My Research Adventures

Treasure Hidden in a Letter

I found a sweet treasure hidden away in a miniature envelope with one of Hattie's letters last week. I've been making my way through the Powell letters in the 1850s that were written to and from Henry, IL (where the family moved in about 1851). Within 2 years of their move to Henry, Hattie is sent back to Virginia to see extended family and to socialize. Her Uncle George Adie (an Episcopal Minister) visited Henry to consider moving his family, and when he returned home to Leesburg, VA, he took Hattie with him. One of Hattie's letters to her sister Rebecca (dated August 30, 1853) contained an unusual addition. As I turned the pages of the letter before transcribing it, I noticed a small folded rectangle that clearly contained little treasures.

How intriguing! I have not come across this before. As I transcribed her letter, I learned she was staying in Leesburg with her Uncle William H. Gray at Locust Hill (about four miles north of town). She attended a party at the home of Daniel and Ellen Smith in honor of the marriage of their son Francis Henry Smith (or "Frank") to Mary Stuart Harrison. She went to the party with a group of close friends and had a flirtation with a Doctor Clagett. In all the Leesburg letters from the 1840s, the name of Dr. Clagett does not appear. And she does not include enough information for me to firmly identify him (although I have my suspicions). She says he made, "little tender speeches" and "was acknowledged to be the most attentive beau." She tells her sister:

"I will send you some of the kiss verses he gave me".

I've never heard of "kiss verses," but I'm certain that's what must be in the little rectangle. My cautious investigation is shown here:

I gently pulled out sweet clippings of romantic verses that Dr. Clagett must have given her. She says that she and her friends stayed up until 1:30am talking over every detail of the party. The girls and their giggles are easy to imagine.

Two of the clippings have the name and address of a company called Henrion & Chauveau located at 242 Market St. in Philadelphia. I have discovered that Henrion & Chauveau was a confectionery at that location in the 1850s, which is intriguing. Why would the name and address of a confectionery be on a clipping of a poetic verse? Could the clipping be from the box or wrapper of a candy or chocolate? Could a "kiss verse" be a precursor to the modern candy hearts so popular at Valentine's Day? Further research may reveal the answers.

For now, these are a sweet treasure to find, and they are poignant to see, knowing how they charmed Hattie and seeing them as she left them 164 years ago - to the day of the date I transcribed them.

Images are courtesy of the Powell Family Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William and Mary.

©2020 by Alison Herring