Voices From History: Will you tell me sweet wife, what do you think? - Published 1/30/2019

by Pat Schley, DDMF Researcher

The Walker sisters, Lucy Forbes Rockwell (1808-1887) , Lucy forbes rockwell

Sarah Woodruff Walker Davis (1814-1879) , sarah woodruff walker 

Frances Mary (Fanny) Walker Williams (1817-1903) ,  frances mary walker williams

and Cornelia Walker Scranton (1823-1895) , cornelia walker scranton

all married their husbands for love, not for advantageous family alliances or for financial gain. 

One of the joys of reading the Davis family correspondence are the eloquent and honest declarations of love found within the letters. This is especially true of David Davis, who would, with his fabled Southern charm, often wax eloquent regarding his love for his wife and his family.  Sarah Davis, being a Yankee girl, was often more circumspect while declaring her love for her husband, sometimes requiring him to read between the lines:

“Who could help loving you, dearest Sarah, I never could. My heart is with you, my thoughts are with you, I think of you by day, I dream of you by night, all my anticipations of happiness for the future are connected with you. I bless the time I went to New England and think myself the most fortunate of men in Securing your love & hand…”  Bloomington, July 2, 1848 from David Davis[i]

“I am persuaded it is for the happiness of most persons to marry if they can only suit themselves. I know that few ladies get as kind husbands as my Father’s daughters have, but some are satisfied with small things you know and, not knowing the excellence of our good men, they do not envy us.”  Lenox, July 20, 1848 from Sarah Davis, in reply[ii]

“I slept cold last night and have been cold all day…” Bloomington, November 1850, from Sarah Davis[iii]

“I was very sorry that you slept cold. I trust that when I get home you will sleep warmer.”  Springfield IL, November 28, 1850, from David Davis, in reply[iv]

The tribute which follows, written by David Davis to his wife, after 29 years of marriage, 7 children (5 of whom died before the age of 1 year), and untold months of separation (I once counted up that over the first 10 years of their marriage, they were apart a total of 4 years due to his riding the circuit twice a year), is a testament to the strength of their marriage:

“Washington DC, December 16, 1867   How my eyes dazzle and my heart jumps when I see your well known hand writing. I could sing praises to the mails and call down blessings on him who invented letter writing.  Aleck [a hotel servant] brought me yr dear letter of last Thursday … at breakfast & I read it with all the eagerness & delight of a young lover. The truth is, Sarah, you are far dearer to me now than when we were married.  Our lives are one now – all joys & sorrows are to be shared together.  With my love is mixed my highest esteem – which long years has instilled in me … Sleigh bells have been tingling night & day for several days and they remind me of my young days in Massachusetts when it was bliss to get you in a sleigh and ride with you to the tintinnabulation [the ringing or sounding] of the bells. … May angels guard those that I love – Your affectionate Husband DDavis[v]

It was rare for David Davis to write a letter to his wife without some sort of protestation of his love for her or to say how much he missed her and the children and was looking forward to coming home. 

This loving exchange of letters was also practiced by Sarah Davis’ eldest sister and her husband, Lucy and Julius Rockwell. The Rockwells were married on November 22, 1836, 2 years before Sarah & David Davis. 

They lived in Pittsfield MA from the time of their marriage until shortly after the death of Sarah & Lucy’s mother, Lucy Adam Walker (b. 1781) in September, 1864, when the Rockwells moved to Lenox, into the Walker family home. In fact, it is Lucy Rockwell who is shown sitting on the porch of the Walker family home, along with Henshaw Bates Walley, the son of a family friend, in the c. 1867 sepia-tone photo which hangs in the Master Bedroom at the David Davis Mansion today.

Lucy’s husband, Julius Rockwell (1805-1888), was a lawyer and politician whose political career took him to Washington DC for months at a time, leaving Lucy in Pittsfield to care for their 5 children: William Walker Rockwell (1839-1863), Cornelia Livingston Rockwell (1841-1930), Francis Williams Rockwell (1844-1929),  Alice Gray Rockwell (1846-1850), and Robert Campbell Rockwell (1848-1928).

The letter which follows was written in response to a question which Lucy’s husband, Julius Rockwell(1805-1888),  had posed to her in an earlier letter. Lucy Forbes Walker Rockwell,  Sarah Davis’ eldest sister,  clearly did not share Sarah’s  “Yankee reticence”.   Her reply is a sweet, honest, humorous, self-effacing, and touching declaration of her love for her husband and an explanation of what, for her,  has made their marriage strong.  For ease in reading and to explain a few references, I have added notes which you will find in [brackets] and endnotes. 

Lucy opens her letter by quoting the question Rockwell posed to her in his last letter:

Pittsfield, July 7, 1850

My dear Julius –

“Will you tell me sweet wife what you do think?”  Well listen then… and I will tell you, but be sure and keep it a profound secret – I think I love Julius Rockwell better than any body else in the whole world – Now shall I give you my reasons for loving him so much better than any one? – [He is] Proud, reserved, wayward, obstinate, selfish, impatient, indolent, [and yet] he has still stood my firm friend for the last sixteen years – Would not that be reason enough? – [Speaking of herself] With no personal beauty – no charm of manner, no brilliancy of intellect, no accomplishments, no attractions to make his home agreeable to his friends, no economy [in handling money], no tact, he still folds me to his heart and honors me with the appellation of his “dear wife” – disappointed in his expectations of property [they married for love, not money] – mortified by the conduct of [some of his] friends, worried with the misfortunes of my family[vi], he is still the same kind, affectionate, indulgent husband forgetting and forgiving all -

Have I not reason to love him? –

      To rouse my energy, he spends a portion of his time every night in writing down his thoughts to send to me [in his letters when they are apart], to rouse my patriotism he declares he will not leave his post of duty  – To rouse my pride he points to the woman who stands enraptured with her husband’s eloquence [Rockwell was known for his skills in oratory] – To manifest his confidence he leaves me to train his children and I tremble to think how sad he will feel in after years that they were committed into such unworthy hands – Still I try to do the best I can alone – hoping on, hoping ever –

May I not love him with my whole heart? – I am proud of his talents, of his requirements of his strict integrity, of his position among men and of his love for me –

      We have seen many happy hours together and we have tasted of the cup of sorrow; how bitter the draught has been, the world will never know – We have given up our beautiful and cherished flower to bloom in a fairer garden than this world – God only knows what I have suffered in giving up this lovely child -[vii]

       My dear Husband we do love each other, this will sustain us in our long and frequent separations, This will keep us from falling into temptation and this I trust will make us a happy family on earth and

[i] The Davis Papers Collection, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield IL

[ii] ibid.

[iii] ibid.

[iv] ibid.

[v] ibid.

[vi] Lucy is likely referring to her younger brother, William Walker (1810-1878), who was struggling with a problem with alcohol and who was estranged from his wife and daughter.  There are many letters between the Walker sisters’ husbands discussing how best to help him, especially between Julius Rockwell and David Davis.

[vii] Alice Grey Rockwell, daughter of Julius & Lucy Forbes Rockwell, had died on February 20 1850, at the age of 4 years.  See letters dated Pittsfield MA, February 24, 1850   JR to DD   (AL 1) and Lenox MA, March 2, 1850    LAW to SWD   (AL 5).  They would again “taste the cup of sorrow” in December 1863, when their eldest son, William Walker Rockwell, died of illness, possibly typhoid,  while in Baton Rouge LA, in service to his country in the Civil War.

[1] The Judge Julius Rockwell Collection, Lenox Library, Lenox MA.

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