|Milky Way and Air Glow Over Lake Elmore|
Elmore, VT Website
I see a lad of medium height with a strong but lithe body, clearly coming into his own as a young man but still with some of the boy in his face. He is good-looking, of course – after all, he is my cousin. His dark hair curves rather straight and long down to his chin that is stubbled and haphazardly shaven, as though he cannot stop long enough to do the sporadic whiskers justice. His dark eyes sparkle merrily beneath long, luxurious lashes and, no matter the topic, he cannot keep his mouth from sneaking into a grin. Yes, he has the uncertainty and awkwardness of a boy on the threshold of manhood but, at the same time, there is a joyousness that cannot be contained.
Still, I have never seen a photo of him, and it is unlikely that I ever will. For if I were to meet him now again, he would be nearly 200 years old. My memory of him when he was 20, though, is just as fresh as the letter he wrote to his cousin, Daniel Rockwell Taylor, my great-great grandfather, in early March of 1848.
Oh, yes, I have read enough of these old family letters now to know that most of them devote an uncommon amount of space to apologizing for taking so long to write and then reporting on everyone’s health. Of course, for families such as these ancestors who worked farms homesteaded out of virgin forests in the wilderness, health was everything. After all, while they did have some draft animals to help them, most of their work – indeed, their survival – relied on the strength of their own bodies.
|Elmore Church Against Elmore Mountain|
In fact, Andrew Jackson’s older brother, Seth (22), is visiting Daniel Taylor’s family at the time of this letter writing, and the letter is nearly as much to him as to Daniel. And, as you might expect with a 20-year-old boy, Andrew is rambunctious, randy and wants to see the world. The kind of letter he writes to his cousin, only six months younger, is definitely “a boy’s letter.”
“I should like to go to York state and see the folks and the Country too,” he writes to Daniel in far off “York State.” Then he writes a message for his brother, who apparently has been visiting their Taylor relatives for an extended time: “Tell Seth that I have heard all about that gal and suppose that it is her that has made so much of a Yorker of him.” In fact, he wonders whether the gal that may have caused Seth to delay his return is “one of those Dutch gals” that apparently Seth mentioned in a previous letter. He adds, "Tell him if it is he must strap down his pants when he goes to see her." Whether this truly refers to a girl who is Dutch or possibly to a girl who is “Pennsylvania Dutch” (who were actually “Deutsch,” i.e. German) is unknown and, in any event, apparently immaterial. When Seth marries a few years later it is to a Vermont girl.
Despite the “wink, wink” messages in the letter, Andrew Jackson seems to still be forging his friendship with his cousin, Daniel. Apparently that was helped immensely when Daniel visited Vermont a year or so before. Andrew assures him, “We are all the same ugly ignorant sort of folks that we were when you was here and as for being Polite we have improved just none a’tall.”
|Summer Hayfield, Elmore, VT|
by Bob Burley
Clearly, Andrew was reveling in “a-cousining,” a term another of his and Daniel’s cousins, Dustan Walbridge, used later in a yearning letter home from the Civil War. It was apparently a common term in the 1800s. Even Ralph Waldo Emerson was said to put aside his writing and delight in jaunts with his cousins, cutting “all mental work off short” and laying “down his pen when the cousins came a-cousining and literally took to the woods.”*
Perhaps Seth went home with Daniel’s family to New York after their visit to Vermont. That appears to be one way that the cousins got back and forth for visits, so it is reasonable that Andrew expected one of the Taylors to accompany Seth’s return trip. Andrew says to his cousin Daniel in his letter, “I shall expect to see some new cousin when Seth comes home in the spring. If I don’t, I shall be disappointed. Tell Seth not to come home till some of your folks will come with him.”
Although, truly, Andrew is torn. He’s itching for an adventure himself and he would rather do the traveling than wait for someone to come to him. So, after telling Daniel he “should like to go to York state and see the folks and the Country too,” he jokes: “I should like to see Daniel ranging the fields and woods with an old gun (under the pretense) of hunting or gaming.”
|Barn on East Elmore Road|
Elmore, VT Website
Andrew inserts one of his hand-drawings directly into the text when he remarks, “Oh Daniel, I have a little bit of news to tell you but I suppose you have heard of it before now. I have got another Brother and he is well and smart and Mother is about the house as comfortable as we could expect.” Hmm, I thought, had his mother just had another baby? But, looking at the birth dates in the family tree, that didn’t fit.
Then I noticed that his 17-year-old sister Phebe has just gotten married. (Phebe Taylor Olmstead seems to be named for her aunt, Daniel’s mother, whose name is Phebe Walbridge Taylor.) Is Andrew referring to his new brother-in-law? But why would that affect his mother’s comfort? Is she missing her daughter Phebe’s help at home? Are the newlyweds living with her family? The letter doesn’t tell us, but the likelihood that he’s referring to his sister’s marriage is increased by his reference to Phebe, herself, in the same paragraph: “Tell Seth, Phebe says if you don’t write soon she will come out there and take you for breech of promise.” Apparently Seth is not keeping up with his family’s letter-writing expectations!
* Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, by Elbert Hubbard, 1916