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:


January 1866

Vol. 2. No. 138 [D 88]


                                    Schoharie  Jan.  5th, 1866


My Dear Mentor,


Your letter dated a year ago Tuesday has just arrived and strange to say it seems as fresh as if of recent date, and I am almost crazy with delight, if you only will come! How I wish I was young and handsome and literary just for one week, not that I want to go over life again, I have got past those foolish times and am glad of it, but it is so natural to admire youth and beauty, and was ever a woman born that did not like to please? I am me & am afraid you will think I am young and be so shocked! I am half a mind to tell you my age and weight, but that would just prove what our folks say, that I cannot keep a secret and I must wait and see you. I know just what you are like, I shall know you though you will not let me see your photograph, and now before I rattle on any farther I must tell you all about it. We are four miles from the depot by stage but it will be so much nicer for us to meet you with our own conveyance and we have two daily mails from Albany so you can drop me a line any day after you arrive there, however if you enjoy a surprise it will not be difficult to find us as we are old residents (My father has been here near forty years) and the Schoharie stage will bring you within half a mile. Please do not disappoint me. None of them, Prof. Gray or any one else will be half so happy to see you I know, and I want to get just the right directions about my Herbarium. How I wish I had something really worthwhile for you to come and see, well perhaps some day I shall for I think you have some years the start of me after all. Oh dear: I hope I shant be afraid of you. I don’t know how I dare to write so to Judge Clinton. The truth is, if you are half as good as I think you are I shall just tell you every thing I ever knew, and then afterward I shall just think how foolish it was at my age, that is the way I lecture myself almost every day for my indiscretions. What fun we do have here when Homer is well. He is the seventh son and we call him Doc. at home for a pet name. I would like to tell you of all my brothers but some of them you will see and I am so proud of them I might over draw the picture. my second brother is editor of the Sandusky Daily, Triweekly & Weekly Register, that is Charley, none of them are noted men but as true as steel I know, and christians. I must save my sisters to tell you about when you get here. I am afraid you will leave for Albany before this reaches you, but if I see any one on the stoop with a stove pipe hat I shall know it is not you. I shall never believe you wear a stove pipe with the thermometer at ten below zero as it was this morning, & am thinking all the time how cold it will be for you but then I remember Buffalo winds and take courage for we never can get up such a blow here among the mountains, and our old stone house is warm throughout [as] if it is a farm house. Oh I must tell you Mr. Austin seemed so much disappointed that I did not succeed in finding something new and was withall so heedless, that I concluded not to trouble him until I could find something, for it must be a great tax on ones patience, but lo and behold! he sent me just the nicest package of liverworts on Christmas, and so much too I can share with my friends, now will you come? I have not been out to the cornfield yet to find the Phascum but will go tomorrow if it is not covered with snow. It is splendid skating they say, but it has been too cold today. The coldest day of the season and but little snow: now does the picture of the “middle aged venerable very [grave?] lady” on skates rise before you?


                            Still your disciple,


                                    Rhoda Waterbury


Hon. G. W. Clinton


I am so glad you are full of fun in winter and I must try to modify my laugh before you get here for I am given to laugh loud. There I have foolishly told of it again. Do try to snare Mr. Peck one of your Polemoniums for I do think a great deal of him, he is so kind and patient with my mistakes I wonder at it.


Truly yours,


    R. W.


Rhoda’s reference to Homer being the seventh son is a reference to the biblical and mythic tradition of the “seventh son of a seventh son,” a person of magic qualities. His nickname “doc” probably refers to healing properties associated with the seventh son.

Phascum of the corn field, probably Phascum cuspidatum Hedw., a common, pygmy species of farming districts where fallow fields abound, but also grassy roadsides, especially where bare, calcareous clay soil is exposed; cf. Pleuridium above; see note Oct. 28, 1865 above. Phascum bears its great round ball of a capsule immersed down among its broad leaves making the soil appear decorated with minute, glistening beads.


Rhoda has not yet sent Clinton her picture. Perhaps he has commented in a previous letter on somebody’s (Rhoda’s?) image as a “middle aged venerable very [grave?] lady.”


The stove pipe hat is reminiscent of the images of Abraham Lincoln, in the photographs of whom the stove pipe hat appeared in all weather. In old Democratic or Anti-federalist strongholds in New York State, this hat may have drawn some hostility as representing the class of privilege, the money class which Lincoln, a man of the highest statesmanship and steeped in American ideals and patriotism, affected as the first Republican president. Lincoln's legacy, perhaps, just at this moment was ambiguous in the minds of the Civil War survivors.


Clinton had been writing to her that Asa Gray looked forward to his visit and that Clinton has learned how to construct and organize a herbarium along the lines of that developing at Cambridge under Gray’s direction (see Clinton Journal January 1865).



Vol. 2. No. 158 [D 66]

                                    Schoharie, Jan. 19th, 1866


My Dear Mentor,


I don’t know but I ought to fear you, there is something of the stern judge about those eyes, but that mouth I can trust, ah there is where the pleasant things come from I know! and there letters that keep me cheerful all the time even then you tell of those shocking errors. I do hope Mrs. C. don’t care about it, but I do like you and I knew I should. Then too you more than pay me for any little effort I make by your kind appreciation, how pleasant to learn of such a teacher. I am so glad the “Happy New Year” was admired at your home and the Polemonium coeruleum pleased you. I feel so inefficient so as if I could do no service, that I mark every place where I can be of use. In regard to the “... apple” I must explain as I see I have left the impression that I have taken the “subacid, watery, green excrescence” for the fruit, whereas I merely called it by the popular name among us. I quite disgusted the juveniles in our neighborhood last spring by telling them they were eating a worm’s nest, and of course they contended against it stoutly, but I showed them by the make of the flower and the dry pods of last years seed which were quite plenty [i.e. in the neighborhood] that it was not the fruit, and as I knew such peculiar excrescences were sometimes mentioned in Botany, I examined but found no mention made of this and promised them to write you about it, but you see how ignorant I am of entomology. I kept an eye out for you all last week and as our folks were down to the depot several times with friends I gave them a strict charge every time to look for Judge Clinton, (much to their amusement) and they said they did. Ah how I shall weary you with questions when I get you in sight! There is after all an advantage in knowing very little, as no one expects much of you and you have no pride about it, indeed I have become so accustomed to your kind “I apprehend you have fallen into an error” that the blood does not mount to the face, as it would you know if I knew just a little more, but I have to confess I am shocking stupid sometimes. Now about that photograph. It is said in the use of language the rule is the “practice of the best speakers and writers,” does not this apply in other things too? well let me see, last September it was I think when I managed so nicely to ask what I had long wanted to but dare not - your photograph, five months ago, well I dare not send mine now. It would be contrary to all rules of etiquette besides Mrs. Willard used to tell us in her private lectures never to be in too great haste in these things, but then there is that “Please do” that always prompts me to obey as soon as possible! “I am in a straight betwixt two”, well I will see how the thing appears when I close this. I am tired of this kind of winter just snow enough to cover the ground so I cannot look for any thing but not enough to take a sleigh ride, and only now and then skating. I wish I was amiable and loved all kinds of weather but I don’t, but after all do you think amiable people do the most good in the world? I don’t, but then every body likes them, and how pleasant that must be.


You say you must be in Albany soon, when is that? please keep me informed for I have so many pleasant thoughts about it, and we shall have such a nice time. I am anxious to know how soon. I guess after all I will send this photograph, three years old, the best I can do out here in the country, but don’t look at it until you have read the letter as you are not entitled to it until I make up my mind to send it, which is now.


As ever your disciple,


    Rhoda Waterbury


Hon. G. W. Clinton


How could you say you reluctantly sent me your photograph when it gave me so much sincere happiness? and of course you cannot appreciate your own face, and you don’t know how I like to look at it, and think of the kind good letters I have received during a whole year, you have made me happy so many times.




Carte de Visite of G. W. Clinton


The annual Regents meeting occurred between Jan. 11 and Jan. 23, 1866. Hall was appointed before the 23d.


According to letters written to Clinton by John A. Paine, Jr. regarding the appointment of Curator of the New York State Cabinet, the annual Regents meeting occurred between Jan. 11 and Jan. 23, 1866. Colonel Jewett remained as Curator through December of 1865 and James Hall had presented himself as the candidate for the position. Paine appears to have known nothing about Charles Peck. On January 23 Paine wrote Clinton “I am not disappointed in the result of the meeting. Hall was elected well and good, i.e. for him, but I commiserate the State. Indeed your narrative of the way in wh [sic] he carried the day and all were unanimously in his favor, reads very much like a precise fulfillment of a certain prediction I made some time ago. ...”.


That Clinton was to have trouble with the proper display of his virtues expressed in his so-called physiognomy can be seen among the expectations of Rhoda Waterbury, but also of Leo Lesquereux, in a letter of nearly the same date: Jany 7th [18]66 “When I received your first letter, I [judged] you at once as a man whose heart contained something better than a mere blank book with Dollars and cents on the pages, and whose mind was provided with the best materials constituting a reasonable being. I long to get your likeness, to see if the ideal which I have got of your physiognomy is near the truth and I hope that you will soon fulfill my desire of obliging it. I shall be sincerely thankfull for it.” 


Lesquereux, upon receiving Clinton’s photograph wrote: “Now, I have got it at last and I thank you most sincerely for what you call your ugly Phiz. It pleases me very much indeed. It is not quite or does not look quite as young as I supposed you to be, but otherwise, it answers perfectly to the idea which I had of you. It shows a broad high forehead or upper story. I already know how well it is stocked. It has a pleasant, attractive look and though the mouth is somewhat sharply and severely cut, there is about the corners a kind of lurking smile which seems to say that you can enjoy a good joke and perhaps even make one. Do I mistake in my diagnosis. May be I shall never see you but through your picture. Well I tell you again that I like it very much and value it highly. The whole of your physiognomy shows a good true most intelligent, hard working and tired man.” Torrey was not the handsomest of men and didn’t mind telling Clinton he was sending him his “ugly phiz” (Vol.2:144) - the source of Clinton’s “ugly phiz” language. Receipt of Torrey’s less than flattering portrait may have emboldened Clinton to send his image to Rhoda. Lesquereux also thought Thomas Potts James’ photograph was not handsome. Mrs. E. Atwater, with whom Clinton was also corresponding, did not approve of her image and refused to send copies of it to her correspondents.


Note Clinton did go to Albany in January to vote on the appointment of James Hall (Vol.2:164) and had done so before the 25th. On the 24th “Miss Waterbury called at the room [in Albany] yesterday and inquired for you. She was going westward and would write to you” so says the newly elected James Hall on Jan. 25th (Vol.2: 166). Hall gave his regards to Mrs. Clinton. When in Albany, Clinton indicated that he would return to Albany “again to spend some time, in two or three weeks.” On February 15, 1866 John A. Paine, Jr. would write Clinton: “So you came down to New York, and I knew it not! Ah, miserable me.


Recd. Feb. 17 “


After the Regents meeting, Clinton must have visited New York City. Clinton’s journal for 1866 began in April.


Laura Catherine Spencer, the wife of George William Clinton, was the daughter of John Canfield Spencer (1788-1855) of Canandaigua, New York, the man with whom he finished reading for the bar, and with whom he became a law partner in 1832. It may appear as though Clinton was marrying the boss’ daughter, but actually both the Clinton and Spencer families were connected in an earlier generation by marriage. John’s father, Ambrose Spencer (1765-1848), a lawyer and leading Democrat from New York State, was the brother-in-law of De Witt Clinton. As neither of Clinton’s wives had Spencer as a maiden name, it was probably a sister of DeWitt’s who married Ambrose Spencer.


Ambrose was still alive when George Clinton married Ambrose’s son John’s daughter Laura in 1832, after Clinton became John’s law partner in that year. George and Laura moved to Buffalo in 1836 and John Spencer would three years later become secretary of state of New York in 1839-42. John was a member of the cabinet during the brief Whig (conservative) presidency of William Henry Harrison. When Harrison died and his vice-president, John Tyler became President, John served in the post of  U.S. Secretary of War, 1841-43, and then the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, 1843-44. It is curious that Spencer served under a Whig political regime when all of his family and professional associates were in the Democratic party.


The reference to Mrs. Willard and to exclusive lessons is to the famous Troy Female Seminary which Rhoda apparently attended. So, too, did Elizabeth E. Atwater, the diplomat’s wife, a correspondent of Clinton’s. Mrs. Atwater’s references to the Troy academy may be seen in her letter to Clinton of March 36, 1867, on this website:


In the advertisement in French’s 1860 Gazetteer, it is said that the Troy Seminary had been in operation for 50 years where “Every facility is provided for a thorough course of useful and ornamental education, under the direction of a corps of more than twenty professors and teachers. The members of the Institution have the benefit of Lectures of the highest order on science, history, literature, art, &c.m &c. and the use of a valuable Library, an extensive Philosophical Apparatus, a well selected Cabinet of Minerals, and Shells, Maps, Charts, and Models.” The   “members’ enjoy Superior Music Teachers, French is learned with classes in drawing, painting, oil and water colors. Every arrangement, we are told “is made for [the members] physical education and the improvement of their manners and morals.”



Vol. 2. No. 166 [D 58]


                            Albany, Jany 25th 1866


My dear Sir,


When you left Albany I understood you to say that you would be in the city again to spend some time - in two or three weeks. Now I have been making a great disturbance among the quiet things in the back room and if you come at this time without a days notice you will conclude the I am a very untidy housekeeper. I would have been sooner in order but there are many things without labels, and which Col. Jewett knows the origin and he has promised to come down within this month and give me the information. For this reason I am leaving the room incumbered [uncombed?], but if you will be so kind as to give me a days notice of your coming, I will have it in order and your large tables shall be ready.    Miss Waterbury called at the room yesterday and inquired for you. She was going westward and would write to you. Please offer my regards to Mrs. Clinton and believe me very sincerely ...


                                    James Hall


Hon. Geo. W. Clinton


   &c   &c


Recd. Jan. 26.



For notes on James Hall, see introduction above.

It appears that unbeknownst to Rhoda, Clinton had come to Albany and gone. Rhoda had hoped to meet Clinton at the rooms of the State collections to inform him she would be closer to him, perhaps as a train stop between Schoharie and the route east to Warsaw, New York, to tend a sister with death and illness in her family. James Hall’s regard for Mrs. Clinton was probably genuine, as Hall had a delicate relationship with the Legislature and Governor at this very moment, and Laura Clinton's relations were powerful politicians.


 It is possible from this note that Clinton intended to lend some order to the botanical collections and labels at the State herbarium being organized at this time, perhaps in anticipation of Peck’s future position there but also in Clinton's  capacity as botanist and advisor to the expansion and reorganization of the State Cabinet. The large tables are doubtless to examine sheets of botanical specimens.


The voucher specimens for John Torrey’s 1843 Flora of the State of New York form the nucleus of the New York State Herbarium. Before Peck and Clinton, it appears that Coe Finch Austin, during 1861-1863, had prepared these vouchers from Torrey’s unprocessed collections when Torrey lived on the Columbia University campus. Torrey was allowed to reside there in exchange for bequeathing his herbarium and library to the school and had hired Austin to work on his collections (Sayre 1987).




Vol. 2. No. 168 [D 56]

                            Warsaw Monday, [Jan. 1866]


My Dear Mentor,


I must write you or you will go east while I am here and visit Schoharie. I was called here by telagram [sic] to the death bed of my pet and namesake, my sisters oldest child a lovely little creature of ten years. It must be that you know the bitterness of these things, for I know that kind sympathetic nature must have been educated in some school. How shall I write you, my heart is breaking, we buried her yesterday in the snow, how can I live all these long! long! years without her. There is no more sunlight, no more hearty, but so lonely, sister is heart broken. I can not leave her now.

Do send a word of comfort to


Your afflicted disciple


    Rhoda Waterbury


Hon. G. W. Clinton


Direct Care C. H. Dawn.


Recd. Jan. 30 & ansd.



“Direct Care C. H. Dawn” written by Rhoda on this letter may be an avenue to historical or genealogical information on Rhoda’s sister. The sister’s husband’s surname may have been Dawn, if “C. H. Dawn” was Rhoda’s sister’s maiden name.


The burial seems to have been literally “in the snow,” not while snow was falling, and not in the ground. The body would then be preserved until a proper burial could take place in Rochester.


Clinton received this letter on the 30th. He was in Buffalo, receiving letters on the 26th. He apparently did not go to Schoharie and Rhoda went to Albany before the 25th to try and catch him before she left. Clinton was also in New York before Feb. 15 (Paine, Vol.2: 188).


Rhoda’s handwriting here is not so school-girlish or careful as in her other ones.


Warsaw was a township and a postal village in 1860 in Wyoming Co., the county seat. “It is an interior town, lying N. E. of the center of the co. Its surface is a broken upland, divided into two ridges by the valley of Oatka Creek. The declivities of the hills are steep, and their summits 700 to 1,000 ft. above the valleys. (French p. 715).” The village “lies in the valley of Oatka Creek, at the center of the town. Besides the co. buildings, it contains 5 churches, an academy, 2 newspaper offices, a bank, an insurance company and office, and several important manufactories. Pop. 1,200” (French pp. 715-716). The academy “was incorp. by the regents in 1853, and is under the management of a village board of education” (French 1860 fn. no. 1. p.). The county of Wyoming is 228 miles away from Albany.


According to French’s New York State Gazette, Warsaw was a station on the Hornellsville Division of the Buffalo, New York and Erie Rail Road (p.67). Warsaw is today around 40 miles east of Buffalo. The Buffalo & New York City railroad, a consolidation of Attica & Buffalo R. R. and Buffalo & New York R. R., had connections “Buffalo and Hornellsville.” (French p. 76). Portage is a connection on the Hornellsville Division of the B, N.Y. & Erie R. R., separated from Warsaw to the north by the Castile and Gainesville stations. Apparently Portage is a shortened form for Portage Station, or French has mistakenly added “Station” to the name. Why these references are absent in French’s index is a mystery. Attica to Hornell trends in a northwest to southeast line.