Sunday, December 13, 2015

Looking for Henry

The indelible case of Henry Moore winks out from nineteenth-century America, through the dim years of Pierce and Polk, peering from tintypes. He loses family heirlooms, buries a wife, sails through to the next century, wags his head at Woodrow Wilson. Bearded and musty in a black frock coat, he celebrates his golden anniversary with his second wife and expires in 1925 at the home of his son at Lake Congamond, Massachusetts.

A vain, difficult young man, Henry lurked in Victorian parlors, on porches and piazzas; attended oyster parties, smoked and smirked. “Henry,” wrote his mother, Sarah, in 1852:

I think of you every night when I go to bed. Don’t throw all your money when you earn it so hard. You won’t ever be young but once. Oh how short the years look to me when I look back at the time I lived in Market Street and you was but 4 years old. Them will never return. Henry don’t be out late nights will you and do go to some evening meetings and not live all the while for the world.

At 21, Henry went to New York City. He paid $3 a week for room and board and hoped to earn enough to pay off a debt to a Hartford tailor. Sarah begged her son to return.

My dear boy, I feel hurt and sorry to realize that I seem to be so forgotten by you. Is it possible you are so taken with that wicked place that you have not one moment’s reflection or sober reality – You are now free of my talk and advice which you hated so bad to hear. Do stop long enough to think whether you are under any obligations to us or to me. Oh how much I have done without for you – but tis all gone by and among the things that were.

She scribbled on the envelope: “Send back your dirty laundry by return post.”

In 1850 the widow Moore lived with her children, Henry and Kate, and her mother and sister in the Captain Daniel Moore Homestead at the corner of Main Street and Windsor Avenue, Hartford. Inside the Homestead, the four women sat around the stove, worrying about Henry. He could not make a success of anything. He had the habit of leaving suddenly on the train or in horse and carriage. As a cousin once wrote: 

We had almost concluded that you had forgotten us entirely, as the last we knew of you, you left the gates and whether you ever reached home or not we never knew.

In 1853, Henry was back in Hartford, mulling dry goods prospects in Chicago. But he ended up hanging around, purchased new trousers, and on Valentine’s Day 1854 received several strands of brown hair braided with pale blue ribbon. Soon enough, he married Theresa P. of Maine. The idea was, he would settle down. 

But in 1858, Henry packed up Theresa and traveled out to Kansas Territory where he earned $15 a week delivering mail via pony express. His route was Lawrence to Fort Riley.

They called it “Bleeding Kansas.” Not yet a state, this vast unorganized territory seethed with tension as Senator Stephen A. Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act forced the issue of slavery into the West.

Henry spent much of his time on the open prairie. He saw the buffalo and Kaw Indians, and it all made impression enough to be related to his son and grandson. But Kansas disappointed, too, because Henry did not make the money he expected. He decided to look for gold that ran in the streams near Pike’s Peak.  

But Theresa persuaded her husband to return to New England. They moved to Massachusetts and she died one year later.

He lost her as he lost many things: for instance, the key to the parlor desk in the Homestead. 

Then there was the old black trunk that Gram loved; it was sent to New York to collect Henry’s laundry but disappeared. 

He never received the piece of carpet that his mother shipped out to Kansas. 

He lost or never received a packet of arsenic that a minister sent him to use in preserving and mounting dead birds. Simmons & Leadbetter, Forwarding & Commission Merchants, spent a year searching for his boots lost somewhere between Hartford and Chicago. 

And much later, an heirloom chair was stolen from his home, presumably by an agent acting for the Rhode Island Historical Society. (It now resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

Before Sarah died in 1870, she probably realized that Henry himself would not be lost. He didn’t end up in State’s Prison, as she often worried. He voted in every presidential election from 1860 to 1924, although she declared he would never stay in one place long enough to gain residence. And he never was knocked down and robbed, as she once predicted.

Instead he married his cousin Henrietta in 1863. Their only child, Henry Elmer, was born three years later. After a few months’ apprenticeship with a bookbinder in Northampton, Henry joined the Springfield Republican as a printer, working there until retirement. 

He bought a clapboard house in West Springfield and never moved again.

Drawing by Claudia Keenan

See also February 10 + 17 posts, 2016.

1 comment:

  1. He seems very likely to have crossed paths with Frederick Law Olmsted, who also was a Hartford boy and was in many of the same places at the same times.
    I'm always amazed at how so many men and women seemed to live months at a time -- even years -- in the 19th century with no seeming income and no social safety net. (Pensionless widows; layabout dandies with one nice suit and no coins in their pockets.) I always want to understand this detail the most.


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