One of the challenges with studying history is knowing what people said and how people thought. If only walls could talk! However, we are fortunate to have letters that Mrs. Hite wrote and received, which give a glimpse into what life may have been like in the Shenandoah Valley during the early 1800s.
Sickness was everywhere.
While Mrs. Hite and her family were privileged, sickness and death are nondiscriminating.
Major Isaac Hite, her husband
Major Hite battled severe headaches for much of their marriage, which Mrs. Hite references in almost each of the letters she wrote to her eldest daughter, Mrs. Ann Hite Williams as well as to her close friend, Mrs. Elizabeth Steenbergen:
I am sorry to say that your dear father is not so well today as he has generally been since you left us. He as very sick last night with the nettles and the colic but I hope he will soon get over it as he is relieved almost entirely of both.Mrs. Hite on 13 June 1822
Your father had a very severe attack of the headache on Monday but is now pretty well.Mrs. Hite on 4 May 1826
Your father complains of great debility indeed he is at present unable to use scarcely any exercise; a walk in the garden, fatigues him so much that he is obliged to lie down to rest himself. I feel quite uneasy about him. We fear Mr. Smith got caught in the rain yesterday evening. I should have been very glad if he would have staid with us but he would have had a dull time of it as your father felt too unwell to sit up and entertain him.Mrs. Hite on 3 July 1826
Your father has been afflicted a good deal with the headache and his cough still troublesome.Mrs. Hite on 24 October 1826
Mr. Hite […] has suffered very much for some time past with violent headaches; they often get to an alarming height. He also suffers greatly with a burning and soreness in his feet which permits his walking but little – he has taken no laudanum, for sometime.Mrs Hite on 5 July 1827
The winter and spring has been so cold and wet that many cases of pleurisy have occurred in our neighborhood […] The rest of our family have been greatly blessed with health Mr. Hite excepted and although he had several very severe attacks during the winter I feel truly thankful that he has many intervals of ease and comfort. He complains much of his debility but that is a normal attendant on confinement.Mrs. Hite on 12 April 1829
Mr. Hite is very unwell at present but has gone through the winter much better than I expected. The rest of my family are pretty well except Betsy whose health is at present very delicate. If she can get an escort I think I shall send her to spend a week with you after a little. I think change of air and exercise very necessary for her.Mrs. Hite on 5 April 1836
Ultimately, Major Issac Hite Jr. died on 24 November 1836.
Mrs. Mary Grymes Maury, her mother
Mrs. Hite’s mother, Mrs. Mary Grymes Maury, moved to Belle Grove in 1812 and helped raise her daughter’s growing family. She even helped birth Major and Mrs. Hite’s last five children.
Often called Grand Mama, Mrs. Hite talked often of her mother’s deteriorating health in the letters she wrote:
Your Grand Mama quite sick today…Mrs. Hite on 14 March 1826
Your Grand Mama is quite unwell she desires her love to you both.Mrs. Hite on 30 June 1826
I have been so much engaged in nursing the sick the greater part of the fall and winter that I have had but little time to write to my absent friends, for the last three of four weeks. My mother has been confined to her bed not able either to walk or turn herself. My presence is always required in her room day sand night.Mrs. Hite on 9 May 1838
Mrs. Maury died on 9 September 1839 at 81-years-old.
Her children an grandchildren
Dysentery, whooping cough, measles, scarlet fever, and birthing complications are just a few of the ailments that plagued the Hite family:
My little girl is not weaned yet. She was for several weeks past very ill with the dysentery this disease being combined with teething rendered her case very critical. She has however entirely recovered her health but not her flesh which by the by is no disadvantage to herMrs. Hite on 25 September 1820
Sarah [Mrs. Hite’s daughter] has been quite sick for a day or two; yesterday she was in bed all day –we gave her 3 doses of medicine in the course of 24 hours, which carried off the greatest quantity of bile I ever saw. She is much better and I dare say will be quite well in a day or two.Mrs. Hite on 17 June 1826
Poor little Til [Mrs. Hite’s daughter, Matilda] cried for joy and has not left my side since I got home. She looks very badly and is very much reduced, she has the whooping cough pretty smartly but it is not yet got to the height she has not had a chill since Tuesday. Poor Sarah [Mrs. Hite’s daughter] is now in bed with a very severe one.Mrs. Hite on 24 September 1826
Little Tilhas [Matilda’s] also been very sick with the whooping cough and chills and fever. I received Mr. Williams’ letter by Wednesday’s mail the first has not yet come to hand the intelligence of your indisposition has been a source of regret with us all and had your father been well enough to have gone up we should have been with you the next day. I can truly say that my heart and thoughts have been with you.Mrs. Hite on 8 October 1826
I will first tell you that we are all well except little Til [Matilda] we think she has the mumps at present.Mrs. Hite on 21 December 1826
Poor Ann had a long and severe confinement she had several attacks of inflammation of the womb and bowels. Her situation required great care and attention but thanks to a merciful Providence she now enjoys better health than she has since her marriage. Her little boy is quite a fine healthy child notwithstanding he was obliged to be fed from the time he was a week old.Mrs. Hite on 21 January 1829
Ann was more unwell on yesterday than usual, but is better again this morning. I suppose her being more unwell yesterday proceeds from the damp unfavorable weather though, we have an idea of trying what cupping will do for her throat as nothing which we have yet tried seems to do her any good.Mrs. Hite on 14 February 1833
We have had the measles in the family for seven or eight weeks past. Mary Davison’s children are now nearly through it. Her baby has been sick the greatest part of the winter with a (illegible) on her hip which her physicians were apprehensive at one time would prove to be a white swelling. The dear babe has suffered very much with it and for a long time would let no one but her Mother and myself nurse her. Mr. Hite and my Mother both require a large portion of my attention.Mrs. Hite on 5 April 1836
Sunday morning I was called here to see two of Mary’s [Mrs. Hite’s daughter] children; ill with a disease partaking of scarlet fever, and (illegible) sore throat. One of the children was so ill we did not expect it to live through that night, she is still living though her sufferings have been great and still are, at times. Her recovery is yet doubtful, this is the fourteenth day since she was taken. Mary’s situation is, such that I can not leave her she has been so worn down with anxiety and watching. She is now obliged to give up and keep herself as easy and quiet as possible to prevent serious consequences to herself. Her second daughter is at Belle Grove with the same disease but as she can give us some account of her feelings it can be managed better and I hope from what I can hear of her that the disease will not be so violent as with her two younger sisters. The one next to the youngest has been by far the illest the dear child bears her sufferings with the greatest patience and submits to every remedy without any resistance. Isaac’s daughter, was taken ill the day after little Eltinge Davison, and has been dangerously ill also. She was thought out of danger yesterday unless a relapse recurs.Mrs. Hite on 6 September 1837
My children are pretty well at this time with the exception of Mary and her youngest child which has been dangerously ill. Mary has had a great deal of fatigue with the child it is about nine months old. I hope it is in a fair way to recover.Mrs. Hite on 14 July 1840
Nelly Hite Baldwin, Mrs. Hite’s stepdaughter, died on August 30, 1830. A few years later, Mrs. Hite’s eldest daughter, Ann Hite Williams, died on March 21, 1833 at just 27-years-old, presumably from childbirth. She left behind two children under the age of five.
Family was everything.
There cannot be a more delightful or more enviable sight than to witness parents venerable, both for character, and age, comforted and cherished by an affectionate and attentive offspring. It is one of heaven’s cheeriest gifts to a Mother.Mrs. Hite on 22 September 1831
To understand Mrs. Hite is to understand her unflinching love for her family. Nearly all of her letters that have survived almost two centuries talk endlessly of her deep devotion to not only her children but to her extended family, too – cousins, aunts, uncles, son-in-laws, daughters-in-law.
One of Mrs. Hite’s responsibilities that she took very seriously was that of educating her children. Many of her letters, particularly when her children were young, made talk the family’s tutors and the challenges that went along with finding the right tutor.
The children too have required a greater share of my attention for a month past than usual in consequence of our getting a new tutor; one that Itrust will fulfill our expectations. He has very satisfactory recommendations; no one could be more highly spoken of than he is by Doctor Burwell with whom he lived the last year; and nothing but the difficulty of raising money induced them to part. He has this day commenced school with our children; we cannot form a correct opinion of him yet but I hope for the best. I feel greatly relieved that they are out of the hands of their former unqualified preceptor.Mrs. Hite on 25 September 1820
You will be surprised to hear that we still continue Mr. Roche, as a tutor notwithstanding all his bad conduct which has been really scandalous. He has made oath before aCatholic priest and before Doctor Baldwin that he will not taste a drop of spirits of any kind for the time of fifteen years. If he adheres to this oath I shall be gratified that so much forbearance has been shown to him. If he does not my present doubts will be confirmed and shall consider him among the most unprincipled of men.Mrs. Hite on 19 January 1828
On a full house and an empty nest
Mrs. Hite’s letters reveal the pure joy she felt having a house full of children. As time passes, you can sense her melancholy as her children grew older, married, and forged their own life. It’s very likely, however, that Mrs. Hite had one or more of her adult children living at Belle Grove with her at any given point, including her grandchildren, so she was never truly alone.
I will not tell you exactly how much you are missed at Belle Grove, your seat at our noisy board has never been unobserved by me now it has a new proprietor but I feel well assured that my dear child is happy and that is sufficient. Your father and all the children send you both more love than this letter will hold. Remember me kindly to all your friends, heaven bless you both is the daily prayer of your affectionate, Mother.Mrs. Hite writing to her eldest daughter, Ann Maury, after her marriage to Philip Williams on 14 March 1826
I was very much pleased to see your brother yesterday, not that we had any objection to his staying but it really appeared to me as if I had hardly any of my children with me.Mrs. Hite on 11 May 1826
I have felt your absence much and always do when any of you are from me.Mrs. Hite writing to Ann Maury on 17 June 1826
Our family is now quite small except when your Sister Nelly, comes over which has been more frequent of late –as the Doctor is much from home.Major and Mrs. Hite writing to Isaac F. Hite on 19 January 1828
I perfectly accord with you my good friend that there is more pleasure in raising a family of children than in parting with them however advantageously their lots may be cast.Mrs. Hite writing to Elizabeth Steenbergen on 5 July 1827
On cutting locks of hair
In a couple of letters, Mrs. Hite asks her daughter, Ann Maury, to bring locks of hair, which may seem a little strange, but it was actually a very common and endearing practice of the time.
I wish you would bring me a lock of Aunt Herndon’s hair and ask cousin Eliza for some if Aunt Strachan’s do not forget to give my affectionate love to her and tell her I excuse her not writing if she will promise to write sometimes when she gets will and that she will come and see us whenever she can make it convenient.Mrs. Hite writing to Ann Maury on 13 June 1822
Tell Rebecca and Mary they must twist some of your hair and bring down to me. All the children send a great deal of love toyou. Matilda says she is quite tired of being without you and Brother Philip.Mrs. Hite writing to Ann Maury on 6 May 1826
Faith was prominent.
Mrs. Hite’s deep religious devotion is palpable in her letters, particularly as she grew older after a lifetime of happiness and joy but also loss and grief.
On gratitude and humility
It is I think the only blessing I should ever feel disposed to envy a fellow creature on this earth. Should it ever be my happy lot (although I dare not presume to cherish) I can not even imagine how I could strew forth my gratitude to that Almighty being who alone can bestow such a blessing.Mrs. Hite writing to Elizabeth Steenbergen on 20 June 1825
I heartily rejoice with you that God in mercy has granted you the privilege of again attending his sanctuary and offering up your grateful thanks for all his mercies and blessings. To one so long bowed down with bodily affliction it must be a high gratification indeed.Mrs. Hite writing to Elizabeth Steenbergen on 5 July 1827
“His ways,” my dear friend “are not our ways.” Lay hold on his promises, they are precious indeed to those that put their trust in him and will “cast all their cares on him for he careth for you.” He says, “commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass.” Again he says “Am I a God at hand and not a God a far off.” “Be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart all ye that hope in the Lord.” You may truly say that the “Troubles of your heart are enlarged.” O “Look upon my affliction and bring me out of my distress.” Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy labored and I will give rest to your soul for my yoke is easy and my burden light. O my friend how condescending is our heavenly father to comfort us under our earthly trials with such precious promises if we will only trust in his mercy and faithfulness. It is our wayward nature to meander from the Lord that bought us. He in mercy brings us into the fold by ways that we know not truly. “His rod, and his staff they comfort us,” and we may go on our way rejoicing and say “it is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good;” “I will rejoice n the God of my salvation.”Mrs. Hite on 14 July 1840
The hand of death has indeed been busy among poor Mrs. Blackford’s connections I feel very much for her –but it is a warning to us all my dear child to be prepared for that event for come it must and we should endeavor to meet the summons with fortitude and resignation whether it be for ourselves or our friends.Mrs. Hite on 30 June 1826
Lucy Turner, came up two weeks ago to spend some time with us. Her youngest child about fourteen months old was taken with the disease or had it when she came and after suffering nine or ten days expired in my arms last Thursday night. Poor Lucy was deeply distressed it was truly a heart-rending stroke. It was their only daughter but she submitted like a humble Christian to the bereavement.Mrs. Hite on 6 September 1837
How true it is my dear Madam this life is a scene of trials and sorrow either for ourselves or those most dear to our hearts. Still my friend there are some bright spots to cheer and comfort us in our journey to that bourne ‘where the weary are at rest.’ We have had during the last sixteen months solemn and I may say heart-rendering warnings ‘that this is not our continuing city’ and that we should ‘prepare to meet our God.’ For the destroyer comes as a thief in the night -but our father is full of tender compassion and will remember and fulfill his promises if we ‘humble ourselves under his mighty hand.’ Although his hand has been laid heavy on me yet his mercy and loving kindness has still cheered my bereaved heart.Mrs. Hite on 9 May 1838