrote last, I have had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr Larned and was pleased with his manners and conversation, beyond my expectations, which after hearing him spoken so highly of, by Miss Gratz, were very great. I went afterwards to one of his evening meetings, and in an extempore address which he made, was as much pleased by the soundness of his arguments, as I was by the richness and purity of his language, He is very liberal in his religious opinions and sentiments, and I think is better calculated to promote the objects of his profession and, if possible, to spread the influence of religion, in this place, than any man I ever knew.
He is very enthusiastic and appears confident of success, but except among Americans, by which little we from the North are distinguished I think his exertions will be badly repaid. At present there is not even the slightest appearance of religion, among the creoles, they occasionally go to mass on Sunday morning, but their business is going on at home as usual, every shop is open, the billiard tables and gambling houses are crowded all day, at night they have theatre and balls, which are frequented by many, who go on no other evening, and it is not uncharitable to suppose, that if any religious feelings should happen to obtrude themselves, in the morning, they are completely obliterated by the dissipation, revelry and vice of a Sunday evening. There is one Episcopal Church here and one for Mr Larned now building, I went on Sunday to the former, but in consequence of the illness of the minister it was closed. I saw yesterday a funeral, which entered the gates while Martin and I were strolling in the grave yard. It was preceded by several Catholick priests, dressed very fantastically and bearing in their hands crucifixes, tapers, &c. while approaching the hole, for it cannot be called a grave, they were chaunting requiems for the departed soul, and after murmuring a prayer or two immediately walked away, leaving the negro grave digger to finish the job, as it really was. The grave was filled with water and the old negro jumped on the coffin to sink it, but did not succeed, attempts were then made by other negros to sink one end at a time but it would not do, after working about ten minutes one of them beat a hole in the end of the coffin with a spade, and by pressing it down until the water filled it, finally succeeded in sinking it; The grave digger continued to stand on it, and with a large hoe raked in the mud, bones, skulls and every other remnant of mortality which he had dug out. I never before witnessed so shocking and brutal a spectacle and was as astonished at the want of feeling, evinced by the female relatives, who stood by until it all was over. There were at the time more than thirty large and several children’s
graves ready dug and waiting for victims. This place is almost enough to deter one from remaining, but I have seen so many strange sights here, that this has lost much of its natural horror by comparison. The city is now very healthy, or old Death would not have so many graves ready, I never was better in my life, and am much stouter than when I left home, where if business should be good, I hope to be early in the Spring. Tell Mr Verplanck that I have not yet been able to find any figs, and presume there are none now to be procured, as they are not in Season, I shall endeavour to send you a barrel of oranges and pecan nuts by the first opportunity, The oranges are very fine here and I am told, frequently arrive at N York in perfect order, If you will keep a look out for your name as a consignee among the arrivals from this place, and let your friend Samuel attend to getting them on their arrival, you will probably get them in good condition. I shall write you the name of the vessel &c, when I ship them. I have not yet delivered any of my letters, and probably shall not until I get into business, and am a little more settled. Martin was very much surprised to meet me here, he had not heard from home in many months, and received from me the news of poor Mary’s death. He desires to be remembered to you all and says he will write home immediately, He intends returning to settle in this western country, and now owns some land there. Fortunes have been made very rapidly here, and landed property pays now in many parts of the city an interest of 150 percent; there is one building about 100 ft by 50 which rents in stores for $10.500 per annum. Every thing here is high in proportion, labour is two dollars a day, and board two dollars and an half. You may suppose that it is necessary to do a great business, to pay these prices. There is very little inducement to spend money foolishly, however, and
every inducement to make it, a Citizen is respected for nothing else, and a stranger is anxious to leave the place, as soon as possible. My love to all and a kiss for the children
Your affectionate brother
Mrs Jos Ogden Hoffman