Winter 1870: William Woodruff in San Ysidro trying his hand at ‘wool growing’

William Woodruff, in June 1870

William Woodruff, in June 1872, photo from personal family collection

A January 1870 letter written by my 2nd great grandfather Francis Woodruff (1820-1883) to my great grandfather William Earl Woodruff (1848-1928) is a joy to read. It reflects the love and warmth of father for son and gives insight into the goings on in that little part of the Woodruff family 143 years ago.

William, it appears, was trying his hand at wool farming out in San Ysidro, California. He was just 21 years old and still a single guy (he married 2 1/2 yrs later), and appears to have gone cross country from his home in Elizabeth, NJ, to work for Hedden Bruen, possibly the John Hedden Bruen (b. NJ about 1815) who appears in Santa Clara County voting records from that period. The letter mentions a “Charles and Sarah” and I’m quite sure this was a reference to Charles Woodruff (1814-1898), a first cousin of Francis’ (they shared Enos Woodruff as their grandfather). Charles was married to Sarah E. Bruen (1821-1899), so I imagine that Hedden was likely one of Sarah’s brothers.

Redmond Granville's Shepherd Herding Sheep in a Misty Landscape, 1911, Private collection in Irvine, CA (Wikimedia: In Public Domain in USA)

Redmond Granville’s Shepherd Herding Sheep in a Misty Landscape, 1911, Private collection in Irvine, CA (Wikimedia: In Public Domain in USA)

California had been a state for almost 20 years, and the transcontinental railway had been completed a year prior, in 1869, an event that heralded a huge influx of visitors from the east. The letter gives an indication of that at one point in reference to the large number of New Jersey folk wandering about San Francisco. This was a long way from home for William, and to his parents, it probably seemed like he’d gone to the edge of the Earth. But at least they had the ability to communicate via letters. How exciting it used to be to get letters in the mail! I can only imagine how exciting it was for them, especially given that the telephone was not yet an option.

San Francisco Harbor, 1850-1851; with Alcatraz Island in the background. Daguerrotype. |Wikimedia: Source - Library of Congress CALL NUMBER: DAG no. 1330]

San Francisco Harbor, 1850-1851; with Alcatraz Island in the background. Daguerrotype. |Wikimedia: Source – Library of Congress CALL NUMBER: DAG no. 1330]

I love the references to William’s younger siblings, Matthias and Phebe, both also still single, and living at home, and the reference to Mary Jane Trowbridge, William’s mother, who obviously had her reservations about her son’s current enterprises. No reference was made to the oldest child Emma, who was also still likely at home. (Within the next four years, all four of the children would be married: William, 20 Jun 1872; Matthias, 21 Nov 1872; Emma, 16 Sept 1874; and Phebe, 23 Oct 1874. Between them, they produced 16 grandchildren for Francis and Mary Jane who both died in 1883.)

I don’t have any more information about William’s life out West, but I do know he was back home in New Jersey in time for the June 1870 census. What happened between then and his June 1872 marriage, I’ve no idea—perhaps, he went off to dabble in whale fishing like the young man mentioned in the letter? I kind of doubt it—I think that morsel of information would have been passed down through the family!

Below is the letter which I have broken into paragraphs and added punctuation for ease of reading. Comments, corrections, and additional information always welcome. Be sure to click on the Henry Winslow link when you get to it.

Here you go—a slice of life from 1870 (the letter was postmarked 4 February):

Elizabeth Jan. 20th ‘70

Dear Will,

We received your letter yesterday and was glad to hear that you were well. We are getting along here about the same old way. We were not a little surprised to hear of Mr. Bruen’s marriage. I went right down to tell Charles and Sarah. I told them your news from California this time. Sarah guessed right away that Hedden was married and wanted to know all about it: how old his wife was and all the particulars. I told her I was not posted on that score. She had a good laugh over it and I left.

We are having a very mild winter of it. So far we have not got any salt hay yet and at present there is no prospect of it. The weather is warm. No frost in the ground. The roads are very bad today. Matt and I dug that stump of an apple tree that the wind blew down last summer and set another in its place. The Mr. Earles are setting their line fence and they have got a well and cellar dug. Things will look quite different around here in a little while with three new houses between ours and Charles’ well.

William's loving father Francis Woodruff

William’s loving and very supportive father Francis Woodruff; photo from personal family collection

Will, I was going to answer your letter right away as you see from the date but I did not intend to be so long about it. It is now the 30th January and no frost yet. I was at Mr. Jones’ auction the other day and saw a young Sparks [?]. He said he had a letter from his brother. He spoke of your being in San Francisco with him. He said he learned more about the Jersey folks than he could write in a month. I have had a bad cold and was a most sick for a few but am better now. I was afraid I was going to be lame again but have escaped so far pretty well. Phebe has had a slight attack of scarlet fever but is getting better so that she is up today. Matt has gone to Newark for a load of grain with three horses. You know that suits him to make a show with the team. We have a good one now.

Mary Jane Trowbridge, William's concerned Mom

Mary Jane Trowbridge, William’s loving but skeptical Mom; photo from personal family collection

You write about going out tending sheep and as it is Mr. Bruen’s avice [sic] I have some faith in it. It is quite a new kind of life for you but if there is a chance of doing anything worth while and you have a mind to try it I have no objection. But you must do as you think best. You are your own man now and must choose for yourself. We cannot advise you anything about it because we don’t know any of the circumstances. Your Mother thinks it is a wild scheme but I do not think near as bad as whale fishing that Henry Winslow tells us about. By the way he has been here and made us quite a visit. He is a stout fine looking young man. I think he looks something like his Uncle Hedden. He tells us some great whale stories. We were telling about your talking of going round the world. He said if you once got on the water you would never leave it.

Whale Fishing, Currier & Ives, 1850s

Whale Fishing, Currier & Ives, 1850s

You must write as soon as you can and tell us about the country you are in and about wool growing. It would be very pleasant to have you with us here again but if you have a mind to try your luck I’m just as willing to do anything I can for you there as here. I have great confidence in you and think Mr. Bruen would not advise anything but for your good. Mother says give her love to you and I send my own and all the rest of the family.

From your affectionate Father,

Francis Woodruff

Tell us how far out in the country you are.

Envelope and page 4 of Francis' letter to son William

Envelope and page 4 of Francis’ letter to son William

Categories: Ayers, California, Evergreen Cemetery, Hillside, NJ, San Ysidro, Trowbridge, US Federal 1870, Woodruff | 3 Comments

Post navigation

3 thoughts on “Winter 1870: William Woodruff in San Ysidro trying his hand at ‘wool growing’

  1. I’ve found some old letters from my Great Grandfather who had gone to Oregon to buy a pear orchard and was writing home to his family in Indiana. Such letters are a treasure and tell us a great deal. Your letter was fun, particularly mom’s concern about sheep farming. –Curt

    Like

    • It’s awesome that you have those letters, Curt. That must have been some adventure for your great grandfather. I really treasure the letters we have. I’m sure our ancestors never imagined we’d be reading them 150 years later. How different their lives were in so many ways–none of today’s modern conveniences, and yet we all have the same worries, hopes, concerns, and dreams. I enjoyed reading that my great grandfather wanted to go around the world. I know that never happened, but it’s interesting to hear about that dream. May explain some of my wanderlust!

      Like

Leave a reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress.com.

omordah.wordpress.com/

Art by Susan M. L. Moore

Lee's Birdwatching Adventures Plus

Birdwatching from a Christian Perspective

Story_Trails

Family history in stories recalled by Edie and Leo. Edith GAYLORD Allen, Leo ALLEN, Jr

Princes, Paupers, Pilgrims & Pioneers

“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings.” Teaching children values and giving them the opportunity to excel is essential to good parenting. However, I feel I must also provide my children (and myself) insight into the ones who came before us: our ancestors whose lives and stories have shaped us into who we are. This is my journey; these are their stories…

Myricopia

Exploring the Past to Improve the Future

Buddha walks into a wine bar ...

Sits down with The Two Doctors and .....

Elves Choice

Holiday Bargains & Recipes

MarileeWein.com

DOUBLE GENEALOGY: the ADOPTION WITNESS

Tastes of Health

Passionate about Health, Fitness and easily prepared Delicious Food

Applegate Genealogy

Helping others discover their roots

allenrizzi

Sempre in Movimento! Published Every Monday and Friday at 12 PM EST

Cooking Without Limits

Food Photography & Recipes

THEVYPEFFECT

all about travelling in korea

My Descendant's Ancestors

Tips, Tools and Stories for the Family Historian

Smart Veg Recipes

Welcome to home made, vegeterian, healthy & kids friendly recipes

ICI & LA NATURE PICTURES

Walk and Bike in France. www.icietlanature.com

The Lives of my Ancestors

Lives, Biographies and Sketches of my Family History

Down the Rabbit Hole with Sir LeprechaunRabbit

Serious about Genealogy? Let this Olde Grey hare show you about

Diggin' Up Graves

Genealogy and family history, dirt and all.

Momoe's Cupboard

Low Budget Meals and Ideas

Generations of Nomads

On the Trail of Family Faces, Places, and Stories Around the World

Your daily Civil War newspaper [est. 1995]

All the Civil War news fit to re-print

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Author Adrienne Morris

Books, Art and the Writing Life at Middlemay Farm

Travels with Janet

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Uma Familia Portuguesa

A história da nossa família

The Good, the Bad and the Italian

food/films/families and more

newarkpoems

350 years of Newark in verse 1666-2016

Russian Universe

Understanding Russia with a Russian

Almost Home

Genealogy Research and Consulting

Old Bones Genealogy of New England

Genealogy and Family History Research

Out Here Studying Stones

Cemeteries & Genealogy

WeGoBack

family research ... discover your ancestry

the Victorian era

Did I misplace my pince-nez again? Light reading on the 19th century.

Genealogy Technology

Family history for the 21st century

Moore Genealogy

Fun With Genealogy

Meeting my family

RESEARCHING MY FAMILY TREE

Shaking the tree

musings on the journey towards knowing and sharing my family's stories

A Hundred Years Ago

Food and More

Scots Roots

Helping you dig up your Scots roots.

Root To Tip

Not just a list of names and dates

Food Perestroika

Adventures in Eastern Bloc Cuisine

Being Em | From Busan to America

this journey is my own, but i'm happy to share.

TWISTED LIMBS & CROOKED BRANCHES

Genealogy - Looking For "Dead People"!

%d bloggers like this: