The following are letters written by Ellen D. Witherbee Atwell in 1899 and 1900 to her nephew Tyler Reed Woodbridge of Victor, Colo. She was age 64 at that time. She tells of her family life, traditions, and some facts of history relating to the Witherbee family, handed down by her parents and grandparents, written at Port Henry.
These letters were sent to me from Bill Knowlton of Liverpool in 2002. Ellen Atwell was his great aunt.
"Mary, Jane's mate, two years younger, was a very candid, just person. She wanted her own things and took care of her clothes and did not want others to wear them. Knowing this trait in her character, her sisters liked above all things to surreptitiously appropriate some article of dress belonging to Mary and appear in it before company when Mary could not say anything except with her eyes.
Mary had large, dark eyes, dark hair and had a very dark complexion, with red checks. She had a violent temper but controlled it unless exasperated beyond bounds. As they grew older, Jane was not less proper but she did not aggravate Mary so much and Mary had her temper under perfect control and became very amiable. She was very like your sister Mary (Woodbridge). They were both devotedly fond of each other, notwithstanding their differences, and nothing was laid up.
The next pair was Ette (Sarah Marietta) and Elle (Ellen Delilah). Marietta was short and plump and very fair, with light curly hair which she wore in ringlets, and dark brown eyes. A rare combination. She was called the beauty of the family. She was very bright and witty and fond of her looks. She was very sensitive and affectionate. She was more scholarly than the rest and had better advantages. She attended a school in West Newton, Mass., I think a school in which Horace Mann was interested. She studied shorthand, not common at that time, and many others of the high branches. She afterwards taught school.
She also had the propensity to tease and Elle was her victim. She liked to order her around and then put on a superior air as if I were her servant; or get me to do some ridiculous thing and then tell of it. She liked to listen to conversations not intended for her ears and when rebuked she was told that I did not do so.
One day I, who generally lived in a little world of my own, was told by her to come upstairs with her and she told me to lie down on the floor and listen and hear what Mother and Jane were saying downstairs and told Mother that I was upstairs listening, showing that I was no better than she was. We were both very bashful and one day were sent on an errand with another girl. We stood in a row against the wall, not daring to sit down, and when the woman asked how Mother was, I looked to Ette to answer and, as she did not, I tremblingly told her she was well, and when we came home she told Mother I was very bold.
Although so bashful, we enjoyed our parties. I usually found a quiet corner and remained there very quiet and silent. Partaking of refreshments and occasionally I did indulge in some of the games if I was asked to and went home delighted with the evening's gaiety. I sometimes had to fight my way in school. One boy in particular I remember. I usually beat him with my fists. There also came a time when my sister Ette stood in awe as I became much larger than she was. Notwithstanding all this, we were very loyal to each other."
Joan Daby is town of Moriah historian.