Eighteen year old Anson writes to Henry for the first time from Florence, Michigan, where he is working as a farm hand for day wages. Anson is getting seventy-five cents a day, which he considers good pay. He reports that he is in good health, “which is the first thing in letter writing.” Then he gives news of all the family, and thanks Henry for the newspapers he has sent over the years and invites his brother to write back to him “without fail.”
Unlike Lucius, Lewis, and even Lyman, Anson and his older brother Henry really have no shared experience. Anson was born just before the family moved to Phelps, so although Henry may remember him as a newborn baby, Anson’s only face to face contact with Henry would probably have taken place on the rare occasions when Henry visited Phelps (I don’t think he had been to Michigan yet, at this point), before their father George died and Achsah moved out to live with Lucius. So it’s noteworthy that Anson feels a family connection and decides to initiate contact with a brother who he only knows through letters and family stories.
Florence May 2nd 1852
Being that I am out here in St. Joseph away from the harm of Friends & alone today I thought there would be no harm in dropping a few lines to you, as I had never done the like before. As to health, which is the first thing in letter writing, I have been blessed with good health for the past year & hope this to find you in the same.
I am to work by the day now & probably shall continue to work by the day through the summer. I get $0.75 a day or $19.00 per month, which are good wages for a common tug like me. Probably I am an extra hand, let me tell the story. I have been here about six weeks. I think that I can stay away as long as until fall if not longer. I have a notion of going to Iowa in the Fall if I can make things shape right. If I don’t go there I shall go home & go to school through the winter.
Anyone would judge from the looks of my writing that I had ought to go to school winters, but I do not pretend to be a scholar. Neither at writing or any other branch of knowledge.
We got a letter from Lemuel just before I started from home. His calculation then was to emigrate for California about the 10th of Apr. I am afraid he will see some hard times before he gets back if he should happen to live until he got back. But luck to him I say. There has been a great many from here that started for California that got as far as Council Bluff & turned about & came back on account of there being such a rush this spring. But I say if there is any that want to go there let them go. I think I can better myself in some other country. Everyone to their notion. I can enjoy myself here for the present well enough.
Harrison was here about a week ago on his way to Mt. Carmel. He says he shall probably be back in the fall, but I guess it is different. I had a letter from Lyman a short time ago. He wrote no news in particular. He is getting pretty good wages down in Van Buren. Lewis has had a hard time of it for 6 or 8 months past. It is hopeful that he will recover fully.
As I have written a pretty long letter I think it is best to hold up now, for if you write to me I may want to write again. I am very thankful to you for those papers you have sent me in times past. Write to me when you receive this without fail. If you should feel disposed to write me a letter you may send it to Constantine St. Joseph Co. Mich. I send my love to you & the rest of the family.
From Anson B. Ranney
Lewis writes to Henry from Florence Michigan in February 1844. He waited for snow in Phelps, but when it did not come he set out in a wagon. Their brother “Frank” (Alonzo Franklin Ranney) traveled with Lewis and his partner Smith as far as Hillsdale, in order to look for a farm near Lucius and their mother. Achasah Sears Ranney was ill but improving, and Lewis says she likes her “situation” in Michigan.
When Lewis and Smith sold their peppermint oil to Franklin Wells, it was with the understanding that if the price had increased when Wells resold the oil they would get a share. Before he left Phelps, Lewis found that Wells’s agents in New York City had sold the oil before Wells wanted them to, and that the price had subsequently doubled to $4 per pound. Probably a “Gum Game,” says Lewis: a slang expression for a swindle, probably derived from the fact that raccoons and opossums often hide in sweet-gum trees to outwit predators (according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary). Wells was on his way to the city to settle the issue, and Lewis was expecting a windfall on their 594 pounds that Wells had sent to be sold along with his own oil. He repeats to Henry that he intends to more than double his peppermint investment, adding thirty new acres to the twenty he and Smith harvested that year (peppermint is a perennial, and yields only drop off a bit after the first year).
Lewis reports with amusement that the Mormons have been battling with the Methodists and others in Michigan, noting that it’s nice to have “something going on.” Most of the Ranneys are not particularly religious — some, like Lewis’s uncle Samuel, had been pretty aggressive freethinkers. This is fairly early in the development of Mormonism: Joseph Smith was still in Nauvoo Illinois organizing the church. The biblical debates Lewis mentions must have been quite a spectacle.
The Michigan economy is better off than western New York, Lewis tells Henry in closing. Wheat is worth five shillings (Due to the scarcity of American coins, British Shillings worth 24 cents were still in wide use. Wheat was $1.20) per bushel, and Lewis is not yet tied down. When his partner Smith marries, Lewis intends to live with him rather than get his own place.
Florence Feb 15th 1844
I arrived here about three weeks since from the East. We stayed some time in Phelps and vicinity waiting for snow to come upon. But it did not come, therefore we came with a wagon. We found very good wheeling most of the way. We came through Ohio. Frank came with us as far as Hillsdale. We found Mother having the ague & fever a little but a growing lighter every day. She seems to be well suited with her situation, being in a good neighborhood and better prospects than formerly. The rest of the family were enjoying good healths.
Frank intends purchasing in their vicinity. We got two dollars per lb for our oil we sold Wells of Lyons. He shipped it to N. York, ours was to be sold with his. His agent sold sooner than Wells expected they were a going to and when Wells was informed of the sale oil was worth $4.00 per lb in NY. Probably some Gum Game about it. Wells was a going down in a few weeks when I left to pry into affairs and if gets a clue we share in proportion to amy of oil.
Smith and I intend putting in thirty acres this spring to mint and that in addition to what we have already in I hope will give us some oil next fall or pocket change.
Lucius intends going to Grand River sometime in March I believe. He shall get something from that way this spring.
We are having great excitement about here again this winter. Methodists and Mormons are proselytizing considerably in this vicinity and something a doing with the other sects. The Mormons have gained a good many converts in this town and have organized a church. The sectarian preachers combine against the Mormons. But the Mormons having received challenges for discussions upon the Bible they accepted, which has made amusement for the hearer. Which is satisfactory to have something going on.
Wheat is worth 5/- per bushel. Times are better here than in New York. There has been no snow here this winter of any consequence. Smith my partner gets married in about two weeks. I shall live with him.
Nothing more. Yours respectfully,
L. G. Ranney
Write occasionally and send papers in any quantity.