Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

July 15. {1863}

My dear Sally . . .

            I think Mitchell is all right in his algebra.  He can’t stand an examination in Trig but I don’t believe he will have a rigorous one.  Father has seen the Prof. and will give him a letter to them.

If you can’t be honest with your sibling, who can you be honest with?  Apparently, Sally Mitchell Barney’s son, William Mitchell Barney – known as Mitchell as his cousin William Mitchell Barney was known as Willie (how is that for honoring your father?!) – was visiting his aunt Maria and his grandfather, William Mitchell, at their home in Lynn, MA.  Sally still lived on Nantucket and I suspect Mitchell was not only visiting but getting some much needed help with his mathematics by his aunt Maria.  As always, she is brutally honest – he won’t pass a test in trigonometry (but, neither would I!).

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

June 21, 1883. I set out on the Mary Power on June 18th for Boston, got to N.Y. at 11a.m. and went on board the boat at once.  I disliked my stateroom and decided to go by land as it stormed.  I left N. Y. at 10:30 and worried half-sleeping through a hot night.  I reached Kendall’s just as they were at breakfast.  How glad I was to find them all well, and the same at the Dame’s and the Barney’s the next day.

Today I have been at the Bond’s to look at chronometers want one at $200 which has been tested and is only about 6 years old.  Its rate is remarkably steady even when at sea.  Also, I bo’t a mantle, a head dress and a fancy pink shawl . . .

As I have noted before, though born on an island, Maria did get seasick on occasion.  I too – even though I have travelled between Hyannis or Woods Hole and Nantucket since I was 1 ½ years old – get sick as well in rough seas.  Thus, I am not surprised she changed her mind.  The rough seas added to her distaste for the stateroom that she would stare at for a day or so seasick.  Why not go by land?!  Upon reaching Boston, she arrived at the Kendall household – the home of her sister Phebe and her husband Joshua.  The Dames and Barneys were family as well.  Her oldest sister, Sally, had married Matthew Barney.  With Sally now long deceased, this reference to the Barneys may be Maria’s nephew William Mitchell Barney, Sally’s son.  And the Dames refers to Maria’s youngest sister, Kate, and her family who lived in Lynn, MA.

A trip to Boston was to see family but also to make purchases in a place that was slightly more familiar.  A place where she knew the telescope and chronometer makers and had a relationship with them.  A chronometer was a clock that could be taken to sea and not be affected by the roll of the ship – thus she notes how “remarkably steady” it is.  Something that would be quite important for a chronometer.

JNLF

Maria Mitchell in Her Own Words

Maria MitchellJuly 15 {1863}

My dear Sally,

I am very glad to have the pattern for the drawers. I shall return the specimen by Mitchell {Sally’s son William Mitchell Barney} as I understand how to make them.

{Niece} Maria’s little dress fits nicely and I tell Kate the two children won’t suffer, if they have no other dress for the winter. All that Maria’s is wrong, is in being too large around the waist. I am sorry to hear that Aunt Maria’s cough has not gone. Father thinks he has the whooping cough. He coughs incessantly, but is pretty well. He has been to Boston today.

Tell Aunt Maria to stick to the doctor’s medicine and use a plenty of it. I am ready to pay the bill. I wish I could send you some currants as I have a great many. We have very few cherries . . . .

I think Mitchell is alright in his algebra. He can’t stand an examination in Trig but I don’t believe he will have a rigorous one. Father has seen the Prof. and will give him a letter to them.

When this letter was written by Maria Mitchell to her eldest sister, Sally Mitchell Barney, William and Maria Mitchell were now living in Lynn, Massachusetts near the youngest Mitchell child, Eliza Katherine Mitchell Dame or Kate as she was called. Sally still lived on Nantucket and she and her husband had sent their son, William Mitchell Barney, to visit his grandfather and aunt. Maria also talks about the price of cherries, other family members suffering from whooping cough, and the fact that she and her father plan to attend the Harvard College commencement. “Aunt Maria” was Maria Coleman, Lydia Mitchell’s sister whom she and William named Maria after. I myself remember trying on winter clothes that my grandmother was making for me in the summer – oh that itchy wool! I am sure that Maria’s two nieces felt very much the same.

If you have been enjoying these posts, I am now also writing for “Nantucket Chronicle,” an online magazine − http://www.nantucketchronicle.com. My column will be about Nantucket history – with a focus on island women – and the column is called “Nation of Nantucket.”

JNLF