Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bullying, Etiquette, and Family Honor in the Late-Eighteenth Century

Occasionally the museum staff come across a manuscript or artifact that feels so personal and relevant that we can't help but pour over it. This was certainly the case with a document written by New Jerseyan Edward Fleming to one Gabriel Ludlow, dated 1783.

LWS 756, b61,  f 65

This three-page letter, written from one concerned father to another, details how Fleming's son was bullied and he (the senior Fleming) personally insulted by Ludlow's son. In light of all of the recent anti-bullying advocacy, this document felt particularly resonant.

Let's take a closer look.

Read the following transcription. [LWS756, box 61, f65]


I am sorry I am under the necessity of addressing you
on a subject extremely disagreeable to me, & I flatter my selfe
cannot be pleasing to you.—The subject matter Sir of my
address is this; That my selfe and my son have received
the most audacious insults, and contemptuous insolent behavior 
from your son John.—Take the particular & judge.
                Some little time past, on the boys coming out of school
your son, (perhaps displeased at the shape of my son’s nose)
took it in his head to beat him, my son ran for it, &
was pursued in to Mrs Piersons, where your Hero, seized
him and kicked him heartily. My son returned not a stroke, and
gave this reason; (viz) Mr. McWhorter punishes not the
aggressor, when the injured attempt to redress them selves—
This was on a Friday, the next day, on their going out of
school, in order to intimidate your Fighting Hero,
my son told him, He had acquainted the Monitor, and had his
name put down; tho in act he had done no such thing, but
said so with a view of keeping your Fighter more at
peace, but this had not the good effect intended, for you
Bruiser immediately seized my son and with a force equal
to blows, ground, or rubbed his fist round his face, and
said, “try who will tire first, I by beating you , or
Mr. McWhorters  feruling me.—having heard this much
I thought it my duty to defend my son from all ruffin like
insults, and to speake to your son about it; I meet not
with an opportunity like today; Take & note these particularly
also—unacquainted with your son by name, I only guessed


at him by description, In a slow manner I approached and came
very near him, (who deigned not to look either at my selfe or
carriage) and continuing to look straight forward I began—
Ques: Pray St. is your name John Ludlow, (yes, and what have
              you to do with that; (without turning his eyes towards me)
Ques: Pray Sir how came you to insult & assult my son
           answer: —because he was saucey.
Q—Was it not because you were older & abler,
           answer: I tell you twas because he was saucey.
Q—Sir if he had been saucey you should have complained of
          him & you would have redressed, therefor for the
          insult you have given, you must ask my sons
          pardon; —
          answer: I ask his pardon; not I truly—
Sir you must, and I’ll give you a month to consider of it
            Answer: I tell you I won’t, won’t do it, do your worst
—Then I Sir I will horsewhip you.
           Answer: —Then I’ll have somebody to whip back again.
Sirra your impertinence is insupportable, & who ever
Dear to presume to whip back agane, must be provided
with a brace of pistols—He answered, we can find
pistols enough, & I won’t ask his pardon, I won’t, I won’t
with many other impertinent expressions, too trying—
and therefore draw on—
                Thus far Sir I have rendered you a narrative of facts,
and now a word to your selfe.—I have ever supported the
character of a gentleman & a man of honor, how your
son came to be possessed with so contentious  an idea of
me & my family, so as to treat us in this ignomenious


manner, I can only ascribe to the following reasons—
The boy knew us not, and therefor could only be the trumpeter
of what he had heard among his elders—for tis a certain
truth, that children & servants, always show by their
words & actions, what are the sentiments of their parents
and masters: hence it is that I conclude Sir, that you
and those your friends, at times have animated
on me & my family so as to fill his head with the notion that
we were not entitled to the common civilities that are
current through the cause of mankind—Therefor
       To close the current matter Sir: your son must ask
my sons pardon for the insolence & outrage committed on him
in the first instance that in public too; otherwise I
shall assuredly keep my word with him—.
       In the second instance, he must ask for my pardon
for his insolence & imprudence to me this day—
      In the first I shall assuredly keep my words
in this last should he fail, I call on you as a
gentleman for full satisfaction for my insolence
and outrage of your son which you by a tacit
negligence, may continence and abbet—

                I am Sir: Yours Edward Fleming
Near Newark
14, June 1783

NB: I did give your son a months time to consider the
matter and do as any gentleman aught on such occasions; but
I now retract one half; and allow but one night both to him
and you—from the date hereof


To Gabriel Ludlow

"envelope" side [verso]

Acquackanonk Township was New Jersey township from 1693 until 1917

pages 2 and 3
This letter presents an interesting look at the social conventions and cultural milieu of the time. It opens conversations about masculinity, notions of family honor, class and social position, status and respect, corporal punishment, bullying, and even the etiquette for reporting grievances. 

The tone alone is quite let's start there. 

[Document Analysis guides  1  -  2  -  3 ]

  • What do you gather Edward Fleming was feeling as he sat down to write this scathing accusation?

  • Do you suppose he is more insulted by the physical assault of his son or the assault to his honor?

  • Does Fleming's tone reveal anything about his social status? Does it reveal anything about Ludlow's social standing?

  • How would you relate this to a modern day situation?  What is or is not dignified about his handling of the matter?

  • Do you suppose letter writing was a common approach to handling incidents of injustice?

  • What surprised you about dialog between the senior Fleming and young Ludlow?

  • Based on this letter, what do you suppose are Fleming's views on fighting and violence, in general? Might his stance here indicate his social, political, or religious affiliations, or is the evidence presented here revealing only of this isolated infraction?

  • Where might you look to find out more about Edward Fleming and Gabriel Ludlow?

Fleming's signature and closing request.

This blog entry by Sarah Minegar, Archivist and Museum Educator.

No comments:

Post a Comment