Letter: Eunice Marsden to James Carr
South Manitou Island ~ March 3rd, 1864

Eunice (Burton) Marsden apparently began exchanging letters with someone she always referred to only as "My Dear Friend" in the early 1860's. The recipient of her letters was never indicated, but the context clearly indicates it was James Carr. [1][2]

In the early 1860's James Carr, a young man from Batavia, Illinois (35-miles due west of Chicago) was working as an "Assistant Engineer" with the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers, participating in what was popularly called the "Lakes Survey." In August of 1861, his ship, the Survey, was assigned to projects around the Fox and Manitou Islands. As suggested in a subsequent letter, the sheltered bay at South Manitou Island was probably a regular over-night anchorage for the Survey crew, and it seems likely that this explains how Eunice Marsden and James Carr first met.

She had recently separated from her first husband, Charles Marsden, and had come to the island with her two young daughters to live with her parents, William and Lucy Burton. Although some nineteen years younger than James Carr, they evidently carried on a long-distance romance by mail over the next six years. Some of those letters have survived, and are reproduced here. This is the first.

Manitou, March 3, 1864 [3][4]

My Dear Friend,

Words will faintly express the pleasure I have experienced in receiving another of your kind, good, & ever welcome letters, and you may be assured it was greeted with the earnest welcome it so richly deserves. Do my best. I am well aware I am not capable of making a correspondence interesting, but the assurance of remembrance which these tokens prove, are inexpressibly dear to one, to know that I am thought of occasionally by absent friends is a source of great comforts to one. Such is selfishness, still it is pleasant to feel that we are not entirely forgotten.

I am really thankful that you are coming to your senses at last, and do pity us a little. Just fancy yourself imprisoned on this or some other island, without hearing one word outside our own little circles from the middle of Dec, until the first of March. Such is our case during that time.

We had an opportunity of sending letters outside, by a gentleman from the north island, that gave us a call on his way to Buffalo, and he went across on a boat with five or six men, & by breaking ice all the way across, succeeded in landing on the opposite shore some way above Glen Arbor. My brother has made several attempts to get to the office. Once got within forty or fifty rods of the shore. The next time within a half mile, & after all was obliged to come home without the mail. Such a set of disappointed ones you never saw.

The last of Dec a man went from here over to Glen Arbor intending to return at once, but was detained there over a month by wind & ice. Finally feeling so anxious about his family, started for home taking with him a large mail for the island. Got out about a mile from shore, got into the ice, and the last seen of him he was drifting down the lake with the ice. The wind blowing very heavy from the south, he leaves a wife & two children here in destitute circumstances. [5]

Spent a lazy winter. You ought to have spent the winter here. You would have seen at least one specimen of laziness. If it had not have been for our house work, I do not think I would have exercised enough to insure good health. The most we have down up at this end of the island this winter has been to eat, drink (thanks to Mr. Carr for very fine tea) and sleep. With an occasional journey through the woods to the other dock, with the black shawl as my only companion. The boblasted coat, as you are pleased to term it, has remained stationary, waiting for Mr. Carr, & another rain storm.

We thought that we had a very severe winter here, until we read accounts of so much suffering outside. But think the weather here has been very mild, compared with other places. The coldest we have had was twelve below zero. Mr. Kirtland [6] had rather a serious time getting through. Was only sixteen days going from here to Chicago. Poor fellow, he wished himself back on Manitou Island more than once during the time, I warrant.

I should like very much to attend one of your balls. I hardly know what for an appearance I would make in a ball room, or what kind of a dancer I am, but I do know that I am very fond of dancing, or at least used to be. It is so long since I have danced a step I am afraid I should make some ludicrous mistakes, & instead of laughing at others, be the one to be laughed at. That would not be so pleasant.

How much I wish Mr. Chaffee [7] had have taken Kate's [8] picture. It would have been the best joke of all. He may get it yet. You had better guard it well.

Did you see Capt Potter [9] while in Chicago? My brother received a letter from Capt Hart [10] last week saying he wanted a light. The 18th of this month he should certainly be here with his boat. You may well imagine the rejoicing here when that letter was read. There are two vessels ashore on the North Manitou, which he wants to get off before the Straits are open, so we will have him around here some time, and I think if coaxing will get our mail. We shall get it often while he is here. I do not know as I should leave the Island next summer, but cannot tell. If a good chance should offer, I shall hardly be able to withstand the temptation. I am sorry it is such a task for you to write. Nevertheless, I shall expect answers to all my letters so please write soon, & greatly oblige,

Your Island friend


(click image to enlarge a page)


  1. From "The Batavia Historian," Vol 11, No. 4, December 1970:
    James Carr left Maine, (where he was born in 1817,) in 1836. He went to Florida, then to New Orleans and later to New York State. Then he returned to Maine but he didn’t stay there. He came to Kane County in 1839 and settled on the farm near his brother, west of Batavia. He had been east for two years since moving here, on a railroad survey.
    In 1849 he went to California to stay for four years. We don't know what he did there. Did he mine gold, survey the land or raise grain? In 1857 he went on a government survey. I wrote to Francis J. Carr, Clearwater, Florida to see if he knew anything more about James Carr. He said his grandfather Leonard Carr and his brother James Carr came together to Batavia in 1839 and both bought farms west of town at that time. Francis said his files give no more information about James Carr after that date.
    Ed. Note: James Carr preempted, then purchased on March 10, 1843, 160-acres. Leonard Jarvis Carr, on that same date, purchased an adjoining 160-acres that he had preempted, and on June 1, 1845, a second 160-acre parcel of adjacent land.
  2. From "Commemorative biographical and historical record of Kane County, Illinois," Beers, Leggett & Co., 1888:
    JAMES CARR. Among the prominent and prosperous farmers of Batavia Township is Mr. James Carr, a gentleman of Scotch-English extraction. He is a native of Surry, Maine, born March 4, 1817, to James and Betsey (Jarvis) Carr, the former of whom was originally a sailor by occupation, but in later years was a merchant; he was also a soldier in the War of 1812. When the subject of this biography was one year old, the parents started with their family for the West, but during the journey the father was accidentally drowned in the Ohio river, and the widowed mother had then mournfully to shape her course back to Maine with her children.
    When he had reached the age of nineteen, Mr. Carr joined a party of surveyors, whose profession he made a study, and the following year he went to Florida, in the capacity of a civil engineer. Here he remained "among the Everglades," for a brief period, and then moved to New Orleans, where he secured an engagement on the government surveys at the mouth of the Mississippi. The year 1836 found Mr. Carr once more in his native State; but he soon again turned his face westward, the loadstar of attraction being the fertile State of Illinois and here he at once determined to settle, choosing Batavia Township for his future abiding place. In 1847 he once more returned to New England, and was there for a couple of years employed in railroad surveys; then, joining a party of prospectors, he sailed for California, by was of Cape Horn, the voyage occupying five months. After a three years' sojourn in this then new El Dorado, he became engaged on lake survey until 1864, when he finally returned to and settled on his farm (now consisting of 213 acres) in Batavia Township.
    June 20, 1867, Mr. Carr married Mrs. Eunice Marion Marsden, born in Cleveland, Ohio, March 22, 1836, daughter of William and Lucy Burton, who came to Ohio from the Eastern States at an early day, the former of whom was for many years captain of a steamboat on Lake Champlain. Mr. and Mrs. Carr have been blessed with the following named children: Harris F., born July 21, 1868; Lucy Le Baron, born December 4, 1869, and William, Born September 12, 1879. Politically, Mr. Carr is a supporter of the Democratic party, and has served as clerk and president of the school board; he was also elected county surveyor.
  3. The date on this letter looks like either "1864", "1868" or "1869". Either of the latter two dates would raise doubts about the marriage date given in the Burton genealogy, Descendants of Joshiah Burton, so a lengthy effort was made to investigate the possibility of that being falsified in order to legitimize the birth of Harris Foster Carr in July of 1868. The 1864 date was finally accepted, (1) because no such evidence could be found, and (2) because of Eunice's mention "Mr. Kirtland" in a way that suggests he was still the lightkeeper on South Manitou Island (his tour was from July of 1861 to July of 1866.)
  4. There is, in fact, a record of a Milwaukee marriage on that date, for a James Carr and a "Mooney Maria Burton", giving no source or any other details. This could have been someone else entirely, but became the source of the genealogists mis-information. It seems unlikely that Eunice-Marion (Burton) Marsden would have been listed as "Mooney Maria Burton." On the other hand, Eunice was apparently sometimes called "Naomi," which probably was the source of her nickname "Noomi" which she consistently uses in the close of her letters.
  5. A reference to the loss of Thomas R Kitchen on the 25th of January in 1864.
  6. P.W. Kirtland was keeper of the South Manitou Island Light Station from July 17, 1861 to July 21, 1866. Thereafter he moved due west across the lake to Jacksonport, Wisconsin, becoming a well-known fisherman and fish dealer.
  7. "Mr. Chaffee" - one of James Carr's "Lake Survey" colleagues. Assistant Engineer Oliver N. Chaffee’s work on water levels, which he tabulated for the Report of the Superintendent of the U. S. Lake Survey, 1860, by George Gordon Meade, was a significant contribution to the study of the Great Lakes.
  8. "Kate" - Katherine-Lucy Burton, eldest daughter of Ellison & Ann Burton. At the time of this letter, she was seventeen years old.
  9. "Capt. Potter" - connection unknown
  10. "Capt Hart" - probably Captain Clifford B. Hart, of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, who began sailing on the lakes at age twelve, and the captain of his own vessel while still very young. He eventually became Vice President of the "Hart Steamboat Line," but continued to sail as Captain the rest of his life.

Submitted by Phyllis Begens, great-granddaughter of Eunice Marion Burton