Local Letters Revealing Early American Life to be Presented

By Lura Jackson


Take a moment to imagine that it’s 1838, and you’re 30 years old. You and your husband and your two-month old daughter are about to embark on a sea voyage originating in the Eastport area you grew up in to Galveston, Texas, where you have never been before. Previously the refuge of pirates and freebooters, including the legendary Jean Lafitte, Galveston is now the largest settlement in Texas – boasting between 2,000 and 3,000 people. How would it feel to go on such an adventure into the wilds of semi-tropical young America? Thankfully, our imaginations are bolstered by more than thirty letters written from one Lucy Parker Shaw to her mother in Eastport. The letters will be the subject of a presentation featuring Professor James Valentino of Texas on June 16th at the Holmestead in Calais.

Shaw, who grew up in the Weston House in Eastport, wrote the letters to her mother between 1838 and 1850. “Lucy wrote about life, death, and the challenges required to make a home in a strange, unsettled, and dangerous world,” Valentino wrote in a book he released earlier this year about her letters. Shaw is a talented, well-educated “woman of letters” and her thoughts and concerns are relayed effectively as she muses on the struggles she faces in a time before antibiotics and the simple necessities of life we now take for granted.

Valentino, who received his Master of Arts degree in American History in 2011, discovered the letters at Rosenberg Library in Galveston while engaged in graduate work. “To any historian of Texas or American history, the significance of each was easy to recognize,” stated Valentino of the letters. He set about examining each letter before compiling them in chronological order into a book format, along with providing appropriate background information when necessary to set the context of a world so far removed from our own. The book, From Maine to Galveston, Republic of Texas: The Life and Letters of Lucy Parker Shaw, will be available for purchase at the presentation.

As one would expect from that time period, the communities of Eastport and Calais were deeply interwoven at the time, and Shaw mentions Calais and residents from Calais periodically throughout her letters. Shaw and her husband were not alone in traveling to Galveston, and in fact, Lucy writes in 1839 that “we have a good many Calais people here”. 

To learn more about Shaw’s experiences and to share in the reflection of life in early America, join the presentation on Friday, June 16th, at 6:00 p.m. at the Holmestead in Calais.