A few days ago, I made an unexpected discovery at our local Tuesday Morning store: jars and jars of quince preserves, not a common sight here. And that reminded me of a very interesting post I’d planned to do a while back but never got around to.
Many descendants of the Angus family may already be familiar with the information I am about to disclose, but on the off-chance these details never found their way down your branch of the family tree, I will go ahead and share.
A while back, I did a post mentioning the fact that almost every yard in America within the right growing range would have once featured a quince tree; it was a fruit that was essential to the process of canning and preserving food. Well, a letter reveals that in addition to numerous other types of fruit trees, my/our second-great-grandparents Angus had a quince tree on their 927 Elizabeth Avenue, Elizabeth, New Jersey, property. I know this because I came across a copy of a letter that mentions the trees and a few more interesting things about the Angus family’s life in the mid-1800s.
Thomas F. Russum, son of Thomas and Cecelia (Angus) Russum and one of the many Angus grandsons, copied the letter on February 24, 1934, on his letterhead stationery (address 6 Seneca Avenue, White Plains, New York). The original letter had been written circa 1849 by a roughly nine-year-old Isaac G. de G. Angus to his godmother in Mexico. Thomas copied the letter before passing it on to Isaac’s son Addison Clark Angus, who was then living at 1833 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.
I surmise that Thomas must have found the letter among old family papers and decided to send the original letter—which evidently the godparents returned to Wealthy Angus after learning of Isaac’s 1885 death at age 45—to Addison, Isaac’s sole surviving child. (For some background on the Mexico connection, please refer to this past post.)
Isaac’s letter, though brief, is absolutely wonderful. Nowhere else have I ever seen/heard/read anything about the Angus household at that time. So, if you have never seen this letter before, I hope you will enjoy reading it. (I have retained the spelling but have added some punctuation for readability and some bracketed information.)
My dear Madrina [Godmother],
My Ma has just written you a letter so I think I will follow her example and write one too. We are all pretty well. We have another little brother. His name is George Welsh. I wish you could see him. He is a very nice little baby and we like him very much. My Pa and Ma wishes very much that you was here. They talk of you and Dona Margarita and Pepa everyday. Jacob [Jacob Baker Angus, 1844-1850] has forgotten all his Spanish and they are afraid that Jimmy [James Winans Angus Jr. 1841-1897] and I will too. Ma hears us read and gives us a lesson almost every day. Won’t you come and live with us. You would like this country. I like it very much. My Pa has got a big house and a very nice garden with apples, pears, plums, quinces and other fruit in it. And he has got a very pretty carriage and horse and some chickens and two little pigs. Give my love to Dona Margarito a Pepa. Tell my Padrino [Godfather] I think he might write me a letter if he ever thinks of me. Give my love to him and all my other friends such as Don Bernardo’s mother. We live in the next house to my Grandpas [Isaac Jaques] and we go there every day. I have no more to write now. You must answer this soon.
Your affectionate godson
Isaac Gabriel de Guadalup Angus
The letter was written after the birth of George Welsh Angus (13 May 1849) and before the death of Jacob “Jimmy” Baker Angus (8 June 1850 – scarlet fever).
The family had departed Mexico in early 1849, after a roughly seven-year stay, due to father James’s health issues. It seems likely that young Isaac wrote this letter in summer/fall when the thought of fruit trees would have been top of mind for a child.
Isaac writes about liking his new country. Even though he was born in Elizabeth, he’d spent the bulk of his life thus far in Mexico City. Returning to daily life in Elizabeth must have been a huge adjustment for him and his siblings. Certainly they must have enjoyed being next door to their grandfather Isaac Jaques and grandmother Wealthy Cushman Jaques who would have been in their mid- to late-50s at that time and, no doubt, delighted to have daughter Wealthy and her growing family back in their midst.
The contrasts between Mexico City (oldest capital city in the Americas, with a population probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 by 1850) and Elizabeth (1850 population: 5,583) must have made a big impression on the family, as I’m sure did the difference in climate. New Jersey winters are usually cold and bleak. The painting on the left, painted two years before the Anguses returned home, shows just what wintry conditions may have awaited them. For Wealthy and James especially, their Mexico life and their adventures there during the US-Mexico War must have lingered in their minds for a very long time. And, until they’d fully acclimatized themselves, daily life in Elizabeth may have seemed a bit boring. Of course, the city of Manhattan, with its population of ~500,000 was close by, so perhaps they were happy to come home and get caught up on all the changes that had taken place in their absence. This was, after all, HOME.
I can’t help but wonder what kind of reception the family received from the community when they returned to live in Elizabethtown. There must have been a lot of curiosity about these somewhat “exotic”” neighbors with their unique international experiences and ability to speak Spanish.
From the letter, we can see that Wealthy was tutoring the children daily, trying to make sure the children would not forget their Spanish; young Isaac does not mention his younger sister Mary Martha who was probably about three at the time. (Another six children would make their appearances between 1850 and 1861, one of them being my great-grandmother Wealthy Ann Angus Woodruff.)
Obviously the family had warmly embraced their Mexican friends and now, with such distance between them, only had letter-writing as a way of remaining in touch. The fact that the godparents returned this letter to mother Wealthy Jaques Angus after Isaac’s death in 1885, some 35 years after they’d left Mexico, indicates that the families remained in contact.
It would be fabulous to know who these godparents and friends in Mexico were. Unfortunately I have not come across those details yet.
If anyone out there has more information about anything related to this post, please do share. Thank you.