Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Note about Benjamin Pringle's letter

There have often been times during this project when I've read a sentence from a letter and gone "hmm, that doesn't quite make sense." More often than not I stumble upon the answer while I'm not looking for it. Such an "a-ha" moment happened earlier this week when I was reading the excellent book Crazy Quilts by Cindy Brick (which, incidentally, features many Victorian quilts from the Minnesota Historical Society). The book discusses not only Victorian quilts, but the culture that gave rise to them. Here's an excerpt on Victorian children from page 56:

Children were some of the Victorian age's greatest joys, but also its sorrows. Children in the nineteenth century were subject to cholera, typhoid, smallpox, measles, mumps, and other disease that today are preventable... At least one of every four children died. (Miscarriages only increased this figure.)

It was not uncommon to wait days, weeks, or even months before naming babies, to see first if they would survive. Pincushions with "Welcome, Little Stranger" spelled out in pins were a popular new-baby gift.

As soon as I read this I immediately thought of this letter from Judge Benjamin Pringle to his son George. He was replying to a letter that was written on November 9th, 1863; Nellie, his granddaughter, had been born on October 19, 1863. In the letter he wrote: "I am right glad to have a granddaughter and I congratulate you and Fannie on the happy event and pray that the little one may have health and happiness and be so well brought up as to do good in her generation and be an honor to her parents. By the next mail I shall expect to learn her name [italics mine] and that she has been baptised, and in the future I shall expect to learn that she is being instructed in all that was promised at her baptism." When I read that for the first time, I was a bit puzzled. George didn't send along his own daughter's name? Did he not care? That seemed inconceivable. But when I read this book, it all made sense. It all seems a bit surreal to me. I'm at an age now where my friends are starting to get engaged and get married and have families, and those who are pregnant have been absolutely relishing the chance to pick out names. We're so blessed to live in a time when we have that luxury.

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Since my last post, I've gotten some great news about the whole Pringle-Simmons project. But since the details are still being worked out, I'm not going to say anything more until I have more information. Suffice it to say though that this website is likely to get a lot bigger before the end of the year! Details in my next blog post.