Charlotte Cowles Letters, an introduction

First page of Charlotte's letter of April 17, 1833. Ms 101754

First page of Charlotte’s letter of April 17, 1833. Ms 101754

At last, I can write about my favorite young woman of the 19th century! Her name was Charlotte Cowles, and we recently acquired a number of letters she wrote between the ages of 13 and 21 while living in Farmington, Connecticut. I don’t know if she meant to be humorous, (it may be my modern perspective) but I find her writing delightful.

In a letter from April, 17, 1833, she starts by admonishing her brother Samuel, who is in Windsor, Vermont, for neglecting the family. He has not written for fourteen weeks. This theme about timely letters is one that appears repeatedly in her letters.  Like many of her early missives, she talks about family news—Ma being sick and Pa going to Providence. She then tells Samuel:

“I am as much of a reader as ever, but have not had much to do with novels yet. I do not suppose they are very useful to any one; and I never intend to read many.”

All I can think when I read that is the polemics in magazines of the 19th century about the dangers to young ladies; reading novels would corrupt their minds and souls! Evidently Charlotte believed that, too.

Unlike many writers of the same age and time period, Charlotte is not afraid to express her opinions in her letters, at least not to her brother. She does not have a good opinion of her cousin Isaac Andrews. All Isaac is doing in Berlin is driving about. Charlotte comments,

“but that is not very profitable employment for a youth of nineteen.”

She also has an opinion about Samuel’s friend Henry Seymour who left his employment without telling family or friends. She writes,

“Now he reaps the reward of his folly; and doubtless many like disappointments will happen to him, before this instance of youthful rashness is forgotten.”

It is very likely that Henry was older than Charlotte (she was 13 in 1833), so she is taking a rather motherly approach to his indiscretion.

Some of Charlotte’s letters are more revealing than others, and I look forward to posting about my favorites in the weeks to come. Thanks to all the individuals and the Farmington Bank for helping us secure the money to purchase these fascinating letters. You can read all of Charlotte’s letters, and their transcriptions, on Connecticut History Online.

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