Letter Dated August 13th, 1841

  • The Museum will be closed Sunday, April 9 in observance of Easter.

London Coffee House, London, Care of Agent of Liverpool Steamer, Boston, August 13, 1841

Helen Powers Griswold, Lyme, Connecticut, to Capt. Robert H. Griswold

After a brief courtship Robert H. Griswold (1806-1882), age 34, a bachelor ship’s master with fifteen years of experience at sea, married on November 9, 1840, Helen Powers (1820-1899) from Guilford, age 20, a captivating “belle” who taught music at a private school in in Lyme. Two months after their marriage Helen accompanied Robert on the packet ship Toronto and spent several weeks in London visiting sites like Westminster Abbey, enjoying theatrical performances and promenade concerts, and shopping. After their return to Lyme, Robert apparently borrowed from Richard Ely (1782-1844) $3,000 to purchase on July 30, 1841, thirty acres that included the stately home built for William Noyes (1792-1873) in 1817 on the stagecoach route through Lyme. In early August Robert left on another voyage to London, and Helen, pregnant with their first child, impatiently awaited his letters. Unhappy during their separation and no longer taking pleasure in playing the piano, she suggested that his handsome cousin Richard Griswold (1809-1849) was a more devoted husband.

Lyme Aug 13 – 1841
Dear Dear Husband

I have been looking impatiently all the morning for another letter from you by the Steamer Smaller steam ships operating regularly between Hartford and New York transporting passengers and delivering mail to several points along the Connecticut shoreline. Robert could send a letter back to Helen via a Steamer from New York before he embarked for London. but have received none, I can hardly regret it, as it is to be the last before you sailed, and it is some consolation to have that dreadful last delayed it will be so long before I can hear from London, you will find this awaiting your arrival written only two days after your last from me in New York, how much I could write you of my thoughts and feelings in those two days, but I must not be allowed that privilege, I am constantly told by my two Mothers Helen refers to her mother Julia Powers (1787-1852) and Robert’s mother Fanny Rogers Griswold (1767-1863). that I must bear all and keep all my complaints to myself, but dearest Robert it is impossible, if I write at all I must write my thoughts and feelings, should I not to you my dear Husband? before when you left I in time became in a degree reconciled, not happy dear, that need never be expected when separated from you, but now I find it is indeed impossible to think of your absence with composure,

Mr and Mrs M’Curdy
Helen likely refers to Robert H. McCurdy (1800-1880), a successful businessman in New York, and his wife Gertrude Lee McCurdy (1810-1876)
Richard McCurdy House, 1890. LHSA
called, were very much pleased with our situation, and the improvements Before leaving on his voyage to London, Robert had already begun making improvements to their newly acquired house and property. you have made, The Commissioners for the Rail Road Surveying a rail line to connect New Haven and New London, which required ferry transport across the Connecticut River, had started in Lyme in 1841, but establishing the route took several years. The New Haven & New London Railroad, chartered in 1848, opened the route in 1851, and ferry transport continued until a single-track railroad bridge was built in 1871. have been surveying the route for a day or two past and it is now thought it will go back of our Barns, how will you approve of that dear, I should think it more desirable than to have it in front, I suppose however our thoughts upon the subject are immaterial, I have not seen any one from Black Hall
The section of Lyme called Black Hall, a point of land between the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, was Robert’s birthplace and had been the home of the Griswold family for nearly two centuries.
1850 map showing Black Hall section and completed railroad line. LHSA
since Sunday, it has been so stormy that I could not drive out, such very dreary weather, how I shall long to hear you have a quick passage that I may the sooner hear from you,

do my dear husband write me every thing all from you is interesting and dearest examine my letters and see how close they are written, much more in them than in yours, although it does not amount to much but complaints any thing from you dear is greater satisfaction than I can receive from my other source you do not dear Robert imagine how many times your letters are perused the last one in particular,

George Freeman, Helen Powers Griswold, 1844.
Watercolor on ivory. Private Collection.

  • …. I find it is indeed impossible to think of your absence with composure.

Mrs Richard Griswold
Richard Sill Griswold (1809-1849), a partner in the prosperous New York shipping firm N.L. & G. Griswold, had married three months earlier in May, as his second wife, Frances Augusta Mather (1822-1899). In August 1841 Mr. Griswold started building on Lyme’s main street the elegant mansion house later known as Boxwood.
Richard Sill Griswold House, ca. 1885. LHSA
was here yesterday, three calls she has made me which I have not returned, she appears very happy, I have no doubt but she has an excellent, kind indulgent Husband, he must be fond of her, he does not leave her but a few days at a time and takes her down with him every other week, I never saw him looking as well as he does lately, I really think him better looking than John Griswold
John Griswold, Jr. (1806-1853), a cousin of Capt. Robert Griswold and Richard Sill Griswold, established in 1823 the Black X Line of packet ships that sailed from New York to London. Unidentified artist, possibly Nathaniel Rogers (1787–1844), John Griswold, Jr., ca. 1820. Watercolor on ivory. Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Pamela Baker Weiss, 2014.4
, I shall go to Black Hall this afternoon as I cannot wait another hour without seeing your dear Mother, and she cannot at present be with us, how little I enjoy Riding without you my dear Robert by my side, but I must exercise, and I have no doubt but it is for my good to ride often, our horse is so gentle it is a pleasure to drive him, yet the good people of Lyme think it presumptuous in me, but I have no fear, Robert my own dear husband have you not become by this time almost reconciled to our separation? no I will not imagine it dearest but believe that you are now thinking of home and your own affectionate Helen

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Credit: Lyme Historical Society Archives, Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of David Littlefield