The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 5, 2004


Robbins family letters

Through the efforts of curator Phil Drew, the Carlisle Historical Society has acquired a small collection of historically valuable documents that had been in the Robbins family. Included are six letters that span three generations of the family over the course of the nineteenth century. The documents are particularly important because of the place of the Robbins family in the history of Carlisle. They, along with the Adams, Blood, Heald, Parlin, and Russell families, were among the founders of the town. Understanding the history of these families contributes to our overall understanding of the town's history.

Residence of Miss Carrie Robbins, South Street. (Photographed 1932)

The earliest documents in the collection are two letters written by Sarah Barrett to Azubah Robbins. The first was written in 1805, when Sarah was 17 and Azubah was 15. All we know of their relationship is what is revealed in these handwritten pages: a youthful friendship that was warm and caring, but sometimes uncertain. On July 24, 1808, Sarah wrote:

O, Azubah, what a renewing cordial it is to recieve [sic] a letter from a Dear Friend, how often I lament that I am not oftimes favored with one, it seems an age since I wrote to you.

And in the same letter:

Zubah, why don't you write to me if you have the respect for me that I have for you . . .

As befits someone of her age, Sarah's subjects vary from friends and flirtations to the most fashionable style of hat (leghorn).

Of Azubah we know only that she was born in 1790 and that she died in 1810 at age twenty, but because someone thought to save her letters, we are allowed a brief intimate glimpse into the lives of these two young women.

The collection also contains three love letters written by George Heald Robbins to his sweetheart, Mary Melvin. The letters, written in 1857 and 1858, exude affection, tenderness, and a little naughtiness! On May 4, 1857, George wrote:

There now don't haunt me with "cruel" and "hard-hearted" again. If you do, I shall stop that captious little mouth with a (I believe that is what you call them) the next time I see you I shall. Now be careful, for you know that I can do it well enough.

He continues in this vein in his letter of February 28, 1858:

Fingers cold! Wish I had them, Methinks I could kiss them warm enough in about a minute. Your (more than) friend, Geo. H. Robbins.

George Heald Robbins and Mary Melvin were married in 1861. Their children were Arthur Graham, Mary Melvina, and Caroline (Carrie) Melvin Robbins. Carrie was teaching school in West Chelmsford in December 1886 when she wrote this to her mother:

Mr. and Mrs. Roby and myself took a sleigh ride to Dunstable stayed to supper there and rode home in the evening. The sleighing was pretty good most of the way, although there were some bare spots. Mr. Roby was sick after we got home but better today. It was a stomach trouble. I only wonder he does not have more of them. If you could see what he puts into his stomach, I guess you would think so, too.

Each succeeding generation becomes less formal in their writing style, although the warmth that lies between writer and recipient comes through clearly in each letter, regardless of the era. It is felt in Sarah's letters to Azubah, in which they work through what it means to be friends; in the playful flirtation that was maturing into a serious commitment between George Robbins and Mary Melvin; and in the comfort of familiar conversation heard in Carrie Robbins' letter to her mother.

These letters link three generations of the Robbins family: Carrie Robbins was the daughter of George Heald Robbins and Mary Melvin; Azubah's brother was Ephraim Robbins, who was George's father. They also serve to animate those who were formerly just names on the pages of Carlisle's vital records: they become instead human beings who lived, breathed, worked, and loved.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito