Letter from Serene Fosgate Birdsall to Frances Miller Seward, February 23, 1838

  • Posted on: 1 December 2017
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Letter from Serene Fosgate Birdsall to Frances Miller Seward, February 23, 1838



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Distributor:Seward Family Digital Archive

Institution:University of Rochester

Repository:Rare Books and Special Collections


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Letter from Serene Fosgate Birdsall to Frances Miller Seward, February 23, 1838

action: sent

sender: Serene Birdsall
Birth: 1805  Death: 1884-01-19

location: Washington D.C., US

receiver: Frances Seward
Birth: 1805-09-24  Death: 1865-06-21

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: msr 

revision: tap 2017-02-23

Page 1

Washington City Feb. 23. 1838.
Friday evening
My dear Frances
When I left my home for this famous city among the
few pleasures I promised myself after my arrival, writing to you was
one of the first. Although the time has not by any means appeared short
to me, still I can scarcely persuade
To influence by argument, advice, or intreaty • To convince by arguments, or reasons offered •
myself that three months have elapsed
with this and many other promises unfulfilled and worst of all and
“most to be deplored” I can give no account of the time but its “loss.”
A letter from me I presume will be unexpected to you, but my dear
Frances if it meets with the cordial reception that the few you have written
to me have met ‘tis all I ask-and although I never before acknowledged
with my pen your kind remembrances when amidst scenes and soci[ e ]


ty, that
would have excused you for forgetting me, yet I trust you know me too well
to ascribe my neglect to indifferance, I can truly say that your letters have
been amongst the sweetest flowers that have been scattered in my path,
and have left a fragrance that has perished with the enjoyment of many
others. The last you wrote me ( ^when^ travelling in Virginia) in particular, I shall
never forget-It came to me at a time, when sorrow and melancholy, had com-
pletely overshadowed me, my wounded heart still bleeding from the loss
of my (then) only child, and confined to my room in a very alarming
state of health; it was indeed a balm to my wounded sprit. I cannot
tell how many times I read it over, it being the first thing that had
given me a momentary interest for weeks. The scenes you so beautifully
described, together with the disinterested feeling and kindness you ex-
pressed for me so characteristic of yourself could not fail to give pleas-
ure under the most gloomy circumstances- since then my dear Frances
Page 2

you have been called to taste of the same cup of affliction, how much I
felt for you at the time, had I been well, I should have written to you a letter
expressive of my deep sorrow and sympathy, for I felt that I could sympa-
thize with you in “spirit and in truth.” I would not at this late period have
you think that I wish to probe a wound which may perhaps be healed but
from the knowledge I have of you, and judging from myself, I do not believe
that your sorrow like many persons, ended with the first paroxysm although
of course, time must have mitigated it in some measure— Consolation I do not
presume to offer, that I know you receive from the only source from
whence it can flow. Have you dear Frances ever read a piece of poetry
called the “Gardener & Rose-tree”
 Publisher: T. Becket Place of Publication:London Date: 1785
? If you have not, Mrs J. Ruse
has an old
periodical that contains it. I wish you would get it, and read it. I do not
recomend it, for the beauty of the poetry, but the sentiment.
Sunday Morn-
My dear Frances, I had proceeded this far with my letter Friday night, and left
off with the intention of finishing it yesterday morning, but a circumstance
was brought to light that agitated me so much that I could not write, and
another thing I wanted to wait the result before I closed my letter. I was apprised
at an early hour yesterday morning that a duel was expected, between two of the
members of the House, Mr Cilley
Birth: 1802-07-02 Death: 1838-02-24
of Maine, & Mr Graves
Birth: 1805 Death: 1848-09-27
of Kentucky - Mr
Cilley boarded in the house directly opposite to us, and was an intimate
acquaintance of Mr Birdsall's
Birth: 1791-05-14 Death: 1872-02-08
- This novel affair to me excited me very
much-indeed the whole city was all excitement. I cannot express to
you my sensations when, I knew they had gone into the field. they went
about three miles out of the city. They left about one oclock P.M. at three
the news was every moment expected-we were at dinner our mess con-
sisting of about twenty were all anxiety and agitation, not a gentleman
Page 3

that could keep his seat a moment-after we were through dinner the news
came that Mr Cilley was killed. We hoped however that it might prove a mis-
take, & that he might only be wounded-but a few moments longer and
the sad tale was truly told- a Great Omnibuss, with slow and sol-
emn pace drove up to the door- and I saw with my own eyes the lifeless
corpse of Mr Cilley taken out of it, by the friends who attended him in the
field- wrapped in a common horse blanket. My blood runs chill
within me while I write it- such a melancholy
Not placable; not to be appeased; incapable of being pacified; stubborn or constant in enmity • Incapable of being relieved or quieted; inextinguishable •
scene I never witnessed.
I have read of such things, but being far from the scene could never real-
ize that they actually did occur. It must be witnessed to be felt in all
its horror. Poor foolish man, he has fallen lamented by all who knew
him- his antagonist was not even hurt. he has left I am told an interesting
wife and four small children one born since he left home- to mourn his
loss and wretched fate. the popular feeling is all on his side- as he
appears to have been driven into it. The affair grew out of some remarks made
by Mr Cilley not long since in a debate, on the subject of a charge of cor-
ruption against one of the members of the house- published in James
Watson Webb's
Birth: 1802-02-08 Death: 1884-06-07
paper of New York- Mr Webb came on from N York
and sent a challenge, to Mr Cilley- by Mr Graves- Mr C declined the
pleasure of fighting- Mr G— demanded the reasons which Mr C—
refused to give. The etiquette of duelling demanded then a chal-
lenge from Mr G— which was sent last friday ^to Mr C^ and accepted. He was
literally compelled to fight- he seemed to be beset on all sides. You will of
course soon have the particulars correctly in Linked Graphic: ) the papers-but in case my
letter should come to your hands first I will give you a brief account
of the combat- as we have heard it and presume it is correct-Mr
Cilley had the choice of weapons- and chose a small rifle prob-
ably not thinking, what Aim these half horse and half aligators take
Page 4

with their Kentucky rifles. The distance at which they fired was eighty
yards- Mr Jones
Birth: 1804-04-12 Death: 1896-07-22
of Wisconsin- as second, and Mr Duncan
Birth: 1788 Death: 1853-03-23
of Ohio as surgeon
with this friends were the friends of Mr Cilley- Mr Wise
Birth: 1806-12-03 Death: 1876-09-12
of Virginia as
second a surgeon whose name I know not, and Mr. Crittendon
Birth: 1787-09-10 Death: 1863-07-26
with others
went out as friends of Mr Graves- after the second shot the friends of Mr
Cilley appealed to those of Mr G— saying that any further exchange
was unnecessary- there being no earthly cause in the first place for a duel, the
surgeon and Mr Crittendon on the part of Mr Graves declared that all had
been done that the laws of honour required- and that to pursue it further would
be murder- but Mr Wise was inflexible- nothing but the death of one could
satisfy him- the fourth shot brought poor Cilley to the ground before he had
fired. Everything seemed to be against poor Cilley- lots were cast for the ground
which placed him much higher than Mr G— the wind blew very high his rifle
carried so small a ball that the wind of course carried it far from the mark.
Mr G— had a large heavy rifle- I think Mr Wise without any exception is
the wildest most satanic looking man I ever beheld, I hope he may soon get
his deserts. For my part I am about sick of high life- shall be happy indeed
when I set my face towards home. When I commenced this letter I intended to give
you some idea of the unprofitable manner in which I spend my time-
but this duel has absorbed all my thoughts- we are engaged to a
party at Mrs Col Gardners
Birth: 1799-02-27 Death: 1876-12-26
next Wednesday evening, the sister of J. Mc-
Birth: 1785-03-11 Death: 1861-04-04Certainty: Probable
, who once flourished in Waterloo. I shall not go for I am too much
horror struck by this awful affair.
My dear Frances if it is not too great a trespass on your time and patience
I should be very glad to have a letter from you- all about yourself and fam-
ily. My love to Clary
Birth: 1793-05-01 Death: 1862-09-05
tell her she little knows how much I think of her, and the de-
lightful days I have spent with you, Lazette
Birth: 1803-11-01 Death: 1875-10-03
, and her, I intend writing to Lazette
this week,-Mr. Birdsall desires his best regards to yourself and husband
Birth: 1801-05-16 Death: 1872-10-10
, present
mine also to him, kiss your dear boys
x Birth: 1830-07-08  Death: 1915-04-25  Birth: 1826-10-01  Death: 1876-09-11 
for me. What would I give if I could kiss mine
My compliments to your Father
Birth: 1772-04-11 Death: 1851-11-13
and Mr MClallen
Birth: 1791-09-07 Death: 1860-11-16
and do dear Frances write to your sincere friend,
Serene Birdsall
Page 5

I hope my dear Frances, if I ever write to you again I shall write
a more decent letter than this, the fact, is I have hurried with all
speed to have it in time for the mail, do write to me soon-
for I am truly homesick.
Page 6

Mrs.William H. Seward
Cayuga County
New York
Washington DC
Feb 23


Type: postmark
Hand Shiftx

Frances Seward

Birth: 1805-09-24 Death: 1865-06-21
Free Samuel Birdsall
Serene Birdsall Feb