Bidwell Lore – Letters from the Bidwell Family

Welcome to week 78 of Bidwell Lore!

For today’s Bidwell Lore, we are sharing 3 letters from the family of Adonijah Bidwell, Jr (1761-1837). The first is from his son Lawson Bidwell (1791-1863), the second from his wife Melicent Dench Bidwell (1764-1860), and the third is from his son Barnabas (1796-1882). Adonijah, Jr., married Melicent Dench of Hopkinton in 1789, and they had 12 children between 1789 and 1806, only six of whom lived to adulthood. These personal letters give us a glimpse into the lives and personalities of the writers and highlight the hardships and tragedies that were a part of everyday life in the 19th century.

Lawson Bidwell’s 1830 letter to Alfred Bidwell on the condition of their brother, Adonijah S. Bidwell

My Dear Brother
                        I returned from Hillsdale N.Y. last evening. Adonijah [1] has met with a great loss – on Wednesday 24th November he had an artery in his leg taken up – it immediately gave him excruciating pain for about 16 hours (in his leg) at which time it mortified – On Saturday the 27th he had it amputated close to his body – I have been with him three days this week. He is very delirious and to all appearances was fast approaching his end – It is time there is hopes of his recovery so it is in all cases as long as life lasts – but to say there were ten chances to one against him would not be exaggerating his case – John [2] and Barna [3] have been there – Barna goes again today – It is an afflicting house and great anxiety exists as to the event. Father enjoys but poor health – he has lost much flesh – Mother bears her troubles as well as could be expected-Cecelia [4] is well – her husband is in Hudson jail for passing counterfeit money – he has his trial in Feby next – which will probably result in his taking a tour in the state prison – we are all well in South Lee. Mr. Bennett family are well. The mail is ready to be closed and I must end – Yours L. D. Bidwell [5]

Mr. A. Bidwell
South Lee December 4. 1830

Included in the letter was a drawing of a woman making a bed stand. Her name is not legible and there was no further explanation for the drawing. Adonijah S. Bidwell attended Williams College embarked on a career as a doctor and was unmarried at the time of his death. He died on December 10, less than a week after this letter was written.

The front of the Bidwell House Museum, looking west at twilight

Melicent Dench Bidwell  [6] (1764-1860) letter to Mrs. Garfield c. 1830-31
Letter in the collection of the Berkshire County Historical Society
Transcribed from the original by Richard Bidwell Wilcox, April 2020

Dear Mrs. Garfield – After an acquaintance of more then
fifty years – can we doubt our friendship for each other
no, I think not. we have been separated it is true but that
has not lessened my regard for my neighbors but has in-
creased Them. I well remember how we mourned together
when your poor Betsy was brought home to you a corpse.
the day she was buried my dear son Adonijah [7] was
brought home from Lenox with his wound which he
had seventeen years and then caused his death and this
is not all you have parted with an other daughter and &
an other Son. These Troubles (my friend) I have been carried
Through in a wonderful manner when I think what a crea-
ture I am not to love my heavenly Father more. I Think
[wax] do love Him more and more, every day for I have reson Too.
I long to love my Savour better. It is my wish to be pre-
pared to meet my God in peace. I think sometimes how
happy I Shall be if may meet my husband [8] and six sons [9] in
Heaven. I am old and I know must dye die. This Thought
annimats me to hope. for myself – and I hope that God will
prepar us both for a better world. I do rejoice with you
when I think what the Lord has done for you – That you
are made To rejoice in seeing your Son, loving his Savor.
I wish I could see you, and Mr. Garfield; and talk with you.
as I was sitting alone in my chamber – I was thinking
about old Times – and to tell you that you was not for-
gotten by your old friend.             Melicent Bidwell

Notes from Rob Hoogs as to the possible identity of Mrs. Garfield: 
Using the clues in the letter about her daughter Betsey who would have died about 1813, 17 years before Melicent’s son, Adonijah (1794-1830). I found a Daniel A. Garfield (1765-1832) (son of Lt. Isaac Garfield and Mary Brewer), who married Sarah Allen (1766-1865) who had a daughter, Betsey (1791-1812).  
So, assuming that’s the correct Betsey—and the dates fit—it looks like Mrs. Garfield would have been Sarah (Allen) Garfield. She was the daughter of Noah Allen, Sr., one of the founding proprietors of Township No 1.

The letter says that Mrs. Garfield had also lost another daughter and another son… Daniel and Sarah Garfield did have another daughter, Sally, born 1794. I did not find a record of her death, but she may have died before the date of the letter. They also had at least one other son, Daniel, but he lived until 1863. However, they may have had other children that I haven’t found who could have died before the letter.   

View of historical kitchen implements, including wooden bowls and a blue wooden tanker on a table in the Keeping Room of the Bidwell House

Our final letter today is from Barnabas Bidwell (13 March 1796 – 8 April 1882) to his bother Alfred Bidwell (2 Sept 1802 – 2 July 1881) writing about the death of their brother Lawson Bidwell (21 March 1791 – 23 Sept 1863), the author of the first letter above.

Adonijah Jr.’s son Barnabas owned the brick house at the corner of Fairview and Bear Town Mountain Road in Monterey which was left to his son, Marshall Spring Bidwell. Barnabas’ oldest son, Edwin Curtis Bidwell, a doctor, was a surgeon in the Civil War and became a founder of Vineland, N.J.

Freeport Nov. 23rd 1863
My Dear Brother
I have contemplated
writing to you ever since I heard
of Brother Lawson Death which speaks
to us be ye also ready for in an hour
when ye think not the son of man
cometh I’m thinking of the past my
mind often events back to my child
hood when I had a Father and Mother
Brothers and Sisters but where are they
now But of fourteen but five are in
the land of the living nearly two
thirds of our number are in their
graves its our dear Bother Lawson
has so recently gone to the other
world must of course leave an im=
pression upon our minds that we
are also mortal and must soon follow
our near and dear friends soon into
the land of forgetfulness
And the importance of being
prepared to meet our God in peace
How is it with you Brother Alfred
Do you feel that Christ is your best friend
and have you excepted his invitation
come unto me for all things are now
ready Nearly one year ago I made
dear Brother Lawson a visit of nearly
a week and a pleasant one it was he
appeared cheerful and happy he had
united with the Episcopalians he read
his Prayers Morning and Evening in
a very solemn and impressive manner
which took hold of my feelings deeply
We spoke of the death of my Wife very
feelingly and of the uncertainty of life
Little did I realize it was the last
time I should see him in the land of
the living His children visited him
last summer I believe all of them which
no doubt was a consolation to them all
Two out of six of my Family his in
the silent grave we know not what a day may
bring forth I suppose it is not but that we should
Dear Brother Alfred I am here in
Freeport with my children very
pleasantly situated I have a room all
to my self well furnished with everything
necessary to make me comfortable and
happy and I think I could make it
comfortable and agreeable to all of my
friends and relatives Dear Brother Alfred
do come and see for I should be highly
gratified to receive from you and all
of your Family a visit My health is
not very good I have somewhat of a
cough which I cannot exactly account
for or satisfy myself whether it proceeds
from a cold which I am subject to
or the climate varies which may not agree
with me I have often heard said that
when any person changes location where
the climate varies either from Wet or Cold
from their native place must of necessary
go through acclimation which will
prove beneficial or injurious to health
Give my love to your Dear Wife and Children
Your Affectionate Brother B Bidwell 

Next week we begin a short series about the Bidwell connection to Deborah Sampson, the first woman to fight and be honorably discharged from the American Military.

[1] Adonijah S. Bidwell, b. 9 July 1794, d. 10 December 1830, grandson of the Rev. Adonijah Bidwell and son of Adonijah Bidwell, Jr., b. 6 August 1761.

[2] John Devotion Bidwell, a brother, b. 25 October 1792, ended up living in the manse or homestead, now the Bidwell House Museum.

[3] Barnabas Bidwell, b. 29 October 1797, owned the brick house at Bear Town Mountain Road and Fairview Street, in Monterey.

[4] Almira Cecilia Bidwell, b. 23 February 1809, m. David Henry Knapp 3 Feb 1828 .

[5] Lawson Dench Bidwell, b. 21 March 1791.

[6] Melicent was the daughter of Captain Gilbert and Anne (Gibbs) Dench of Hopkinton, Mass. She was a direct descendant of Peregrine White, who was born on the Mayflower while it was anchored off Provincetown.

[7] Adonijah S. Bidwell, b. 9 July 1794 d. 10 Dec. 1830, referenced in the first letter above. “Their son Adonijah S. did not marry, he was thoroughly educated and highly accomplished and was a physician.” Bidwell Family History 1587-1982 Volume I.

[8] Adonijah Bidwell, b. 6 Aug. 1761, d. 14 Feb. 1837.

[9] Dench Bidwell (1789-1790), 7th Son (1799-1799), Gilbert Bidwell (1800-1803), Philo Bidwell (1806-1808), Barnabas Bidwell (1796-1882), John Devotion Bidwell (1792-1867), Horace Bidwell (1797-1837), Alfred Gilbert Bidwell (1802-1881). [Two daughters: Melicent Dench Bidwell (1804-1899) and Almira Cecilia Bidwell (1809-1892)].