Bidwell Lore – Mary Bidwell in Saratoga

This week we are sharing a short story containing letters from Mary Gray Bidwell to Barnabas Bidwell that Mary wrote in July of 1803 when she traveled to Saratoga Springs. A possible reason for this journey to Saratoga Springs was that between 1786—when health officials first began recording mortality rates—and 1800, tuberculosis claimed 2 percent of New England’s population. Drinking and bathing in the spring water was considered a possible cure for tuberculosis. Mary’s health was at times fragile and she was only 44 when she died, five years after her trip to Saratoga, and after only 15 years of marriage to Barnabas.

Putnams Inn, Springs at Saratoga
Wednesday, July 20th, 1803

I doubt not, my dear friend, that you and mama will both feel gratified to know we accomplished our intentions, and arrived here to breakfast on Monday, where we find ourselves very agreably accommodated, both to situation, apartments, & fare – three springs, of different qualities, are very near us. That denominated the Congress or Salt Spring – recommended by Doctr Sergeant[1], as preparatory to the Bath, is very near us. I have just returned from taking a large, I hope salubrious draught, fresh from the rock, through which it oozes. A small distance from this, is another, called the Barrel Spring, from the cask, sunk to receive it. this last mentioned seems of a sulphureous nature & strongly impregnated with fixed air. Further to the north, perhaps, towards half a mile, rise two other. the first, I think, the greatest natural curiosity I ever beheld. It is called the Round-Rock-Spring. The rock is a pettrefaction & conical with an aperture at top resembling a well in miniature, which admits a small tin bucket prepared for the purpose. the waters, I imagin similar to those at Ballston. The other called the Flat-Rock-Spring seems if possible more pungent than any I have tasted, but of the same nature with Round Rock.
Form the natural advantages of this spot, I inagin it will in two or three years more, become a grand resort – The prospects are extensive. it has a variety of waters, possessing various qualities. Congress Spring is the one described by Mr. Dresser, where, from a seat on the intervening Rock you may on the right hand, dip up fresh water & the lft Salt – This water, last mentioned, is as a good old lady observed “more sickisher” than any other of the Springs, yet I swallow down 2 or 3 tumblers at a time.
As to the effects of the waters, I as yet perceive no special benefit to either of our little party, we ought not expect any so soon For we have not yet received the shower bath. Doctr Sergeant advised I should drink the Salt Spring, three or four days to prepare m for the bath.
Repeatedly love – affection to all – with a kiss for my dear Sally [2] & another for my equally dear Marshall I am truly & only your M.B. [3]

An engraving of Congress Hall, built in 1811, on the expanding grounds of the Putnam Inn in Saratoga Springs. Gideon Putnam first opened his inn in 1802, and this is where Mary stayed during her visit to the Springs. In 1935, The Gideon Putnam Hotel opened nearby and was named in honor of Mr. Putnam. It is still in operation today.

Saratoga Springs, July 24th, 1803
Yesterday the gentlemen proposed a fishing party on the lake & invited us to accompany them, we according fitted out four gentlemen with us in Putnam’s hack, & two others in Mr. Johnson’s chaise. The lake lies about four miles eastward from this spot. it is nine miles in length & three in breadth – We did not think of venturing upon it, but remained at an Inn on the bank, while the gentlemen went off in a boat, & caught a fine string of fish with which the lake seems crowded. Our ride was pleasant, the prospect at the lake delightful – the opposite banks of Stillwater, & distant hills, in a charming state of cultivation, beyond which we could discover the green mountains of Vermont, losing their verdant summits in the clouds – altogether formed a prospect beautifully picturesque, of land & water – towering forests & cultivated farms.
Send the size of Sally’s foot when you write – The bearer waits your Mary

Next week we will share the first article in a three-part series titled: Barnabas and Mary Bidwell, Ultracrepidarianism, Slavery, and the Age of Enlightenment.

[1] Dr. Erastus Sergeant, son of the Rev. John Sergeant, first missionary to the Stockbridge Mohican Indians. Erastus was married to Elizabeth Partridge, sister of William Partridge, who was married to Jemima Bidwell, daughter of the Rev. Adonijah Bidwell. Doctor Oliver Partridge, brother of William and Elizabeth, lived in the so-called Mission House with his sister and brother-in-law for 77 years.
[2] Sarah Bidwell, age 7.
[3] Both letters taken from Field Horne’s The Saratoga Reader: Writings About an American Village 1749-1900 (Saratoga Springs: Kiskatom Publishing Company, 2004), pp. 32-34. Author credits the following sources: “Mary Gray Bidwell, letters to Barnabas Bidwell, 20 and 24 July 1803. Yale University Library. Transcribed by Field Horne. Biography is found in Joan T. Bidwell, The Bidwell Family History 1587-1982 (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1983), 43, and in the catalogue of the collection.”