Deciphering a Letter from Home

One of the things my Grandmother, Margaret Millikan McKinley gave me was a small wooden box, quite the worse for wear with the leather hinge that held the top on worn away long ago. She said the box was brought to Indiana from North Carolina by “Aunt Angeline” on a covered wagon. Angeline was Nancy Angeline Millikan (1852-1926). She was the eldest daughter of Clark Millikan (1824-1926), who came to Indiana during the Civil War. More information on Clark and Angeline can be found in previous posts.

MillikanBox copy

Anyway, if I remember correctly, this box held several of Clark’s property tax receipts, as well as other receipts and papers. One special item in the box was a small envelope addressed to Clark at Westfield Post Office, Hamilton County, Indiana. The envelope originated in New Market, North Carolina & was dated 7th month 18, 1866 [July 18, 1866].

1866 letter envelope copy

The envelope contained a single 9×12 inch piece of paper. Upon closer inspection, I realized the paper was actually divided into 4 sections when folded in half and looking at the front and back, so it was a “four page” letter.

The letter was from Asenath Powell to her brother, Clark Millikan. I scanned it in the four sections, partly because it was too big to scan as a single page and because it might be easier to decipher. Here is the scan of the first section:

1866 letter 1 copy

As mentioned, there was writing on both sides of the page and the ink obviously bled through, so it was a bit of a challenge to figure out what was written. Then I also discovered that, just like many old letters I had, there was no punctuation or capitalization in this letter.

Eventually, I was able to transcribe most of the letter & to make it easier to read, I corrected spelling and added punctuation. I also added a few notations about the people mentioned in the letter. Those notations are indicated by brackets.

(page 1)

July the first 1866

Much respected and often thought of brother and relations one and all, I take this great pleasure of writing you all a few lines to let you know we are all about, but not right well. Lindon [Asenath’s husband] is right poorly. Mother [Sarah Clark Millikan (1800-1869)] was, about five weeks ago, very bad off with bowel complaint and weakness but she is so she can go about a little again. She has been here twice since, but it is a pretty tiresome walk for her for she is very weak. Rebecca Lamb [neighbor] was not well the first of last week. Her mother is about like she has been. Louisa [Millikan] is still very poorly. She has been having the chills this last week but I have not heard of Ben [Millikan] having any one, but he has the fever, that is the Jink fever. As I do hope, those few lines will go so of to hand and find you all well and in good heart. I hope Lydia [Clark’s wife] has got over the chill before now.

(page 2)

1866 letter 2 copy

We have had a very wet Spring and Summer until a few days. It seems like dry weather and it has been very cool. There has been a little frost in very North yet and some think there has been frost there; for they said William’s [Millikan] folks was going to where green-backs grow on the white oaks and the biscuits grow on bushes and we heard that he wanted his wheat crop back that he sold and he was coming back. So they say the frost had bit the money and biscuits too. Wheat is tolerable good this year though not as good as I have seen. Most of the people have their wheat half in corn too. She’s tolerable well. Allen [Millikan] said tell Thee he had corn to buy and nothing to buy with and had a hard time and seen no pleasure at all and wrote no letters to Thee nor no one else.

(page 3)

1866 letter 3 copy

We heard Winborn [Powell] had to leave that country for having some unbecoming talk to a girl. We have not heard any thing but that from him since before Christmas and we have written letter after letter. I want thee to try to find out if Thee can seen anybody from Grant county. We are all very worried about him for fear that somebody has killed him or he is in a lead box some way. Just find out as sly as Thee can is all I have to say. Mother is wanting to hear from you all very bad. She goes to Jefferson once and a while but it doesn’t seem like Clark’s, though she thinks very well of Becca. And if Lydia doesn’t get better, I wish she was back just like she was once. But I do hope as long as you are there you will all get in better health and then you would be better satisfied. For it is a hard case anyway or anywhere though.

(page 4)

1866 letter 4 copy

From Asenath Powell and family To Clark Millikan and family and en…[?]

We must do the best we can. Luzena [Honey] and her great man went to Surry [county] last Spring. They wrote back that they found Aunt Jane well and hearty. They left Oliver at Esther Reicks and Sammy is at George Goddets. I still have to write on the nasty old Rebel paper but I hope I will have some that is better before I wrote any more. Cradling [cutting wheat using a cradle scythe that helped align the wheat stalks as cut] this year was two dollars for a bushel of wheat. Edman and Linsy are beginning to cut out weeds and sprouts from amongst the corn right smart and Woodard can play with the babe right smart and it can begin to sit alone. I am rocking it and writing. I will put in another marriage in this letter, Nancy Beckerdite and Joseph Spencer. I have not had the chance to finish this letter. I have had so much to do it is now the ninth of the month and I will try to finish it if nothing happens.

There was also another note with this letter, which seems to be the continuation of the letter a few days later:

(front) This is the 10th of the 7th month.     We are all well as common today and I hope you are all the same. Thomas Sawyer was hauling his wheat in last third day and his mare started before he was thinking about it and threw him off the wagon and broke his arm and put it out of place too. Jabez [Powell] got a letter from Nathan D. Wilson and Joseph Davidson about Winborn’s capers, so it’s not worth Thy while to bother anything about him. We have not had any rain to do any good for three weeks and corn and gardens are suffering very bad. It looks some like it might rain before long. Parthena [Powell] is very weakly; more so this Spring than common. Clark [Powell] is as well as common. Dock got four letters the other day for Ben [Millikan]. I have not heard whether

(back) there was any one from Thee or not. I think that …[page torn] and Azel’s [Millikan] were aiming to have moved to that country if William’s [Millikan] folks had been satisfied. I have not seen Angelina [Millikan] since the day Lydia started, but I think I will go to see her if I live. They were all well about three weeks ago. I heard that you had not gotten acquainted with but one woman. If that is so, I will never come there for I might get sick, or some of the family and no one to come to see us some rights. The people out there are so clever and so they are very unclever. But some are always up on extremes. When I read a letter from Thee I am certain what it says, so I hate …[page torn] to read them as often as naught. So write soon as Thee gets this for we are…[end of page]

So Asenath wrote to let Clark know how their friends and family were faring after the Civil War. New Market, NC was a small community in Randolph County, NC. Clark’s wife, Lydia, and his family had moved from there to Indiana in 1865, at the close of the war. As mentioned in a previous story about Clark, he had moved to Indiana after deserting from the North Carolina Infantry.

I found a little more information for the people Asenath wrote about:

from page 1:

  • Louisa Millikan=possibly Martha Louise Millikan (1855-1879), daughter of Benjamin Millikan who is mentioned next
  • Ben=Benjamin Millikan (1831-1915), cousin of Clark and Asenath who went to Indiana with Clark’s family, then returned to NC after his wife died. It is believed that Clark and Ben “traded” their land in Indiana and North Carolina.

from page 2:

  • William Millikan (1835-1875)=brother of Benjamin mentioned in page 1. He moved to Indiana. Per the letter, it seems they were looking for a place where “green-backs” (or money) grew on trees.
  • Allen Millikan (1839-1921)=brother to Asenath and Clark

from page 3:

  • Winborn Powell (1844-1911)=brother-in-law to Asenath, moved up to Indiana during the Civil War, probably to escape being drafted into the Confederate Army. Sounds like he was up to mischief in Indiana & Asenath was concerned about his welfare.
  • Jefferson & Becca=unsure who this is. I don’t know if Jefferson is a person or place. I wonder if “Clark’s” is talking about Clark Millikan’s farm?

from page 4:

  • Luzena Honey (1831-1915)=sister to Asenath and Clark. She first married Franklin McKindre Reichs/Rike/Rich (1833-1863). They had two sons, Lewis Oliver & Samuel. Luzena married Ambrose Honey in 1865. I can’t say I have much information on Luzena and her husbands, hence the question of her first husband’s last name. Esther Reicks may have been Franklin’s mother, but I will have to dig deeper to find that connection. I do not know who George Goddets is. Anyway, while Luzena and her new husband, Ambrose went traveling—perhaps on a honeymoon, they left her young boys in the care of family & friends.
  • Aunt Jane=possibly Jane Millikan, whom some sources list as sister to Samuel Millikan (1789-1870). I haven’t found much about her either.
  • Edman, Linsy, Woodard, “the babe”= Asenath’s children, Edmond (1860-1927), Thomas Linsey (1861-1940), Woodard Martin (1862-1939) and “the babe” would be Cornelius Calvin (1866-1898).
  • Nancy Beckerdite & Joseph Spencer=friends of the family, members of Marlboro Meeting, she was born in 1828 & he was born in 1800. She was his 3rd wife.

from the additional page:

  • Thomas Sawyer=neighbor, listed as 28 yrs old in the 1860 US Census.
  • Jabez Powell=probably Asenath’s father-in-law.
  • Nathan Wilson and Joseph Davidson=listed in Grant county, IN in the 1860 US Census, both were listed as born in North Carolina. Regardless, they were probably family friends who were able to find out about what Winborn Powell had been up to and could report back to his family that he was alright.
  • Parthena and Clark Powell=Parthena Millikan (1829-1905), sister to Asenath and Clark, married Thomas Clarkson Powell (1828-1913), brother to Asenath’s husband, Lindon Powell.
  • Azel Millikan (1829-1890)=cousin of Asenath and Clark.
  • William Millikan (1835-1875)=cousin of Asenath and Clark, brother of Azel. Also mentioned on page 2.
  • Angelina Millikan (1852-1926)=Clark’s daughter from his first marriage to Nancy Adams. She may have stayed with relatives for a while instead of traveling to Indiana with Clark’s wife, Lydia and the other children. In the 1870 US Census, she is listed as living with an aunt and uncle in North Carolina. Eventually she did move to Indiana with the rest of the family. She reportedly brought the little box with her.

What happened to Asenath and Lindon Powell and their family? They show up in the 1870 and 1880 US Census records in Hamilton County, IN, living near Clark and his family. After that, they moved to the town of Friend in Saline County, Nebraska, where they lived the rest of their lives. Lindon died in 1909, and Asenath in 1914. Several of their children also raised their families in Friend, NE.

One more thought: in her letter, Asenath complains about writing on “nasty old Rebel paper” but as bad as it was, that paper has held up through the 155 years since.

© MJM 2021

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