Alfred Dillistin letter to Sally Snover Layton 1878

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 20 Mar 1878 to 11 May 1878
Location: Paterson, Passaic County, New Jerseymap
Surnames/tags: Trains Layton Dillistin
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Subject Matter

The subject of this Free Space Profile is a letter written in the spring of 1878 from Alfred Dillistin (1824-1894) of Paterson, New Jersey, to his first cousin, the widow Sally Snover Layton (1820-1900), currently living in Waverly, New York or across the border in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

The letter was found preserved among the collected papers of Sally's grandson George Layton It was transcribed and edited by Pauline Layton on 6 Feb 2020.

Comments by the Editor

Some extra paragraph breaks were provided by the editor, for ease in comprehension.

In the first paragraph we learn that Sally Snover Layton is arranging for yet another of her many moves, this time to Paterson, New Jersey. Alfred seems quite happy to welcome her into his home, although she appears to have invited herself.

Second paragraph: Like Sally's son Snover Moses Layton, Alfred Dillistin had a store and was buying up farm produce to sell. In the fall of 1877 he set out to buy apples. Alfred describes his train travels, circling west across New York State to Buffalo, and returning east across Pennsylvania. By this time in history the two states were crisscrossed with railroad tracks.

The third paragraph wasn't written till some weeks later, after a hurried trip to Sussex, New Jersey. Alfred was shocked to find that his sister Lucy Dillistin (1837-11 Apr 1878) was on her last legs. Lucy, who never married, was living with their widowed mother Nancy Ayres Dillistin (1805-1881). It is unclear why when Alfred resumed writing he didn't seem to know his sister had already been dead a month. Perhaps he couldn't bear to put the words down on paper, or perhaps he wanted to break the bad news gradually. His handwriting is now rough with grief.

In the fourth paragraph, "Mrs. S. M." may in fact be "Mrs. S. M. L.," Snover Moses Layton's second wife, Emma Stoddard Layton.

In the fifth paragraph we learn that Snover Moses Layton, although he may already have business ties to New York City, is still living in or near Litchfield (probably in Waverly, New York, very close to Bradford County, Pennsylvania).

-- Pauline Layton, 6 Feb 2020.

Actual Text of Letter

Paterson Mar 20th 1878

My Dear Cousin:

I take great pleasure in answering your welcome letter which reached me a week or more ago, and as I had not heard from any of the relatives in Litchfield and vicinity in a long time I am exceedingly glad to hear that you are enjoying so large a share of this world's best gifts. Health, and in large Measure pecuniary prosperity during these almost unprecedently hard times. I am also happy to say that we are as well favored Providentially with "enough to eat and a little to wear" as falls to the lot of Mortals generally in this uncertain world, and would be most happy to share with you in the hospitalities which our House and board can afford when your contemplated visit is realized.

I also have been travelling some mostly in a business capacity but spiced a little with pleasure. My business was purchasing apples in Cattaraugus Co. I started from home the latter part of Oct. I went to N. York to Albany thence over the N. Y. Central to Buffalo from Buffalo to Machias to Olean to Bradford and Derrick City to Salamanka (sic) to Emporium Harrisburg Philadelphia through N. Jersey to N. York thence home. So you see I have been all around you but not quite close enough to shake your hand. I bough(t) between five and six hundred Brls. of Apples which are all sold now except six Barrels.

I commenced this letter about three weeks ago but had to lay it aside for something else. I did not resume it for some days, and being hastily summoned to see Sister Lucy in Sussex where I spent a week I have seen no opportunity to finish it till now (May 11th).

I left my sister very weak in body and still weaker in mind. She is a comple(te) wreck mentally and being diseased physically I fear she will not live many weeks probably not many days. Mother is pretty well considering what she has experienced for the last four months. The other relatives are well so far as I know. I do not feel in such a writing mood so you will please excuse me for the present. You will give (my) best wishes to all the friends, remembering me especially to Mrs. S. M. with whom I had a short but very pleasant visit two years ago last fall.

Write some days before you start for Paterson so as to ensure my getting your letter in time to meet you at the Depot. Tell S. M. L. to drop me a few lines occasionally and to bring his wife along the first time he goes to New York and stop off a few days in Paterson. Our business is pretty good for the times. Talk some of building a large Brick store this spring on the corner where the present store is.

Peachtrees in b(l)oom. Warm drizzly day. With (my) wish for your health happiness and prosperity I subscribe myself Sincerely Yours.

Alfred Dillistin


The convenience of train travel gave rise to a population of mobile old widows and spinsters (mostly homeless), jockeying for their next houseparty or invitation to visit. Edith Wharton has recorded the plight of such ladies in some of her books (at a higher social level), for instance in "The House of Mirth."

In my youth there was a great aunt who escaped the heat of Boston summers by traveling around the country, attending conventions and visiting relatives and friends. She thought nothing of dropping in on us for a week -- and my Mother didn't think much of it, either. A prosperous Nineteenth Century farmhouse was better suited to hosting visitors than a 1940's single family home. -- Pauline Layton


  • Dillistin, Alfred. Letter, to Sally Snover Layton, dated 20 Mar 1878. Currently in the possession of Pauline Layton

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