A Letter from Jesse Casbon

(Updated 1 Apr 2020 based on comments made by Carol Cook—see below)

Personal letters can occasionally be a good source of genealogical information, but more often, they simply give us insights into the lives of the people who wrote and received them. If nothing else, they can help us to understand the everyday concerns of those who lived in a different era.

I’m indebted to John N. Casbon, who found this letter in the personal papers of his deceased grandmother, Anna Mae (Casbon) (Kitchel) Fleming.

Letter from Jesse Casbon to Anna; courtesy of John N. Casbon (Click on image to enlarge)

Here is a transcription (I have marked where I believe sentences end):
(updated based on Carol Cook’s comments, below)

march 27
anna this is a good nice
moring no clouds | we had
a bout 6 inches of snow
last week | we are all
well | i think the banks
2 of them are geten beter
and times times will
get work | will be more
wen we ge beer more
work | I am like you i
don’t like it but lots do
so let them have it | thay
get my money | lill don’t
get not much money out
of her store building
and taxes high | if it
was not for me and
that wont last long so
we cant tell | Edna is
doen good | she as a big
teritory to draw from |
so good by Jesse Casbon

This letter was written by Jesse Casbon (1843–1934) to his daughter Anna (1876–1957). It also mentions his daughters Lillian (“lill,” 1880–1967) and Edna (1885–1957). Although we’re given the date of March 27, we don’t know the year. My best guess is that it was written sometime between 1911, when Anna, who was divorced and living with Jesse, remarried and moved to Michigan, and 1934, the year of Jesse’s death (possibly 1933 – see Carol Cook comments, below). Lillian and Edna, who never married, were apparently living nearby. Jesse was living with them during much of this interval. A fourth daughter, Maude, was married and living in Michigan. Jesse’s wife, Emily (Price) had died in 1893 (see “Last Words”—a very touching letter from her).

The fact that Jesse uses no punctuation and makes numerous spelling errors tells us that his education was rudimentary. In the 1850 census of Wayne County, Ohio, we are told that six-year-old Jesse “attended school within the year.”[1] However, by 1860 his education was complete and he was listed as a farmhand.[2] Jesse’s older brothers, Sylvester and Charles, probably had more years of education; Sylvester even worked as a teacher for a few years. Their younger sister, Emma, probably had about the same education as Jesse.

Jesse’s spelling is so bad that it is difficult to make out the meaning of everything he says. Other than the weather, his main concern seems to be the family’s finances. He has apparently been helping Lillian cover expenses for her unnamed business. Edna is doing better financially.

I wish I knew what Lillian and Edna were doing to support themselves when the letter was written. The descriptions in the letter don’t match the information I have about them from various points in time. In 1908 and 1910, they were both working as nurses in Kansas City, Kansas.[3] In the early 1920s, they operated a grocery and delicatessen in Valparaiso, Indiana, together.[4] In the 1930 census, Lillian was living in Valparaiso with Jesse, and Edna was working as a hotel housekeeper in Chicago.[5] They ran a floral business together after 1934, but that was after Jesse’s death.

Why did Anna keep this letter decades after it was written? Did it have special meaning to her or was it casually set aside and then forgotten? (See Carol Cook’s comments, below)

In these days of email, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (and now, Zoom!), it’s easy to forget that people used to keep in touch by writing letters. Getting a letter in the mail was an emotional experience because it brought news of loved ones. That’s probably the most important thing about this letter. It doesn’t really help to fill in any blanks in what we know about Jesse and his family; it simply tells us that staying connected was important to them.

[1] 1850 U.S. census, Wayne County, Ohio, Clinton Township, dwelling & family 8 (FamilySearch).
[2] 1860 U.S. census, Holmes County, Ohio, Washington Township, dwelling 1534, family 1556 (FamilySearch).
[3] Gould’s Kansas City, Kansas Directory (St. Louis, Missouri: Gould Direcotory Co., 1908), p. 378; and 1910 Kansas City Directory (Kansas City: Gate City Directory Co., 1910), p. 81 of Kansas City, Kansas section; “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” (Ancestry).
[4] Bumstead’s Valparaiso City and Porter County Business Directory Including Rural Routes (Evanston, Ill.: Bumstead & Co., 1921), p. 71 (Ancestry).
[5] 1930 U.S. census, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana, enumeration district (ED) 4, sheet 4A, dwelling 89, family 94; and 1930 U.S. census, Chicago, Illinois, ED 1802, sheet 5A, dwelling 22, family 89, line 46 (FamilySearch).

4 thoughts on “A Letter from Jesse Casbon”

  1. Jon, By the contents of the letter I would guess that was written in 1933. I think he says that 2 of the banks are getting better which tells me that it was after 1929. (The figure looks like the “2” in the date.) The note that things would be better if they could get beer (for the grocery to sell or serve in the deli?) leads me to believe that they see the end of prohibition coming. Finally, Jesse seems to indicate that he sees his death coming with his comment, “if is wasn’t for me and that won’t last long.” It is possible that this was his last letter and that was why it was saved.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.