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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Elvira Miller’s Letter to Her Brother

Elvira Miller’s letter to her brother Linus gives a glimpse into the heart-wrenching emotions experienced by grieving families at home, waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones imprisoned in England. For months the families had been kept in suspense. What little information they received came from occasional reports in the newspapers. In this letter of March 4th, Elvira was still hoping that Linus would be acquitted:

STOCKTON, [N.Y.] MARCH 4, 1839.

DEAR, DEAR LINUS, -- With sensations which I shall not attempt to describe, I have taken my pen to address a near and dear, yet far distant brother. Your letter by the “Great Western”(1) was received on Friday last. Till then, we had not received a line from you since November last. The news we then received, was to us not only very distressing, but wholly unexpected. We had fondly hoped and believed that you would soon be restored to liberty and to us; but, alas! time has shown us how little we knew of futurity, and of the men, too, in whose power you were placed. We learned from the papers that the prisoners, under sentence of transportation, had arrived at Quebec, and had embarked for Liverpool, but this was afterwards contradicted, so that we were left in ignorance of your fate…

A few weeks since, we saw an account of the arrival of the Canadian prisoners at Liverpool. A list of their names was given, so that we were no longer in suspense respecting your destiny; but the sweet hope that our Linus would yet be liberated, and that his presence would once more gladden our hearts, seemed entirely to forsake us. Mother’s tears seemed to pour forth afresh, and with a sigh, she said we should never see Linus more. Our hearts were sad. Fancy presented you to our imagination in all the forms of suffering and distress; yet we could not reach forth our hands and administer to your wants. Yet amidst all our sorrows, we did not, I trust, forget that there was one kind friend, whose merciful hand is stretched out still. We did not forget that a just God “rules and reigns in the armies of heaven, and does His pleasure among the inhabitants of the earth.”

About two weeks since, news came in the “Fredonia Censor”[New York], that twelve of the Canadian prisoners had been taken from Liverpool to London, by Mr. Roebuck, under writ of habeas corpus, for the purpose of having tested before the Court of Queen’s Bench, the legality of their sentence of transportation. It also added that an opinion prevailed that the prisoners would be acquitted. O, Linus! should I attempt it I could not describe to you the emotions of my heart on reading this joyful intelligence. I had forgotten to tell you that the names of the prisoners were given, and yours was among the number. We heard nothing more until we received your letter, which created in our hearts a mixture of joy and sadness—of hope and fear…

And now, Linus, if you were only here, I think we should all be very happy. Oh, never, never forget us, nor how much we wish to see you. If you are not liberated at present, I hope and believe that you will be at some future time—if so, do not wait a day, but hasten home and gladden our hearts. Keep up good courage, Linus, and continue to trust in God. May you yet be prosperous and happy, is the sincere wish and prayer of your sister,

Elvira E. Miller
  1. The Great Western was the first steamship built specifically for the Atlantic crossing (1837). It cut the Atlantic transit time in half, regularly making the westward passage typically in 15 days, and the return in 14 days.
  2. Miller, Linus W., Notes of an Exile, pp. 311-312.

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