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Friday, December 18, 2015

Mirinda’s Missing Letters

John Andrews came of age in April 1852 and in the next several years seemed to make no effort to go courting, so his family began to worry and to tease him about finding someone with whom to share his life. To their efforts John returned an enigmatical reply, “I’m waiting for my girl to grow up.”

He did not tell anyone that the winter of 1851 he had seen a girl in his one-room school and had known inside himself that she was the one he would marry—eventually, for when he had seen her, she was not quite 11 years old. He couldn’t talk about it. He knew his family and friends would tease him, and more importantly, his mother might not like it that the girl was so very young. He waited, keeping track of the Piper family through their numerous moves around Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois, until Mirinda Piper had turned seventeen.

Before approaching Mirinda herself, he asked her father’s permission to write to her. Permission was granted, and Mirinda was surprised to receive a letter from John. Apparently her parents did not discuss it with her. She wrote back directly:



Lincoln August 18 – ’57 
Mr Andrews

I received your letter a few days since, and was much surprised on receiving a letter from one whom I supposed, had forgotten there was such a person in existence as myself. Although surprised I have not forgotten my schoolmates, and I must say I have spent some of the happiest hours of my life in the old schoolhouse at Farmersville. You speak of a correspondence, there are many cases where I would consider it objectionable, but I cannot think there would be anything improper in a friendly interchange of thought. Although my personal acquaintance with you has been slight, I have long been acquainted with your character, and have never heard anything about you that was not calculated to win respect; if such was not the case, I would hesitate very much before admitting a correspondence, let me assure you. You may think it strange that I have not answered you sooner, your letter was directed to the wrong place, and it was a mere accident that I ever received it. My address is Lincoln Logan Co,, Illinois.

Yours with respect, 
Mirinda Piper. 
Mr John Andrews.

This is a wonderful letter. Mirinda is modest, careful for her reputation, yet friendly and open. It is interesting that she had taken notice of a young man and had remembered him through the intervening years although they had been together in that school for only a short three months, and she had been so young and he so much older at the time.

The correspondence went on through that autumn and the next winter and spring. In June John came to visit the Piper family, and he asked Mirinda to marry him. She said yes, and her next letter after he had gone home is full of her happiness and anticipation. They were married the first day of autumn in 1858.

We once had all of Mirinda’s letters; somehow John’s were not saved. My dad gave them to me to read when I was a teenager. Being completely hooked on romance stories at the time, I was enthralled with this courtship-by-mail. During the course of the courtship, John asked Mirinda for a picture, and he sent her a daguerreotype that he had had taken of himself. She immediately went and had her own daguerreotype done and sent it back to him. My father let me have the two daguerreotypes to sit on my desk, and I studied them as I did my homework. When I put together my first book of remembrance about my life and heritage, I carefully inserted this first letter into an archival sleeve along with a picture of John and Mirinda sitting together when they were very elderly. It was one of my most treasured pages in the book.

Some decades later my father told me he had traded the letters and daguerreotypes to his cousin Winona for a clock that had belonged to John Andrews’s father. It was supposed to have been the clock that had been bought as a wedding gift in early 1828.

I had become good friends with Winona as a young woman, and we had visited and traded family history materials back and forth. But when I heard about the trade, I was dismayed. Ever since my high school days when I had been their temporary custodian, I had thought of those letters and daguerreotypes as “mine.” Since the letter in my book of remembrance was still there, I still have that original. My aunt told me she has another one, given her by my father at some point in time. I am thankful that he broke up the set, so to speak, if it means we still have two letters!

My dad gave me the clock. One night I saw a clock on Antiques Roadshow that was said to be from the period of around 1830, and it did not look anything like my clock. I looked it up on the internet. It was not the 1828 clock. The model is from around 1875. I love clocks, but this one gave me mixed feelings. I had no idea now whether it was even an Andrews clock. I supposed it was; Winona had said it had been in the Andrews home, and she had lived there, so she had known. My dad’s supposition that it had been in the Farmersville, Indiana Andrews home was clearly incorrect. It had instead been in the Rockford, Illinois Andrews home, probably bought by John and Mirinda at some point. But I mourned the letters. I meant to ask Winona to photocopy them all for me.

And then I heard from her that she had donated them to a tiny museum in southern Indiana very near Farmersville, along with the dagguereotypes and some other papers. My husband and son and I took a trip to that area and decided to add a look at the museum and the Farmersville Andrews farm to our itinerary. We found the museum after a phone call to Winona for specific directions, but it was closed, and we were unable to stay an extra few days until it was open again. We also found the farm and inspected the cemetery graves of John Andrews’s father and sister that were there.

Winona died about seven years ago. I meant to ask the museum about getting copies of the letters and dagguereotypes, but by the time I tried to look up the phone number, the museum had closed for good, and I have not been successful at finding out what happened to its contents.

All I have are tiny poor-quality scans of the dagguereotypes and typewritten transcripts of the letters that my dad had made before he let them go out of his hands.

Where are the originals now? I wonder.
The Lost Daggeureotypes
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Here are my transcriptions of the transcriptions (nothing like 3rd hand stuff, right?):


Lincoln, September 14th, 1857
Mr. Andrews:

I received yours of the 1st and was much interested with your account of the fair. I certainly should have admired those paintings very much, as I am a great admirer of such things. You ask if I ever draw any now. I do sometimes, but I have not improved much in pencil drawing. I use crayon on mochromatic board. I like it very much better. I have some few pieces, but they are such poor specimens I would not wish anyone to see them that was a judge of such things. We had a county fair here at Lincoln, last week. I attended one day. Everything passed off well. I think they are a great benefit to a country when they are well managed; but of course a county fair is a very small affair to what a National fair is.

I do not wish you to think I weary of your letters; although I do not write long letters myself, I am always pleased to receive a long letter from a friend.

In your first letter you ask permission to call upon me. I grant your request, but I think by your letter you will be disappointed when you see me. I think you have overrated me. As I have nothing more of interest to write, I will close.


Yours with respect
Mirinda Piper.
Mr. John Andrews.


Lincoln, Ill., Oct. 5, ’57
Mr. Andrews:

In reply to yours of the 21st I will say that your description of the prairie state was much better than I could have given it; if there is any subject that I grow enthusiastic about it is the beauty of these prairies. Lincoln, the county seat of this county, is situated on the Chicago, Alton and St. Louis railroad; it is a flourishing little town where four years ago there was nothing to be seen but unbroken prairie, now there is between twelve and fourteen hundred inhabitants, five churches, seven or eight stores, besides quite a number of shops of every kind. We live one mile from Lincoln on what I think a very pretty farm. One half mile from our house is Salt creek, a beautiful stream, which never dries up at any time of the year. There is a large hill just this side of the creek, and there is the most lovely view from the hill that I ever saw. It is true, we have not the improvements on our place that many of the Indiana farmers have, still there is yet time for improvements. The farmers here seem to have no other wish but the acquire money and lands, and they often neglect the improvement of their homes, and sometimes their minds; but this is a new country and is fast improving, and it will not always be so. Illinois will certainly surpass every other state in the Union, she has so many advantages, such great resources, the soil is fertile, and there is an almost boundless extent of territory.

It is true, we can judge some of the present by the past but not always. My opportunities, since I saw you, have been limited, owing to various causes. If you will permit me, I will copy a few lines from an obscure author, which is not much read, but I think is somewhat applicable to this case.

“Why should the gay bird see the flower?
That grows neath the cottage eaves,
There are finer blooms in the neighboring tower,
All twined with the rich green leaves.”

Now I think this is quite a long letter considering the writer; if I had anything more of consequence to write I certainly would keep on, but as I have not I think best to quit.

Respectfully yours,
Mirinda Piper.
Mr. John Andrews.


In the summer of 1857, John Andrews proposed to his brother-in-law, James Hinkley, that they go to Illinois and buy a farm and start a large orchard, as the fruit business then looked promising. About the first of November 1857, they went to Washington County, Illinois, near DuBois, and bought 165 acres at $15 an acre. While in Illinois, John Andrews went to Lincoln and visited the Pipers.



Lincoln, Nov. 26th, 1857
Mr. Andrews:

You crave an early answer – well, really, I do not know whether you deserve one or not, but I accept your apology, for like yourself, I have been much occupied since you left which made the hours seem much shorter than they otherwise would have done. Your letter gave me pleasure but do you judge others by yourself when you say “the longer delayed, etc.”?

There are very few young gentlemen that find the city a dull place; often they enjoy nothing better and go headlong into every temptation and allurement that promises so much pleasure but, which in the end, proves to be only pain.

I must confess I felt some hesitation in corresponding before we had met (at least for so long) for I thought on further acquaintance your impressions would be very different from what they were heretofore; and you must know if I had not had the most perfect confidence in you I never would have answered your first letter, as I did; but it seems from your letter that you have not changed your opinion and I have not had reason to change mine. I cannot have any objection to a correspondence which has not been unpleasant, at least to me.

I admit I was mistaken in regard to your being reserved and distant. It was for the want of acquaintance. I now think very differently.

Many thanks for your little present, the pen. True, it wields a great power in the hand of those disposed to make good of it, but we cannot have good without evil, and I often think a great deal of the literature of the present day is worse than none. We were all much pleased with your visit; for as a friend of mine often remarks, we have many visitors but very little company. We have been experiencing some of the delights of a northern winter; the ground is covered with snow and the wind has been howling and shrieking around, trying to find a place to enter, but the weather has moderated some now and I hope we shall have some more fine weather this fall.

Pray do not be uneasy about the length of your letters. You ought to be thankful you have something to write!

I remain yours with respect,
Mirinda Piper.
Mr. Andrews



Lincoln, Dec. 20, 1857
Respected Sir:

I hardly know how to begin my letter—but I suppose it is very little difference so it is commenced some way.

I was much pleased to hear of the marriage of Mr. Duckworth to Miss Erwin, all of “Posey county” but will add I have not the honor of their acquaintance.

It is truly distressing to hear of so many being carried off with the “matrimonial epidemic”, but I rejoice to say it is not so here, I have not heard of a wedding for quite a long time.

The weather is quite pleasant now and looks as if it would stay so, but very likely before two days the ground will be frozen and the snow feathering down as if it would take revenge on us for having such a fine time.

We are having some carpenter work done to our house and it is not impossible that we may have a gate to our yard fence; interesting news, is it not?

The health of the people is very good at this time. Asa has not entirely recovered from his sickness but I think he is mending now.

Christmas will soon be here, but I suppose it will pass off as usual, without any accident or noise, except the firing of a few guns at Lincoln and Postville and the shouts of some enthusiastic little boys. Then will come the new year with all its unknown changes. How many joys, sorrows and anxieties do we pass through in one short year. How little do we know at the beginning of a year what will befall us before another year rolls round. We may have passed away to that unknown world from whence no traveler ever returns.

But I will not weary you with moralizing. I have warned you of the evils that may be expected to arise from choosing so dull a correspondent, but I see I make no impression on you. I resign you to your fate. As there is room for improvement, it is to be hoped that, dull as I am, I may improve.

You speak of writing—well, I will write again if it is any pleasure to you, for I am always happy if I am giving others pleasure, especially if I am receiving a share at the same time myself.

I believe I have exhausted my very fertile imagination so I will bid you good bye for the present.

I remain                              
very respectfully yours,
Mirinda Piper
Mr. John Andrews

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There are twenty more letters to go! Here is the next installment: Missing Letters of Mirinda Piper, part 2.

1 comment:

  1. I am going to post the transcripts my father made. Watch for an update on this blog post with those transcripts at the end.

    ReplyDelete

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