An Interesting Letter

Historical Article Series May 3, 2020 > An Interesting Letter

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 49, No. 3, September 2013

We have recently received several documents from the estate of Isabelle Atwood. Among them was a letter written by her great-grandfather, Lucius W. Cross (1813-1868), when he went to Kentucky and elsewhere to sell books in 1837. Rudy Favretti transcribed this interesting letter.

Lucius Cross was the middle child of the seven children of Eleazer Cross and Hannah Williams. This letter is written to his younger sister, Eunice. The youngest child in this family was Samuel Cross (1823-1876), the father of Governor Wilbur L. Cross.

Lucius Cross came back to Mansfield after his jaunt to “the west” and farmed for the rest of his life. His farm was at the northwest corner of the intersection of Summit and Gurleyville Roads. His house and barns no longer stand; a twentieth century house is now there.

Letter to Eunice Cross of North Mansfield, Conn. from her brother Lucius W. Cross

Maysville, Ky, Nov. 24,1837

Dear Sister,

Well here I am in old Kentucky. I find myself tonight so favourably situated that I cannot let the present moment pass without writing a few words to you. You have often heard sister of the great west and as you will know me an inhabitant of the same, many inquiries may come up in the mind respecting my appearance of the country and the people who live here, etc. If you entertain similar ideas to mine before I arrived here of this section of our country, you may reckon me as being nearly on the frontier of the western world where the wild beasts roam amid the trackless forests and the track of the red man is fresh upon the leaves and where little has been done to improve the land, etc.   

This is frequently represented as new country and of course in speaking of it we are apt to give it all the characteristics of an unsettled region. However if you was here you would hear much said about the still further west and going to the new country which does not include any part east of the Mississippi River. The tide of emigration that has arisen in the east has been moving with rapid strides, peopling almost every part of the western states. It has long since in its onward march stripped this section of its wild and uncultivated appearance and left the marks of the age and improvement visible on every side. 

This place is situated on the banks of the Ohio River some 60 miles above Cincinnati, surrounded by a densely populated region on either side. The land is very productive producing hemp, Tobacco, corn and wheat in abundance. 

I am much pleased so far with the Kentuckians. They are noble hearted fellows kind and hospitable without the least appearance of parsimoniousness or hypocrisy. As for the Kentucky girls they are the most bewitching little creatures you ever saw. They are so mild and good natured, very sociable and if I had not more important business to attend to for the present I should try to get into the good graces of some one and persuade her to become Mrs. _______. However you need not consider me in any danger of being led into the snare of matrimony as I have to sell a quantity of Books before I can think of such matters. If there should be any indication of a change of so great importance in my condition I shall opt to consult with you on the subject before I become fully committed. I will describe as near as possible to you the one I have selected and you can judge whether it would be prudent for me to take her for better or for worse. 

[The next section of this letter, though not dated, appears to have been written later than the above.] 

You may begin to think I am almost weaned from home by my staying away so long. I did intend to make you a visit this winter, but when I arrived in Philadelphia from my southern tour I found Marcus [Cross, his eldest brother] very anxious to have me come on here and start business with his book, and I with a good deal of hesitation concluded to try it for this winter. Although time and distance separate us and lofty mountains and deep rivers are between us, fancy and imagination still loves to wander amid the sacred corners of home and muse on the varied scenes that are perhaps passing there, My affections still cling to the friends I have left behind and absence serves to sement [sic] even closer the bands that unite us. It is the prospect of meeting and enjoying the society of my Mansfield friends again that makes the ruged [sic] path of my pilgrimage tolerable, gives to me in the time of gloomy and fearful anxiety, enjoyment and repose. I had the pleasure of reading a letter from Williams just before I left Philadelphia. There was one item of intelligence however that was far from giving me pleasure. The loss of sister Mary’s health was truly a subject of regret and I trust that ere this she has recovered from her sickness and may live long and enjoy the society of her family and friends. 

My health at this time is very good. I think I am about as healthy as I was before I was sick. This should cause my heart to swell with gratitude and thankfulness to God for his goodness and mercy manifested to me in restoring me to health and granting me time and opportunity to prepare for eternity. My desire is that I may so live as [so] that when death shall overtake me and stop my career in this transitory world, I may have a seat at the right hand of my Heavenly Father. May this be the lot of you and of all friends and your unworthy brother. 

I shall remain here for a few weeks and then probably go to Cincinnati. I find it more pleasant to operate in cities and equally profitable to me. I have taken board in a very pleasant private family here in Maysville. I board with Mr. Grundy, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of this city. He is in my estimation a very good man although he is a Calvinist.

Produce of all kinds is considered cheap here. Wheat sells for 75 cents per bushel, corn sells at about 37 cents. Pork is selling for 2 and ½ to 3 cents per pound, and beef still lower. 

I hope you will write immediately. Let me know how you are prospering and what important changes are taking place among you. Direct your letters to this place. I wish all my friends to write. 

Remember me to Mother and all friends in Mansfield and accept my best wishes for the prosperity and happiness of you all.

Yours affectionately,
L.W. Cross 

P.S. I find the book business here better than in any place Ihave been in. I have a young man with me. Think I can make it profitable.  

POSTSCRIPT: This form of book marketing was common in America during the mid-nineteenth cenury. Book salesmen traveled with a selection of sample books and took orders for them.  The website of the American Antiquarian Society (www.americanantiquarian.org) describes the typical sample books carried by these salesmen. Most consisted of sample sheets in a sample binding, with a printed prospectus that described the virtues of the work. Customers could choose among alternative styles of binding.  Spines of the available styles were usually mounted inside the sample book’s covers, along with order forms.

Book agents were recruited through newspaper advertisements such as this breathtaking example published by S.S. Scranton & Co. in the Hartford Daily Courant on Oct. 9, 1866 :  

Agents Wanted! Male or Female !

To canvass for the most interesting and most rapidly selling BOOK ever published.  Our Agents write, the people are delighted with it – the book seems to please everybody – some want two copies, others more.  Exhibiting the work is all that is needed.   THE MANUFACTURERS SAY, it is the neatest and BEST BOOK ever got up in this city.  The people appreciate it and are subscribing by thousands. Agents are sending in their orders faster than we can fill them.  Some of our LADY AGENTS are making fabulous sums of money in selling this Work.  SUPERANNUATED AND LOCAL PREACHERS, SCHOOL TEACHERS, FARMERS and others who are willing to work to make money fast will find THIS a fine chance to secure a good income.

We wish we knew the title of this much desired book !  With such hyperbole, it’s easy to understand why many, like Lucius Cross, sought their fortune as a travelling book agent.

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