A New Set of Clothes for Edward C. Ewing
In 1870 and at age thirty-three, about ten years out of Amherst College and Bangor Seminary, Edward Cornelius Ewing was becoming established as pastor at the Congregational church at Enfield, Massachusetts. Though Edward was born in Walpole, New Hampshire, the Ewing family was well rooted in central Massachusetts. Edward's father, George Clinton Ewing, was a long-time civic leader and developer of Holyoke, and Edward's first pastorate had been at Ashfield.
By 1870, Edward had been married for seven years to Mary Louisa Alvord, and they had two young boys. Two more would join them in the coming years. Of the four brothers, three would follow their father's path into the ministry. The fourth, my grandfather William, went on to study engineering at Boston Tech, as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was known at the time.
Seated: Mary Louisa (Alvord) Ewing, Edward Cornelius Ewing. Standing: Addison Alvord Ewing, William Clinton Ewing, George Henry Ewing, Charles Edward Ewing
The young Rev. Ewing was evidently comfortable in Enfield, a small town in the Swift River Valley. Church bulletins from the time show a wry wit; the clergyman instructed his flock "not to expect the preacher to be at his best every time he occupies the pulpit." Attendance ranged up to 200 or 300 on a Sunday.
There was little sign of the upheaval to come sixty years later when the burgeoning city of Boston would lay claim to the Swift River Valley and build a dam. As the end was coming in 1936, an arsonist would light the Enfield church ablaze. What little remains of Enfield now lies deep under Quabbin Reservoir.
In the summer of 1870, the Rev. Ewing received an unexpected letter that turned his attention away from everyday duties in the Valley. It bore a postmark from the exotic Colorado Territories. There is no record that Edward Cornelius Ewing had ever traveled outside New England, save a stint tending to the needs of Union Army soldiers in Winchester, Virginia, in 1864 as a member of the U.S. Christian Commission.
As shown in the snippet to the right, the letter was written in a clear hand. But it was filled with curious spelling and grammar oddities. This makes one wonder if it was dictated to or transcribed by someone other than F. E. Hayden, the signer of the letter. With all the spelling and grammar errors, the letter reads:
Rev. E. C. Ewing
Sir, I wished to corspond with you, and make you this liberal Offer. I will make you a present of a New Suit of Clothes Or fifty in cash. If you will accept of It.
I wishe you to send me the name of som young woman of your acquaintance that has been raised to do house worke betwen age of 17 and 25 years with darke Eyes and understands music.
And if I am suited and have the luck to wed, my Offer will be due. I have always worked harde and I am liberal reworded for my labor. I will give any Number of References on hering from you. I will answer all questions
In regards to this country I never have bin in the Eastern States and they say it is hard for a man to get in to Society. I Expect to come back to Mass this fall. I came here when 17 years of age. I have bin in Colorado 10 Ten years 18 Day of July 1870.
I never used Tobaco nor Spiritual Liquors of Eny Kind. I have always bin on the frontiers and in the mines. I think I have lived a lone long enought.
I am a reader of the New England Farmer and there is where I got your name. Where you Married Mr. M Gibbs to Miss Susan Alden. I hope this Conversation will be keep between you and me So I remaine yours Truly,
F. E. Hayden
Granite Lake Co.
June 25th 1870
I am truly a shamed of what I have riting, but I think it my duty to Marrie and I wished to marrie Eastern Woman. If I will suit and be suited I will frely make my Words good to you and be under meny Obligations to you. F. E. H.
Mr. F. E. Hayden! Could one take his 'liberal offer'? A New Suit of Clothes or $50 in cash? That might have been a generous inducement for a frugal clergyman to be a matchmaker for a half-literate miner. Most Yankee Congregationalists would cringe at the thought of dealing intimately with a stranger, despite his pleading of good character in the area of tobacco and 'spiritual liquors'. Still, there was the opportunity to minister to an apparently sincere and needy person, even though he was mute on the question of religion.
The letter has come down in our family for four generations. It is one of only a few bits of ministerial records that have been preserved. Obviously, it meant something to our preacher forebear.
What was his reply? Unfortunately, we can only guess.
Martin Sipple Ewing descends from Noble Ewing and the Massachusetts family of George Clinton Ewing of Holyoke. He is retired from Yale University, where he was Director of Information Technology for Engineering. In previous lives, he was a physicist and radio astronomer, receiving a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.A. from Swarthmore College. Martin continues to develop computer systems and Internet services, as well as pursue his hobby in amateur radio. Martin and his wife, Eva, live in Branford, Connecticut.