1844: Kezia (Stearns) Alverson to Millicent (Stearns) Bannister

AlversonKeziaThis unusual letter was written by Kezia[h] (Stearns) Alverson (1802-1878)—the daughter of Dr. Joel Stearns (1766-1849) and Sarah Hayden (1768-1819), and the second wife of Rev. John Brandt Alverson (1793-1850). They were married in 1824. Alverson was a minister in the Genesee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Kezia and her husband had only one child—John Brandt Alverson, Jr. (1842-1864)— called “baby” in the following letter—who served in the 2nd New York Artillery during the Civil War and died a victim of chronic diarrhea in 1864.

Kezia wrote the letter to her sister, Millicent (Stearns) Bannister (1790-1872), the wife of Dr. Caleb Bannister (1782-1862), who resided in Phelps, Ontario county, New York. The couple had several children, one of whom—Melzar B. Bannister (1819-1888)—is mentioned in this letter.

From the letter we learn that Kezia had been recently committed to the New York Lunatic Asylum in Utica suffering from insanity. A biographical sketch for Kezia reveals that she was a long-suffering victim of mental illness, her life described as “a day of much darkness and many sorrows.” The length of Keziah’s stay at the asylum is unknown but she had returned to her home in Perry, Wyoming county, New York, in time for the census and was enumerated there with her 8 year-old son; her husband having expired earlier in the year. It appears her sanity was no longer an issue in 1850 as her husband named her the executrix of his estate in his last will and testament, leaving all to her and their son.

Rev. John B. Alverson was received as a minister in the Genesee Conference in 1817. He organized the first Methodist society in Newtown (now Elmira, New York) in 1819 and later supplied the pulpit in Geneva, Penn Yan, Yates, Newark, and Rochester—to name a few of the western New York villages.

[Note: This letter is from the collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]

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The New York Lunatic Asylum in Utica, opened in 1843

TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Mrs. Millicent Bannister, Phelps, Ontario county, Vienna P. O., N. Y.

Vienna [New York]
May 16th 1844

Mrs. Millicent Bannister,

I received a letter from Mr. Alverson yesterday dated 13th in which he requested me—if I had not done so—to write immediately to you. With this I comply, hoping it may reach you. My health is quite good at present. My mind remains in an unsettled state. I hardly know who I am, what I am, or where I am. This one thing I know—I exist in time, on eternity I wish to satisfy myself.

In relation to this one point—if it may be—suffer me to as a few and important questions. Did you and the doctor, Henry, and Louise come to visit me? In what month was it? Did I ride out in your carriage in company with the Dr. [Dr. Caleb Bannister], Mr. Alverson, and Henry one day? What direction did we go—east or west, north or south? Did Mrs. Roderic come and assist in evening one day? Was it the day I rode or some other day? Who washed the baby’s clothes and did them up for him? Can you tell me where they took him and under what circumstances from me? or whether I parted with him at the gate or in the house with composure or discomposure? What did you say to me on your arrival? When you entered the room, where I was and who entered at the same time with you? What were my expressions on that occasion? Did I leave the room and retire into an adjoining one for a few moments or no? Did Mrs. Dollee come in at the time you did? Did you weep or not? Can you name the persons or any of them who called at our home during your stay with us? Did Cynthia come home when you were there? Did any neighbor on mine ask medical advice for herself of Caleb while there and who was it? Please ask Caleb to give me her name for my own satisfaction. Was I brought to Phelps after this or not? Where did they stop with me at first and where did I remain until brought here? Did I see you there or no? Was I at your house or no? Was the baby brought at any time to see me and who brought him? Who came with me to this asylum and how did I come? And for what was I brought here for—insanity? They tell me so.

Ask Stearns if I was his house at any time or if he watched with me any night. And who sat up with him? How was it about my eating? Was I afraid of eating or not? Ask [your son] Melzar if he played on his instrument of music for me and what instrument it was. And who sung with him—a man or woman? At what place? In the afternoon or evening? The effect it had on me and my remarks at the time. Where he went after he got through. Who was present at the time &c. &c. Did I see Sister [Clarissa Stearns] Prescott ¹ at any time and where? Was any of my clothes left at Phelps [New York]? Some of my best are missing—mush[  ] delane marino cape 1 pair of cotton stocking, 1 calico dress &c. with some articles of lesser value. Please ask Doctor Bannister or [your son] Melzar or some one of your family to answer this as soon as received. Let me have an answer this week if possible. Don’t fail for anything or any account for much is depending. Don’t fail answering my enquiries for my anxiety to know my true state is very great.

—Kezia Alverson


¹ Clarissa Stearns (1792-1866) married Dr. Joel Prescott. They resided in Phelps, New York.

 

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