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Title: Mary Cumming, Petersburg, [Va?] to Margaret Craig, Lisburn.
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FileCumming, Mary/30
SenderCumming (n. Craig), Mary
Sender Genderfemale
Sender Occupationmiddle class housewife
Sender Religionunknown
OriginPetersburg, Virginia, USA
DestinationLisburn, Co. Antrim, N.Ireland
RecipientCraig, Margaret
Recipient Genderfemale
SourceT 1475/2 pp.102-110: Copied by Permission of Miss A. McKisack, 9, Mount Pleasant, Belfast.
ArchiveThe Public Record Office, Northern Ireland.
Doc. No.9006105
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
LogDocument added by JM 02:09:1993.
Word Count3073
TranscriptBlandford, Jan [January?] 2. 1814.

Many many happy returns of the year to my dear Margaret, and
all the beloved inmates of Strawberry Hill. When or how this
letter will be sent I know not, but as I intend it shall be a
very long one I will write a little now and then till I hear
of an opportunity of sending it. Occasionally I think of something
which I wish to tell you, of which I forget when I am
in haste to send off my letter. I wrote a very long letter to
you in the beginning of November which has not left this
country yet, and another to my Father last month which I expect
he will receive before you get yours, as I sent it by
another conveyance.
I have been very anxious to hear from home for a long time,
and indeed if I did not know that vessels at this season of
the year have sometimes very tedious passages I should be very
uneasy. The last letter I had from home was from Rachel, dated
June. The one she said you had written to me at the same
time has not come to hand yet. Before I finish this letter
I hope I shall have the happiness of telling you I have received
a packet from Ireland. I am now so well that I was
able to be at no less than two balls last week, one of them,
was at Major Taylor's, a very near neighbour of mine, the
other was a public one held at the hall which is within a
hundred yards of us. I danced a little but I have not the
pleasure now I once enjoyed in that amusement. I get so soon
tired owing to my want of strength that it is rather a toil
for me to go through a reel, and I feel more pleasure to sit
and look at others than to join them in the dance. "How you are
changed" you will say, but believe me I have no idea my
dancing days are over. When I go home you will see me I
hope as active on the floor as ever. I do not like the reels
they dance here, it is the same or nearly the same figure over
and over again. They seem to me to pay no attention to the
music and begin at the last of the line as soon as at the beginning.
Country dances are not much liked, here. In Richmond and
the Northward cotillions are the most favoured dances, balls are
always well attended and young and old join in the dance. It
would amuse you to see Mrs. Moore going through a reel, she is
an uncommonly large woman, dresses very gay, and seems to enjoy
herself more than anyone I know. The American ladies in general
dress very well, a good deal in the French style, which I do not
admire. There are a number of very pretty girls in Petersburg,
most of the American ladies I have seen are remarkably fair
with scarcely any colour, owing to the warmth of the climate, I
suppose. My sweet little Agnes Freeland is an exception, she is
as blooming as any Irish girl, she has beautiful hair and dark
eyes. I have not seen her here so often of late, owing to her
mother's health, which I am sorry to say is very bad. She is
now confined to bed, and I am very much afraid her disease will
end in a consumption. She has been long threatened with it, and
she has met with so may misfortunes lately that I fear it has
increased the complaint. Within the last year she lost her
husband and an only sister. Mr. Freeland died very suddenly,
her sister (who was a charming woman) died a few hours after
the birth of her boy. Mrs. Freeland has an uncommonly strong
mind, but I fear her health will suffer, I do not know what I
would do if I was to lose her. she says she looks on me as if
I was her daughter and she always treated me as if I was
really so, but I hope from my heart she will soon get better,
I cannot bear to think of losing her I have attended four
funerals since I came to this country I believe. The persons
all died during the last year, they were all acquaintances
of ours, and what is singular, all Scotchmen. I like the manner
that funerals are conducted here very much, I think they are
extremely solemn and impressive. It is a mournful subject, but
as this is Sunday I will therefore tell you as well as I can
how they are arranged. The day after the decease of the person
their friends send notes to as many of their acquaintance
as they wish to attend, mentioning at what hour the funeral will
take place. The ladies all go in carriages, the men on horseback,
when you get to the house every place looks mournful,
the coffin put on a large table in the middle of the room,
covered with white, the ends tied with black, all the pictures
and mirrors are covered in like manner. When all the company
have assembled the clergyman reads the funeral service, which
is altogether the most affecting scene I have witnessed these
many years. After he has finished six of the deceased's most
particular friends bear the coffin to the hearse, the company
attend to the place of interment, all alight and proceed to
the graveyard where the clergyman again delivers a short
prayer over the spot. No person could possibly help being
affected during this solemn scene.
There is always a quantity of what is called funeral cake
made on the occasion. It is like our Naples biscuits, each
piece is rolled up in mourning paper and sealed with black.
I think this is a curious custom, even the baskets which it is
handed round in are all covered with white. I shall now bid my
dear Margaret adieu for the present.

Thursday January 6th.
I again take up my pen to have a little conversation with my
dear Margaret, and to tell her we have all been on the tip-toe
of hope and expectation for these last few days past. A cartel
has arrived at Annapolis and brought a messenger from the
British Government, who is now at Washington. The general
opinion is that the message is of a pacific nature and that peace
is not far distant. From my soul I hope it is not. William
is in fine spirits at the good news. If it does take place
I think I shall see my beloved friends sooner than I once
expected. Do you know I am going to commence tobacco merchant?
William gave me for my Christmas gift a quantity which I intend
shipping off when peace takes place. If I succeed in my
first attempt I shall go on in the same manner till I return to
Ireland. William and myself were talking of a plan if we should
have peace which he would advise my Father to think of. It is
for him to get James Cumming or some other person to purchase
some fine and coarse linens, send them to W. Brown of Liverpool
to be shipped to America. William will sell them for him
and if he pleases lay the proceeds out in tobacco so that if
all would turn out well my Father would make by both purchases.
William says if we had peace many merchants will be ruined,
some have speculated very largely in tea and sugar when both
articles had got an exorbitant price in expectation that the
war would last a long time. I am glad to say William never
thought it would last very long. I have the happiness of
telling you Mrs. Freeland is much better since I wrote last
and I trust will soon be quite well. My acquaintance is now
very numerous indeed, my health has been so bad lately that
I have not been able to visit any except my most particular
friends. There are about eight families with whom I am very
intimate, and those are quite enough for me. I do not care
for a large circle of acquaintances, a great many of whom I
do not care for. Several of my most intimate friends are as
elegant accomplished women as I ever met with, so much so
that I can find no fault with them, but I must give you some
description of Mrs. Taylor, a lady who visited me about a
twelve month ago, and who is my nearest neighbour, as I have
got nothing better at present to tell you. Perhaps it may
amuse you. You must not say I am satirical, I shall not
exaggerate nor "set down aught in malice". Often before I
had the pleasure of knowing this lady I had heard of her. I
was told she was extremely lively, witty, and sensible, keen
in her remarks, and will have her laugh no matter at whose
expense. From these accounts I thought I should feel rather
afraid of her, but my opinion changed the first time she came
to see me, I found her lively, cheerful, and agreeable, seemed
very desirous of [text discontinued]

I really think this long epistle will try your patience,
but I wish you to send me one just as long. Peace is still
spoken of as not being far off, I feel quite anxious now
for William's return to hear all the news. If we have peace
he will make a very handsome sum of money by a purchase of
flour which he bought the other day, it was quite a sudden
thought; he had heard some report of the good news, and therefore
bought eight hundred barrels of flour at four dollars
and a half a barrel. This was lower than it has been here for
a long time, and yesterday he would have got six for it. If
we have peace it will be up to eight or nine dollars, so that
at any rate he will make.
I have a delightful plan in view to expand the profits
of this little speculation, and if all goes on well I hope
to see it accomplished. I wish William to take me on in the
gig this summer to Philadelphia, spend some time there, and
get the man who made the gig to exchange it for a handsome
carriage, as the former is of very little use to us now,
since William is so much engaged. I should like to spend some
time in Baltimore also. Carriages are very necessary in this
country in the Summer to protect you from the immense heat
and in Winter from the cold. We have had some piercing
weather lately, but I do not mind, as I am always better in
cold weather. It is the sudden changes we have which are so
injurious. You have not said anything of the Cairds in your
letters lately, I hope they are well. I do not know what all
the Lisburn girls are about, not a girl of my acquaintance
married since I left Ireland. Tell Margaret Byers I have not
had a letter from her this long time. J.C. deserves his ears
boxed. Oh, my beloved Margaret, how happy we shall all be
when I return to Ireland. I suppose Dublin will be our place
of residence, and then I will have you and Rachel always with
me, or I will be with you. My dear Father must come very
often and stay with me. I fancy Rachel will be his housekeeper
before that time comes. I should like M. [Mary?] Cumming to be mistress
of the house at the bridge, as for Miss Rachel I want
her to be planted in Dublin beside me. What do you think of
these plans?
This is a great day in Petersburg, the inhabitants
are to give a dinner to the volunteers. I was awakened this
morning by the firing of cannon, some of the democrats have
styled them "the Spartan band". I suppose it will be "Much
ado about Nothing". William subscribed, but he would not dine
with them. The suppers we have at the public balls are very
superb. The ladies never pay, each gentleman's ticket is four
dollars, and he may take as many ladies with him as he chooses.
I like this plan, it is considered enough for them to honour
the balls with their company without paying anything. The girls
in general strip very much at these places, the frocks are
made very low, without very often a shoulder strap: their hair,
ever since I came to this country has been worn in what is
called an Indian knot. It is twisted in this form as close to
the neck as possible. I did not like this fashion much at
first, but I am reconciled to it now. The Americans dress
much more in the morning than is customary in Ireland. I have
seen ladies fine enough to go into a ball-room paying morning
visits. Perhaps this is owing in some measure to their using
carriages as much. There is a beautiful kind of silk to be got
in this country, called the French Levantine. It is much richer
than the English sarsnet, as soon as I have an opportunity I
will send you and Rachel frocks of it, for it is not to be had
with you. I got a very handsome figured pink one for the last
birth-night ball, which I paid fifteen shillings a yard for.
Mercy upon us! how the cannons are firing! If they were going
to give a dinner to Lord Wellington there could not be a greater
fuss. I think they had better not waste any more powder, as
they are very often at a short for some when they are fighting.
I believe in my soul many Americans wish old England was sunk
in the sea, but she will flourish great and free, the dread and
envy of them all.
You cannot conceive how very much my white tippet is
admired, it is the only one in Petersburg of the kind. I have
told many people how it was done, but they are afraid to begin
so troublesome a job, I believe. Pelisses of fine cloth trimmed
with gold and gold buttons are very much worn here. This
I think too showy a dress for the street. I have never seen
any velvet as handsome as mine. I send you a little bit of
the trimming Agnes Freeland taught me to do. Perhaps Rachel or
you will find out the way to do it, it is very easy, but I fear
unless you saw it done you will not succeed. However you can
try, and I will endeavour to give you the best description
of how it is done that I can. You take a piece of cotton, (the
kind we used to knit with will do) about a yard long, put the
one end of it between the first finger and thumb of the left
hand, put the thread once around the left hand, and with the
right take the other end and work the cotton which is over
the left hand some thing like the way you make a button-hole.
When you have about sixteen stitches on try if it will draw,
which forms the little loop, which you may make large or small
by putting more or less stitches on. The only trouble is to
learn to make it draw, which you may be able to find out from
what I have said, though I wish I could make it clearer to you.
Do not be discouraged if you do not succeed at first, for I
am sure I tried forty times before I could get it to draw with
me. There are a great variety of ways of making it, but this
is the most simple kind I have sent you. I will with pleasure
teach you all the others when you can do this, but you must learn
to make it draw before you can do any kind. It is called tatting
and makes a very neat trimming. I have done a great quantity
of it. When your cotton gives out you must knot it close to
the little loop.

Jan. [January?] 9th. Sunday
This is a very wet day. William is gone to town and I have
been engaged writing to Mr. Gilmour. We had a snow storm last
week, but if this rain continues it will soon disappear. I
did a little bit of the tatting last night, which I send you,
you will find if you draw the long end of the cotton which
I have left it will form the little loop. This trimming makes
a handsome finish for any kind of work, it always looks well
round the sleeve or neck of a morning gown. If you cannot
find out the manner in which it is done, as soon as I have an
opportunity I will send you and Rachel some. Perhaps she
could describe something she learned at school to me, so that
I could find it out. What pleasure I shall take in teaching
my beloved sisters all the little things I may have learned
during my stay in this country. I never saw such elegant baby
clothes as the ladies make here. I took much pains making
mine the last time, but alas! I had no occasion for them.
Tatting done with fine cotton looks very well round the ruffle
of little shirts. You see I am telling these things as perhaps
you may have use for them some time or other. I have got some
beautiful patterns for working, which I would like to send
you. Does Rachel make her frocks?
And now, my beloved Margaret, I shall bid you adieu!
having told you everything I could think of, and I hope I
may soon receive a letter from you, as long as this is.
I shall write to Rachel very soon. God bless you, my
darling sister, and grant you every happiness, is the
sincere prayer of your
Mary Cumming

William sends a thousand loves to you all.