[TWO AUTOGRAPH LETTERS, SIGNED, FROM LUCY AUDUBON TO HER NIECE, ELIZABETH JAMES]
1870·[New York?]; Louisville
by Audubon, Lucy Bakewell
[New York?]; Louisville, 1870. ; pp. Octavo, on folded quarto sheets. Old fold lines, lightly soiled. Very good. Two letters written by Lucy Audubon to her niece, Elizabeth Rankin Bakewell James, detailing the hardships of her current circumstances in life. Lucy Bakewell Audubon (1787-1874) was the wife of naturalist John James Audubon. Though she came from a family of wealthy English emigrants, and had a privileged upbringing, she nonetheless plunged headlong into frontier life with Audubon. In 1808 they were married and moved to Kentucky, where they had two children and faced down their first financial ruin. When Audubon decided to embark on his famed project painting and publishing the birds of North America, Lucy took on the role of family provider, working as a teacher. With the completion of Audubon's BIRDS, the family was reunited. In 1841, the Audubons purchased an estate on the Hudson River which they named Minnie's Land. John James Audubon died there in January 1851. Lucy sold many of her husband's original drawings to the New York Historical Society in the decade after his death. The letters here show that she was in some difficult financial straits in the 1860s and 70s. She survived her husband and both of her sons. In the first letter, dated July 26, 1866 (no place given), Lucy writes to her niece, detailing some of her woes. Among these, she notes that she is currently living in rooms in the home of her minister, who himself has very small means of support. She notes that the rest of the family is considerably well off, and a hint of bitterness about lack of support decidedly creeps through in the letter. She writes: "My dear Niece… Were you within walking distance how soon you would see me, but I can not afford to take such a journey, were if I had time, to go and congratulate the dear married couple on their long and happy life, considering the many trials and adversities, we all have had to bear. May the remainder of your days be peaceful and even joyous with your children near you, or within reach, if need should call you. I feel deeply that I can not in the usual way, on this occasion show my affection for the parents, but what with moving, repairing, and fixing our rooms, and Delaney Williams putting me off a payment due the first of July six months longer (perhaps forever) I am curtailed in all my wishes and wants.… I cannot ask Mr Adams to do anything to our little rooms because he took us in to accommodate us altogether, he has no salary except Sunday collections from his little Church, and no where could we find a shelter for our heads at the time…. I was told the other day from a young Lady at Mrs Cary's Boarding School that there were three miss Bakewells there, and that cousin Thomas had left the eldest of them forty thousand dollars. Every one has a right to do as they please with their own. I will not say more for Cousin has helped me some, and I did not look for anything now. Though when I was married I took an order from my father to Uncle for two thousand dollars, being the third time my father had set my Uncle up, this last sum enabled them to buy the Glasshouse; how we took no notice of it. Were not all the branches of the family so well off I should not notice it, even as an observation. I most sincerely hope your sister will come and see me this summer. I cannot say more now than God bless you all." In the second letter here, dated Louisville, May 11, 1870, she writes a letter of thanks for her niece's kindnesses and support, also alluding to a vision problem which had already caused her to retire from the schoolteaching that once supported her family. "My dear Niece. About an hour ago the Express brought me the much desired boots and the maker has succeeded to admiration a little large but in a few days wear I can lace them tighter. Now I can hardly tell you how much I thank you for the trouble you have taken. I should have answers your kind note sooner but waited till my eyes might be better, and I be able to thank you not only for the boots but for your kind invitation which we shall gladly accept when we can afford it, but Harriet does not yet [have] as much [work] here as she did in New York. I may get a little more from the book and if we can shall gladly do so...." The remaining few lines discuss family matters. Also included here is an indenture dated Sept. 1, 1808, for the sale of 837 1/2 acres by Joseph Priestley and Elizabeth Priestley of Northumberland, Co., Pennsylvania to "William Bakewell of Fatland ford in the County of Montgomery," Pennsylvania for land in Lycoming County. Signed by Joseph Priestley and Elizabeth Priestley. Countersigned by Jno. Kidd and Thomas Cooper.
(Inventory #: WRCAM52018)
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