Sibling Saturday: 1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney of Hanson, Mass. to her brother Otis L. Bonney of Boston, Mass.

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”.

Front of envelope addressed to Otis L. Bonney

Front of envelope addressed to Otis L. Bonney

Back of envelope

Back of envelope

1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney to her brother Otis L. Bonney

1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney to her brother Otis L. Bonney

1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney to her brother Otis L. Bonney

1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney to her brother Otis L. Bonney

Transcription of the letter:

[Envelope (front) 3 cent stamp]

So. Hanson Mass.

Otis L. Bonney

Boston, Mass.

Care of Daniel Allen & Co.

[Envelope (back)]

[in different hand, pencil] South Hanson 1860


[Letter, page 1]

March 18th 1860

Dear Brother,

I will commence again to write as Theodore[[1]] 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.[[2]] 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.[[3]] The next is the condition that Bil Thomas is left in[.][[4]]


[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[[5]] 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[[6]] 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[[7]] 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[[8]]. There was a lady drowned herself in Hanover yesterday but we haven’t heard what her name is yet[[9]] 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[[10]] 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.[[11]] We had an earthquake here last Wednesday night there was two of them[.] St. Patrick had a real pleasant day yesterday[.][[12]] 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!


[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] A marriage which took place in Hanson on Saturday, 24 March 1860 could not be identified in Hanson Vital Records.

[4] 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).

[5] Possibly either Ezra White and Ezra Magoun.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

[11] 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).

[12] 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:

Theodore Lyman Bonney during the Civil War, circa 1863

Theodore Lyman Bonney during the Civil War, circa 1863

Morton Van Buren Bonney during the Civil War

Morton Van Buren Bonney during the Civil War

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!