Friday, August 14, 2015

April 1868 Letter from Belle and Eliza Tisdale

Tisdale children by Lilienthal,
William Pratt Tisdale and  Olivia South Carolina Tisdale c1867
This carte de visite of Belle's little brother and sister was taken by Theodore Lilienthal in New Orleans. Both children are mentioned in the 1868 letter from Belle and her mother Eliza to B. F. Tisdale.

William, always called Willie, was born November 1, 1861 and Olivia, always called Lee, was born on February 8, 1864.
Judging from their ages the photo was probably made in 1867.

Theodore Lilienthal (1829-1894)

The year 1867 was the same year that Frankfurt-born photographer Theodore Lilienthal was given the job of preparing a portfolio of photographs of New Orleans and environs to be sent to the World Exposition in Paris. The 2008 book by Gary A. Van Zante “New Orleans 1867: Photographs by Theodore Lilienthal” tells the story of this first municipally sponsored photographic survey of any American city. This outstanding book also tells the story of New Orleans from antebellum city building through Civil War occupation and postwar reconstruction.

Lilienthal worked for twelve weeks and produced 150 12”x15” views, “mounted on gold-trimmed card stock and labeled in English and French.” In late May 1867 the finished photographs were exhibited at Lilienthal's studio. The newspaper Crescent reported on May 26 that “Mr. Lilienthal has just completed one-hundred and fifty photographic and fifty stereoscopic views of this city and vicinity, which are very creditable to the artist.”

The photographic portfolio was intended to show evidence of postwar progress and to show that New Orleans was still a good place to invest and do business. It was also hoped it would attract “immigrant labor to restore productivity to war-ruined sugar and cotton plantations that fueled the city's economy.”

The German language newspaper Deutsche Zeitung reported that the photographs would “give our friends in Europe a correct idea of the size and importance of New Orleans and the numerous places worth seeing in this city, and will therefore create a very favorable impression concerning our conditions.”

Belle and Eliza's Letter

The original letter is written in ink on 7" x 12 1/2" paper. Belle Tisdale writes to her father, Benjamin Franklin Tisdale on one side, signing on the back at the top.  Her mother, Eliza Pratt Tisdale writes on the back. The edges are worn and there are holes where it was folded. The original is in my possession and was transcribed exactly as written.

Oakland   April the 7 1868.

Dear Papa
I received your most welcom letter's and was so glad to hear from you, but was as sorry to hear that you were so lonesome. we are all well; Mama is the dairy maid, Robbert and Lee are as well and mischevious as ever, Willie is the same fellow, not changed A bit; he had been wearing the big straw hat for A long time but this morning he found his old grey hat in the mud, and he took it up and poped it on as it was and started off; the children are all in bed. How are you and all, give my love to Annie when you see her and kiss Frank for me; I do wish that I could see you all. Tell Annie that I miss her so much, When I look at the cows I think of her and when I look at the clothes being washed I think of her and everything reminds me of her. I am sitting in the dineing room writing and Grand Pa and Mister Misener are playing cards; Mr. Misener says that this pack of cards is almost worn out and to send them up another pack please. Grand-Ma and Mary are well to. Robbert has got a little kitten and I dont know what to name it. Tell me A name to name it pleas sir. they are all down in the other room and Mama is reading Vallantine Vox aloud to them. So good night.
Goodbye God bless you Your Affectionate

[Page 2]daughter, Belle.
Oakland Place, April 7th 1868 
           My Dear Husband.
   I was rather disappointed that I did not get a letter from you yesterday but I suppose I should not have expected it as I had got one on Sunday, but I thought as Belle was answering her letters that I would write a few lines also. I hope you are well & doing well, we are all pretty well at present & I hope we may continue so.
   Willie is growing so fast he is not half an inch shorter than Frank & he is getting [hole] real good boy always working round & doing something, Robert is getting his eye teeth one of them is through the gum, Lee is well she plays out all day in the yard. 
    I have been out in the Garden this evening putting sticks up by my pinks & tying them up they are going to bloom & the heads are so heavy that they fall over, when they bloom I will send you some in a letter I planted them myself & my violets too they are growing & Blooming so pretty. I havenot got more than 9 nine roots of the violets-  I believe I gathered all I could of  of [sic] them Sunday & sent them to you. Belle has told you that I am reading Valentine Vaux well we do have some good laughs at it I read tonight about the man where he had the cats in his room, Well havent we got a cold spell again it hailed here yesterday for about ten or fifteen minutes right hard and fast & we had a very heavy storm of wind & rain, goodnight, all are in bead but me,
God Bless you My Dear.          
Your Wife. E.
[PS written in the top and left side margins]

PS Lee says Pappas prayer every day & never forgets Papa
a kiss for Frank tel Annie howdy.
Tell Rosa to send me the patron of that collar like Marie's.
Send it to me in your next letter. I want to make Mary & Belle one like it

Eliza had taken four year old Lee and 16 month old Robert to visit her parents, William and Bernice Pratt, at Oakland Place near Baton Rouge. They would have traveled by steamboat up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. The older children, Mary, Belle, Frank, and Willie, were already at Oakland. Belle mentions that, “Mama is the dairy maid,” which tells us that Eliza is getting up early each morning to milk the cows. Mary and Belle would probably gather eggs and help Grandma Bernice fix breakfast. I can picture Belle sitting at the dining room table using her dip pen to write by the light of the oil lamp as Grandpa and Mr. Misener play cards at the same table. I can hear Eliza's voice from the other room, reading a story to the children who are lying in a big four poster bed. Grandma sits next to Eliza by the fireplace, rocking and laughing at the funny story.

An interesting side note about Valentine Vaux, the book Eliza was reading: 
The Adventures of Valentine Vaux; Or, the Tricks of a Ventriloquist. A Parody of Henry Cockton's "Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox," was writen by Timothy Portwine (pseudonym) and was published in London in 1840. (Google Books)

Drawing by Belle,
A Devil of a Sight: 
 This drawing by Belle may be an illustration of the storm mentioned by Eliza in the letter.
(Thermal copy of Pencil drawing on 8 x 10" paper. Location of original unknown.)

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