A Letter from Cordelia

Setting the Stage:

One of the most rewarding results of having Dakota Soul Sisters on the Internet is the many contacts I’ve made with descendants of the women of the Dakota mission. One gentleman, who is known only as Major, is a great-great grandson of Jedediah Stevens and was gracious enough to send me some additional dates and corrections for the story of Julia Eggleston Stevens, Lucy Stevens and Jane DeBow that I’ve incorporated into the story. We’ve also exchanged ideas about why Jedediah Stevens is so maligned in the historical record. Major’s own research has indicated that Jedediah had a successful and productive ministry in the years following his departure from the Dakota mission.

Major also sent me the following letter which was written by Cordelia Eggleston to her sister Emily the day before Cordelia’s 22nd birthday. Cordelia had arrived at the mission at Lake Harriet in what was then Wisconsin Territory a short time earlier. Cordelia and Emily’s sister Julia and Julia’s husband, Rev. Jedediah Stevens, had been working as missionaries with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions since May of 1835. Cordelia made the difficult journey from New York with her brother-in-law Jedediah, who was 39 years old. The trip took them from October 13 until they arrived at Lake Harriet on November 10, 1837.

Cordelia’s story makes it possible to follow them on their journey on any modern-day map. She provides amazing details about what it was like to ride in a stagecoach, to sleep on the floor of a crowded tavern and to survive crossing deep rivers without being swept away. Readers of Dakota Soul Sisters may recall that Julia Stevens was the one who really wanted her youngest sister Cordelia to come out to join her in the west. From Cordelia’s letter we learn that Jedediah made the trip to bring her out on his own, fulfilling Julia’s wish. My very sincere thanks to Major for giving permission for me to share Cordelia’s previously unpublished letter.

I have added punctuation and capital letters which Cordelia did not use. Brackets indicate where I have completed or added words for clarification. I have also created paragraphs to make the letter easier to comprehend by today’s readers.

From: Cordelia Eggleston at Fort Snelling (then in Wisconsin Territory, now in St. Paul, Minnesota)

To: Mrs Emily Brace

Sylver Creek

Chautauqua Co NY

Lake Harriet November 21st 1837

Dear Sister Emily,

Perhaps you will be surprised to receive a letter from me dated from this place but not more than I am for when I think where I am I am almost inclined to think that I am dreaming. I cannot realize that I am so far from home. I little thought when I parted with you that before I should see you again I should be on the western side of the Mississippi engaged in teaching the children of the forest.

What is Emily saying? Is she charging her sister with a wont of affection for her because she could pass so near her and not visit her?[1] I think you would not if you knew my feelings. No, dear sister it was a great trial to think of going so far from you without having an opportunity to give you the parting hand and exchange the parting kiss yet so it is and it becomes me to submit without repining. When I think of your past kindness to me, the many hours you have watched over me in sickness, it deeply affects my heart and causes the tears to flow from my eyes.

Perhaps it will not be uninteresting to you to have a short account of our journey. We left Stafford the 13th of October in the afternoon spent the first night at aunt Kelloggs. Went to Buffalo the next day. It was Saturday spent the Sabbath there. Went on board the steamboat General Porter Monday morning had a very pleasant time on the Lake. Arrived at Detroit Wednesday morning. Mr. S[tevens] had some business to transact there which detained half a day. In the afternoon we started for Monroe where [he] had some business to do which was the reason of his going there.[2] Arrived at Monroe third day about 10 oclock. Were detained there until Monday of the next week.

A young man from Oberlin that Mr. S[tevens] had engaged to go on with him as an assistant arrived at Monroe the next day after we did. He was married after Mr. Stevens saw him at O[berlin] and had his wife along with him. They took the horse and carriage and left M[onroe] on Saturday. Mr. S and I left there on Monday in the stage which was an open wagon. It would have been impossible to have gone in a coach on account of the bad roads, Went to Tecumseh that day 30 miles, 13 miles of it was the worst going I think I ever saw and it rained hard constantly while we were going over it from 1 oclock until nearly dark.

The next day arrived at Jonesville 10 oclock in the evening. Wednesday went to brother Hervey’s found them all well except P[olly].[3] She looked more feeble than I ever saw her before. She said her health was improving. James with his family [are] well. I think they are pleasantly situated. We returned to Jonesville at night. Left in the stage two oclock in the morning. Rode all day and all night overtook Mr. Brown in the morning.[4] He had been sick all the week with the ague and was nearly worn out. He did not like to be left. Thought he could ride in the stage as he should have no care on his mind. Mr. Stevens took the carriage and Mr. Brown and his wife went by in the stage intending to stop and wait for us when they got to Chicago. The name of the place where we overtook Mr. B[rown] was Niles.

Rode about 30 miles. Put up at a private house with a pious family. They were very kind. The first night of good rest that I had after we left Monroe. Saturday got 12 miles this side of Michigan City to a small village where we spent the Sabbath. There were a few pious families. Mr. S[tevens] preached 3 sermons. This village consisted of a few houses in the woods. So much sand that we were almost in danger of being buried in it every time we stepped out. Monday got within 9 miles of Chicago. We were anxious to get there but night overtook us and we had to give it up. We rode in the evening 3 or 4 hours. A very dreary lonesome place very dark cold and windy.

We crossed the Calumet river on a bridge that sunk under the water and shook us so that it made it seem very frightful. About a mile up the river we came to a place where the road when into the Lake. I told Mr. S[tevens] I thought we have got out of the road. I could not go in there. I had rather go back to the tavern. He got out and looked and said there was no other place to go. He would do just as I said about going back I asked him if he was not afraid. He said no and I told him to go in. There was an island of sand out a few rods from shore that we went on to and found [missing text where original letter was folded] got to the end of it. We were at a loss again where to go. We could not follow the road in the water. The waves were lashing up on one side of us. On the other was a high bank. Mr. S[tevens] climbed up the bank and after looking about a half of an hour he found a place to get up the bank. I was rather lonely and felt some afraid sitting in that strange and frightful looking place alone. We stopped at a tavern about 2 miles from there and spent the night. Arrived at C[hicago] the next morning about nine oclock. Found Mr. and Mrs. B[rown] there. Spent the day in C[hicago].

Wednesday rode 18 miles forded a river, current very rapid, horse almost covered in water. Thursday rode 43 miles forded another deep river where the water came into the wagon over the top of the bed. Put up at a house where the stage stopped for the night. Slept with a lady and 2 children in the barroom where there were nearly 20 men. One of the children cried or coughed a great part of the night. The men were not still many minutes in the course of the night so you may judge if how much I rested that night. Mr. Brown and his wife arrived there about 12 oclock in the night. The next morning Mr. S[tevens] Mrs. and myself left there in the stage. Mr. B[rown] in the wagon. The coach came very near upsetting a good many times. The gentlemen would get out and hold it up. We have to get out and walk several times in the water. Rode until in the evening then stopped and took supper. Started on again after supper in an open wagon in the rain. Very dark, got lost on the prairie and were out 7 hours going 12 miles.

I think the drivers were more than an hour looking for the road at one time. There were 2 stages along both full of passengers. Some of them pretty merry and you may imagine what a time we had. Some of them singing, some scotching, horns blowing so that those who were looking for the road could not get lost. We finally got through.

Came to Buffalo Grove the place where the stage stopped for the night. The first adventure after going into the house I stepped into a woman’s face who cried out as though she felt abused. There were four bed steads in the room and the floor covered. We found the way into the bar room the same number of beds in that room, the floor occupied also. We then found the way into the dining room where we found a place large enough to lie. Mr. S[tevens] made a fire in the stove and we lay down on the floor with nothing but our wet cloaks for our bed or covering. Mr. S[tevens] gave us his overcoat for our pillow.

Left there early in the morning rode all day in the rain so crowded that I could not stir. Got within 14 miles of Galena by 7 oclock. Took supper there and then went to church Sabbath morning. Had to think we should not have to travel in the stage any more. Found that the boat that we were expecting to go up the river had not passed which was a great relief to our minds. Mr. S[tevens] taking the stage and leaving Mr. Brown he thought it [would] be better to leave him and have him come up [on] horseback when the river froze over than all of us go up in a canoe. We spent the sabbath also Monday with Mr. Kents formerly a minister who used to preach in Lockhart.[5] Mr. Brown arrived there Monday night.

Tuesday morning the boat came in, went on board in the afternoon. Had a very pleasant passage up the river. The scenery is delightful. I am pleased with the place here and think I can be contented and happy here if I can be useful. Sister Julie wants to write a few words and I must bid you good night. Your affectionate sister, Cordelia Eggleston. (in last scribbled note: “three days going up the river”)

Mrs. Emily Brace

My dear Sister Emily

I received the letter you wrote me with Cordelia and I think I answered but do not remember. I think you must feel very lonely since all your relatives have left you. I often think of you and wish I could see you but whether I ever shall is very doubtful. But this hope of meeting you in heaven is truly consoling. My sister do you enjoy communion with god? Cast all your care upon him for he careth for you.

Cordelia unites with me and Mr. S. in love to your husband and Dear Mr. and Mrs. Beardsley.[6] We intend to write to her soon.

When I left Sylver Creek I intended to write to Mrs. Beardsley but it has been impossible for me to do it with all my cares.


[1] When Cordelia left the family’s home in Stafford, Genesee County, New York, in October 1837, her sister Emily was living in Chautauqua County, NY, approximately 100 miles southwest of the route that Cordelia and Jedediah Stevens were following. She was thus unable to visit Emily along the way.

[2] Jedediah Stevens’ older brother, Jonathan W. Stevens, and his family lived in Monroe, Michigan. Their parents had moved to Monroe in 1828 or 1829 and both died in the fall of 1834.

[3] Major identifies Cordelia’s three brothers as Harvey, Ebenezer and James Eggleston. They and their families lived in the area around Jonesville, Hillsdale County, Michigan. Cordelia clearly spells Harvey’s name as Hervey in the original letter and Major commented that Harvey’s name on his tombstone at mount Hope Cemetery, Litchfield, Hillsdale County, Michigan, is spelled Hervey. I’ve left that spelling in the transcription. Polly Eggleston, apparently Hervey’s wife, died January 7, 1849.

[4] There is no additional information provided as to who this Mr. and Mrs. Brown were.

[5] Rev. Aratus Kent graduated from Yale in 1815 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1823. He was ordained at Lockport, New York in 1825 and was a founder of Beloit College and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He was also founder of the Rockford Female Seminary and was an evangelist with the American Home Mission Society and a pastor.

[6] There is no indication who the Beardsleys were.

This entry was posted in Cordelia Eggleston Pond, Jane DeBow Gibbs, Julia Eggleston Stevens, Lucy Cornelia Stevens Gavin, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

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