The Letters of Moses and Elizabeth Porter

When evaluating the historical importance of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington house, it is crucial not to overlook the vast archive of papers connected to the family, reaching back into the 17th century. The letters of Captain Moses and Elizabeth Porter (see sidebar), written while Moses was away on campaign in the French and Indian War, are invaluable historical sources connected with the house – far more important than many of the objects in the museum. They are the documents that recount the final months of the life of the man who built Forty Acres. His life was tragically cut short on 8 September 1755, in the Battle of the Bloody Morning Scout near Lake George.

The letters provide an intimate and rare glimpse into the lives of this well-to-do family in the middle of the eighteenth century. With this glimpse we see a further tragedy: from the last few letters that Moses wrote, from August, 1755, we know that he had received only one letter from his wife. On 18 August 1755 Moses writes, “I take every opportertunity [sic] to write hopeing [sic] thereby to Stir you up to the use of the pen.” In the final letter that survives from his hand (22 August), he writes, “I think to wright [sic] a few words which is about the tenth Letter I have writ & I have Receivd but one Since I Came from home. I determine not to Give any of you much more trouble unless I can hear whether my Letters are Read or whether they are burnd without reading.”

Few letters survive that Elizabeth wrote to Moses during this period, so for a start we have no idea how many she may have written. The few we have provide valuable insight into her mind during this difficult period. We know that she was constantly ill, at least once with dysentery (9 August). This illness, she claims, prevented her from both reading her husband’s letters and replying to them. Another concern of hers is that she knows of no way to get her letters to Moses. Indeed, the letter of 9 August, in which this concern is evident, did not reach its destination until 11 September – three days after Moses’s death. Thus it seems that Moses died believing that Elizabeth no longer cared for him. There is no doubt from Elizabeth’s language in this letter that she was deeply attached to Moses. Indeed, at one point she almost rebukes him for understating the danger of his campaign – for making the military situation appear better than it really is:

Inifinight [sic] wisdom Sees best that I am in heaviness through many troubles and I beg that God would carry us both through all we have to meet with here Safe to his heavenly kingdom. My hopes and fears respecting your returning are Sometimes the one and Sometimes the other prevailing. We hear discourageing nuse [sic] from the army though you do not write it, others do. But I put the best construction and I think it is for fear of increasing my trouble. I Suppose you have heard the good nuse [sic] from Ohio contradicted as well as we oh may all unite in prayers to him who alone can keep you from falling into the hand of the enemy and Return you to your dear friends which God of his infinight [sic] mercy grant, if it be his holy will.

Moses’s body was never recovered, though his sword was returned to his widow and a monument erected for him in the Hadley burial ground. For the rest of her life Elizabeth was addicted to laudanum, an opiate, prescribed for depression. It appears that she never recovered from Moses’s death in 1755. She never remarried, and spent the remainder of her life at Forty Acres, dying at the age of 78 in 1798.

Next: Elizabeth Porter Phelps's Needlework