Monday, July 28, 2008

Marion Brown is too busy to blog this week

Actually, the letters are already packed, along with some photos and other goodies, to show off at the Disability History Conference at San Francisco State University this weekend. I'll be presenting with (and meeting!) Iain Hutchison, in a session where we'll be talking about our trans-Atlantic collaboration on a trans-Atlantic correspondence. I'll report back, and hope to have some photos too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bogg, 11 April 1867

Another letter on black-bordered stationery this week--different stationery, the border is wider, but it still means a death reported. This time it's Aunt Elspeth, another resident of the Bogg (not sure how she's related to the rest just now). The Miss Kennedy mentioned as living at Brandleys is probably Mary Kennedy (b. 1848), who would eventually marry a doctor named Hyslop. Robert McWhir, who was mentioned in the 1865 letter, reappears here. Marion is still 23 at the writing of this letter, and makes no mention of her own health status in this letter.

Paragraph breaks and links for dialect words added.

My Dear Uncle

I lift my pen to write you a few lines to let yo know how things moves about the Bogg. perhaps before this reaches you you will have heard that there is another blank made in our home, Aunt Elspeth got her journey finished here on the 24 of March she was only a week close confined to bed but she was very weak for a long time before, it was water that was her trouble in the end the cough and the breathing was very hard for some time but it was much easier nearer the end

Dear uncle we have had a great deal of trouble at the Bogg within this last two years but such is the way of this world. All things decays and goes away and man is compaired to A flower that blooms in the morning and is withered at night and that may show us the uncertainity of our time here, we don't know how soon we may be called from this to another world where there is no change all is either happiness or misery.

Dear uncle Aunt Nannie is thinking you have forgot us altogether you have been so long in sending us a letter she wearies more since she was left alone. I may say alone for we have A big house but death is makeing it empty but we ought not to pine at what God sees fit to lay upon us but submit willingly and say 'thy will be done.'

I may let you know what is going on about the Bogg the cows is begun to calve and you know from that that the work is fairly commenced for another year there is twelve cows calved but the queys is very scarce we have only three yet and we have two litters of pigs one has 8 and the other has 7 and one of them is so ill natured she will not let the pigs be beside her so you see the swine is as thrawn as ever yet. As for the hens Tom Scott has great work with them he is always wanting his mother to get some new kinds for he thinks the old ones is not very good he is a great man among beasts of all kinds he has three pets and they have all lambs and he can scarcly get sleeping about them I think I have given you an account of the most of things but we are going to be rather scarce of hay--which is not a very good thing but they think they will get through. I may let you know what the people is thinking about doing at Brandleys this year. Mr. John Kennedy is going away to South America he sails on the 21 of this month and it will be an empty house at Brandleys for there will be nobody but Miss Kennedy and her papa left. And Robert McWhir is going to leave at Martinmas and he has been a long time among us

[no signature, may not be the end of the letter]

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bogg, 25 July 1866

This week's letter is written on black-edged stationery, which nearly always means a letter reporting a death in the family. Marion, age 23, still in bed, is writing about the death of her uncle James Glencross (1824-1866), brother of her letter's intended reader, John Glencross in Pennsylvania. James was heading the household at the Bogg, and doing the outside work before he fell ill from a "belling throat" (badly infected throat and ear)*, and died from "congestion of the Brain." This untimely death required some family rearrangements--another uncle, Joseph, will come stay a while to work and head the Bogg household as well as of his own family.

This is a six-sided letter, and I've inserted minimal paragraph breaks where they seemed necessary (Marion rarely breaks up her writing with punctuation, let alone paragraph breaks, but a little spacing does help in the reading).

*A bealing throat is mentioned in this 1827 letter by Thomas Carlyle; there's also a passage in Amelia E. Barr's 1886 novel The Bow of Orange Ribbon, where a character is mentioned "making a plaster for black Tom's bealing finger." The word "bealing" was noted in use in Appalachia as recently as the 1920s, used for the same meaning Marion uses it here (see Carey Woofter, "Dialect Words and Phrases from West-Central West Virginia," American Speech 2(8)(May 1927): 347-367).

Dear uncle I take the pen to write you A few lines to let you know how we are getting on and I have sad news to tell you this time but as God sees fit we ought to be willing to submit to his will for he knows what is best for us for I had little thought that the first letter I was to write to you was to inform you of uncle James's Death for although he was not very strong we little expected we was to lose him so "soon"

he was not very strong the whole Spring and he took A bad cold about two months since and he was just getting A little better when he took A belling throat and after that he had congestion of the Brain which is A very dangerous trouble and the Docters said it proceeded from A sore ear he has had for A long time he was confined to his bed for three weeks and I think the most of his pain was past before he took the bed for he never complained of any thing scarcly after he took the bed but one great blessing we ought to be thankful for that he was sensible to the last but it is A sore trial for we never was left without A head before and he was like A father to every one of us and I was to give you Aunt Nanies compliments and say she losed one head and now another but she thinks this is the worst and it will be the worst for us all and we are very lonly for he had always A cheerie word to every one.

I may let you know how things is to go on for me A while we had Mr. Kennedy over on Monday and he thinks it is best for Aunt Nanie to go on with the cheeses till Martinmas and uncle Joseph is to come to stop with us and look after the cows and out door things for we could not get on without A man to stay in the house with us and he is not very strong he was away in the North draining an he came home to the funeral and he is not fairly railed yet uncle Joseph family is all well just no and so is uncle Williams we had him here two weeks the time uncle James was ill, as for myself I am still confined to bed but I think I am A little stronger than I was in the winter all the rest here is wonderful and the busy time is commenced and when one has plenty of work it helps to keep up the mind they commenced the hay today and we have George White and my Brother James to mow it this year again and they will be very busy for A while all friends and acquatinces is well as far as I know but we dont know how soon A chance may come

give my kind regards to Marion and I hope by this time She is quite strong again for we heard she had been very ill since you last wrote kind regards to yourself and all inquiring friends pleas write soon and let us know how you are both getting on and I will add no more remaining your affectionate niece Marion Brown

now uncle uncle James had A line in the Bank and uncle Joseph says you have to send home word what claim you have and if the money is lifted you will look to him and not the Bank for your share of it and you must write soon and let him know yours, MB

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bog, 26 June 1865

Marion Brown was 21 years old when she added these words to a letter written by her uncle James Glencross to her uncle (his brother) John Glencross in Pennsylvania. John had left "the Bog" and emigrated in 1852 with his wife Helen Brown; their daughter Marion Glencross was born that same year in America. Helen Brown died in 1855.

In this first surviving letter, we already see Marion's usual topics of correspondence: her own health (usually not strong), the crops and livestock (potatoes, turnips, pigs, chickens, cows), and local events (deaths, mainly). This letter was written soon after her aunt, Agnes Glencross Scott or "Nanny," lost her husband Samuel Scott.

Dear uncle seeing uncle James is so busy I will try and write you a few lines to let you know what is going on about the Bog although I am not able to be up yet I sometimes try to write in bed. I was glad to hear by your last letter that you and Marion were getting on so well with your household and gardening affairs. they are very busy here weeding the potates and one thing just brings on another I will begin and tell you about the live stock now---we have not so many pigs this year we have just six big ones but we have an old one and ten young ones, and we are nurseing one ourselves. and I think the cows is doing wounderful well this year Aunt Nanny is going on with the cheader cheeses, and she has not many hens but she has a lot of young chickens and she thinks if she could get A chance she would send you two or three for A change of stock but I was to say likewise that she felt herself very lonely it is A great mis to us all the want of Samuel and it must be worse for her but Death is no stranger amongst us their is A good many of our acquaintance taken away this spring---

William Young of Moshend
died about two months since and Robert McWhir's wife is very poorly and not expected to get better her trouble is a growth in the stomach.

Proper Introductions

[Image description: an oval-framed photo in sepia tones shows an older woman, Marion Brown, white hair parted in the center, wearing a black cap and dress; the photographer's cardboard frame adds a red border and the words "Jenner & Co."]

On this blog, I'll be transcribing letters written by Marion Brown (1843-1915), a woman who lived most of her life in or around Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. The letters were written to her American relatives between 1865 and 1903, and were given to my by my grandmother in 1994 to organize, transcribe and conserve. And I did all that, promptly. Unfortunately, the transcripts I did back then were in a format that I can no longer easily access; so I'm starting over, with more attention to the details, going more slowly, making links, and inviting feedback. In short, I'm turning this problem of technological obsolescence into an opportunity.

Much of what I know about Marion Brown beyond these letters comes from the excellent work of my colleague Iain Hutchison, who has tromped along the edges of foot-and-mouth quarantines and through cemeteries to ground Marion's existence in buildings and places and documents. So before I even get started here, big thanks to Iain. We'll be presenting together about Marion Brown later this month, at the disability history conference in San Francisco.

The photo above is a late photo of Marion Brown, labeled in pencil on the back, from my great-great grandparents' photo albums. We figure this was taken about 1905--so ten years before her death, and a little while after the last letter in the collection.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Happy birthday, Marion Brown!

I figure the 165th birthday of Miss Marion Brown (1843-1915) is the right day to launch this site, even if I'm not actually ready to start just yet. Consider this post a placeholder till I can come back and do proper introductions. Soon!