Words of the week: Elizabeth Pitkin Porter's letter to Moses

While the Porter-Phelps-Huntington house is full of countless objects owned by different generations of the family, what brings the house even more vividly to life are the stories of the people who owned these objects--as captured in their letters, diaries, and other writings. We get a sense of Elizabeth Pitkin Porter’s personality, for instance, in a letter written to her husband Moses Porter on August 9, 1755, while he was stationed in upstate New York during the Seven Years’ War. Her expressive words reveal not only her fondness for her husband, but also the power and pleasure she derived from writing. She confides:

“I am glad to hear that you received my scrawls for I am apt to please my self that you took some delight in reading what I took a maloncolly [sic] satisfaction in writing. I read yours over and over and take more pleasure therein than in any worldly thing. But there is something wanting. I long to see you and to hear that pleasant noise which would refresh me more than wine.”

Tragically, Moses never read Elizabeth’s affectionate words; he was killed defending a British fort from French attack just three days before her letter arrived, and Elizabeth never remarried. However, we are fortunate to have an archival record of their correspondence, because it grants us insight into the nature of their relationship, and into the effects that historical conflicts like the Seven Years’ War had on families’ lives.

For more about Elizabeth Pitkin Porter’s correspondence with her husband Moses, visit our collections page.

Person of the Week: Elizabeth Pitkin Porter

Elizabeth was born in late 1719. A member of the prominent Pitkin family of  East Hartford, CT, she came to Hadley in 1742 after marrying Moses Porter, son of Samuel  Porter III, a wealthy merchant of Western Massachusetts. This marriage significantly strengthened connections between the Porters and Pitkins, who both had long, prosperous histories rooted throughout New England. The Pitkins owned a significant amount of land, both residential and commercial, throughout East Hartford. The family inhabited eight homes along the main street of the city and ran plow lands, a clothier’s shop, and fulling mills at the height of their influence. As Elizabeth Pitkin was the only child of her father’s second wife, she was granted a significant dowry that was brought to the Porter-Phelps-Huntington family upon her marriage to Moses.

She moved with Moses and their young daughter to their newly built homestead, two miles north of the center of Hadley, on December 5th, 1752. However, less than three years later, Elizabeth was left alone in the home, as Moses was a captain in the Hadley militia and was called to take part in the Seven Years War. Left to raise her daughter and run the home by herself, Elizabeth’s days were filled with taxing worry and fear. Sadly, on September 14th, 1755, news of Moses’ death in battle reached the homestead. At only thirty-six years old, Elizabeth found herself a widow and a single mother. Despite these circumstances, the home remained in her name and under her supervision for many years.

Soon after Moses’ death, Elizabeth began to experience serious bouts of depression in her isolation, which ultimately led to a debilitating addiction to laudanum, an opiate painkiller often prescribed to women in the 18th century. Through this hardship, Mrs. Porter managed to stay involved in the community. She, to a certain admirable extent, regularly attended church services, made calls on neighbors and family, and put significant time and effort into raising and educating her daughter. Unfortunately, much is still unknown about Elizabeth. In her later life, she seemed to exist only in the shadowy background of the home, even long after her daughter and son-in-law took over the farm. Her eventual death in 1798 marked the loss of a matriarch, but certainly not the end of a powerful, influential, and extremely important family legacy.

To find out more about Elizabeth and the rest of the family, read “Earthbound and Heavenbent” by Elizabeth Pendergast Carlisle.

-MK