Below are scanned images, a transcription, and explanatory footnotes of a letter written on 18 March 1860 by fifteen-year old Ellen Josephine Bonney (b. 22 Feb. 1845) of Bonney Hill, South Hanson, Mass. to her older brother, twenty-one year old Otis Lafayette Bonney (b. 2 Dec. 1838) who at the time was working for Daniel Allen & Co. in Boston, Mass. They were both the children of Ezekiel Bonney and Angeline White of Hanson, Mass. Three years after writing this letter, Ellen J. Bonney married Noah A. Ford at East Bridgewater in 1863. In addition to reporting local news relating to their family and friends, she also relates details pertaining to a debate club that her brothers participated in. The club seems to have consisted of numerous young male friends of the Bonney brothers. Yet Ellen is well-informed of their discussions, and a particularly wonderful image of the Bonney women “accidentally” overhearing the debates is casually mentioned by Ellen at the end of the letter: “Oh I forgot we had the door open last night so we heard all they said at the debating meeting”.
Transcription of the letter:
[Envelope (front) 3 cent stamp]
So. Hanson Mass.
Otis L. Bonney
Care of Daniel Allen & Co.
[in different hand, pencil] South Hanson 1860
[Letter, page 1]
March 18th 1860
I will commence again to write as Theodore[] received your letter last night and it was read with pleasure in the club room Theodore says the question was decided in the negative but then the most of them were in faver of the negative in the first place there was four on the affirmative they were Reuben S.[,] Alonzo B.[,] Morton V. and T.L. B. and on the negative they were Josiah B.[,] Thompson P. and Joseph T. [,] Lot. P. and George Stetson.[] Theodore thought some of them that they didn’t decided according to the merits of the argument, the question for discussion next Saturday night reads thus, are early marriages condusive to the public good. Theodore says he should like to hear from you by Friday night if he could, if you can write then as it would give ample time for perusal he read your letter to the club with and it was received with great applause Theodore says they are going to they and fetch have that question brought up again after they have got through with the marriage ceremony next Saturday night.[] The next is the condition that Bil Thomas is left in[.][]
[Letter, page 2]
He had his court last Wednesday for getting his [corn?] hiding and they didn’t fetch in but five dollars for Ezra[] to pay besides the cost of the court and then they took Bill as soon as the court was done with Ezra they took him for slander and he has so many enemies they say it will go hard with him he is bound over for one hundred dollars to appease to the court next Friday at Bourne’s hall here in Hanson they think they will have a greater time than at the court at Abington the court up there now was from nine o clock in the morning until in the evening and he would not have got home that night if it hadn’t been for Theodore and George Bonney[] for he couldn’t get anyone to be bound for him as his father did not go up and so Theodore and George were bondsman until the next day and then Bill’s father l released them Bill seems to be up to his eyes in the law business at this time.
There was a gentleman spend the night here last night and he has
[Letter, page 3]
Just gone away his name is Elms he came here yesterday noon he wanted to be here to the debate he writes pieces for the Division he writes a good deal of poetry and reads it at the Div.
Mr. Levi Everson is dead he died last week and was buried last Thursday[] and the doctor thinks that Marina will live until the fall if she gets any better they don’t let anyone see her only in the morning because she is not so well in the afternoon[]. There was a lady drowned herself in Hanover yesterday but we haven’t heard what her name is yet[] it is a pleasant day here today but not so pleasant as it would be in the city. Sarah and Melly are in here now and they send their respects to you and they are going down to the depot and I am going to and are going to carry this down[.]Sarah wants you to get your ambrotype taken and bring it home when you come home and give it to her she wanted me to write it in the other letter but I forgot it.
[Letter, page 4]
We are looking for you home fast time and bring your accordion to and Mother wants you to send her a box of soap home[] and when you send it you let us know you can write when you write home again our spelling schools are going yet and we have good times. Oh I forgot we had the door open last night so we heard all they said at the debating meeting there were quite a number here it is a general time of health I came from Julia’s yesterday and they were all well.[] We had an earthquake here last Wednesday night there was two of them[.] St. Patrick had a real pleasant day yesterday[.][] I cannot think of any more to write this time but I will write again next Sunday[.] Good-bye.
Ellen’s children are later mentioned in a letter written to Otis Lafayette Bonney by their cousin Ida which was previously transcribed here. If anyone has additional knowledge about the people or events mentioned in this letter, please let me know!
 Theodore refers to their twenty-three year old brother, Theodore Lyman Bonney (b. 27 Oct. 1836). T. L. Bonney died three years later during the Civil War of typhoid fever on 11 May 1863 at Aquia Creek, Virginia. Post 127 of Hanson’s G.A.R. was named in his honor.
 Otis and Theodore belonged to a debate club which met in Hanson weekly on Saturday evenings and whose membership largely consisted of male 20-somethings from Hanson, although this letter does not provide the club’s name. Apparently Otis was still able to participate in the club’s debates from afar by writing his answer to the weekly question in a letter. The fellow club members mentioned were probably 26 year old Reuben Smith Jr. (b. 29 March 1833, Otisfield, Me., son of Reuben Smith and Mary C. Whitney), 20 year old Alonzo Beal (b. 1840, son of Edwin and Sarah D. Beal), their 19 year old brother Morton Van Buren Bonney (b. 8 March 1841, Hanson, son of Ezekiel Bonney and Angeline White), 20 year old Thompson Pratt, 19 year old Lot Phillips (b. 13 Feb. 1841, Hanson, son of Ezra and Lucy Phillips), and their neighbor 27 year old George Forbes Stetson (b. 11 April 1833). No teenaged or twenty-something Hanson residents could be identified for “Josiah B.” – this was possibly their 32 year old second cousin Josiah Bonney. No teenaged or twenty-something Hanson residents could be identified for “Joseph T.” unless it was “Joseph F.” in which case it may have been 23 year old Joseph Fish.
 A marriage which took place in Hanson on Saturday, 24 March 1860 could not be identified in Hanson Vital Records.
 Possibly either William Thomas (b. 28 Jan. 1828, Hanson, son of John and Mary R. Thomas) or William Otis Thomas (b. 31 Oct. 1830, Hanson, son of Nelson and Anna Thomas).
 Possibly either Ezra White and Ezra Magoun.
 George Bonney was a second cousin of Otis and Theodore. George was born at Hanson, 2 December 1826, son of Nathaniel Bonney and Polly Robinson. He was married to Julia A. Smith, daughter of Reuben and Mary Smith.
 On 13 March 1860, 53 year old Levi Everson, a farmer, died of consumption in Hanson. He was the son of Levi Everson and Bathsheba Holmes and the husband of Mary T. Dunham.
 This may have been 23 year old Marina Winslow Turner Bearce (b. Hanson, 24 Nov. 1836, daughter of Isaiah and Marina A. Bearce). If so, not only did she “live until the fall”, she married 30 June 1860, Cyrus A. Bates and died in 1915.
 Angelina (Bates) Church, wife of Lewis C. Church and daughter of Calvin Bates and Elizabeth Stetson, a 41 year old married woman of Hanover. According to her death record, she died in Hanover on 17 March 1860 of “insanity, death by drowning”. She was born at Hanover, 11 March 1819.
 Their 52 year old mother, Angeline Dean (White) Bonney was born at Easton, 11 May 1807, the daughter of Howe White and Temperance Dean. She married Ezekiel Bonney 10 June 1827. She died of Bright’s disease at Hanover, 20 Feb. 1880, and was buried at Fern Hill Cemetery, Hanson.
 Refers to the family of their 28 year old sister Julia Ann (Bonney) Howland (b. 28 Sept. 1831). Julia married Martin Howland 6 November 1851. In 1860 they were living in Halifax, Mass. and had one child: John Francis Howland (b. 21 Aug. 1852, Hanson).
 St. Patrick’s day had been celebrated in Boston, Mass. since the 18th century.
Below are images of two of the Bonney brothers mentioned in this letter:
4 thoughts on “Sibling Saturday: 1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney of Hanson, Mass. to her brother Otis L. Bonney of Boston, Mass.”
The first thing that caught my attention was that apparently the stamp and address could go anywhere on the front of an envelope 150-plus years ago. Second was that death appears to have been a decidedly unremarkable event, as evidenced by the treatment it receives. Given mortality rates in 1860, that’s not surprising. A very interesting post.
‘Very cool to happen upon your posting on a late-night Google search! If I had all our genealogy papers from storage I may be able to add to the fun, but… I will bookmark your site to return later. If my memory is correct, my husband is a tenth?-generation Bonney from the Massachusetts line. It was fun to read of–and give some some faces to–people I have “met” in research years ago, including Theodore, who died near where I now live in northern Virginia. I’ll have to find more information on his death in Aquia and see if his grave is there. Thanks for the enjoyable post!! Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with here in the VA/DC area!
Thanks for your comment! I recently wrote an article which provide additional details about Theodore’s burial if you are interested! http://hansonhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/object-of-the-month-theodore-lyman-bonney-civil-war-photograph/