Recollections of my childhood, youth and manhood
[Norwich, CT: 1880]. Holograph manuscript of 48pp (ca 10,000 words), penned in ink on unlined sheets, 8" x 5". Apparently lacking a few leaves at end of text, but substantially complete. Mild toning to page margins, occasional brief nicks to extremities, without loss of text; Very Good.
A well-written, clearly penned, and insightful memoir, presumably never published, by one Horace Whitaker, a prosperous merchant of Norwich, Connecticut, born c.1803 and written in his 73rd year. Whitaker was born in Monson, in south-central Massachusetts, the son of a doctor, and resided there through his school years. These he recounts in detail, describing the textbooks that were used, various scrapes gotten into (and out of) with youthful friends, and the loss of several siblings and relatives to sickness.
Trained for a clerkship, Whitaker recounts his various early commercial endeavors, mostly as an assistant shopkeeper in Monson and other small towns around southern Massachusetts and northern Connecticut. In 1822 he assumes the clerkship of a company store affiliated with a woollen mill in Southbridge, CT, where he remains for five years, during which time he appears to have made a significant impact on both the commercial and social spheres of Southbridge: "...my store became celebrated for keeping the largest stock and for doing the largest business...my reputation as a young business man shared with it...my five and a half years residence in Southbridge had an importaant bearing on my social relations. When I went there, I found the young society crude compared with that I had been accustomed to...but it was not long before Southbridge became known for its social life...soon by general consent [I] became the leader [of the town's social scene] and withal I retained the confidence of older men." Whitaker gives lively descriptions of the balls, celebrations, and theatricals that comprised the evening entertainments for young New England men and women of the Early Republic.
In 1828, Whitaker briefly relocates to Pomfret to run another factory store; finds the situation "disagreeable" and moves to New York City, where he and a partner establish a dry goods wholesale business. The business fails during the Cholera epidemic of 1832, which Whitaker characterizes as "...a terrible scourge...the alarm and panic was uncontrollable...we pushed out of the city on the impulse of the fright, myself on crutches..." It is at this stage that Whitaker and his young wife arrive in Norwich, where he settles down to a long and apparently prosperous career, building several of the town's more prominent residences (one of them now on the National Historical Register).
Whitaker covers his domestic and business life in Norwich rather summarily, then the narrative ends in mid-sentence, clearly incomplete, but at a point where Whitaker appears to have finished with the narrative portion of his memoir and entered into the sort of philosophical ruminations to which a wealthy merchant of four-score years might feel entitled: "...I have no good reason to suppose that my experience differs from the majority of the mercantile community. Losses occasioned by casualty or disappointment in expected results, can be patiently endured; but losses caused by deceptive representation, deliberately made, and by fraud deliberately planned, strike deep into the sensibility of a man..."
A valuable, intimate, and unusually well-written glimpse into New England social and commercial life over a period spanning five decades of the 19th century. Provenance: from the estate of Virginia collector James Tubbesing (c. 1930-2022); not traced in commerce previously.