Letter to Mr. Otis L. Bonney of Hanson, MA, 1887

I run the USGenWeb website for the town of Hanson, MA, and have always been interested in the history and genealogy of the town. Therefore, I am always on the lookout on eBay for Hanson memorabilia. I just won a letter, which I have transcribed:

The envelope is addressed to “Mr. Otis L. Bonney, Hanson, Mass.” and was stamped “Oil City, PA, NOV 5, 2 PM”. Otis must have handwritten, in a different script, “Answered, Nov. 10/ 1887”

The letter is handwritten in pencil on white paper with red lines.


Oil City, Pa. Nov. 4, 1887

Dear Cousin Otis,

If you will excuse this paper and pencil I will write you a long letter and think you will be rather astonished when you have finished.
Yes I have been very very busy in getting up Miles Standish, the entertainment was to have been given last evening, but when nearly time for the audience to gather[,] a fire alarm rang and the fire spread very rapidly and for a time the whole north side of the city was in danger, so we were obliged to postpone our entertainment until Tuesday the 8th. Alas[,] I am to be Priscilla, I did not wish to take any part but they all said I must be Priscilla [,] so I suppose it must be so.
I am still ver homesick and I think I shall be just as long as I remain in Oil City, as you say [,] if I had Jack and Carl here I might not be [,] but Willie is as much as I can attend to at once [;] he is a little mischief and goes from one thing to another about as fast as I can follow him. You say there may be a grand spring opening. The Dr. which I have had in Oil City says it will never do for me to teach school again, never in my life; now that may astonish you. You have asked me several times and so has cousin Grace whether I would talk or not but I have always avoided answering that question and thought I would continue to avoid it but have decided to tell you also about something and ask you if you can help me any. You have always been so kind that I feel almost as if I was imposing upon you. Well the truth of them matter is here I lost my voice again June 17th and from that time on have been unable to speak above a whisper, but can sing, I guess perhaps I have spoken aloud six words in that time, and the prospect of my speaking aloud is apparently just as far distant as it was April 24, 1886. My cough is very bad and the Dr. told me three months ago that my left lung was slightly affected but thought it might be nearly a cold but I had no cold at the time that I knew of, still he may have been right, any way my cough acts no better, but is harder than ever before. Well now comes the great secret which I have kept from you. After finding that my voice was not to be depended upon I knew that I must fit myself for something where a voice is not as essential as in public school teaching, so I pondered over it an concluded that short hand and typewriting would be the best thing, so Villa said I could take lessons of a young lady in the city here [,] so Sept 2 I took my first lesson and yesterday took my last lesson on the [theory?] so can now write any word in the English language & have noe to practice for speed, at present can write on an average of 42 words a minute. Now what I wish to do is to return east by Jan. for then I shall be able to write rapidly, and get private pupils and teach for six months then perhaps my voice can be depended upon and I can get a good position in some office in Boston. It seems to me I can’t stay in Oil City another day but will try to stay until Jan. then the holidays will be over and I can settle down to work; What I want your help about is this, do you suppose you can get me any pupils? It will hardly pay for me to start with less than ten or a dozen. I wrote to Carrie Ford and asked her and she said she has asked several and Addie Brown would like to study it after she graduates, Barbie Raymond and Charles Ford will also take, I want if possible to be near Hanson, because you know Lillie and Jessie are there. Wouldn’t you like to study it, Cousin Otis? I would love to give you lessons, now I will just explain the principle on which the system is founded, and you can judge of its simplicity. You will find that every word in the English language has one or more of the follow[ing] sounds or phonics for convenience take three positions in reference to the line (on this paper do not use the second line)
e o ai ou
a o oi
a oo

and are pronounced in the following words, eat, ate, arm, odd, ode, mood, hit, met, hat, hut, ire, oil, out
Now when the consonant r is combined with the phonic slants to the right (ere air ar) and so on, when l is combined they slant to the left ( ele, ale, al) and so on
then there are other combinations which are just as simple and are easily learnt.
Here is a part of Death of Little Nell, by Dickens
[two lines of phonetic transcriptions]
Translated, it is, “She was dead, no sleep so beautiful and calem for free from trace of pain so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God and waiting for the breath of life not one who had lived and suffered death”
Will you write me at once what you think of it and whether you think you can get me any pupils. I love to write shorthand, but still think I love school teaching just a little bit better.
Give my love to all and tell Cousin Grace I will try and answer her kind letter soon.

Cousin Ida

If any wish to know my terms tell them $3.50 for short hand a month and $1.50 extra for typewriting. I think that is very reasonable.


I have not yet been able to identify who “Cousin Ida” was. From the letter, she may have had a son “Willie” William who lived with her in Oil City, and perhaps two sons, or brothers, named Jack and Carl who apparently remained in MA. She also indicated that someone named Villa suggested she take typing lessons in Oil City, perhaps a friend, kin, or husband.

Her cousin was Otis Lafayette Bonney (2 Dec 1838, Hanson, MA – 11 Aug 1922, Hanson, MA). He married Grace C. Cobb (28 Apr 1842, Hanson, MA – 1 Apr 1904, Hanson, MA). She may have been the “Cousin Grace” referred to in the letter.

Otis L. Bonney’s sister, Ellen Josephine Bonney (b. 22 Feb 1845, Hanson, MA) married Noah A. Ford, and they had several children, including Carrie and Charles Ford, who most likely were Ida’s potential pupils Carrie and Charles Ford.

Addie Brown may have been Addie R. Brown, born 8 April 1870 to Thomas and Lucy Brown.

Barbie Raymond may have been the daughter of Lewis Raymond and Mary C. Godfrey. In the 1880 Census, this family also included the brother of Barbie Raymond, George L. Raymond, age 26, with his wife Ida W. Raymond and their infant son William S. Raymond. In the 1900 Census, William S. Raymond was living in Hanson, MA with his grandmother, Mary C. (Godfrey) Raymond. Ida W. Raymond was the daughter of Ira R. Bailey and Laura A. White. This may be the “cousin Ida”, however I have not yet been able to identify a direct connection between Otis Bonney and this family.

The mother of Otis Bonney was Angeline D. White of Easton. The mother of Ida W. Bailey was Laura A. White of Easton, so perhaps the connection is through the White family of Easton, MA.

The letter is extremely compelling, considering the “astonishing” news she had to give to her cousin Otis L. Bonney. If Ida W. (Bailey) Raymond was indeed “Cousin Ida”, it seems that she returned to Hanson, MA, and perhaps taught typewriting and short-hand to a number of pupils.

Perhaps somewhere out there is the response letter written by Otis Bonney. If anyone knows more information about the identity of “Cousin Ida” or why she moved to Oil City, PA for a period of time, please let me know!

4 thoughts on “Letter to Mr. Otis L. Bonney of Hanson, MA, 1887

  1. Hi Mary: thanks for the interseting info. With the rise in cremations we may lose some of the uniqueness and artistry that grave stones provide. Blogs like yours and online memorial web sites are helping to fill the void and add needed additional info, memories, etc. Keep up the good work.

  2. Could Ida had been in Oil City due to her illness? Coughing and Lung issues could suggest she was recovering from Tuberculois or other disease at a sanitarium?

  3. Ida had a son William but the Jack and Carl, are not the sons of Ida Washburn Raymond who married George Raymond. Norman and Ira are as far as I can tell) (my husband's side). Her mother was a White and was connected to the Bonney family a few generations back with Mary Bonney, daughter of Joseph Bonney. I have been trying to figure out who Jack and Carl are– if this is the same Ida you were refering to… so there is another connection to our clans– your siblings and my children are related a few times over.

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