Voices from the Past: Exploring the Spooner Family Letters

The Project

Feeling a connection to people of the past is one of the many joys of studying history. When reading personal documents, such as letters or journal entries, it can be striking to recognize oneself in the words and sentiments of people who lived and died many years ago. While a biography might illuminate the factual events of a person’s life, nothing allows their personality to shine through more than their own words to the people they love.

The purpose of this online exhibition is to bring the history of the Spooner family to life. The Spooner House is one of the oldest surviving structures on North Street in Plymouth. It was home to the family for over two hundred years, and has since been turned into a museum after the last Spooner to live there donated the house and the possessions within it.

Among these possessions are many letters between the Spooner women and their families. These letters provide clues into how they lived, loved, and lost. They contain a frankness that only letters between close family could, as they speak of their joys and sorrows, their anxieties and delights, as they joke with each other and share their hearts. The vibrant letters by and to the Spooner women are a compelling reminder that no matter how long ago they lived, some elements of the human experience are universal.

The Collection

This page contains ten select letters between members of the family, written from the mid to late 19th century. The personal nature of the letters provides a window into the lives and hearts of the writers, and allows for a glimpse into life at the time. These letters were chosen from a larger collection because they particularly emphasize the relationships between the senders and recipients, and sometimes contain discussion of deeply personal topics. As a collection, they provide an idea of the personalities and struggles of the Spooner family.

These letters have been transcribed and edited for clarity. In an attempt to remain as true to the original as possible while allowing for improved readability, punctuation has been added and altered to improve the flow of the sentences. Original line breaks have also been disregarded, and notes from the margins have been incorporated into the text. Annotations have been added when possible to provide context for historical references and to identify individuals whenever possible. Brackets are used to indicate any uncertainties in transcription. PDFs of the original manuscripts are available for viewing or downloading on the same page as the respective transcript.

This online exhibit was assembled by Smith College intern Sofie Koonce in the winter of 2021. The recipe for Esther’s ginger cake was supplied by food historian Paula Marcoux. All letters and images are the property of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society.