Unchilled by the Cold

Isabella and William Campbell made the trip across the Atlantic ocean just weeks after they were married in August of 1838. According to Isabella’s letters home, they sailed from Belfast to Liverpool and then on to Canada and down to Georgia, probably making stops along the way. By November they were in Augusta, Georgia, staying in the home of friends, Robert and Catherine Campbell, where they would stay until the Spring and then return to Ireland.

An early 19th-century packet boat.

A few letters from Isabella to her siblings during her stay in Augusta have survived. She describes the places, people, and things she sees. She describes and is horrified by slavery. She keeps herself busy with knitting, reading, and socializing with Catherine Campbell’s extensive family that live nearby, including a niece that lived with the Campbells.

But it’s her letters from home that seem to sustain her while she visits this “uncivilized and barbarian land” (although, it seems she means this, at least partially, in jest). Her letters indicate weekly mailings, showing she wrote without waiting for a reply. Understanding her eagerness for information from home and her longing for her family, she writes a missive to her sisters that included her frustration with the winter weather that stopped the mail.

No mail has arrived from the North since that which left on Christmas day and which brought the intelligence that the [mail] packets of the 7th and 19th were in New York Bay. Of course they contain letters for us and I am all anxiety to get hold of the epistles; but the severe frosts we have had have frozen up the rivers and prevented the travelling of steamboats[,] the great means of conveyance in all directions through the country. I hope the frosts will take its departure and not leave [Augusta] deprived of news which out…is to me the most interesting news in the world. I suppose there are numbers wishing[,] like myself[,] for the rivers to be again set free. When I travelled up the Hudson and St. Lawrence and saw how dependent their inhabitants were for communication with each other and the rest of the world on the free currents of the giants[,] like any[,] I could not help pitying their situation in winter[,] when perhaps for months they were [deprived] from many gratification. The severe winter frosts are numerable impediments in the way of water travelling and the importance is that the making of roads to avoid the inconvenience in winter will be a very slow operation here where the necessity, except at particular times, is not felt. I only hope I may not be much longer made to feel the deprivation but may see my letters[,] unchilled by the cold[,] make their appearance shortly.

Wintertime must have been a hard time for those anxious for communication outside their local community. Communication probably occurred intermittently during those cold months due to weather that froze waterways and dependence on steamboats to move goods, people, and mail. Despite the inconvenience, it seems the country was in no hurry to remedy the problem, as Isabella writes, with the making of roads. But perhaps those that lived in the United States were use to or expected such delays in wintertime and it was only an issue for Isabella, who so far from home, longed for news from her family. Either way, communication in wintertime appears to have required an added measure of humor and patience.

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