Let’s Talk About: Sad 1811 Story

John Cleves Symmes, 1742-1814, was the delegate from New Jersey to the Continental Congress. The following is a letter he wrote to his grandson, John Cleves Short, from Cincinnati and dated “March the 3rd, 1811.”

“My dear grandson, your letter of the 18th I received this day a week ago, and the day after I arrived in town. …….. I have now, my son, a Melancholy piece of intelligence to communicate. I left home in the morning of the 22nd of Feby and went first to Springfield, then crossed the country to Columbia, came to this place on Saturday the 23rd…went again to Springfield on the 27th and returned here on the 28th…

(In this letter I learned that )my house at Cleves with all its contents was reduced to a heap of ashes in the afternoon of the 1st instant….. the flames burst out and by three o’clock that valuable pile that 14 years ago cost me $8000 was in ashes. All my maps, deeds, mortgages, receipts, ledgers, day books, many of my bonds, and thousands of other important papers are lostAll my books, and yours, your clothes and mine, save what I have on my back, all my bedding, my years provisions, ten barrels of beef and pork of the first quality, 100 lbs of tallow, 100 lbs of old sugar, a stock of butter and cheese, all sorts of furniture…..not a cents worth has been saved that could not burn and what is not combustible is either melted, broken or in some way spoiled. $30,000 cannot repair my loss. But to all this I must submit and give up the idea of ever being able to keep house there again during my life. 

I have no appetite, my sleep is short, my thirst feverish. I hope however, my son, that it will not drive me mad. I know that I came naked into the world and I can but go naked out of it….. Man projects, but God frustrates the most sanguine prospects.” 

As I read this sad tale, I wondered how much paper-documentation-of-history has been lost through the years to fire????

2 comments on “Let’s Talk About: Sad 1811 Story

  1. Bonnie Moore says:

    He had more than one wife and died as a laborer. His son predeceased him. He left 6 shillings to each of his 2 grandsons by one wife and the balance of his estate to his other 2 grandsons by a different wife. More could be found in the Revolutionary War prisoner/pension rolls. Suffice it to say, his personal losses were a historical loss to all Americans.

  2. Kathy Sizer says:

    Donna I, too, thought about all the documents lost to history. There were not photographs in that day but he may have had paintings of his parents, etc. I believe his son kept the letter because that was all that was left of their history

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