Correspondence of Rhoda Waterbury and G. W. Clinton
Edited by P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden
May 10, 2006
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Correspondence of

Rhoda Waterbury and G. W. Clinton

1865 - 1867


Edited by P. M. P.O. Box 299, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri, 63166‑0299; and Research Associate, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York, 14204. Email:


February 1866

Vol. 2. No. 186 [D 37]


                            Warsaw, Feb. 13th, 1866


My Dear Kind Mentor,


I ought to have written you before to thank you for the good kind letter that seemed so grateful to sister and myself in our sad hours. We know our little darling is safe, but oh it is so lonely though the “angel presence” is at times a comfort and we must learn to live without her and cheerfully go on until we meet. I feared you had already gone to Albany so did not write, but Mr. Peck says they are still looking for you there. He wrote in regard to a specimen of Fissidens minutulus of which I sent you a specimen some time in Aug., I think, after further examination he finds there was a mistake and what I sent you under that name is in reality F. exiguus and he further adds “you are the only one known to me who has found it in the State” I remember at the time you remarked you had found F. minutulus but mine was more minute if possible than yours. I am so disappointed about your visit to my home. You do not know what castles I had built and how happy I was in anticipation. It is true I am near you here but I fear it is rather out of your route and I have already taxed your kindness so much I dare not ask you to devote your time to me so much then too the beauties of my home was what I wanted you to see. You can never really know why I am such a compound of inconsistencies until you see my home, and do tell me now that you will keep your former promise and “if the good God” spares you come and see me in summer. I was so happy last summer how glad I am that my little pet was with me for two months and used to go with me to gather flowers when I did not go too far, her name and voice and face will always be associated with some of my little beauties in the Herbarium. I don’t know but we are ungrateful to mourn when the kind Father lent us such a sunbeam for ten years, and such a happy life as she had. I will try to remember this and not repine for you say she still loves *us, and I don’t know but you will think I am a spiritualist but I think she is very near me.


I don’t know why you do not lose patience with me when I am so selfish and tell you all my troubles, but I know you possess a great deal of quiet happiness for you are such a blessing to so many and I know you have devoted so much time the past year to me because you saw how much I enjoyed it, you are very dear to me through your letters, ah how selfish I am, but I cannot help it.


I must remain for a time with my sister as I am at liberty and she needs me, so it must be duty, I have been with her in every great trial during her married life and this is the second little darling she has sleeping in Mt. Hope. Well my life is calm compared with hers as they say we single sisters know neither the heights of joy nor the depths of sorrow that fall to the lot of others. I can truly say I thank God that it is so. I know I have been very happy, and I have some precious treasures in Heaven that seemed at first to be lost.


You see my old habit begins to show itself, I think loud when I write to my dear friends I know you will excuse it.


Please write me again soon if you are not to busy


    As ever your disciple


            Rhoda Waterbury


Hon. G. W. Clinton


  Recd. Feb. 17. ansd. March 16.


There is a specimen in the Clinton Herbarium (BUF): Fissidens exiguus Sullivant, USA New York Schoharie Co., Schoharie. Clinton’s handwriting, but not his label. Rhoda Waterbury s.n. s.d. Herbarium number: 75277.  This species is now listed as Fissidens bryoides Hedw., a very variable species (hence Peck’s change of judgement) with much synonymy. It is a common moss in temperate latitudes growing in calcareous habitats in shady moist soil or on rocks.


Clinton’s collecting journal does not indicate his movements or activities for 1866 before April of that year. Letters from his correspondents, such as John Paine, Jr., are more instructive.


Mount Hope Cemetery is “located in Brighton [Monroe County], near the s. line of the city. It embraces a lot of 70 acres located upon Mount Hope, the highest point of land in the vicinity, and one completely overlooking the city. It is laid out in excellent taste, and is one of the finest rural cemeteries in the country.” (French, 1860 p. 404).


Spiritism or spiritualism, belief that the human personality continues to exist after death and can communicate with the living through the agency of a medium or psychic. The advocates of spiritism argue that death merely means a change of wavelength for those who die, and the medium is said to be able to receive radiations, frequencies, or vibrations which cannot be sensed by an ordinary person. ... In its modern development spiritism dates from the activities of the Fox sisters in America in 1848. Such notable figures as Andrew Jackson Davis, Daniel Dunglas Home, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and Aurthur Conan Doyle later became widely known spiritualists. In upper New York state, the community of Lily Dale, a center for mediums and periodic conferences of spiritualists, is still active ...”  A. F. Schrenck von Notzing, Phenomena of Materialism (1920); Arthur Conan Doyle, History of Spiritualism (1926); Sir Oliver Lodge, Phantom Walls (1930); S. E. White, The Unobstructed Universe (reprint, 1959). All from the New Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University Press, New York, 1975. 


Note how many of these works came at or near the end of World War I. Such an extraordinary amount of the killing of young men in that war led many of the bereft remaining at home to “summon” the spirits of their loved ones for the purpose of saying goodbye, making their peace, for separating, otherwise the painful or debilitating grief process could go on indefinitely.


In spite of Rhoda’s moving testament to the loss of a beloved niece, she has recently written a suggestive letter to one of Clinton and Charles Peck’s colleagues. Its sexual innuendo is readily acknowledged by the recipient:


From Closter, New Jersey on  Mar. 1[4], 1866, Coe Finch Austin wrote George Clinton:


 “P. S. (again) I have just received a most charming letter from Miss Waterbury and if I were sure you are a bachelor, which I believe I have understood to be a fact, I would tell you what she said about Judge C. sub rosa. I think it would make you forget that you are growing old - certainly this would be the case if she is a young and pretty as she is intelligent.”


It is perhaps too much to assume that Austin was here referring to gossip about Clinton’s behavior being more appropriate to a bachelor, in addition to whatever innuendo Rhoda included in her letter to Austin.


Clinton has apparently expostulated to her on her remarks to Austin in his letters of the 16th and 17th (see next letter below), yet he still appeals to her mercy. In her next letter (March 23, 1866) she seems to acknowledge the flirtatious tone of her communications, which is dangerous to a married politician, but she either seems to be unaware of this or perhaps there is something somewhat sinister in her communications:


“Oh I must tell you Mr. Austin wrote me in great haste for certain   mosses and ferns that he wanted immediately to complete some sets he was   putting up, and the letter had to come from my home so it was some time   before he received answer and then I was away from my duplicates so I   merely told him the situation of affairs. I cannot remember a “charming”  thing in it. You see I do not like you to think I flirt but when my   brothers tease me they say if I protest my innocence so strongly it is   rather a proof of guilt, what will the Judge think!”