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:


June 1866

Vol. 3 (86) [M 144]


                            Warsaw, June 2nd, 1866


My Dear Mentor,


Seven days ago at this very time, and in this very place I was waiting so hopefully for the coming week, my present impression is that about twenty four hours have passed since and yet when I recall the sad disappointment of Thursday evening the picnic dinner that has been revolving in Mrs. Comstock’s and sister’s brains for all that time I feel that an age has elapsed since. What do you take me for? not a woman surely if you think I can endure all this without a murmur. This grasping after something that continually eludes you! Poor Tantalus! I know thy sorrows! But I shall continue to grasp for just five weeks more, if I do not succeed before and then - if I must I shall seat myself in the cars with my face toward Albany and never speak to man, woman or child until I reach it. So next week we shall again have the pleasure of anticipation. I shall get so wrought up on the subject that I shall be nervous and not know how to act when you do come, if you continue to put me off so, but I know you can’t help it.


To alleviate our disappointment we went out on an excursion yesterday afternoon to Warsaw Falls a fine place for mosses. I think I have some new ones but shall wait to hear what Mr. Peck says, he must expect to be plagued since he is so rich with his “Musci Boreali Americani.” We have been sending bugs to him for a few weeks past and he says in the last flock were five new to him, think of that! my little nephew has grown two inches this week in consequence as he claims the merit though his little sister is quite jealous as part of it is really due to her, yet she takes more kindly to the mosses, as is natural. I am not going to weary you with long letters any more, if I can help it, until I see you, for you must take me for an inveterate talker and anticipate only noise for your visit, but we will let you do just as you please and rest as much as you like, but do not forget to drop us a word again in time that the dinner may be somewhere except in these poor women’s brains (how I pity them). May the richest of Heaven’s blessings (contentment) be upon you, and if you are what my fancy paints you, you are my Mentor indeed, and I am


                    Ever your disciple


                            Rhoda Waterbury


P.S. I did not think how that sounded for an old maid, forgive me, goodnight.


                            R. W.


Hon. G. W. Clinton


Received June 4


“Musci Boreali Americani” is a set of authentically identified bryophyte specimens collected, edited and sold by William Starling Sullivant (1803-1873), the first and foremost American bryologist and his student and helper, the Swiss émigré Leo Lesquereux (1806-1889). There were 355 numbers and were issued from Columbus, Ohio, where both Sullivant and Lesquereux lived, in 1857 (1856 ON title page). From the excitement implied in Peck’s response, Peck had just received the Editio Secunda, or second edition that was issued in 1865 and distributed in 1866. There were 536 numbers of specimens in this issue.


Warsaw Falls is probably on Oatka Creek that flows through the township of Warsaw. “Upon Mill Brook, a small tributary of Oatka Creek, is a perpendicular fall of 105 ft.” (French 1860 p. 715).


A reference to Clinton’s botanical journal for May and June of 1866 seems to show Rhoda was mistaken if she thought referring to her advanced age might encourage her correspondent, for he was off on two excursions with the young things of the Buffalo Female Academy. “The Buffalo Female Academy, a flourishing institution, situated on Delaware Avenue, was opened for students in July, 1854. ... This institution owes its existence in a great measure to the liberality of Jabez Goodell, who contributed over $10,000 toward its establishment. The academy occupies one of the most eligible and beautiful sites in the city. There are two academic buildings, Goodell Hall and Evergreen Cottage, - the former occupied for school purposes, and the latter as a dwelling by the family of the principal.” (French, 1860, p. 286 and ftnt. no. 9).


Clinton noted: “May 12. Went to Goat Island [at Niagara Falls], New York] with Mr. Forbes, & a party of young ladies from the Bo. Fem. Seminary [= Buffalo Female Academy] & passed the day there, botanizing &c., until about 3 P.M., then to Geo. W. Holley’s, where Mr. & Mrs. H. entertained the party, & thence to the railroad station & home.  On the Island, the girls found a few specimens of the green petalled Trillium, which seems to be T. grandiflorum. I found Fegatella conica capitally in fruit.”


The cruel irony of it is that soon after the day of Rhoda’s planned jaunt with the two judges and the much younger daughter in the fresh air, Clinton was again entertaining the young ladies of the Academy, only this time in Rhoda’s back door, at Portage, not far from Warsaw, in the company of several men, including another Judge.


It is a peculiar trait of Rhoda’s that she can refer to “these poor women’s brains (how I pity them)” for their disappointment at the prepared but uneaten dinner, yet be blind to the more compelling pity the reader reserves for Rhoda herself.


In his collecting journal Clinton wrote:  “June 16. By 5 A.M. train to Portage, with a party of young Ladies from Seminary [= Buffalo Academy], led by Mr. Forbes. They were sweeter than any flowers. Dr. Gay & myself formed the escort. At Portage, joined by young Wilson, Gerty’s brother. Mr. Letchworth received us at the Station, & entertained the party nobly & gracefully. The day spent at his beautiful place & on his grounds most pleasantly. Most of the party got drenched by a warm, heavy-dropping shower, & the girls seemed to like it. Returned by the 4* P.M. train to Attica, where we had to wait 2 - 3*. Judge Stevens showed us his nice garden, &c. & introduced us to some nice Atticans, & had teters [?] made for the girls, & they enjoyed them to their heart’s content. Got to the station in Buffalo at  9 P.M. On my arrival at home, got a well deserved, gently wigging from my dear wife for having omitted to tell her beforehand of the nature of the expedition. I supposed I had “After pleasure, cometh pain!”


William Pryor Letchworth (d. 1910), a Quaker businessman, owned an estate at or near Portage, a “country retreat for entertaining family and friends:” according to Letchworth’s diary.


Rhoda was now to suffer the loss of more of her young relations and a cooling of their correspondence. There is or will be, perhaps, a hint of Rhoda’s anger in the letters that follow.