This letter was written by Mary Ann (Langhorne) Leitch (1810-1859), the wife of William Leitch (1791-1871)—an emigrant from Tyrone county, Ireland. Their children included Ann Jane Leitch (1825-1851), Thomas Maurice Leitch, (1828-1886), Elizabeth Langhorne Leitch (1828-1877), and Mary (1831-Aft1850). Thomas served as a lieutenant in the 18th Virginia Infantry during the American Civil War. He was married to Mary Jane Fuqua (1830-1860) in 1849.
Mary Ann and William Leitch were married in November 1823 at the home of her parents, Maurice Moulson Langhorne (1777-1835) and Ann Anderson (1787-1864) in Buckingham county, Virginia. Mary Ann makes frequent references to her eldest child, Ann Jane (“Nannie”) Leitch who was married in December 1846 to Blake Baker Woodson (1814-1887)—the Clerk of Cumberland county, Virginia for many years.
Mary Ann wrote the letter from “Mount Ida“—a two-story, wood-frame residence constructed between 1785-1805 in the northwestern corner of Buckingham county on the James River, five miles from New Canton, Virginia. (The home was moved to Albemarle county in 1995.) The original home was built by William Cannon, a captain in the Buckingham militia during the American Revolution. Cannon allowed his unknown builder to lavish considerable attention to his parlor. The Cannon family sold the property to David Ross whose descendants sold the property in 1833 to William Leitch, a Buckingham Court House tobacco export merchant. Leitch added 1,300 acres to the property. It remained in the Leitch family until 1909.
(Note: This letter is from the collection of Richard Weiner and is published by his consent.)
Addressed to Mrs. Ann Langhorne, Lexington, Lafayette county, Missouri
Mount Ida [New Canton, Va.]
November 19, 1845
My dear Mama,
Your letter of the 25th of October was received last week. I had been looking for it for five or six [days] as you mentioned in your letter to Thomas that you intended to write very soon. We had heard that brother ¹ was married & you were going to housekeeping before, through a letter from Susan, to Mrs. Branch, & I am truly glad that my dear brother has obtained a companion who promises to be so suitable a one, & so good a stepmother. I wish that instead of going to housekeeping you had given Bethie up to her Papa, and written to Mrs. L to bring you back to Va.
If brother’s wife were to take it up into her head that she didn’t want his children to stay with them, who would take them? and she has as good a right—if not better—to do so (from circumstances that you will understand) and certainly brother Bennett would see justice done his child.
There has been a good deal of sickness in this region and among your acquaintances. Old Mrs. Nicholas, William Brown, Decker Smith [a Baptist minister], & Michael Hobson have died—also one of Mrs. Fuqua’s twins, Nannie. Mrs. Fuqua & five of her children were ill at once, besides a good many of the servants. The neighbors sat up with them every night for several weeks & Drs. Talley & Fuqua were in constant attendance. Of our family, only Thomas and Harrison have had the fever since I wrote last except that Mrs. L. had one very severe chill and Bettie two very slight attacks that she has not laid down for all. Nannie seems to be the healthiest of the family now. I have had the rheumatism in the left side of my head and left arm which pesters me very much at night.
The girls and Tom were up at Marquette’s wedding. Nan was bridesmaid. They had a large company including cousin S and his wife who were married about ten days before. Both couples have been down and staid a night and day with us a few weeks since. I heard of no objection to the match from any quarter. Mr. Lemiggs [?] is not keeping tavern now but lives in the house Mr. Fairchild built and has 4 or 5 boarders.
There was a Presbytery in New Canton early in October. We had several of the preachers and elders with us, besides ladies & other gentlemen; cousin Sam Anderson and cousin Lucy were at it and stayed two nights with us. Cousin Tom Miller and his daughter Malvina were here also. His father (old cousin Tom) died since that time. His mind had been very much impaired for a year or two. We have heard nothing of cousin William Langhorne’s death. William C[abell] Rives delivered an address at Hampden-Sydney College the 12th of this month and everybody about here went that could get there. I believe Bettie went with Col. Fuqua’s family. They were gone several days and staid one night at Cousin Sam Anderson’s. They stayed a night at James’ Tavern in Farmville & Mrs. James told Bettie she knew directly she saw her that she must be a near relative of sister’s by the striking likeness. Indeed, she is very frequently told of it & I think there is a considerable resemblance. She is as large & taller than her sister was.
The Misses Hendree were us at Mr. Woodson’s in the summer and were a good deal with Nannie, & they and Va., have frequently written to her since, pressing her to visit them. So tonight week ago she went down with Mrs. Woodson and they expect to return next Saturday. Mrs. Robert Rollins (Frances Brackett that was) has a son, and Mrs. Snoddy has a daughter which she has named after me. Martha also had a son which was born fifteen months after her daughter. Both are living and fine children. I have had another carpet this fall woven in a yard wide 400 [ ] for the parlor. It is a good deal handsomer than the first one & has a greater variety of color.
It is thought that Mrs. [Elizabeth Womack Price] Spencer influenced the Dr. ² to make his will as he did. Some of her friends have induced her to give up to her children all but her thirds, but she still holds a fee simple in that. His property was said to be worth about seventy thousand dollars.
Uncle Dabney and his son-in-law talk of moving to Tennessee next fall. I think Mary told me she answered your letter by Mr. Ligon, Anyhow they complain mightily that you don’t write. I forgot to say Ann E. Thompson was with us during Presbytery. Aunt Sally was at the wedding. They were at Hampden-Sydney [College] too last week and all were well.
Nannie has worked two very pretty ottomans and Mrs. [ ] has had them fixed in neat mahogany frames at 5 dollars each. I saw Mrs. Davy Branch for the first time at Presbytery. She is a fine-looking lady but not so handsome as I expected to see. Tell me when you write whether my new sister is handsome, who she is like, & what brother calls her. Oh Ma, I’m afraid you’ll have a great many difficulties to struggle with in recommencing housekeeping. I wish we were there to help you along. Will you not be obliged to have a man servant? If you only has the things you gave away when we left Va., they would help you mightily. But I suppose you will have to furnish anew entirely.
24th — Nannie came up last Saturday on the boat with a good many of the preachers returning from Conference, among them were Brothers Early & Dr. Smith. She was highly delighted with her trip and went to see everything in Richmond worth seeing—viz: Penitentiary, Paper Mills, Capitol, Exchange, Theatre, Railroad Bridge, Catholic Church, & New Episcopal Church—the finest building in the city. It cost $150,000. The pews—some of them—sold for 8 or $900.
Mesmerism is making more noise in Richmond at this time than it has hitherto done. A gentleman & lady professor & Madame de Bonneville ³ are delivering lectures on the subject twice a week. They have classes at $5 each for 3 or 4 weeks. Dr. Hendree is a member of the professor’s class & Va of his wife’s. Ann Jane attended one of her lectures by special invitation & is a firmer believer in the science than ever.
Charles Woodson has been down several weeks to be magnetized for the benefit of his stammering and has improved wonderfully. Nannie saw his mesmerized by Madame de Bonneville when she made experiments in Pheno magnetism by touching the different organs in his head and face, & the different passions were excited very satisfactorily. She also saw a lady who told her that she had a little negro she magnetized and would ask her questions in French and would be correctly answered in the same language. So today I magnetized Eliza and Nannie asked her in French how she was. She only laughed and did not reply but upon my asking her if she didn’t know what her Miss Ann Jane asked her, she said, “Yes, she asked me how I do.” She also described several places Nan visited in Richmond.
Robert & Rosanna are getting Nettie to write for them on a half sheet which I enclose as the postage is the same and as I have not written everything that I wish in the body of this letter, will intertwine in a different hand. Robert & Rosanna’s letters are their own dictation verbatim.
The most convincing proof of the truth of mesmerism is the facility with which surgical operations may be made during the magnetic sleep. Dr. Hendree magnetized a young lady—Miss Harriet Tinsley—& extracted two teeth without giving pain, and while Ann Jane was down, Professor de Bonneville magnetized a man by the name of [William] Hogg and Dr. Henree extracted a tumor as large as your double fist without giving him pain & when he awoke, he would not at first believe it had been done [see Richmond Whig article below].
The professor (formerly of Harvard University, Cambridge) lectured publicly awhile and magnetized a little girl at the same time, but the excitement became so great that a mob was raised who followed his carriage crying ‘humbug, humbug’ and they had to be protected from personal violence and had to give up his public lectures. They are very anxious for us to send Eliza down to Richmond but I can’t do it for I am disposed to be skeptical myself in regard to her clairvoyance though she has made so many true guesses. Bettie don’t believe a word of it nor Tom either, I believe. When cousin Sam Anderson and Mr. Scruggs were here with their brides, I magnetized Eliza & Mr. Scruggs and cousin Harriet were complete converts, but cousin Sam couldn’t be convinced.
The Baptists talk of erecting a monument to Mr. Smith’s memory & his funeral sermon is to be preached in all the Baptist churches on the same day. †
December the 2nd. I have kept my letter open much longer than I expected. Nannie had a cold when she returned from Richmond which increased for several days and was attended with so bad a sore throat that we were fearful she would have another long attack but she came out yesterday and seems pretty well now. My pain in the jaw increased so much also that I was confined to my bed two days but from cupping and other remedies am now relieved.
Pocohontas Bolling and [her brother] Lineaaus stayed with us a couple of days last week; the latter has recently been discarded by Miss Nannie Perkins—Bate’s sister. I am afraid you will have hard work to make this leaf out. Some of you take the N. C. Advocate, do you not? If so, you will see from that that two of the ministers of the Ga. Conference have been expelled. We don’t know, however, who they are.
All my love to all, Your affectionate daughter, — M. A. Leitch
¹ Mary Ann’s brother, John Wesley Langhorne, MD (1808-1881), was married twice. His first wife, Martha Nelson Branch (1811-1844) died in 1844 leaving him at least four children—Maurice Moulson (b. 1834), Samuel Wesley (b. 1836), Anne Rebecca (b. 1837), and Mary Eliza (b. 1839). He married his second wife, Mary Martha Wilson (1824-1902) on 30 September 1845 in Lafayette county, Missouri. She bore him at least ten more children.
² Dr. John (“Jack”) Spencer (1786-1845) died on 25 August 1845. He was married to Elizabeth Womack Price (1793-1859) in 1809. When the doctor died, there were two living sons named William W. Spencer (1820-1858) and James Leake Spencer (1826-1898).
² From the book, “Westerly (Rhode Island) and its witnesses by Frederic Denison (p. 254-5): “Among the quackeries and delusions in the healing art, brief record may be made of the professed medical mission of a woman known as ‘Madame de Bonneville,’ who entered the town near 1849. and remained about four years. For a time she was assisted in her art by her husband. With suavity of manners, volubility of tongue, ease of address, large discernment of human nature, and great shrewdness of purpose, she won the confidence of many intelligent and deserving families. From these, she wisely kept concealed the arts she practiced with the vulgar and credulous. Like the ancient priestesses, she pretended to interpret and divine the phases of life’s horoscope. She magnetized bottles of water, breathed on weak limbs, practiced mesmerism upon such as would submit to her blandishments and power. She was professedly skilled, withal, in the mysteries of phrenology. By her thorough knowledge of human weaknesses, she executed well-nigh a magical power. Scarcely any person ever more successfully duped the people. Her husband, in his practice of mesmerism, was finally convicted, at least in public opinion. in Providence, of such unnamable immoralities that he left the State and finally the country. On her way to California, to bless the dwellers by the Golden Gate, Madam de Bonneville, unable to conquer a tropical fever, died at Panama.”
“Animal Magnetism Triumphant Over Human Suffering,” Richmond Whig, 28 November 1845
† Probably Baptist minister Rev. Poindexter Patteson Smith (1793-1845)—an early-day itinerate preacher who established churches in Buckingham, Fluvanna, and Cumberland counties, Virginia. He conducted a school in northeastern Buckingham county in 1840.