Recently my Mom gave me a bunch of letters from my Uncle, who was killed in WWII, a Bombardier who perished over Bremen, Germany in August 1944. I never knew him, and these are a treasure, being introduced to someone who I have always heard good things about, but through his letters to his mother, I see the character of the person, the selflessness, the concern for his family, the responsibility and duty to his nation not only accepted but seen as an honor. He wrote practically every day from the time he left for training in late 1943 to the day before he died.
Got me to thinking about letters from 18th Century soldiers to their families and friends. My WWII letters are somewhat browned with age, but still in pretty good shape. Letters from over 200 years ago may be a different thing. Of course, letters written by famous commanders such as Gen. Washington survive and are displayed in museums and archives, but every day folk's correspondence is not always easy to find, or was kept in the best way possible.
As technology keeps changing, we are losing more and more hand written correspondence. Tweets, emails, etc have taken the place of what is generally and sarcastically known as "snail mail". But, to me, the an actual letter delivered to your mail box suggests that someone took the time to communicate, to choose the stationary, to write in detail, to (and this many be the most important!) choose their words most carefully. Once words are committed to paper, and placed in the mail slot, they are irretrievable. You better have been careful!
For our purposes from the Enlightened Age, here's a sampling the American Revolution, from 1777:
Lieutenant WILLIAM BARTON of the Fourth and later the First New Jersey Regiment;To his father, Gilbert Barton of Allentown, N.J.,
(Whitemarsh, 22 November 1777) "...I expected to have been at home before this, but cannot Obtain leave Untill we go into Quarters, I have sent some clothes by Mr. Griggs which is one pair of Breaches two Jackets three pr Stockings...l am removed from the company I was in which was Capt. Lyon's and am know in Capt. Holmes Compy. as first Lieut, there are many officers resigning which is Like to make a Great deal of Promotion...my love to my Mother Sisters & all inquiring frinds..."
And, another from 1778 from Barton again, mentioning Valley Forge:
..."Camp Valley Forge, Feb. 18th 1778...I should wrote oftener but have been in expectation of Coming home but this day find my expectations blasted, and have no maner of hope to get home Untill April...I have Received my Coat & boots by Capt. Weycoff and am Inform'd you have procured me some shirts which I am Extremely Glad of as l shall be in Great need of them in a short time. I'me at this Present time in health, and hope these may find you all in Perfect health, if to the reverse at any time Please to give me inteligence Thireof and I shall come home at all Events. I have not Receiv'd a Letter from you since at home, should be very Glad to be favour'd with a few lines if Convenient and Likewise a few pounds of Sugar and A little Chocolate...there is a Scarcety of those articles in this Place...Camp does not very well agree with me..."
In the letters I am currently reading and copying, I see the every day life of an air man, a bombardier, in this case, asking for his Mom to send some heavy wool knit socks, or hoping she'll send some paper (as it was rationed), so he could write home. He also asked for some chocolate or gum to hand out. In Lt. Barton's letter, you see him ask for stockings, some sugar, or chocolate. Not much has changed when looking for the comforts of home!