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Friday, September 18, 2015

Grant the Obscure(d)

This week's item is one that has always puzzled me a bit. On one of our letters between Ulysses S. Grant and his father Jesse, a good chunk of the first page has been scribbled over with a series of ink loops, making it very difficult to read. It is the only example from our Grant letters where this occurs.

AMs 357-10 p1 U.S. Grant to Jesse Root Grant
Ulysses S. Grant, autograph letter signed to Jesse Root Grant.La Grange, Tenn., 23 November 186[2]
Rosenbach AMs 357/10.
Why was this done? The obscured text reads:

I  am only sorry your letter, and all that comes from you speaks so condescendingly of every thing Julia [Grant's wife] says, writes, or thinks. You without probably being aware of it are so prejudiced against her that she could not please you. This is not pleasing to me.

Your letter speaks of Fred.s [Grant's son] illness. Fred is a big stout looking boy but he is not healthy. The difference that has always been made between him and the other children has had a very bad influence on him. He is sensitive and notices these things. I hope no distinction will be made and he in time will recover from his diffidence caused by being scolded so much.

Below the inked over section, the bottom two lines are crossed out in pencil:

I wish you would have a bottle of cod liver oil bought and Fred....

Our best guess is that the scribbling was done to prevent casual perusal of these personal matters which were sensitive to the people involved and in which Grant was critical of his father. (Of course now the texts have been published for all to read in Grant's papers and on the internet).

The eyes of military censors were not the problem, since Civil War censorship did not involve officer’s communications, so perhaps it was to prevent Frederick and Julia themselves from reading the letter if it were left around. Or just general concern about any people who might encounter Jesse's stash of letters.  Only the first page is obscured, which is the side with most of the family matters  (although the discussion of Frederick's cod liver oil continues on the second page), and it would have been the only side visible when the letter was folded and filed. You can see the unmarked second page below.

AMs 357-10 p2 U.S. Grant to Jesse Root Grant
Ulysses S. Grant, autograph letter signed to Jesse Root Grant.La Grange, Tenn., 23 November 186[2]
Rosenbach AMs 357/10.
This all makes sense, but I do still have some questions. Was the scribbling done by Ulysses Grant before sending (the text has not been inked out so heavily as to obliterate it, so maybe he had confidence that his father would still be able to make it out) or by Jesse Grant after reading it?  Why are the last two lines crossed out in pencil? Was that done at a separate time? 'Tis a puzzlement and any thoughts from Grant sleuths would be most welcome.




Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

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