Harrison writes to Henry in late 1855, acknowledging receipt of a draft for payment on a shipment of peppermint oil. The oil went to Henry’s brother-in-law, George C. Goodwin who is a merchant in Boston. When Henry lived in Boston, he and Goodwin had been partners. Harrison says he went to some effort to find the best and purest oil for Goodwin, and he’s pleased that his efforts were appreciated.
Since Harrison and Lemuel have both recently returned to Michigan, they are considering going in together on a farm or business. Harrison has been a merchant in Tahlequah, so he thinks a clothing store might be profitable. There is a shop in Quincy, where Lewis lives, where a tailor cuts custom clothing and then pays local women to sew it. But he can’t keep up with demand, so Harrison thinks ready-made clothing from Boston or New York might be a profitable venture. He asks Henry to refer him to a manufacturer who might offer them credit or send them goods to sell on commission for the first year, because he and Lemuel would like to reserve their capital to speculate in land.
Anson has returned from his father-in-law’s and is preparing to teach school. Priscilla is visiting and says she would like to see Achsah, who apparently did not return to Michigan with Anson and Lemuel earlier in the fall. Harrison closes his letter with an apology for his poor handwriting. He has been husking corn at Lewis’s place so long, he says, his fingers are “like sticks.”
Nov 18th /55
I recd your letter containing the draft two or three days since and am glad Goodwin is satisfied with the oil, for I took some extra care to get that which was good and pure. Lem & I are at Lewis now for a few days assisting him about husking out his corn. He has very good crop this year. Priscilla came out here some ten days since on a visit. Will remain here some ten days longer. Her health is good, she is quite fleshy. She, Lucius & Wife came up here to Lewis on a visit yesterday & have just started for home. Anson commences teaching school tomorrow at the Red School House situated across the road from his farm.
Leml and I have not bought a place yet. We do not know what business to go into. Sometimes we think of going into the Clothing Business as there is a good opening for that type of business at Quincy. If we could get ready made clothing and cloths from New York or Boston to sell on commission for the first year we would do so as we would like to use our money for the purposes of buying unimproved land or lands with small improvements on them near here. Such purchases are a good investment as land is rising fast.
If you think we could get cloths and clothing in some of those places to sell on commission or we would advance some money on them if we could not get them without doing so, I say if you think we could get a stock of say about fifteen hundred dollars worth or two thousand, we would like to have you write to us what you thought about our getting them.
Quincy is growing rapidly, quite a good place for trade. There is one clothing store in the place. Lewis Wife and Sister are sewing for them. The establishment employs one man to cut out clothing constantly for custom work, and he cannot cut fast enough. There is a good opening I think for Lem and myself to go into business. We have talked with men of our acquaintance who are doing the same business in Hillsdale and they advise us to go into the Ready Made Clothing Business at Quincy. I have I think quite a good knowledge of the business and from what experience I have had in it, it is a very pretty and profitable employment.
The reason why I write to you about it is this. We thought perhaps you might probably be acquainted with some Firm where we could get a stock on such terms as we propose.
Priscilla says she would like to see Mother very much. That is the case with all of us. I suppose she will come out here in the spring. Please excuse bad writing for I have been husking corn so long that my fingers are like sticks. Write soon.
Harrison J. Ranney
Lemuel writes Henry from Lucius’s home in Allen, to let Henry know they arrived home without mishap. Anson has gone to his father-in-law’s place, to help while John Baggerly is ill. Harrison has received a letter from Henry regarding Peppermint Oil, and thinks he can get it for less than the local farmers are asking. Lemuel mentions that he and Alonzo Franklin in Phelps had talked about the possibility of Henry buying land there. He says he and Harrison may come down again in the winter.
Allen Sept 24th 1855
I am happy to inform you of our safe arrival home. We arrived last Friday and found every one well. Harrison wanted I should write you a few lines this morning concerning the oil peppermint. He received your letter last Saturday and will start for Florence next Wednesday. He has not run out there yet but saw a young man from there a few days ago, and he says they hold oil at Four Dollars a pound there. But Harrison thinks he can get it for 3.50 or 3.75 and will let you know the result as soon as he returns.
There has been a great deal of fever & ague here this fall. Anson has gone to John Baggerly’s to work. John has the ague pretty bad. Lewis & his wife were here yesterday and carried home a wagon load of Peaches. I wish you had about 3 or 4 bushels. They lay here on the ground rotting.
I spoke to Frank about you buying out there. He didn’t say much about it, but said that he should think you ought to come out this fall and see for yourself, but said he would write to you about it. Harrison and I may be down there this winter.
Give my respects to all enquiring friends.
Very Respectfully Yours
L. S. Ranney
This is a letter from Harrison Jackson Ranney to Anson Bement Ranney. It found its way into Henry’s collection because Anson was visiting Ashfield when he received it. Harrison wrote to his brother in late August, 1855, when he finally returned from Tahlequah in the Cherokee Nation. He had been planning to go to Phelps and Ashfield with his brothers, but he didn’t return soon enough. He also missed his brother Anson’s marriage to Caroline Baggerly on August 15th. Caroline (“Callie”) was born in Phelps, so Harrison is curious whether she stayed there with relatives or went with Lemuel and Anson to Ashfield.
Harrison, who worked as a merchant out west for several years, has decided to make a thousand dollars buying and selling Michigan peppermint oil. He arrived too late to have planted any of his own, so he would be thinking of buying from neighboring farmers, and taking the oil to a market where he could make a profit on it. Harrison wants Anson to find out prices in Ashfield and Boston; he is also considering Louisville and St. Louis, which illustrates the large market for Michigan oil in the 1850s.
Harrison mentions that John Baggerly, Callie’s father, is ill. He appears to be staying with the Baggerlys, possibly because Lewis is visiting Lucius. Harrison urges them to write, and to come home soon, so he can see them and their Mother, who he expects to return with them from her long stay our East.
Illustration is “Uncle Jesse,” from the Middletown Upper Houses. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find images of any of the brothers except Henry.
South Allen Mich
August 25th /55
I arrived here on the Saturday after you left. Was sorry I did not see you & Lem before you started. I recd your last letter on the night before I left Tah-le-quah. You said in your letter Lem & you would start for Phelps about the fifteenth of this month and go down to Henry’s. I had intended to have got home in time to have gone with you to Ashfield. But you was a little too soon for me.
I wish you to ask Henry if I could dispose of any Oil Peppermint and how much and at what price, for if I could sell two, three, or four hundred pounds of oil down there somewhere I would go down sometime this fall. Oil is worth about three dollars per lb in Florence this fall. Could I get four in Ashfield of Boston? I am expecting a letter from Louisville telling me how much oil I can sell there and at what price. I may perhaps do something in that business this fall if all things are favorable.
You & Lem I hope will be making yourselves back this way ere long. John’s folks have just recd a letter you wrote them the day after you got to Frank’s. My kind regards to all friends. Write soon after you get this. Why cannot Henry come out here this fall?
H. J. Ranney
[On reverse page]
John Baggerly was taken with a kind of fever last night. He is up here today on the bed. Thinks he is going to have the fever & ague. Got the blues some.
Has Callie gone to Ashfield with you? I tell our folks if she don’t go with you that you will not enjoy yourself much.
What do you think of the folks down there? Clarissa said you wanted to see what kind of relatives you had. How is Uncle Jesse?
Lem, take care of Ans & (???) Rather new potatoes to take to market.
Anson, you be certain to find out about the Oil Peppermint. I want to make One Thousand dollars this fall. I may go to St. Louis with one lot of oil. It is worth four dollars there.
The reason I write so much stuff, Lewis & Lucius are talking and I do not care about listening to them.
Come home soon. I want to see Mother & Lem & Callie. Jane was over to JB’s as soon as she found I had got home.
Henry gets a letter from his sister, Priscilla Densmore. This is the only letter from Priscilla in the collection. She lives in South Haven on Lake Michigan, about 110 miles from Allen and Hillsdale. Priscilla’s husband, Randolph Densmore, is a “lumberman and manufacturer,” according to most accounts. The couple had a daughter, Mary, in 1849 who died as a child in 1852.
Priscilla addresses her letter to “Mother & Brother.” Achsah is still in Ashfield. Following Henry’s illness, his wife Maria Goodwin became ill and died in January 1855, leaving Henry with three young children (their youngest, George Goodwin Ranney, had died at 5 months of age two years earlier).
Priscilla says she wishes she had known Maria. That they had never met despite Henry’s eleven year marriage to Maria supports the idea that Henry had never visited Michigan during this period. Priscilla says she is able to sympathize because she too has experienced losses. She also tries to console Henry with a paraphrase of a biblical passage (“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Hebrews 12:6), and the assurance that Henry’s loss is Maria’s gain. This passage is notable, because it is one of the only times religion is ever mentioned in the Ranney letters. Although some of the brothers were remembered in local histories as members of their area congregations, they rarely communicated with each other using any type of religious language. This may come as a surprise to modern readers who have always been told that 19th century Americans were extremely devout and that ours is an unusually secular time, but the absence of overt religion in nearly all of the Ranney letters suggests otherwise. Based on these letters, we can conclude that at least some 19th century Americans were not particularly religious, or that they considered religion a private matter and kept it to themselves. Of course, death was still emotional, even in an age when people lost loved ones much more frequently. But the Ranney brothers seem to have had other ways of coping than overt expressions of faith.
Priscilla also says that Lemuel has returned from the gold country and has just left after visiting her and Randolph. He will visit Chicago, 125 miles southwest of South Haven, before returning to Allen. Lemuel is planning a trip to Phelps and Ashfield, she says, and Anson is thinking of going along.
Note: Priscilla signs her name P. M. Densmore. Her middle name was Minerva, which may also say something about the family’s cultural background.
South Haven July 23 1855
Dear Mother & Brother
I received your kind letter of April 18th with pleasure. Was happy to hear that you are all in the enjoyment of good health which is one of earth’s greatest blessings.
I want very much to see you and enquire all about Maria’s sickness and death. I heard you (Mother) talk so much about her that I hoped I should sometime become acquainted with her. We can sympathize with you in your bereavement for we have been called to part with near and dear friends. You have the sweet assurance that your loss is her gain. We are told in the word of God that whom the Lord loveth he chastneth and that our light afflictions which are for a moment will work out for us a far more exceeding and Eternal weight of Glory.
The children I should love to see. We are all well except Edwin. His health is quite poor. He has a cough. He is in a store as clerk a mile from here.
Randolph has taken a lathe mill to run this season & is doing well. I suppose you have heard ere this of Lemuel’s return from Cal. He has been spending a few days with us. He left here Wednesday evening for Chicago. From there home. He came quite unexpected as we had not heard from him in a long time. He intends to start for Ashfield in about 3 weeks. He will call at Phelps on his way down. I believe Anson talks of going with him.
We have had a cool wet season so far with the exception of a few days. We have a good garden. Our corn & potatoes look well. We intend to visit our friends at Hillsdale probably in Dec. Mother we anticipate seeing you at that time.
For particulars enquire of Lemuel.
Please write soon. We send our love to you all.
Truly & Affectionately Yours
P. M. Densmore