Thomas H. Sherwood letter to his wife, 1862 August 23

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Thomas H. Sherwood letter to his wife, 1862 August 23


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Thomas H. Sherwood letter to his wife written from Williamsburg, Virginia, on August 23rd, 1862. Sherwood writes to explain how he became the superintendent of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum (now Eastern State Hospital) following the death of Dr. John Minson Galt and the resignation of Galt's successor. He also describes the institution, its inhabitants and the grounds for his wife. He closes by encouraging her to look after her health.


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[Page 1]

Eastern Lunatic Assylum
Williamsburg Virginia August 23d 1862

My Darling little Wife

Your letters of the 12th 13th
& 15th just came to hand last evening. After I had
become installed in my new duties, and when
I was becomeing very lonely on account of the strange
ness of my position. I fear the letter I wrote you
day before yesterday will give you causless alarm
but at that time the situation confered upon me
was one of such a strange character, and had
come upon me so suddenly that I had hardly time
to form any definite conclusion of what was to become
of me. I will now relate some of the circum-
stances connected with the institution that has caused
my being assigned to the position I now hold. In the
first place the institution is one (of the largest
(if not the largest) charitable Institution in the
state, and is one of the most important. It has about
three hundred and ten inmates two hundred and
eighty of whom are under treatment for various
forms of Lunacy. The building and grounds are very
beautiful and the latter includes some 21 acres
of ground. The carrying on of the institution has
cost the state some forty thousand Dollars

At the time of the occupation of the town by our
forces the Management of the institution passed
into the hands of the federal Authorities,

[Page 2]

account of the death of the Superintendent Dr
Galt and shortly afterwards the Governor of Western
Virginia (Pierpont) appointed a new superintendent
and took control of the institution by Authority of the
Legislature of Western Virginia. Our government in
the Mean time has been supplying the
necessary subsistence & Medical stores.

On the falling back of our Forces from Har-
issons Landing Dr Watson the Superintendent felt him-
self unsafe in his position on Account of his
having taken an active part in the Politics
of Western Virginia and fearing the Rebels would
proceed to extreme Measures if they suceeded
in capturing him, he abandoned the insti-
tution. General McClellan knowing that the
institution must be left in the hands of some
Federal officer for the purpose of manageing
its affairs and drawing supplies untill the
time the government of the State of Virginia should
resume its control, directed General Averell
to select some one for that purpose and leave
them here on the Abandonment of the town by
our forces under a flag of Truce. That selec-
tion fell upon Me, and although I rather
regretted it at first on your Account, I
now think when you come to understand
my position here you will be satisfied
as it is one in which every feeling of Philan-
thropy Cannot but be engaged, and it will
tend very Materially to the Advancement of my

[Page 3]

It may be the Rebel Government may not resume
its control of the institution, for I do not think they
will ever come down the Peninsula in any force
and I may be retained here for some time, if
such happens to be the case I shall send for
you. I am extremely nicely situated, I have a
magnificent room nicely furnished, have plenty
of company, eat at the table of the Matron, who
by the way has a very sweet daughter who
would make a nice companion for you if you
were here. The grounds are very lovely around
the institution with plenty of nice fruit and
flowers. The poor simple minded inmates
become very much attached to any one who
is kind to them, and they are continually
bringing me some evidences of their good
will in the shape of fruits and flowers.

I shall have a good deal of practice in the
town I expect, as they are allreaddy calling upon
me for medicines there being only one Physician
in town.

Oh! Darling you have no idea how I have
been longing for a letter from you, and how in-
expressibly happy I was to receive the letters from
you notwithstanding the novelty of my sit-
uation. Three deear little missives and I have
read each of them now three times although I
only received them late last evening. Oh! if I only
had you here I think I should be perfectly content
it matters not what might occur, any way I think
my stay here will terminate favourably for us for if our

[Page 4]

Regiment leaves here before the Rebels come, and get
off of the Peninsular before I am able to join it, as
soon as I leave this institution I shall come home
to you, and spend a little while. The only inconvenience
we shall experience is that I shall not be able to
hear from you for some time as the Mail fa-
cilities will be interupted as soon as our
forces leave here, but I will try and get
a letter to you as often as possible. I dont
know how soon our forces will leave here, per-
haps not for a week yet, but the may leave
allmost any time, as soon perhaps as all the forces
are shpped from Yorktown.

You mention in the letter written from Williamsport
that you had mailed me your Photograph the even-
ing previously, it is strange that that should be the
only letter of the series that I did not receive I hope
however ^I shall receive it this evening. One of our Officers has just arrived to see
me, and I shall have to stop for awhile. My Friend
Lieutenant Ford has just brought me my baggage which had
been sent to Yorktown, and which I was compelled to send
for, as I had not a change of clothing to put on.

I have just returned from visiting the various wards
of the institution, and find the inmates are doing
extremely well. You would be astonished to find how
many varieties of lunacy there are nearly every one is
afflicted differently.

Darling you alarm me about your health and I
fear you grieve too much on account of my absence.
You must cheer up, I hope we shall be very soon together
again. The pain your side was owing to your having
taken cold in some manner that caused a little Pleurisy

Original Format

Ink on paper


Sherwood, Thomas H., “Thomas H. Sherwood letter to his wife, 1862 August 23,” Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, accessed November 28, 2022,

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