Lovelorn Letter Writer Lives On

Dear Betty…

09 October 1852,

Atlanta, Georgia

From Mr. W.B. Ruggles to Miss Betty Lovejoy:

(Excerpt) With me, it has always been a pleasant belief that not only respect and esteem, but also an entire and mutual reciprocity of feeling, and a generous unreserved confidence, were the necessary elements in that genuine affection, which based upon a thorough union of hearts, gives promise [to] the highest and most enduring happenings.

When I first stumbled upon this letter at the Atlanta History Center in October 2017, the sole item in the “Miss Betty Lovejoy Letter” collection, I was immediately taken in by the eloquent and passionate words – defining love and sharing his hopes and dreams. The writer was so humble, unsure of his standing with the letter’s intended recipient. Yellowed with time, but intact with only a few folds, the paper was light and airy compared to the words written therein. The ink was clear and distinct with not a single strike out or ink blob – how many times did it take him to write such a flawless letter? I kept reading – how does it end? – who is this person? -do they end happily ever after?

You can read the original letter in full here: Lovejoy letter

By the end of the letter I felt both bad for and proud of Mr. Ruggles. He could have wandered off without a peep, leaving Miss Lovejoy to her flighty ways – an antebellum “ghosting”. But no. He took both the high road and also a faintly disguised low-blow – explaining his absence while chiding her for forcing him to share her attentions. He was having none of her foolishness and had no intentions of hanging around while she tried on multiple suitors in hopes of “lavish attentions.”

My trip to the archives was to secure a manuscript for an assignment in my recently completed Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate course. This particular letter did not meet the requirements for that assignment, but I knew immediately that when time allowed, I would, MUST, find out what became of Mr. Ruggles. Okay, and Miss Lovejoy…

Obviously, they did not end up together. But I did learn a lot about Mr. Ruggles, most of which is included in the report below. If you ask me, Miss Lovejoy missed the boat on that one!

What I don’t know – and very likely cannot ever know is whether he sent the letter. And whether or not it was sent and received – why was it held onto for over 100 years or more and by whom? The archivist on staff that day in October (165 years + one week since it was written, btw!) was unable to tell me how the letter came into the archives. There was nothing in the accession file, by her account at least, that gave any indication of who donated the item or whether it was found among other donations. There was nothing else in the “collection” and no other related collections or archive holdings. Some things are just unknowable…but how Mr. Ruggles recovered after this affair was easy to discover….

So, just who was Mr. Ruggles?

 

History of Steuben County New York with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches, 227.

William Benjamin Ruggles was born on 14 May 1827 in Bath, New York.[1] His parents were Dr. William B. and Mary (Benton) Ruggles.[2] He was only thirteen when his father died, leaving his mother indigent. Despite the harsh circumstances, William remained in school and also began apprenticing as a printer in the office of the Constitutionalist, a weekly paper in Bath, New York, in 1840. Working day and night and studying after that, he enrolled in the sophomore class at Hamilton College in 1846. With his continued work and study ethic, and by working during vacations at a printing press and by picking up teaching jobs, he offset his college expenses and graduated with honors in July, 1849. [3] Perhaps through some family or scholastic acquaintance, William moved to Atlanta after graduation and immediately picked up work at the new weekly publication The Intelligencer, after just several months at the job, he purchased half interest in the paper.[4]

In 1850, he lived with Windsor and Eveline Smith in DeKalb County, a growing area of Atlanta with new railroad construction and booming industry. Windsor was around 50 years old and from New York – possibly a friend of the family or a professional connection made through school. The neighborhood appears to have been mostly working class, with few household having very young children. Most of the men were laborers or carpenters and there were several merchants and at least one doctor. Few of the adults were born outside of the southern US states, with only one other near-neighbor being from New York. The absence of home valuations indicates most were renters. Though the household that Ruggles lives in claims a property valuation of $1100 and it may have been a boarding house.[5]

At twenty-two, having recently purchased the remaining half of The Intelligencer, William was likely interested in finding a wife and starting his own family. He was well established in the community, a member of the local board of Aldermen and probably a good prospect; he was described by some as a quiet scholarly man, a staunch democrat, and a strong supporter of Samuel J. Tilden and the democratic party.[6] He apparently met and began courting Miss Betty Lovejoy sometime around 1852. His feelings for her appear to have been stronger than hers for him and he did not take kindly to having to share her affections, or at least her attentions.[7] It is unknown exactly who Miss Betty Lovejoy was. None of the nearby households list a Lovejoy surname and a search for a young woman with variations of the name Betty (Betsy, Elizabeth, etc) in 1850 in GA revealed only one likely match in Elizabeth Lovejoy of Chattooga County. While it may have been the same woman, it is impossible to know without knowing more about the Miss Betty to whom William addressed his letter.

What is known, is that he broke it off with her – a letter written so eloquently that a reader may believe he was doing her a kindness, when in fact, he may have just as handily been dismissing her as immature.

In any event, William moved on and within a year or two was married to a hometown girl from New York he knew from his college days, Caroline Barker, daughter of Colonel Barker of Oneida County. By 1857, he sold his property and the paper and he and his wife and son, Lester, returned to New York. In his position as editor and newspaper owner, William had taken an interest in law. Upon returning to New York, he continued his studies and by 1860 he graduated law school and opened a law office in Bath. William and Caroline had four sons and two daughters and remained in Bath where William practiced law and held several public service offices.[8] He was a leading citizen and lawyer in Steuben County, elected to the assembly in 1876 and 1877 and also appointed Deputy Attorney General in 1877. He was appointed state superintendent of public instruction and deputy superintendent of insurance in 1883.[9]

Due to failing health, William retired from his positions in 1890. Five of his children had already died and his wife died in 1891. He lived in Albany at the time of his death, which was sudden, but not unexpected. He was survived by William B. Ruggles Jr of Bergen NJ.[10]

Miss Lovejoy’s fate is unknown, but perhaps it is she who married James E. Williams in DeKalb Georgia on 26 October 1852 and lived as a farmer’s wife.[11]

Sources

[1] “William B. Ruggles,” obituary, Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express (Buffalo, New York), 05 Jan 1892. p. 1, col. 3.

[2] 1840 U.S. Census, Steuben, New York, population schedule, Bath township, p 290 (stamped), line 23, Mary Ruggles; NARA M704, roll 341. See previous for mother, and also for marriage see “Jackson, Indiana, “Marriages 1816-1849 vol A-B,” William B. Ruggles to Mary Benton, 09 August 1819; database online, Ancestry.com “Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001,” (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=60282 : viewed 03 February 2018) , image 43.

[3] “U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935,” Ancestry.com, manuscript, “Catalogue of the Corporation, Officers and Students of Hamilton College, 1857-8,” p. 7; crediting “Educational Institutions, American Antiquarian Society.” And also W.W. Clayton, History of Steuben County New York with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches, (Philadelphia: Lewis and Peck &Co., 1879), 227.

[4] “The Late Hon. William B. Ruggles Who Died Suddenly at Albany,” obituary, Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), 06 January 1892, p.5 col. 2.

[5] 1850 U.S. Census, DeKalb County, Georgia, population schedule, p. 199b (inferred), dwelling 1, family 1, W.B.Ruggles; NARA microfilm publication M432, Roll 67.

[6] “An Old Atlanta Editor,” tribute, The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia), 08 January 1892, p.4, col. 2.

[7] Miss Betty Lovejoy letter, MSS213f; James G. Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center, Georgia.

[8] 1870 U.S. Census, Steuben County, New York, population schedule, p. 28 (penned), dwelling 232, family 232, Wm. B. Ruggles; NARA microfilm publication  M593, Roll 1094.

[9] Harlo Lakes and Lewis Cass Aldrich, Landmarks of Steuben County, New York (University of California: D. Mason, 1896), 220; digital images, Google Books (books.google.com : accessed 03 February 2018). And also “U.S., Civil War Draft Registrations Records 1863-1865,” Ancestry.com, consolidated list for 27th Congressional District, New York, p. 16a (penned); citing “Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registration Records (Provost Marshal General’s Bureau; Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865),” NARA, rg 110.

[10] “The Late Hon. William B. Ruggles Who Died Suddenly at Albany,” obituary, Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), 06 January 1892, p.5 col. 2.

[11] DeKalb County, Georgia, “Record of Marriages, Book A 1848-1856,” p. 220, for James E. Williams and Sarah Elizabeth Lovejoy, 25-26 October 1852; image online Ancestry.com (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=4766 : accessed 03 February 2018), image 139.

 

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