Lee, Arthur D., and Nettie C. Isbell
Correspondence of Arthur D. Lee, of Westmoreland, Oneida County, New York to Annette “Nettie” C. Isbell, (his fiancée, later wife), and other letters of the Isbell-Lee families, 1855-1891; with Manuscript Diary (1865- 1867) of Annette "Nettie" C. Isbell, also of Westmoreland.

Collection of 124 letters, 477 manuscript pages (no retained mailing envelopes) correspondence dated 2 August 1855 - 29 January 1891, with the bulk being from 1867-1873. With: Manuscript diary of Nettie Isbell, dated 1865-1867, small quarto, 246 pages, bound in contemporary ¼ leather and marbled boards, written in ink, in a legible hand.

$ 600.00 | Contact Us >

The 124 letters include 18 undated letters, which appear to be from the late 1860s to early 1870s time period. Besides the 124 letters, there are an additional 12 incomplete letters, or notes, numbering 24 manuscript pages, which are also not dated. The amount of letters and the range of the years they were written are: 11 letters 1855-1864; 85 letters 1867-1873; 10 letters 1875-1891; and then there are the 18 undated letters that are circa 1860s-1870s. Of the 124 letters, more then half (64 of 124) are written by Arthur D. Lee to Annette "Nettie" C. Isbell, his fiancée, later his wife. These letters were written between 1867 and 1873. There are 29 letters written by Nettie's sister Jesse to Nettie, mainly from 1872-1873, when she was in a sanitarium. The remaining letters are written by other members of the Isbell family, and perhaps by some friends of the family. The miscellaneous letters are posted from various places: Chicago (IL) and Coldwater (MI), as well as a number of cities and towns in New York State (Binghamton, Buffalo, Oswego, Utica, Vernon Center), as well as other locations.

 Annette "Nettie" C. Isbell (1845- 1914) and Arthur Delos Lee (1845- 1920)

Nettie Isbell was born about 1845. She was the daughter of Samuel A. Isbell, who was born at Whitestown, New York in 1815. He was one of the more important and respected residents of his locality. He took a prominent part in the business world, being for over forty years an extensive contractor and builder of churches, factories, and other buildings, and was later in life a prosperous farmer and real estate owner. He, and his wife Jane Richardson Isbell, were members of the Bartlett Baptist Church.  Jane R. Isbell died in 1885, Samuel in 1893.

Arthur D. Lee was born in Westmoreland, New York, on 25 January 1845, the son of Isaac B. and Harriet (Lay) Lee. Isaac Lee was also born in Westmoreland, his father being one of the early pioneers of the county. Mrs. Lee was born at Rome, New York, and came to Westmoreland with her parents, who were early hotel keepers of the county. Arthur D. Lee was educated partly at Westmoreland and partly at Whitestown Seminary, and then learned the carpenter's and joiner's trade in Rome working as an apprentice for R. E. Lee, where he worked three years (a number of letters in this collection written by Arthur were written from Rome, a couple on the letterhead of R. E. Lee). He then went to Westmoreland and started a building business, building a number of houses throughout his immediate section. Lee was a staunch Republican, a county committeeman, and was elected to the county board of supervisors.

Arthur married Nettie" about 1869. They had at least one son, Warren Isbell Lee (1876-1955). Warren attended the public schools; then graduated from Colgate Academy, Hamilton, New York, in 1894, from Hamilton College, Clinton, New York, in 1899, and from the New York Law School, New York City, in 1901. He was admitted to the bar in 1901 and commenced practice in New York City. He was elected a member of the New York State assembly 1906-1910 and late in 1920. He was assistant district attorney of Brooklyn 1912-1914; first deputy comptroller of New York State 1914-1917; one of the counsels to the Public Service Commission of New York 1917-1919. He was a delegate to the Republican State conventions in 1920, 1922, 1924, and 1927 and a trustee of Hamilton College 1917-1921. He was elected as a Republican to the Sixty-seventh Congress (March 4, 1921-March 3, 1923), but was unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1922 to the Sixty-eighth Congress. He resumed the practice of law. He was a former director of Flatbush National Bank. He died at Brooklyn, New York, December 25, 1955, and was interred in Green-Wood Cemetery.

Arthur D. Lee died circa 1920- his wife Nettie predeceased him in 1914. They are both buried at Westmoreland Union Cemetery.

      Correspondence Description and Sample Quotations:

The two main correspondents are Arthur D. Lee and his future sister-in-law Jesse L. Isbell, other letters are written by various cousins, other relatives, or friends of Nettie and Jesse Isbell.

Arthur D. Lee starts out writing to Nettie Isbell from Clockville, New York (1867), then from Rome, New York (1868-1870), where he was working an apprenticeship with R.E. Lee, a dealer in doors, sashes, mouldings, and dressed lumber. He finally writes from St. Alban's, Vermont (1872-1873) where he works with the St. Alban's Iron & Steel Works (some of his letters are on their letterhead, and mentions the superintendent of the firm, a Mr. Brainerd). The 10 undated letters of Arthur are posted from Clockville and Rome, thus they can be dated to the 1867-1872 time period. When Arthur's letters begin he and Nettie are not yet married. They marry about 1869 and thus he corresponds with his wife for several years while he was elsewhere getting the training he needed to start his carpentry and house building business. Lee's letters as might be expected deal with his feelings at being apart from his sweetheart. He also describes the work he is doing, and also the places he visits and events that are going on:

"Clockville, April 17, 1867,

...I did not go to work until Tuesday morning as the foreman was gone. I like it so far full as well as I expected and think I shall be as contented here as it is possible for me to be away from you. I have a tip top boarding place. There are five or six others board here besides me, they all work in the shop. Bill Patten and I room together. He has gone off somewhere this evening, but one of the other boys is in the room sawing on a violin...I guess I will give you a little description of this village. It is not as large as Hampton, has but one small store and that contains the post office. There are two quite fine looking churches here, a Methodist and Baptist. Also a gristmill, sawmill, shoe shop, and a Hotel, which is situated directly opposite my boarding place. I wish it was a little farther off for there is most too much swearing and carousing going on there to make it pleasant but I suppose I shall have to make the best of it. I attended a Magic lantern show last evening in the school house...”

"Clockville, April 21st, 1867,

...I went to a law suit over to the Hotel last evening. It was between an old grey haired colored pusson who had married a white woman and a white man. The nigger had him arrested for assault and battery, but the jury brought in a verdict of not guilty, it created quite an excitement in this quiet town..." [sic]

In the summer of 1868, Lee has moved to Rome, New York, to work a carpentry apprenticeship with R. E. Lee, presumably a relative. He begins writing from Rome to Nettie, who is back in Westmoreland. While at Rome, Lee worked on building a church.

          "Rome, Sunday afternoon, May 2d /69,

...The wind blew so hard yesterday forenoon that we could not work on the steeple, so we worked all day inside the church. They have got it nearly plastered. It will take most of this week to finish the steeple. We shall all be right glad when it is done..."

By May of 1872, Arthur has gone to St. Albans, Vermont, to work on building a mill for the St. Albans Iron and Steel Works:

"May 26th, 1872, St. Albans, Vt

...We arrived here just before noon. Came right here to the house where we are boarding, as the office of the Rolling Mill Co. is in part of the house. Brainerd had engaged board here for four of us, so Bill, Hank, Willie and I concluded to try it here. Rube boards only three or five houses from here. We like our board first rate, but our room is not quite as we should like, has two beds in it so that we are all together. The name of our landlord is Rowley. There is only him and his wife, she keeps a hired girl, there is thee or four R.R. men board here. The house is only 5 or 6 rods from the RR track and only a little farther than that from the new mill is to stand, so you see we are as handy to our work as can. The name of our street is Weldon. We have to pay 4.00 for board; we went last night and hunted up a wash woman. She charges 75 cts per doz.

We went to work the next morning after we got here, have torn down a building that used to be a car shop 120 ft long by 40 wide. And have been building a privy for the use of the mill when it is built, it was 10 ft x 16, covered with matched lumber, cornice on and shingled. I have been bossing the building of that, have also been fixing up an old building for a shop for ourselves.

They paid us last night for five days and we did not go to work till Wednesday. I hear they are going to pay every two weeks. Our tools got here all right. Freight about $1.25 per chest. The fare from Rome here via Potsdown Junction is $10.10.

I will now try and describe this place. It is a little more than half as large as Rome, contains four or five churches, and the nicest Depot I have seen in a long time, it is large enough so that four passenger trains can stand in it at once. The R.R. is on the lowest land in the city, as you go east from the R.R. the ground rises quite fast, so that by going half a mile you look back over the city. There are some fine residences here, and taking it all together it is very pleasant indeed...

There are a great many French people here. The class of inhabitants that are Dutch and Irish in Rome are French here. Most of the laborers at work on the mill are French and they make out to do some tall jabbering..."

On his trip to St. Albans, in the same letter above, Lee mentions a large saw works that he toured:

"...After supper the landlord went with us and showed us the largest saw mill I ever saw. It had seven gangs of saws in it, besides several buzz saws, lathe saws, &c. It runs night and day, and it takes about fifty men and boys to run it...."

A number of other letters by Lee describe his work at St. Albans, where he appears to have remained from May 1872 to at least November 1873, with about five or six other men from Oneida County to help build various mill buildings for the St Albans Iron and Steel Works. The letters provide very informative content about the construction trade, and St. Albans history, as he also writes about the religious and social life of the area.

Jessie L. Isbell (1855-1906)

Jessie L. Isbell writes 29 letters to her sister Nettie. She writes mainly from the Clifton Springs Sanitarium (23 of the 29 letters) in Clifton Springs, Ontario County, New York, where she is a patient. She also writes several letters from Buffalo and Yorkshire Centre, New York (today's Delavan). Dr. Henry Foster, MD, founded a "Water Cure Sanitarium" in 1850 on the site of the mineral springs at Clifton Springs, which had been used by generations of Native American healers. Dr. Foster incorporated the best of many therapies including conventional Western medical practices, natural medicine, hydrotherapy, and homeopathy, during the time he owned and supervised the hospital. Guests came from all over the country and the world for rest and renewal at the Water Cure Facility.

Jessie was a patient at the Sanitarium during the years 1872-1873. She married Joseph Burrell (1843-1926) of Westmoreland. There are three letters in the miscellaneous folder that are signed by a John Burrell and addressed to "Dear Brother." Joseph Burrell served in the Civil War with Co. C, 117th Regt. New York State Volunteers. As might be expected, Jesse's letters to Nettie discuss her life at the Sanitarium, and the treatment that she was receiving at Foster's "Water Cure Sanitarium":

"Oct 27, 1872

...I take my new seat at the table and like it very much, heard one lady say how very plain people dress here now, in the summer it was very dressy here, but now they all seem to be sick ones that don't care for dress, I thought what could it be in summer, I have got in thick with two human beings, one a real pretty girl, takes sulphur baths when I do., says she will come and see me, has been here two years & expects to stay a year & a half longer, when she came here was given up to die, is well and healthy now but has [scrofula] in her blood yet, but she boarded at the hotel. The other one is the lady from Brooklyn that talked with mother, she and I sat in the parlor together after tea last night, she is jolly and full of fun, has a room on the third floor on the hall that goes to the Chapel. pays 15.00 a week. The lady that sits opposite me at the table and the one at my side talked with me this morning, they do not dress extravagant but talk so nice I want to say shit. Mrs. McBune called on me this morning says I must lie down all the time. I am in my room, Joe brings my wood and tends to me faithfully. Several women have talked with me and asked if my mother had gone home. It is very social here I shall not be lonely, will get acquainted in a few weeks. Asked one lady is she had been here long, "no only four months...."

"Oct 3rd, 1872,

...Mrs. McBune rubbed my bowels yesterday and she says they are not as hard as when I came, sent a nurse to rub them this forenoon, it hurt terribly, but had to stand it. She said they were very hard and not natural at all, it is dress and undress all the time..."

"Nov. 3rd, 1872,

...Have had a severe pain in my lungs & head, seem so if I could not breathe. I told the Dr. and he told me to take a Turkish bath instead of the sulphur, will tell you what they done to me. I went in  a little room and undressed and put a sheet on and then went in a room so hot thought I should roast to death, sat there in a rocking chair until I was well cooked through, then a girl gave me a drink of cold water, and then I went and sat in a room still hotter, they did not have me sit in the third and hottest room, as it was my first one then went in a little dark room, and laid down on a stone slab and a girl rubbed and pinched and twisted my flesh round then took soap water and fibers and scrubbed me good. I could not think of anything but scraping a hog with a candle stick, then I stood up and she threw a spray of warm water over me which kept growing cold, until it was cold as ice, then rubbed me with towels. Maggie (my nurse) comes at half past 11 to rub my bowels. Mrs. McBune said yesterday my bowels are not as hard and bad as when I came, a girl came and put a compress on me last night..."


           A file with eight pages of sample quotes from Nettie Isbell’s diary can be emailed upon request.