The Bates papers chronicle the lives of a family afflicted by more than the usual rounds of illness and death during the Jacksonian era, and provides useful insight into the patterns of grief and mourning during the 1830s and 1840s. While the collection is too small to provide much detailed information on the family, it provides a concise record of their inordinate share of tragedy. One the earliest letters in the collection (1834 August 21) is an eloquent lament written by Horatio C. Meriam (Harvard, class of 1829) to his father-in-law, Jacob Bates, Sr., at the loss his young wife, Mary. Although Meriam fears that some will call him "unmanly" or that his letter might be seen to betray "a latent inferiority in [his] nature," he considers his loss to be "a loss this world cannot repair."
The death of Mary Bates Meriam in 1834, though, was not the only premature death sustained by the Bateses. The heart of the collection is a series of five letters written by Jacob Bates' other daughter, Elizabeth Palmer, during a trip to Florida, who may have been traveling to a warmer climate for health reasons. As the arduous journey progressed, Elizabeth's health failed -- as reflected in her increasingly unsteady handwriting -- and she died shortly after arriving in St. Augustine, Fla., in February, 1841. There are two additional letters relating to Elizabeth Palmer's death trip: one from her minister in Boston, advising her to prepare her soul as well as her body for death, the other from Elizabeth's husband, George, informing her family of her death, and noting that the body had been enclosed in an alcohol-filled tin drum for shipment back to Boston.
Several items that were included in this accession, including the four earliest items and the four postcards at the end, bear no obvious relationship to the remainder of the collection, but have been retained.