Scope and Contents
This collection consists of seven letters written by William & Mary alumnus, Samuel Stuart Griffin of Williamsburg, to his son, James Lewis Corbin Griffin.
In the first letter, dated May 7, 1834, Griffin acknowledges his son's recent change of plans, wherein his son now has a teaching position and is living in a public house. Griffin expresses concern over the kinds of individuals his son is likely to meet at the public house and how they may be negative influences on him. Griffin writes, "Make it always a rule in life to associate with the virtuous and the enlightened; cultivate also the society of females, for they polish the manners of our sex, and give a refinement to our sentiments." He encourages his son to leave the public house as soon as possible and take up lodging with a respectable, private family.
The second letter, dated July 27, 1835, is the only letter on which James Griffin's name and location are noted. He is in Philadelphia, and his father writes with regard to his son studying the practice of dentistry. Griffin provides insight into the arrangements agreed upon for his son's education, including transcribing the letter he received from his son's mentor. The letter continues offering James advice and discussing finances.
The third letter, dated March 16, 1857, acknowledges James' resignation from Madison College and his reasons why. The letter continues with Griffin discussing other individuals, including Cole Thurston, noting his death and how his estate is to be divided and other financial information regarding it. Mentions he is fond of retirement and tired of having company visit him. Discusses local religious news, including a man called Woodson, a Baptist he mentions fills in for Pastor Young, the regular pastor for what is likely Historic First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, as he refers to Woodson holding forth "to the Darkies in their new church." Griffin refers to his sister as a "bigot," because she thinks it an "unpardonable sin to read or even listen to a Universalist author."
The fourth letter, dated May 11, 1858, laments lost mail and states there is too much "negligence & sloth and recklessness evinced throughout the whole postal arrangement, and complaints are almost daily." Griffin shares local religious news and acknowledges receiving an ambrotype of his son. He states that measles are "rife among us, & spared no family, that I know of, in our city." He states that "one or two deaths among the coloured population have occurred."
The fifth letter, dated Sept. 15, 1858, is supportive of James' recent actions in regards to his career due to his wife's failing health and discusses the health of others. He remarks that William & Mary is still without a president. States the Board of Visitors elected a Mr. Barnwell from South Carolina, but he declined the acceptance. Griffin states that Virginia Governor, Henry Alexander Wise, wanted to create a new faculty at William & Mary and worked hard to do so, which resulted in the resignation of Benjamin Ewell, as both "Presidential chair" and professor. The Board of Visitors rejected his resignation as professor. He refers also to the establishment of the Norfolk Examiner and provides information about the lives of local residents and others.
The sixth letter, dated May 3, 1859, informs James about members of the family. Griffin's sister's home in Fredericksburg has been sold as have some of the "few negroes" to repay debts incurred by her late husband. Griffin informs James that he recently was diagnosed with peripneumonia and describes his ordeal. Describes being visited by "two of the orthodox clergy," Mr. Wilmer - Episcopal and Mr. Haynes - Methodist and details his beliefs. Griffin states that workmen have started rebuilding William & Mary (the college building - Wren - burned February 8th). He states that the work is scheduled to be completed by the "middle of October next" and that from the "draught exhibited to me by President Ewell, will present a very improved appearance, having two turrets in front, one for the Belfry, the other for an observatory, an idea, you know suggested in my obnoxious pamphlet, and which I am glad to see carried into effect. When I was stretched on the bed of illness, Col. Armistead, who frequently called to see me, wished me to read a toast to be read at the dinner given in the Apollo on the 166th anniversary [of the founding of William & Mary]. I complied . . . embracing the hope that our college, when re-edified, would be converted into a University, so that the State of Virginia might reflfect the glory of two Universities." He suggests that the fire may actually prove to be a "happy occurrence for Wmsburg and the adjacent country." The letter ends by sharing information about local residents: Ben Hansford cut his own throat with a razor, maybe in a fit of delirium, the "coloured man, Pleasants Baker, formerly the property of Colo. Bassell, & emancipated by him, did the same thing, & was found a day or two after the act, in the back part of Richard Bucktrout's lot, a hideously mutilated corpse." He futher describes the circumstances around which he believes led to Baker's suicide.
In the seventh letter, dated Jan. 28, 1860, Griffin writes about his depression over the death of his sister, Louisa. He provides details about her death and states she never truly got over the death of her son, Weedon, and struggled with losing her house. He describes her emotional state when he last saw her in Williamsburg and eulogizes her. States that Archy McCandlish, son of Col. McCandlish died at Indian Fields, a "victim to intemperance." Griffin continues to provide information about the affairs of local residents, one of whom "drank hard." Regarding the College of William & Mary, he writes that the son of Lemuel Bowden was appointed by one of the societies to deliver an address on Feb. 22. He states that an application was made by the Virginia legislature to "place our College on the same footing with the University of Virginia & and to be controlled entirely by the Legislature." The petition was signed by local citizens in both Williamsburg and James City County. Griffin doesn't think the College can flourish under current leadership. He informs James that the Raleigh Tavern burned and that it's generally believed the owner purposely set the fire for the insurance money. He also mentions the wedding of Eliza Vest to W&M professor Edward Joynes. Eliza is described as being fortunate because prior to the nuptials, she was on the list of old maids.