The letter

“Della is not well”

It will tear your heart out, that letter.

Written in February 1881, the young husband plaintively told his brother-in-law that his pregnant wife was ailing, that he had written to their in-laws, but hadn’t heard back.

You can almost touch his fear and his frustration in the words of that letter.

On that day in February 1881, H.J. Pratt was a 29- or 30-year-old bookkeeper who’d been born in England.1 His wife, Della — Lara or Laura Della Belle (Robertson) Pratt, the older sister of my great grandfather Jasper Robertson2 — had just turned 20 on the 15th of January.3

They were living in Hunt County, Texas, and she was pregnant with their first child.

“Was glad to hear from you,” H.J. wrote, on stationery of Lowenstein & Gee, a farm implements firm in Greenville, the Hunt County seat.4 The letter was addressed to “Friend Hendricks” — Amos Hendrix, husband of Mary Isabella (Robertson) Hendrix.5 Mary Isabella was just 18, the closest in age to Della.6

H.J. continued to write. “Also glad to hear you were in good health and doing well,” he said. “I cannot say that for us. Della is not well and seems to be getting worse.” 7

And, he said:

I have not heard from the old folks for some time. I cannot think what is the matter they don’t write. I have written several letters. A visit from them would do Della more good than any medicine I think. Can’t you spare time and come and see us. I cannot sell the (poney?) now. Tell Mr. Robertson to pay us a visit regardless of money or the weather.8

The old folks had to be Della’s parents, G.B. and Isabella (Gentry) Robertson, living in next door Delta County, Texas, with their three youngest children.9

We don’t know why G.B. and Isabella hadn’t answered their son-in-law’s letters. We don’t know what exactly was ailing Della. We don’t know if there were more, and more frantic, letters as the days dragged on and Della continued to ail. We don’t know if G.B. and Isabella ever made it to Greenville in those early days of 1881.

All we know for certain is that — 132 years ago tomorrow — on the 10th of March 1881, not even three weeks after H.J.’s plaintive plea, Della Pratt died in childbirth. The baby didn’t survive. Mother and infant daughter were buried together at the East Mount Cemetery in Greenville.10

There are no known photographs of Della (Robertson) Pratt. No features passed down, stamped on the faces of descendants. No letters she wrote, no diaries, nothing of hers.

Nothing but one letter, capturing for all time the love — and the fear — of a young husband whose pregnant wife was ailing, who had written to his in-laws, but hadn’t heard back.


 
SOURCES

  1. 1880 U.S. census, Hunt County, TX, population schedule, Precinct 1, enumeration district (ED) 64, p. 425(C) (stamped), dwelling 88, family 88, H J Pratt; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1312; imaged from FHL microfilm 1255312.
  2. Family records record her name as Lara, but the one census on which her first name appears records it as Laura. 1870 U.S. census, Lamar County, TX, population schedule, Paris Post Office, p. 253(B) (stamped), dwelling 307, family 307, Laura D.B. Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 1594.
  3. Robert Lee Thompson and Kathy Lynn Penson, Hunt County (TX) Cemeteries, Vol. 3 (Sevier, Tenn. : Mounbtain Press, 1979), 65.
  4. H.J. Pratt, Greenville, Texas, to Amos Hendrix, Delta County, Texas, letter, 21 February 1881; original or photostat in the possession of Hendrix granddaughter Mary Ann (Hendrix) Thurmond, who supplied a digital copy to the author.
  5. See Delta County, Texas, Marriage Book 1: 266, A W Hendrix and M I Robertson, 1879, marriage license and return; County Clerk’s Office, Cooper, Texas.
  6. See 1870 U.S. census, Lamar County, TX, pop. sched., Paris P.O., p. 253(B) (stamped), dwell./fam 307, Laura D.B. and Mary E. Robertson.
  7. Pratt to Hendrix, 21 Feb 1881.
  8. Ibid.
  9. 1880 U.S. census, Delta County, TX, Precinct 3, enumeration district (ED) 20, p. 502(D) (stamped), dwelling 117, family 118, Gustavus Robetson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1300; imaged from FHL microfilm 1255300.
  10. Thompson and Penson, Hunt County (TX) Cemeteries, Vol. 3, 65. See also East Mount Cemetery, Hunt County, Texas, Laura Della Belle Pratt marker; digital image, Find A Grave (http://findagrave.com : accessed 8 Mar 2013).
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12 Responses to The letter

  1. William Flowers says:

    Deeply evocative, as promised.

  2. Jana Last says:

    Oh, that poor sweet husband. What a heartbreaking letter and story.

  3. Celia Lewis says:

    How sad, Judy. It’s a true heart-breaker. The helplessness of that husband – and women did die in childbirth for so many reasons in those days. I can’t imagine the fear and powerlessness.

  4. Shelley says:

    Oh my gosh…this was a tough one. I hope they were able to see their daughter before she passed :(

  5. Brenda says:

    So very sad. But you touchingly illustrate how we can memorialize even fragments of our extended family histories. Thank you.

  6. Oh, many, that *is* a heartbreaker, Judy! How sad that there is no other remembrance of her – but at least you know that she was well-loved.

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