“To Seek Your Fortune Among Strangers In a Strange Land”: Reading Between the Lines in a Letter from Cynthia Temple to F.P.F. Temple, 15 July 1856

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Being fortunate to have in our collection a trove of Workman and Temple family documents, including family letters, we are happy to highlight in this latest “Reading Between the Lines” (literally, Reading!) post a 15 July 1856 letter to F.P.F. Temple from his sister Cynthia, who was four years older than her brother, who the youngest of the clan.

A prior post here covered a missive from her to the sibling she still called Pliny, though he’d added the name Francis(co) when he was baptized a Roman Catholic just before his September 1845 wedding to Antonia Margarita Workman, and that 2 August 1856 letter takes on a different meaning with this earlier one providing more context.

This is specifically to do with the late April death of their mother, Lucinda Parker Temple, as well as discussions about a tombstone for her and her late husband (and father of Cynthia and F.P.F.) Jonathan Temple. Moreover, the mid-July letter goes into significant detail about Mrs. Temple’s passing as well as ideas for the memorial that help better understand what was stated in the early August piece of correspondence.

Lucinda Parker Temple (1778-1856), mother of Cynthia and F.P.F. Temple.

Cynthia began by noting that she received a letter from F.P.F. dated 18 May and added “I did not write by the next mail as you wished me too [sic], on account of being absent from home.” She continued that she wrote on 18 April and 3 May, but “one and perhaps both of them you will never receive as I have to-day received a letter from brother J[onathan—the much older half-brother of the two], and he informs me that he has not received his of those dates.”

This is probably not all that surprising as it was a long journey in distance and time from Reading, Massachusetts, the hometown of F.P.F. and Jonathan, to Los Angeles, where the latter settled in 1828 and the former followed a baker’s dozen of years later. Letters were likely sent by ship down the Atlantic seaboard on the east coast and then through the Caribbean and Gulf of México. They were then offloaded and carried through one of a few land routes (such as Panama, Nicaragua or, perhaps, México) to the Pacific and then placed on another vessel plying the coast north to California.

Whatever happened, Cynthia continued that “in them I gave you some account of our dear Mother’s sickness & death” so “left you should never receive mine [of] May 3d, I will give you an account of her sickness.” Mrs. Temple was suffering with a strong cold during the late winter and into the spring as well as a severe headache lasting a few years. In March, she weakened considerably as the weather was particularly harsh and there was hope that she would do better as it improved.

She seemed to do somewhat better as there was reference to her daily knitting, but on 13 April, Mrs. Temple was overcome with such pain in her head and vomiting that “she told us she should not live but a short time.” When it was asked if a doctor should be called, she demurred that “it was too late,” but one was sought anyway and determined that she had “congestion of the brain,” meaning she suffered from strokes. A few hours later, she could not speak, though she lived for another ten days and died on the morning of the 24th.

Cynthia added that “she spoke of you after she was taken [ill,] it would have given her much comfort to have had a visit from you” and that “she spoke of you often, daily, you was [sic] her last born, you know how fondly she loved you.” She went on that:

We have been blessed with a Mother of superior ability & judgement, taken into consideration the advantages of her youth, the circumstances she was placed through life, few was [sic] her equal. You left her when yet in her teens to seek your fortune among strangers in a strange land and for more than fiveteen [sic] years you have been deprived of her counsels. O Pliny there is now no voice on earth to me so sweet as that now hushed in death: There is no memory I cherish so fondly as hers that bore me. We are very lonely without mother, by He that has afflicted knew what we best for us.

There was also reference to the idea that F.P.F. might make his first return visit home, after which Cynthia noted that she was feeling better than in the spring as then “I was extremely feeble,” but with the better weather she was able to “gain strength and am now very comfortable.” This included spending June in the nearby towns of Medford and Roxbury, where “a change of air & scene, we though might be benificial [sic] to me which proved to be so.”

In F.P.F.’s May letter, he brought up “making a remittance to Mother & myself” and she noted that, in her missing missive from earlier that month, “I made a request or proposition . . . that you would furnish means to procure a small monument for our Honored Parents, to have Father’s slate slab removed instead of getting one for Mother to correspond” and she queried “Say; how does this meet your feelings?”

After noting that their late brother Abraham, a frequent correspondent with F.P.F. before his death at age 37 in 1851, “before he died bought a lot in the new Cemetary [sic],” Cynthia commented that “should you make a remittance for Mother before you receive this, I think we should use it for that purpose.” She then noted that “it is a source of consolation that deal Mother could be made so comfortable in her last days.”

Cynthia then turned to her gratitude “to my friends for their kindness to me since I have been deprived of my health” and, if she felt better and was stronger, “most willingly would I labor & provide myself with what would be necessary for me.” Given the state of things, though, “I fear this will never be, though I may live a number of years” and she expressed some guilt for relying on others for assistance, “but I suppose this is the dicipline [sic] I need.”

Returning to the long separation from her sibling, Cynthia lamented,

O my brother I wish I could see you, I could say too [sic] you much; I cannot write you. But that pleasure is too great a boon to expect. I fear you will decide not to come when you hear of the sad tidings of dear Mother’s death. Surely, the principle [sic] attraction is gone, yet we who still live would be most happy to see you.

Given that F.P.F. and Margarita had, at the end of February, their fifth son (the fourth, David, however, died in 1856), John, his sister observed “I think you are wonderfully blessed with boys!” but added, “I hope you will be favored with a girl sometime.” After another David was born in 1858 and then passed away the following year, the first of two Temple daughters, named Lucinda after her grandmother, arrived in 1860.

Cynthia reported that their brother Seth had a daughter about a year old, but she must have died, because he and his wife Caroline Cutting had one surviving child, also a girl, who was born in 1857. In fact, it was reported that he and his family suffered from a recent measles epidemic in which the life of Caroline was in danger and, moreover, “he had an extremely hard time; I think he will be obliged to sell his place.”

Abraham’s widow Cassandana was renting their house and then she and her children, Alice and Ellen, boarded with the family, though Cynthia added that her sister-in-law inherited $9,000 from her father and $10,000 from Abraham and “yet she pleads her poverty and would sooner take a dollar from me then give me one.” It was noted that “in my situation I think she ought to be willing to pay me the Hundred dollars I am to have out of the estate [of Abraham],” but she must have there interest of it one year longer.” Clearly, there was some bad blood there as Cynthia concluded, “Whatever is is right!”

As for Ellen Temple, a half-century later, she welcomed F.P.F.’s son Walter and his children on a visit to Massachusetts as Walter’s sons, Thomas, Walter, Jr. and Edgar were enrolled at local schools, and she and her family provided much-needed family support to the California cousins during weekends and holidays as they adjusted to being far away from home.

A sister, Lucinda Temple Sanborn, had, with husband Benjamin Sanborn, a son, Thornton, who went to California recently to work for F.P.F., specifically in the gold country of Tuolumne County where F.P.F. had extensive ranching, slaughterhouse and butcher shop interests as part of the beef trade that had been very lucrative over the previous several years. So, Cynthia was glad to hear that her brother was happy with his work, adding that Thornton’s wife was looking forward to joining him.

She then noted that another Sanborn nephew, [Thomas] Haven, “is capably of being a smart man” though “he will need a little looking after.” After asking her brother to pass along her love to Thornton, she noted “I think I shall Mail this for [Los] Angeles for I think you probably have left Springfield,” a Tuolumne County town, now largely gone, where F.P.F. had his headquarters. Cynthia also sent “my love to Sister Margaret & the boys” as well as to her brother and passed along the regards of their sister Clarinda and her husband John H. Bancroft, with whom Cynthia resided. she ended with “will you please to write me a few lines when you receive this[?]”

As noted in the post regarding her August letter, Cynthia’s health did not improve and, in fact, got so much worse that she did not live “a number of years,” but, rather, a matter of mere months. She died from tuberculosis, lung problems being a problem through multiple generations of the Temple family, including F.P.F.’s son, Francis. who died of the malady at age 40. Cynthia was only 38 when she succumbed to the disease in January 1857.

Regarding F.P.F.’s long-awaited return to Reading, that did not take place for another fourteen years after this letter. In summer 1870, he made the journey back to Massachusetts and, in fact sent three of his sons, Francis, William and John, there over the course of the next half-dozen years to further their educations, while also having a Chickering square grand piano ordered and sent back to California—the instrument is in our collection today.

Reading letters like this is always both informative and interesting because we generally have so little personal material like this going back nearly 170 years. Thankfully, this missive and some others somehow survived the ravages of time and we look forward to sharing other survivors in future “Reading Between the Lines” posts.

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